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.