If you plan to publish a series of future books, do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I feel like I am on a journey and right now this journey is writing and exploring my voice through poetry. I have a few erotic love poetry manuscripts that I am currently submitting to publishers, and I started a follow-up to Flashes & Verses with some poems that were written after Attractions was crafted. I am also working on a very personal collection of poems inspired by my Mami. She passed away, it will be a year in November. My mother was my number one champion of my poetry and my creative verse. When we were so poor that we couldn’t afford to send any gifts for birthday, anniversary or Navidad, I would send her poetry. She kept a folder of all my poems in her room. After she left us, my Papi gave me the folder of her poems. It took me a long time to open the folder up. It was so hard. When I finally did open up the folder, I found many poems that would still truly resonated with me. After reading some these poems at my Mami’s memorial service and the response I received from the verses, I realized that I needed to get these poems out into the world. The problem is that I am still grieving and am not ready to have readings with a collection of these poems. I am hoping soon, maybe by the end of 2019, early 2020 I will be ready to send these poems out together in one volume.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I have a motto, I write therefore I am. I spent a better part of myself running away from my writing voice that I can’t imagine doing anything else. Everything in my life evolves around poetry writing and living the creative life. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else. I can tell you when I was younger I dreamed of being an NBA point guard, a radio DJ and lead singer in a rock band. I still love watching basketball, listening to music but poetry and writing is my life’s passion.
Do you ever have writer's block for more than a day or two? If so, what do you usually do during this time?
I used to but then I trained my creative mind to live and create with a daily regimen. Translation: I write every day. There are no days off. Holidays, birthdays, anniversary. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is write. My whole life and day revolves around writing. I take my enthusiastic passion from athletes like Kobe Bryan and LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo. They train and practice every day for their career, why shouldn’t I? But this works for me, and my life. Like I said before, I spent so many years running away from my writing voice or worse my fear of failure, that I love writing every day. Not everything I write is good. But I feel even the raw/rough poems lead to successful ones, later on in the week, month or year.
What is your advice to any aspiring writer who is struggling with publishing their work?
Keep writing. Benicio del Toro gave the best advice for any artist struggling in their respective fields: “Turn down the volume of your Expectations and Turn up the volume of your Perseverance.” No matter what you do in this life you will fail, you will be rejected. This doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your writing, it just means that your writing hasn’t found the right publication home. Keep at it. Submitting work is a hit and miss affair. I have a full-length book of poems, a chapbook and have had over 150 poems published and I still get rejected. I look at these rejections as fire for my flame of preservation. Sometimes the piece you are sending out is not ready or ahead of its time. I’ve had some poems take 3-7 years of rejections until they finally were published. Keep submitting. The best advice I would give to writers is READ, READ everything and support other writers and poets by investing in their works, chapbooks and collections. Go to poetry readings, start poetry readings and writing groups. You may fail but don’t ever give up.
What does the process of one of your poems look like?
It depends. Usually I write a poem and then save it in a folder. I create yearly folders on my desktop and within those are monthly folders. Right now, I am in October. So, every poem I write goes into the October folder. I just had an acceptance from an LA publisher for an anthology of erotic love poems. She shared her call for submissions for me that was looking for poems that included certain specific words in the verses. So, I did I keyword search and looked at the poems that came up and then I started revising them. Revising is a joy to me. I feel like am a verbally poetic sculptor. I love editing, cutting lines and molding my poems into shape. One of the poems that was accepted was an ekphrastic poem, based on a 1903 painting by Picasso, that I started writing three years ago. That poem was rejected from so many contests, publications and journals. But it found the right home with this LA publisher. Sometimes it just takes fate and luck. It also takes revising. That poem went through so many versions. And I finally got the poem right a few days ago. To be a successful poet you need to be open to cutting your best lines. Listen to the poem. The poem will tell you. And I felt like I was being at times too clever with this one and so I finally heeded the advice and the poem is always right.
How do you know when a piece you write is finally finished?
Paul Valery once said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I have many abandoned poems that are on the bench ready to be put into the game and submitted for publication. The funny thing is that even poems that have been published, after they are printed in a journal, website or in my book, I cringe and want to edit. I remember during one of my MFA residencies meeting Washington State Poet Laurate Elizabeth Austen and she had a book published and she showed us how many marks was on the poems that were inside the book. We, as writers, evolve, and so do our poems. Just because a poem has been published, the life span of the verse doesn’t end there. Very few poems I have written are done, where I can say, I never have to revise them again. It’s the one that still need revising that still haunt me. I wish all my poems were finished and even some of the published ones are just dying for another set of revisions. Sometimes it never ends. Alas, that’s the life of a poet. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Did you write a lot as a kid, or at what age did you begin to write more poetry (writing in general)?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, my Papi gifted me his typewriter and I would write Star Trek fan fiction and Sports newsletters. I started writing poetry when I discovered Jim Morrison and The Doors in high school. It wasn’t till college, when I those once rock inspired poems begin to flourish. When I discovered Pablo Neruda during my undergrad years at the University of Texas in San Antonio, my destiny as a poet was cemented. I wanted to craft love poems like Neruda. And over twenty years later, I am still trying.
What is one of your personal favorite poems?
e.e. cummings “She Being Brand.” You can find it in his collection of Erotic Poems. The way Cummings writes about desire and evoking the sensual act as an erotic excursion in a car, is legendary. Automobile hot rod and erotic love poem enthusiasts will both appreciate the carnal grandeur of this memorable poem.
How long did it take you to write your book "Flashes & Verses…Becoming Attractions"?
Flashes & Verses is a collection of poems I wrote during my three years it took to earn my MFA degree at Antioch University Los Angeles. The MFA at AULA changed my life. I felt like I evolved from the first project period 2013 to my graduation in 2016. Attractions actually is my MFA manuscript. Before we graduated, every student, no matter in what genre of writing, has to submit a manuscript of poems that reflect their journal during the MFA program. I started shopping my manuscript as soon as I graduated, and it still took a few years of so many rejections until I found the right home and Unsolicited Press published my book in May 2018. I also wanted to document and honor the MFA experience to show poets and writers that attending an MFA program can change your life. I not only grew as a writer, I met so many amazing friends, colleagues and inspiring writers, my first poetry collection was born from this life changing experience at Antioch University Los Angeles.
What inspires you the most to write, something that you read, look at, or remember, and it instantly allows you to become more inspired?
My specialty is ekphrastic poetry, which is poems inspired by photographs and by works of art. Usually all it takes is reading a quote, a line from another poet, a memory of a family member, friend or flame. I’ve also written poems from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. The way I see it, everything in my whole universe is ready to spark a new poem and I need to be ready to transcribe and document it on my stanza page. This is why, I follow the advice of Dr. Kirsten E. Ogden, a mentor who taught one of the poetry workshops that led to many breakthroughs in my writings. Dr. Ogden, recommended that I put my poetry on the page with a pen. I used to only write poems on my computer. But after taking Dr. Ogden’s poetry class at Pasadena City College, I started buying notepads, journals and notebooks and writing down any creative inclination and this has to led to some of my best innovative poem. Inspiration is always sending us sparks of inspiration, it us our job as writers and poets to take these gifts of motivation and translate them into poems.
The theme of love is reoccurring in your poetry, specifically moments or memories you’ve shared with someone. I am curious, what is your personal definition of love?
Love to me is an intimate connection between two people. The connection can be strong, carnal, lasting but it’s also imperfect. The true definition of love to me is accepting your lover, partner and mate’s faults and still loving despite those imperfections. I am so imperfect, and I am lucky to have found someone who is patient with me and supports my life calling as a poet. I had a poem published recently, “Everyone Fantasizes Being Loved by a Poet” at PCC’s Inscape that reflects how difficult it is to be enamored, falling in love or be in a relationship with a poet. It’s not easy. Sometimes my work, my poems, my readings are paramount, and this is difficult for some. I can truly say, I am a successful poet because of my wife. I am on this journey because of her love and support. Without her I wouldn’t be here being interviewed by her. It’s her belief in me and her love is the reason I have a career in poetry. I am the lucky one. I found love and a career in poetry that I love. Not many people can say this.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I actually had a dream about this. I was living in San Antonio in a very unhappy codependent relationship and I dreamt that I ran into my younger self in a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I remember telling myself, “Keep writing. Writing will make it better.” And it’s the best advice. It has come true. My life has grown because of my writing. I’ve written through pain, loss, love, death of my Mami, life changes, success, failures… I can truly say when something is weighing on me and stressing out my life, writing is my savior. As soon as I write about it, I find clarity and I can relax. Keep writing and I do every single day of my life.
So, a lot of my poems sometimes feel like humans. When I read them it can take me back to something someone said, or even like the poem is talking to me when I read it. Do you have a poem that does this for you?
Absolutely, I have one specifically in my book, Flashes & Verses… Becoming Attractions, “Her Eyes Hesitate,” based on a memory of a former flame. We were in her car, she was spinning a mix tape I made for her, trying to convince herself to end our affair. There’s an actual quote from our conversations in the car in my poem. When I read it, my mind, body and soul go back there. The personal is universal. If you can evoke something personal that resonates emotionally with you and reflect that on the page, I guarantee that someone out there will one day connect with your poems.
.Write a poem using six words about how distant love may feel
Imagining experiencing your words, always reignites me.
How long do you usually practice before going on stage in front of an audience to perform your poetry?
I start a week before. I find out what time and how long I am going to read, and I practice during that same hour of the day. I only rehearse, because you only get one chance as a reader. I have to practice because I have a speech impediment. For years my stutter was something I was ashamed of. It made me shy and fearful of speaking in public or even to friends or new acquaintances. I was always afraid that they were going to laugh of me. But thanks to a mentor of the MFA program Gayle Brandeis, she made me realize that my stutter was a part of me and not something I should be ashamed of. When I start my poetry readings, I always announce to the audience that I have a stutter, so they will know and not be surprised when I start stammering while reading my poetry. I also want to be an inspiration to young writers and poets who have a sense of fear about reading their work in front of a crowd. I want to show them, if I can come up here on the stage and read my poems, and stutter through most of them, why can’t you? My stutter was my one Achilles heel that I turned into an asset of inspiration.