Appearance on Latino USA on NPR

I’m so pleased to have been interviewed by Maria Hinojosa for Latino USA on NPR. Please listen to our conversation about Latina Sex Stereotypes:

For Latina women it can often seem like there are only two types of representation they see in the media. They’re either sexy and “spicy” or religious and family oriented. But is that really the case?

Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa speaks to writer, poet, and sex columnist for Cosmo for Latinas, Erika L. Sánchez about growing up in a “traditional” Mexican family while being an American girl, feminism, and facing fear.



Interview in Rhino

I am a ruthless reviser” – Interview with Erika L. Sánchez

Associate Editor Jacob Saenz interviewed Poet and Writer Erika L. Sánchez, whose poem, “Recession Poem #3″, was published in RHINO 2012.

JS: First off, thank you for taking the time off your busy schedule to interview with us here at RHINO. We’re happy you agreed to do so and even more pleased to have your poem, “Recession Poem #3″, in RHINO 2012.

I love the use of white space in your poem, which seems to me to represent the “silence // so tentacled so deep” that seeps in throughout the entire poem. I also love that poem ends with the sound of wind chimes that seem to shatter the silence.

How many Recession poems have you written? Do they use a similar form as that of #3? Do you feel compelled to write more of them in this economic climate?

ES: It’s my pleasure! I actually had three recession poems at one point, but I am a ruthless reviser, so now I only have one. Also, this particular one has been transformed into something different. Many of the images remain, but the poem became much more emotionally violent and kind of creepy. (I can’t ever leave my poems alone. I have probably ruined a few by being so compulsive.) I originally wrote the series because I had this god awful corporate job after grad school for about two years, and I don’t think I’ve ever hated anything so much in my life. The poems reflected the deep desperation I felt during that time. While working in the Loop, I also observed jarring economic inequalities and overwhelming consumerism. I was both repulsed and fascinated… But mostly repulsed. Haha. I think I’m finished with those kinds of poems for now. Things are looking up for me.

JS: In addition to being a talented poet, you also write articles for The Huffington Post and NBC Latino. How do you approach writing articles as opposed to poetry? Do you have a writing regimen for either form?  Do you find that your poetry and the articles you write have similar themes and/or topics?

ES: Usually, a poem begins as an image that gets stuck in my brain. I see or hear something grotesque or beautiful or both that startles me and then I become obsessed with it until it becomes a poem. Sometimes it takes me years to complete a poem. Sometimes they require me to leave them alone for months and months before I can revise them again. I know it sounds new agey and kind of mystical, but the poems tell me what they want. I also do a lot of writing exercises and free writing to make myself come up with fresh new language. Poetry feels like my brain giving birth to something painful and grotesque.

My prose, however, is mostly a reaction to anger. Honestly, most of my articles are about things I’m pissed off about. I can make myself sit down and write about domestic violence or racism, for example, but I can’t do the same with poetry. That always ends badly. I can also use humor in my prose, which I find nearly impossible to do when writing poems. Poetry is also so painstaking and image-driven for me. I find both genres liberating in completely different ways.

JS: Full disclosure: you and I both attended Morton East High School in Cicero, IL. I remember being an editor for Parchment, the school’s literary magazine, and how we had to turn down one of your poems because it had the word “cunts” in it. I remember liking the poem and feeling sad that we could not publish it but I also understood why we had to do so. I suppose it would’ve made some readers uncomfortable.

Do you enjoy that, making the reader uncomfortable or otherwise uneasy with your writing? What do you hope the reader to gain by such discomfort? In asking this question, I’m thinking of your article on The Huffington Post, “Why I Choose to be Politically Incorrect”.

ES: I love this story because it reveals how much of an asshole I was at that age. The hubris! Haha. I remember getting the response from the editor and I was all “how dare they censor me!” I remember I also got reprimanded after I read a scandalous poem at a school assembly. I suppose I haven’t completely changed because I still revel in making people uneasy sometimes. Part of it is that I think uncomfortable things need to be dissected and discussed so we can all heal both as individuals and as a society. To be perfectly honest, I enjoy joking about race, and I do it because it helps me cope and because it can make people examine their own privilege. (Or maybe they just end up thinking I’m a politically incorrect jerk. Who knows?)

I also don’t hesitate to let myself go to the weird and unsettling places of my psyche. I can’t tell you how many times I have creeped myself out with a poem. Recently, I wrote a poem about donkeys and when I was finished, I thought to myself– “did I really just write a poem about a donkey show?” I feel like readers appreciate that sort of vulnerability and honesty, though. I often get responses from other women, especially Latinas, thanking me for writing about this or that. I really appreciate being able to connect to people in that capacity. My articles have also pissed a lot of people off, particularly men, and I’ve received plenty of hate mail, but it doesn’t faze me anymore. I’m going to write about what I think is important regardless of the repercussions. I’ve always been brutally honest and it has both bitten me in the ass and served me well.

JS:  As a Latina poet, how do you feel about nature of Latino/a poetry as a whole?  Do you feel Latino/a poetry is well-represented in mainstream journals? If not, what could be done to address this?

ES: I don’t know what to say about the nature of it as a whole, because it’s comprised of so many voices and styles. I think it might take me a few months to come up with a good answer. I’m disappointed when I don’t see Latino/a poetry in mainstream journals, because there are so many talented Latino poets that I refuse to believe it’s because they don’t receive enough submissions. I think this is improving though. Latino/as have been winning big prizes and are being published by larger presses. The way that I personally address this problem is by submitting to these journals until they take my work. I’m very stubborn. I think it would also help if journals made an effort to make their editorial team more diverse.

JS: Who and what have you been reading lately that has inspired you? What books do you recommend? Do you have a go-to poet/writer?

ES: Love, an Index by Rebecca Lindberg is stunning– poignant and beautifully crafted. Wow. I love creepy poems so I really enjoyed A Larger Country by Tomás Q. Morín. Everyone and their mother, grandmother, and cat have been talking about Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, and I will be no different. It’s undoubtedly one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read. Larry Levis is one of my favorite poets. I can read his poems over and over. They are so good they make my heart hurt. I’ve been into Emily Dickinson ever since I was an awkward and solitary teenager and she still makes me feel “as if the top of my head were taken off.”

JS: What’s next for you? Any projects/books/plans for world domination?

ES: I would like to get my poetry manuscript published soon. I feel like it’s finished now and would like to see it in the world. Recently, I also started writing a memoir and then realized that I actually need to write a novel instead. I hope to one day have time to complete it. The ideas are bubbling inside me, but freelancing sucks up all of my time. I’ve also been approached to come up with some ideas for other kinds of media. I’m eager to tell the whole world more about it but I think it’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen with all that. I’m very excited about the possibilities on the horizon. I feel like I’m on the cusp of something.

Interview with American Public Media

The American Now

“Erika L. Sánchez, 27, of Chicago, reads her poem, “Crossing,” about her parents who entered the United States in the trunk of a Cadillac in 1979. She also talks about what it means to be a hard working poet, and how her definition of success differs from that of her parents. You can also hear Sánchez read her poem, “The Loop,” here. You can also read her blog posts at News Taco, where she goes by Oh Hells Nah — also her Twitter handle.” (1.31.2012. Interviewed by Jeff Severns Guntzel)

Interview with Hayden’s Ferry Review

Contributor Spotlight

My writing process is a bit like me: irrational. Sometimes images seem to haunt me until I am compelled to write a poem around them; other times I do everything I can to “break my eye open” (this concept comes from my favorite TV series, “Six Feet Under.”) To break your eye open is exactly what it sounds like— to see the world in a new way, to make unusual associations. I do this is by delving into my subconscious—a fecund and frightening place. I love writing exercises for that reason. They help me find startling images and fresh language after I feel I’ve exhausted all of my own. One of my favorites is a dada exercise that I learned from my wonderful poetry instructor in Spain– Jesús Urceloy. What a brilliant man. He had everyone follow the most specific and absurd instructions and the end result was amazing. For example, he made us write the word “lamp” on a sheet of paper and leave it near our bed. Upon waking we were to immediately write every word that came to mind when we thought of “lamp.” Then in class he made us write all of the words we associated with “fish” along with a series of other similar instructions. Towards the end we were to give one of the lines we had written to a partner as a gift. He then instructed us to recite our lines in a specific order, then at random until they began sounding like an incantation. Everyone wrote incredible poems and that class remains as one of my most beloved memories. I miss those people profoundly…

The other night my roommate and her boyfriend came home to find me with one hundred note cards with different words written on them all spread out on the living room floor. I was standing over the cards in unattractive celestial pajamas, drinking beer, and listening to jazz. The three of us laughed. “This is what I do,” I tried to explain, still laughing at myself. These are the kinds of nights when I find most inspiration— solitary, drinking a beer, and listening to beautiful music. Very romantic.

Speaking of romance, I’ve recently been working on my dissertation for my MFA and in the process I’ve come to realize how romantic my notion of poetry is. Though Heidegger was a fascist (which is obviously incredibly problematic), I do agree with his philosophy on poetry. To me, it is the purest form of language and the closest we can get to the “essence” of things. Words inspire me every day and I was not exaggerating when I wrote in a poem that “I scrape words to stay living.” In many ways poetry has saved me time and time again.

Leftist and feminist writers have been especially inspirational to me. Adrienne Rich, for example, was critical in my early development as a writer because her poems were my first encounter with “political poetry.” It was after reading her that I realized that I should not only write about love and beauty, but also about what is happening in the world, sometimes even conflating these private and public spaces. I believe in work that reveals both the wonders and horrors of our humanity.

I am also fascinated by poems centered on the female body because I see it is a “site of cultural inscription,” (from Judith Butler’s book, Gender Trouble, quoting Foucault). So many experiences, from love to violence, are written on our bodies. Much of my work is intentionally corporeal and visceral. I have recently written poems about prostitution and human trafficking, and in the process I’ve realized how much the female body is directly communicating issues like globalization and drug trade. To me, a poem that simply celebrates female sexuality is also political in that it rejects our rigid gender codes.

Because poetry has inspired me to question and challenge injustice and because it’s been so pivotal in revolutionary movements throughout history, I still believe that poetry has the power to inspire revolution and transform the world, as naïve and idealistic as that may be.

Interview with Hunger Mountain

by Claire Guyton, Art + Life Editor

What inspired your poems “Las Pulgas” and “Orchid”?

Manet’s Olympia, 1863

I began writing “Orchid” when my boyfriend briefly lived next to a motel in one of the seedier neighborhoods in Albuquerque. I became interested in the women who worked on his street and I began thinking of all the forms of prostitution that I had witnessed in the various cities I had lived in or traveled to. In Spain I had watched a documentary on the sex workers in Madrid, which continued to haunt me two years later. I conflated a few of the images from the film with images I encountered. Because I wanted to avoid telling anyone else’s story or othering/objectifying sex workers, I tried to write this poem as a series of snapshots rather than an analysis. I am particularly interested in the ways in which the female body communicates complex issues in contemporary society.

“Las Pulgas” was written after I researched narcocorridos (“drug ballads”) for a paper in my Chicano Studies class. I was drawn to the intersection of sex, violence, and economic exploitation, as well as the political contradictions of the musical genre. I also wanted to suggest the relationship between the poverty of a small Mexican town and the opulence and decadence of the narco-traffickers in the same town and in a metropolitan space.

Tell us about your writing process—either generally or specifically with regard to the birth and development of these poems.

Picture I took at Musée d’Orsay, where I saw Manet’s Olympia.

Sometimes I wish I were one of those writers who wakes up at 5:00 am every day to write for an hour. Unfortunately, I am not, and I tend to write in spurts. I can write every day for weeks, then hit a dry spell that can last another few weeks. Usually, however, I don’t go without at least scribbling notes in my journal, reading poetry, or obsessing over a word for more than a few days. Sometimes I make myself do writing exercises that generate interesting material, but typically, I get a word or image stuck in my head that I need to write out many times just to keep my sanity. I’ve had the end of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head since I was sixteen. It comes and goes, but boy, has it endured.

What’s the sound track to these poems?

I always think of this poem when I listen to “Me Llamam Calle” by Manu Chao. It’s also on the soundtrack for the Spanish movie, “Princesas,” which is also very relevant to the subject of the piece. “Las Pulgas” was born from narcocorridos, particularly those by the band Los Tigres del Norte. I’m fascinated by the way the genre both subverts and reinforces capitalist ideology.

Have your writing habits changed over time?

When I was younger, I used to rely on inspiration, but now I force myself to write even when it’s the last thing on earth I want to do. Writing and I have a love/hate relationship. As a friend once put it— “Writing: ‘Hey, do you want to get some dinner sometime?’ Me: ‘Yes. Wait, no. I hate you. Wait— ’ ” I think I also start crying in this imagined scenario, but I don’t remember. Either way, you get the idea.