• Marías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Gustavo Barahona-López

Gustavo Barahona-López is a poet from the San Francisco Bay Area. In his writing, Barahona-López draws from his experience growing up in a Mexican immigrant household. His work can be found or is forthcoming in Rattle’s Poets Respond, PALABRITAS, Cutthroat, Puerto del Sol and Unlost Journal. When Barahona-López is not in the classroom you can find him re-discovering the world with his son. His twitter handle is @TruthSinVerdad.

You are a poet and an educator and you are dedicated to the study of Latinx history as well as contemporary social issues faced by marginalized people. How do poetry and your dedicated study nourish each other?

I find that my understanding of history and contemporary social issues is embedded within my creative writing. For instance, I find the treatment of migrant children under the current administration criminal in its dehumanization and compete disregard for the children’s well-being. As a father, the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin while she was in Border Patrol custody, as well as a growing number of primarily Central American migrant children who have died, hit me especially hard. When I heard about this case, I felt an overwhelming need to write a poem in response. This came to be my poem titled, “The Not Knowing Tears”. Similarly, while I am working on a poem that centers or even mentions historical events, I do extensive research to ensure I get the details right. Though not an explicit purpose of all my poems, one of my goals for many of my works is to provide readers with knowledge or a new perspective on social issues.

Do you think that literary environment/current canon is still supporting white/cishet/men?

From my research and reading of contemporary poets, it appears to me that the centrality of the experiences and narratives of white/cishet/men in poetry is changing. There are numerous examples of nationally acclaimed poets from marginalized communities that have won some of the most prestigious prizes in literature. Additionally, there are vibrant literary communities, many online, that offer opportunities for writers of color. Having said that, much of what is considered the mainstream canon and most of the people in positions of power within the publishing industry are still white/cishet/men. As such, work that reflects the experiences and/or priorities of these men will often be what gets recognition. However, I am cautiously optimistic that this dynamic is shifting for good.

In one of your tweets -correct me if I am wrong- you said: “During the last two decades, undocumented immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border has become increasingly deadly. This is in spite of the fact that actual levels of migration into the United States continue to fall. With unaccompanied minors and families traveling with children becoming a greater proportion of migrants, particularly those from Central American countries, this also means that cases like that of Jakelin Caal Maquin will become more common. As an educator and human being, I find this appalling.” What else do you think about this? Do you think that Trump’s mindset will achieve what they want?

That statement accompanied my poem “The Not Knowing Tears” on the Rattle website.

For Trump and other people calling for harsher immigration control policies, immigration to the United States is completely decontextualized in a historical sense. The goal of family separation policies and consistent violations of both federal law and court mandates for the conditions of immigration detention is making the United States as inhospitable for immigrants as possible. Migrant suffering, trauma, and death are not unintended consequences of these policies, they are explicit objectives. This is state violence.

How is your relationship with English, Spanish and other languages when writing? How do you connect the languages or should I ask how do you feel them?

I write poetry primarily in English despite also being fluent in Spanish. While I learned both languages simultaneously, at this point I can communicate better in English. However, I tend to write poems for loved ones in Spanish. These are intimate poems that I have no intention of publishing. I have also written a number of poems in Spanglish, which feels like my most authentic way to express myself. Even in my English poems, I will include words in Spanish to bring the reader closer to my perspective. Each language offers a slightly different view of the world. I am very interested in interrogating the generative gaps in translation between English and Spanish.

When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?

In my bilingual third grade class I wrote three or four poems in Spanish for Mother’s Day. My teacher and especially my mom loved them. Though the poems were super cheesy, at times I still think back to the metaphors I used then.

Which is your favorite genre to read? Which is your favorite to write?

I am a big fan of fiction. In middle school and high school, I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. My favorite genre to write is poetry but I am beginning to write more prose.

Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?

I find that I write primarily narrative or lyrical poetry. However, as I read more poetry and gain more confidence in my craft, my work is becoming more experimental. If my work could be associated with any poet it would have to be Eduardo Corral.

When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you? When putting together a chapbook/collection of poetry, what do you keep in mind? How do you keep it a cohesive piece of work?

For many of my pieces there is a strong emotional core. I sometimes start with particular memories, concepts, or events that help me access powerful emotions. I am currently working on y first chapbook but I feel I have a lot to learn when it to keeping it cohesive. My approach now is to look at all of my poems and identify ones that have similar themes, motifs, and/or imagery. My current work in progress centers on grief, loss, and family ties.

Do you feel that social media has helped poets? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?

I have found poetry Twitter extremely helpful. Because of my engagement with social media, I have learned of numerous opportunities and markets that I would not have otherwise known about. It is also one of the few means I have for sharing my work publicly. I am working on a website that will hopefully facilitate the process as well but I have a lot to learn when it comes to marketing myself.

A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?

I currently work full time as a 3rd grade Spanish immersion teacher in San Francisco. I am also working towards my teaching credential and am the proud father of my soon to be 2 year-old Romero. For the time being I use vacations and scheduled time, mostly on weekends, to write. However, given all of my commitments, it can be very challenging to

Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?

Within the next five years I hope to publish a chapbook and my first full length collection of poetry.

Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?

I have two poems in the “No Tender Fences” anthology of immigrant and first-generation American poets. All proceeds of the anthology go to RAICES-TEXAS and their work to defend immigrants and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. I also have poems forthcoming at Moonchild Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Haden’s Ferry Review, and Apogee.

Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.


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