Lorna Dee Answers Questions On Race, Class and Gender and Her Poetry
Hello my name is Jessica and I am currently a student of professor Bill Allegrezza's recent writing class. I have chosen your book Drive The First Quartet which I am enjoying very much. I haven't decided on a favorite poem at this time still have about a 1/4 of the book left to read so I can't say at this time. I will say the one that seems to make me laugh the most is "On Why I Boycotted Cinco de Mayo". I have always felt that here in America it is just another reason to party and not only Americans but Mexican Americans even do not know exactly what is the history or meaning of that day. Not to mention we are usually getting specials on American products. I will have to say today especially I have spent time on reseachering history I should know as my mother is Mexican as well of course my grandparents. So that was also a plus to understanding some of the meaning, people/events, and words throughout your poetry. I have some questions I would really appreciate your feedback and answers to when you are able to respond. I have eliminated some due to answers found in my research, but these I have not yet come across. I am looking forward to your return email and thank you for taking the time to read my email and questions.
With being a part of the Latino movement when did you finally feel your voice was finally heard and achieved your sense of recognition?
As a part of the Chicana/o literary movement, my voice was never separate in the first place. From the very beginning, as a writer, I knew I was a step in the path we were creating for ourselves and for the seven generations walking behind us. I was always speaking for and with a larger community - which includes the dead and the yet unborn. My goal was never to be "heard", expressly, just the fact that I was writing at all was goal enough. I've never been a writer who was interested in achieving recognition. Of course, I'm grateful for any recognition I have achieved, but only in that it is a reflection on and an achievement of my community.
What was your biggest challenge trying to achieve your goals?
My own lack of self-confidence - however that was constructed socially, historically and politically.
Did you feel more discriminated against due to your nationality or as a woman?
As a woman. Without a doubt. And as not a very attractive woman at that. Secondly, and predicted and dictated by my gender and color, class; my socio-economic status in relation to power and privilege; i.e., not being able to play tennis and drink Scotch with the right people. (not really kidding, but smiling) As a woman of color I am ignored and excluded from page and mind as writer.
What was your biggest challenge as a writer?
See above. My own lack of self-confidence. But, as one of my mentors, Stanley Kunitz once told me (regarding my shyness), "It gets better."
Due to the history and struggles of the people you express in your writing what do you feel impacted you the most as well as in your work?
My experiences as a member of the welfare class, the poverty class in "America" as an indigenous person of the Américas. And, how I experienced history and struggle as a woman, a young woman of color. Lately, I've been reflecting on the times I've been called a "n..." to my face. And, how power is exercised differentially across the classes.
What do you feel are significant factors in becoming a good writer?
Writing. As I said in an earlier interview, it takes a lot of tending of the crocus bulbs to produce enough saffron for the paella. And reading. As I tell my workshop on the first day of class: "Write, write, write! Read, read, read! And the rest will pretty much take care of itself" - as long as you're not writing in a vacuum. Who you're reading makes a big difference, too. To put the right book in the right hands at the right time is about 80% of my teaching. That's why I like to read poetry blogs, certain ones, I know I'll read something good, something that will inspire. Poetry teaches us ways in which we are all connected.
What is your favorite poem that you have composed and why?
Probably, like a lot of us, the last one I wrote. "Nothing Lasts." Before that, "Shelling the Pecans." But, really, there's an answer to that. "Coffee," the long poem I wrote that's, in part, on the massacre of 45 civilians, mostly women and children, in Chiapas, Mexico is one of my best, I think. It had to be. I like it because the dead are there, speaking and alive. It's the second in a series of four or five poems I consider "docupoems" - a form inspired by my former colleague, Ed Dorn. I consider these four poems to be the "quartet" referred to in DRIVE. The first is "Bananas." I have long been working on the third, "Oil." It's been a long and learning process.
For fun or relaxation what do you enjoy to do?
Ha! Write poetry! Read poetry. I like to dance - helps to get my yayas out. I love and need live music - more like work for me, in that it's so tied in to my poetry. Ha, I ought to deduct it from my taxes. I love to scribble while listening to lyricless music. (Visit me on MySpace and check out the songwriters and bands.) For relaxation, I ought to do more yoga - I've been practicing by myself ever since I was 11. For pure zoning out, fun and relaxation, I work jigsaw puzzles. I'm a jigsaw fanatic. Got any?
Thanks for this, Jessica. Hope it helps. Glad you liked the "Coors" poem, it still makes me laugh, too. And, true.