Lunar Notes: An Interview with Featured Writer Lourdes Figueroa

Lourdes Author Photo

Photo by Peggy Peralta

Lourdes Figueroa was born in Yuba City, California, during a trip her parents made from Mexico to the USA when they worked in the campo tilling the soil. Her work is rooted in migration, what her family lived when they moved to this country. In 2009 and 2011 she attended VONA. In 2012 she completed an MFA with a focus in poetry at USF. Her work has been published in Jack Hirschman’s Poets 11 2008 & 2010, Generations, Eleven Eleven, Something Worth Revising and BACKWORDS Press. She currently works and lives in San Francisco with her wife. yolotl was her first chapbook, published by Spooky Actions. Her chapbook Ruidos=To Learn Speak, written during her Alley Cat Residency, is forthcoming.

Why poetry? What pulls you into the page? What poets first inspired you and who do you return to?

poetry, somehow it found me, or we just crashed into each other, I spent a lot time in the library growing up, specifically when my apá was violent, it was a place of refuge for my amá, she constantly read, she constantly read to us, I read a lot of fiction and still do, but one of the first poets that I stumbled upon was Emily Dickinson, I didn’t quite understand her then, mouthing her English at the time, I was about 11 years old, and in school it was Edgar Allen Poe when I was in 7th grade, I have a very vivid memory of my teacher putting on a record player and having the class put their head down on their desks and I did, I closed my eyes and suddenly there was the story the tell-tale heart, and I am grateful for this, I tear up remembering this, I think it was reading and my amá’s constant love of reading that saved us, at least has kept our hearts and minds this far, and the poets that gave me the language to articulate and write what my experience living what we had lived was Gloria Anzaldúa and Ana Castillo, they continue to do so, and outside of books because the poem exists in sound and story orally the first poets were really my amá and my abuelita chona, their stories nurtured my mind, my heart, and my conception of love

and it is important to note, the poets around me here in San Francisco and the Bay Area, I read everyone I can, and we all should, we are part of a thread that blooms like veins, I feel very lucky to have access to different forms of the word and how it is being passed from person to person, zines, chapbooks, open mics, film, local presses… none of us exist in a vacuum and none of us come into our poetics in a vacuum

the poets that I keep reaching for, or find myself packing into my backpack right now are Rosario Castellanos, Norma Cole, June Jordan, Kim Shuck, I’ve been carrying around Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian’s Writers Who Love Too Much which somehow weaves itself with some of Alfred Arteaga’s Chicano Poetics, and This Bridge Called My Back edited and put together by Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa, they all bring the poem back to the body, I have to say we are not an assembly of voices, but thread, threads being weaved into each other, I keep reading Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, García Lorca, Kamau Brathwaite, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and more

but the most powerful of voices that are always in my ear are my familia, my amá, my wife, my hermana y mis hermanos, the memories of my abuelita chona smoking her cigarettes and telling stories of her childhood while she planted her flowers and attended to her small garden of roses, tulipanes, mint, manzanillo, oregano, and a small peach tree

What space does/should poetry occupy right now?

the poem is a vessel that articulates our insides, the act of using the word to invoke what is inside and vice versa to bring the outer to the inside, it is revolution in every way, the poem revolts, the poem turns, the poem shatters language, the poem too takes the language of your insides, of your own particular mouth and uses those fragments to further connect us in some way, bringing each other into each other, the poem is everything and nothing with the human breath, the poem is meant to be broken in every way, the body collapses the poem so the poem can be in the body and the body can be in the poem, we need it, we have always needed it since we learned to song with each other, it is more ancient than we realize, existing in its’ own way in different languages, terrifying and beautiful, asking what’s this, what’s life, which one is this one? I am another yourself/ In Lak’ech

Name some poets youre really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?

the poets to be on the lookout for are each other, with my whole heart I believe in each other, we must read each other, elevate each other’s voices, support each other, never apologize for our sound, no one sound is the one, we must embrace each other’s sound, read widely with intention or with pleasure or with love or with pain, but read

Breath is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of your work. When I read your poetry, it has such a beautiful, hypnotic quality, and I always feel like I’m returning to the deepest level of being. How do you inhabit your poet self? What is your work’s center right now?

my works’ center continues to be the gut, the lung, the throat, el corazón, the communal, we are meant to sing in some form, all of us, everything is made this way, it is the nature of this reality, as we love whatever it is, love whomever it is, we are in movement, we are in creation with each other, in constant revelation with each other, this is duende, this is how the sun loves us

What projects have you been involved with recently, and what do you have planned?

Current projects I’m involved in are: I’m in the heart of putting together my second chapbook, Ruidos = To Learn Speak, that I am doing with the Alley Cats Residency here in San Francisco. I am putting together my first poetry workshop that I will launch in January with South of Market Community Action Network, this workshop will seek to create a safe space for the voices of our LGBTQA immigrant community and will be in the heart of the South of Market. Too, I’m about to embark on my second film script, a short film in collaboration with my wife, a story of immigration

What advice do or would you give to a writer just starting out?

I was recently told by a therapist that I have PTSD, no one diagnosis will do, there are layers of trauma that I had no idea how it was affecting my mind, and coping/survival mechanisms I am working through to identify, things that I had refused to name my body names, the poem helps me articulate some of the pain, the body has a way of holding trauma so it can survive, and so does the mind, my memory drops, I drop things, sometimes Peggy will tell me a story about something that happened and I can’t recall anything,

I articulate from a queer brown mouth, a descendant of colonization, from a severely bruised body that refuses to forget her trauma until it is said in some form, a survivor of rape, a survivor of molestation, these things are not me, but things that I lived, these things are a human experience, and all these things are deserving of literature, of poem, of song, this is how we recognize each other…if I were to come across my childhood self, I would hug her and hold her and read to her like my amá did, and take her to the library, and tell her ‘keep going to the library, continue to be kind in all aspects’ to everyone

You can read Lourdes Figueroa’s work in the sixth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released November 18th.

NMJ 6 Cover

Presenting the cover of NMJ V.6! The featured writer will be announced November 15th, and the issue will be available November 18th!

Lily Blackburn on Earthquakes in Candyland

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Earthquakes in Candyland by Jennifer Robin. Fungasm Press (2019). $14.99, paperback.

Jennifer Robin’s feminist gonzo nonfiction collection, Earthquakes in Candyland, is a series of disruptions; from essay to micro-flash, Robin takes the position of an intimate journalist, combining observation and interviews with poetic vignettes and philosophical inquiry that push us to question ourselves and our role as humans.

Many of the longer pieces in the book follow in the style of Robin’s statement in the story “Oxy’s Midnight Runners”: “I’m here to hear stories,” she says to her interview subjects on a trip to New Orleans, “I’m sick of telling mine.”

Anaïs Nin, an influence of Robin’s once said, “We write to taste life twice.” It could be said that Robin’s book is a result of tasting life twice to illuminate meaning and experience in her work, and the result is deeply personal, blunt and empathetic.

What Robin calls “fissures in the illusion,” these essays, flashes, and tweet-riffs are what seep up through the cracks of the candy-coated veneer, critiquing everything from our self-obsessed technology addictions, to the criminal justice system; they are meant to provoke and also to connect.

Told from bus stops, train stations, MAX rides and sidewalk encounters, the book weaves a narrative of lives lived in transition, as if Robin took a literal road trip through a Candyland apocalypse and recorded the whole thing in her notebooks.

The 125 stories (in 315 pages) tackle both deep critique and celebration of American experience from multiple perspectives. The story “Breathe Deeply,” narrates unflinching descriptions of violence in a series of vignettes revealing a history of racism at the hands of white slave owners.  “The Tarot Reader of Troy, New York” details Robin’s hitchhiking journey across the country to visit her biological daughter in an open adoption. “Oxy’s Midnight Runners” follows a pair of New Orleans teens selling pills to make ends meet, while discussing everything from ghosts to ancestry and what it means to “have no truck.”

Later, the interviewer turns the camera on herself.

“I am trying to remember everything…as if I can retreat at a later date and like an ancient scribe add up this information on sheets of pressed goatskin and it will spell out the meaning of life. And why shouldn’t it? How much do I need to know? How much does anyone need to know?”

This is how Robin gets personal on the page, with larger questions which unexpected, intimate connections naturally stir within us, if we’re paying attention.

Her fascination with the lives of others is contagious; the army-brat turned model on the overnight Greyhound. The cam girl exchanging emojis with her clients on the night bus. Lonnie, a tattoo of a star on her cheek, touting her God-love to a man at a Portland bus stop. They are the people who challenge the norm by being unabashedly themselves.

Like literal Queen Frostines or Princess Lollys, it’s the experiences of those Robin meets on her journeys who ground the stories— symbols of hope guiding us through our own sense of American aimlessness, our search for a lost King, something to believe in.

The story “The Best Flavor” is one sentence: “If we must have mind control— what is the best flavor of mind control?”

The micro stories that break up these essays prod and expose, and feel like distilled versions of what Robin cannot let us not hear; we’re fucked, but people are beautifully complex, and our stories matter.

Lily Blackburn is a Portland based writer, an editor for Typehouse Literary Magazine and a full-time bean pharmacist (barista.) She graduated from Portland State in 2017 with her BA in English. You can find her work at Little Fictions | Big Truths, Coffee People, and Angel City Review.

Presenting NMJ Volume 5

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Contributors: Featured Writer Sayuri Ayers, Katherine Fallon, Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, Stephanie Valente, Grace Yannotta, V.S. Ramstack, Bruce McRae, Sean Johnson, Kylie Ayn Yockey, Margarita Serafimova, Megha Sood, Paul Ilechko, Alexandra Corinth, Lindsey Warren, Jacob Hammer, Brigid Hannon, RC deWinter, Lucas Wildner, Alana Hayes, Stephen Mead, Jeanette Salib, DS Maolalai, Matthew Dube

Lunar Notes: An Interview with Featured Writer Sayuri Ayers

Sayuri_SunPhoto

Sayuri Ayers is a native of Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, The Pinch, Hobart, Ghost City Review, and others.  In 2016, Green Bottle Press released her chapbook Radish Legs, Duck Feet.  Haunt her at sayuriayers.com.

Why poetry? What pulled you in, and who was the very first poet you read/heard who just clicked?

Poetry is strange and lovely. It’s a beast in a jeweled box. Through poetry, there are infinite ways to engage the reader through imagery, tone, sound, and use of white space.

The first book of poetry I read was by Sharon Olds. I discovered Satan Says in the basement of my college’s library. As a science major, I was taking a poetry class as an elective. I remember sinking to the floor in awe as I read Old’s poem, “Monarchs.”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated towards Li-Young Lee’s poetry, especially his collections Rose and Book of My Nights.  What I admire most about Lee’s work is its ability to transport the reader through striking imagery.

If you were the last person on earth, and you pulled the last book from a pile of ash and cinders, what do you hope it would be? Why?

I absolutely love the book of Ecclesiastes. The questions about existential meaning are essential, especially for the last person on earth.

What space does/should poetry occupy right now?

The expansion of poetry into the hybrid forms has been fascinating to watch. The subversion of genres speaks to the shifting of cultural and political borders. I can’t wait to see how poetry will demand more space and transform personal and public landscapes.

What was the first piece you ever had published? Are you the same person who wrote it, and if not, how have you changed?

I first published “Garden of Delights” in my college’s literary journal, First Circle. In some ways, I’m still the same person. As a reader and writer, I’m drawn to strong imagery and narrative. Over time, my generous mentors and teachers have taught me to be more critical of my work, and how to better honor the work of other writers.

What are you working on right now? What is the center or focus of your work right now?

I’m working on a hybrid manuscript that weaves prose poetry together with lyric essay. The manuscript navigates the landscape of motherhood and mental illness. I’m focusing on how images can be repeated, then presented in different forms.

Name some poets youre really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?

There are so many poets that I’m excited about!  I’m currently reading the debut book by Ruth Awad, Set to Music a Wildfire, which chronicles her father’s survival of the Lebanese Civil War. Geoff Anderson is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He’s one of my favorite writers/people.  His collection, Humming Dirges, was recently released by Paper Nautilus. I’ve also been enjoying Li-Young Lee’s newest collection, The Undressing.

What’s the biggest adventure youve had so far? What comes next?

My biggest adventure has been becoming a mother. Writing as a parent has been a series of late nights eating ramen over a keyboard and frantically searching diaper bags for lost scraps of poems.  My most creative and productive years followed the birth of my son. I wouldn’t trade these years or him for anything.

Next, I’m hoping to mentor future readers and writers. I plan to volunteer at a local elementary school as a reading tutor this coming fall.

What advice would you give a poet just starting out? What advice would you go back and give your younger self?

Shape your writing life according to your goals/purpose as a poet. Take time to celebrate your successes and the successes of others.  Read, read, read. Don’t give up.

You can read Sayuri Ayers’ work in the fifth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released May 17th.

nmj 5 cover option 1

Presenting the cover of NMJ V.5! The featured writer will be announced May 10th, and the issue will be available May 17th!

There’s still room for your poetry, essays, and hybrid creatures in NMJ V.6, so please submit!

In Review: THE BLACK CONDITION FT. NARCISSUS

JAYY DODD

THE BLACK CONDITION FT. NARCISSUS by jayy dodd. Nightboat Books (2019, 96 pages). $15.95, paperback.

I read jayy dodd’s newest creation over and over, until I became only an ear, severed. Until I became only nerve, raw to each breath, feeling reverence, heartbreak, tenderness, gratitude. Feeling humility in the face of the divine, a witness of every word-cell’s tenuous tenaciousness. I kept/wanna keep this collection on replay, letting SIDE A pour in, then SIDE B, then the BONUS TRACK, crashing again and again against that inner drum, swirling all the way back, all the way down.

jayy dodd tells me so many things I need to hear, one of which is LISTEN. Listen so hard you miss meals and phone calls. Listen so hard those voices demanding your and others’ extinction break apart and dissolve back to nothing. Listen so hard that when you turn the volume down, you don’t recognize the world anymore. Trish Salah calls dodd a genius—so much YES. With this new collection, dodd shows being—”blxk trans femme” being—in all its complexity, beauty, and vulnerability. Here the self can shiver out of one’s grasp as easily as ripples can disperse one’s reflection. There’s something god-like, something permanent, in that ephemerality, that resistance to category and definition, that impossibility of being—and urgent need to be—held.

dodd shows that being—in line, in poem, in self, in world—is so much more than any one presentation, any one glimpse in the mirror, any one capture on film. dodd’s book is full of hands, always in flux, so expressive yet so mysterious, being only one part of a whole that often exists in shadow. Powerful in holding but also in letting go. Vulnerable for the same reasons. Able to show so much about a person, but also so little. Able to build up, tear down, lead and mislead. In “Manual,” the lines: “What if God was something / that could be held in the hand.” Not a question.

dodd’s book is next to, awash in, testament to the divine, writing the “blxk trans femme” body into existence, creation the first tool of divinity. In “I Know I Been Changed,” dodd writes, “you will call me out my-self, blasphemous / but i have heard on high my body is harmonic gospel / it was written in sacred memory before coming into being / now, i am here ready for rapture…”. As the speaker becomes, agency/power is reclaimed: “…As a child, / I spoke as a boy, I understood as broken, / I thought as a ghost; but when I renamed this body, / I put away childish things” (from “narcissus reads 1 Corinthians 13, Without Love”). Coming of age, coming into being, stating, “I am.” Complicating and decolonizing the statement that “we are made in god’s image.” Trans body as god-like, a reflection and manifestation of the divine.

But not immortal. After all, “Amerikkka” has declared war on such bodies, especially when they are black and femme: “in the wood / the trees say hey baby, / so i’ve accepted my body / can’t be both safe & beautiful” (“narcissus goes to the market”). Existing, out in the open where a pool may reflect beauty, where a stone thrown may disperse it. By existing, dodd gives me courage to do so. But dodd also holds me accountable, reminds me that I too have hands. That an old myth can be undone and a new one made. That I should hold “whatever / binds me to this earth” close and undo whatever doesn’t.

“…what will we make of our new cradles of tomorrow?” dodd asks in “Babylon.” I am so here for this remix, this rapture, this future-making.

Get your copy of THE BLACK CONDITION FT. NARCISSUS here, and visit jayy dodd here.

In Review: The Sea That Beckoned

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The Sea That Beckoned by Angela Gabrielle Fabunan. Platypus Press (2019, 48 pages). $13, paperback.

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan’s debut, The Sea That Beckoned, is a meditation—no, that’s too sedate—a fixation on the many ways one (especially one who migrates) looks for home—in the place one was born, in a new land, in memory, in language, in each other—and the many ways it is lost. But more than that, this is a book about the self, and how conceptions of home define, complicate, or even threaten that self. In a world reaching for the concrete, this book crashes into every certainty, scattering the concrete as a wave scatters sand. Here, home and self are as vast, elusive, and changeable as the sea. As soon as you scoop it up, it’s already slipping away.

“There was once a country I resided in, but it was neither here nor there,” Fabunan’s speaker says in “Fair Game.” In “Midway,” the speaker says, “In / or Out—perhaps there’s a place we can call home, / but right now there’s just this, an in-between…”. This “in-between” is the vessel that holds this book. The speaker, unmoored, is “neither here nor there.” All homes, all selves ebb and flow in the speaker’s mind, each dissolving a little as something new is ever-forming: “a life spent / gathering the arithmetic of loss” (from “First Day”).

This “in-between” exists in form as well: one line gives, another takes away. And imagery: spring growth replaces decay. Images from one home, fractured, slip in and are quickly replaced or bump up against images of the current home: “the shadows made from clouds appear like / dreams, the old and new mingling, the fluidity of sky and ocean / marrying the horizon” (from “Migration Story”). The place lost exists as a film over every current action, home under the ghost of home—image under the ghost of image—and “in the end, / only memory remains” (from “Fishnet”). Memory, slippery as a fish.

And language is slippery, too, like America, its promises never fully realized: “back then, we were gods, knowing nothing / but what we desired and that we’d have it” (from “The Other Shore”). Language can define what is home and what is not, or not yet. It shapes one’s understanding of the world, just as understanding shapes language. Learning the language of place can give one power. Forgetting the language of origin can fracture self. Combining language can make one other, something new that can be powerful, yes, but also threatened.

Fabunan’s glimpses of the Phillipines are vivid, and like the speaker, “you float / in ever changing phases” (from “Cadena de Amor”), swept up in the grief, the love (for there can be no grief without love), and the movement. As the speaker moves forward, becomes something new, something is also lost so that the body, the mind, becomes a graveyard. The speaker is haunted and haunting: “all I wanted to say: hello and goodbye at the same time” (from “Midway”). She will “bloom,” but at the same time, she will “wither,” and isn’t that pain, that ache, what it means to be fully human? And isn’t there, in that in-between, a kind of wholeness?

For all this uncertainty, this in-betweenness, the proliferation of questions rather than answers, Fabunan’s debut is not hopelessly adrift, not hopeless. Rather, it is the splash that ripples out, creating possibility: “we beings are more than just language, / more than accent or the drift / between homes, each / catapult into the unknown / turns shadows familiar” (from “Model Minority”). In Fabunan’s book, all things exist and can exist, even if all things are not present. Reading this lovely book is like dipping one’s toe in the sea and remembering its size and connections. This is a book for anyone who has ever lost home and searched for home, for everyone still searching.

You can pre-order The Sea That Beckoned here.

In Review: Cranesong

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Cranesong by Rona Wang. Half Mystic Press (2019, 76 pages). $15, paperback. $7, digital.

Rona Wang is, in Carissa Dunlap’s words, a “badass creator,” and I couldn’t agree more. Wang is the type of creator who gives other creators pause, who makes one ask, what have I been doing with my life? Not nearly as much as this sophomore at MIT who is already a prize-winning writer (Wang won the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose and a 2018 Isabelle de Courtivron Prize from MIT’s Center for Bilingual/Bicultural Studies, just to name a couple) and has created a writing mentorship program, an online learning platform and community, been named one of “22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women” by Her Campus, and has written a gorgeous and gut-wrenching debut of short stories. And she’s only 21.

Cranesong, published by Half Mystic Press, is a collection that puts the rest of the world on mute as each story peels open. In one story, a “barely-eighteen college freshman” returns home for Thanksgiving and realizes “[e]verything [she] knew of home is gone,” and some things can’t be replaced. In another, a village is transfixed by the “Guiyang girl in the rice paddies,” her power transcending death. And in another, a young Chinese girl finds a precious moment of friendship in a war-time America determined to erase everything she cares about.

Wang’s skills as a storyteller are a joy to behold. She shifts smoothly and seamlessly from one point of view to another, from present to past and back again, from realism to magic realism and back. Legend can sit beside YouTube; each element, no matter how quotidian, jumps forward into something close to wonder, but the painful kind, like sunlight bouncing off snow. In another writer’s hands, these shifts would be incongruous. But in Wang’s, they’re magic.

And Wang’s characters are so real: they lift makeup they can’t afford, “stealing promises for the lives we yearned for,” crave connection so hard that when they look at the person they love, they “wanted to crawl inside of her, make a home out of all that tenderness,” and say yes against their better judgment because “it feels so good to be seen.” And they’re often in free fall, trying to find their place in a world that asks them to break themselves against its closed, and often locked, doors.

As they deal (but not always cope) with culture, language, sexuality, loss, and racism, and yearn for love, beauty, and home, it’s impossible not to ache right along with these complex characters, many of whom exist with a foot in two or more different worlds, watching, being watched, and sometimes targeted by those that “shimmy like they know they belong in this moneyed, neon world.” In “Liv, Liv, Lipstick Liar,” Liv says, “Some people would walk for years to have something magnificent and entirely theirs.” These are characters walking, getting a little messed up in a messed up world, and the reader gets a little messed up, too.

Wang has a talent for slipping the floor out so that each paragraph, each story, reverberates through muscle and bone to something central. Her imagery is so arresting (“skies that swung open like switchblades” in “The Evolution of Wings”), her diction so startling and fresh (“Skeins of green grains embroidered her limbs and neck” in “The Girl in the Rice Paddies”), the whole of her collection so true to the raw emotion roiling under each surface, that I’d be willing to follow Wang pretty much anywhere. Better pay attention to this bright, vibrant new voice.

Cranesong is available here.