Long before I intersected with Jacqueline Valencia in Toronto’s literary world, I was a long-time listener to her infamous radio show “Clave” that ran on CIUT 89.5fm. But, it has been in watching the unfolding of Valencia’s unique relationship with James Joyce that I became an absolute devout fan of her work and conceptual approach to lyric and verse. As a well-known and respected critic Valencia has her fingers in multiple cultural movements, including film and contemporary art. This woman is a poetic heavyweight in her own right, with a new collection due out (Insomniac Press) in Spring. With an impressive list of publications, Jacqueline is someone we should be reading.
In the face of her own personal transitions and change, Valencia found the time to answer a few questions about poetry, life and identity politics.
Cuckoo Cocoon have I come to, too soon for you?
You reassemble Beauty
at the break still warm to life
with the confidence of a
Turning to find yourself within.
I, don’t even know where I am.
Here is no place for such a past.
You’ve entered me now
and grown beyond
Your mouth becomes a furnace
the hand you’ve kissed
cups only your songs today.
My vanilla sky dreams flourish.
Together carrying the trunk
of this tree forever growing so tall
looking up the branches getting smaller
reaching out, even at our divergence.
Pull and hold fast, for affectation.
Worrying for the fragility of its stems
yet born of solid strength, this dying love
whispers of sweet pained truths.
This must be how we’ve survived.
I am listening, dear heart.
attentive to little grey words
undecipherable in the
mesh mess we’ve created.
I hold the moon in my chest.
Don’t be tender because
you don’t have to do it anymore.
But burn allegiance on the skin.
There, on the left arm
create still images evoked of birth.
On the right, dash
a hope I can not fathom
making single yet.
Keep the Martian hurricanes
and the sea-eyed philosopher
close to your head always, my deer.
While I tether you, antlers and all,
with velvet apron strings
feeling, feeding the cuck-oon
I can not speak to where you are going.
Done it now done
Said our names and imprinted them
on the bark. It was a needful thought.
I will remember
the taste of this sap.
Can you define your relationship with poetry? I ask because you have been doing some interesting experimental stuff with poems and poets over the last few years.
Poetry feels like companion to me. It’s always been there. The women in my mother’s family all wrote and recited poetry; most of them from memory. As a kid I’d end up writing it my journals or in marginalia in books. Poetry books were a natural segue from comics and children’s books.
When did poetry make its way to you? How did you come to poetry? In what ways did poetry help you navigate your life?
Family instilled a great love for it, that’s for sure. It was in high school when I really started getting serious about it. My library was a great resource after school and I spent many hours going through the poetry section discovering and ordering new things to discover.
The study of it offered an interesting challenge. It’s as if this piece of art that I had been expressing myself with all my life, was validated to me through analysis of other works. Anne Sexton and poetic writers like James Joyce became eternally present and human to me. Jorge Luis Borges’s mazes became fun word rollercoasters to ride that ended with the discovery of personal truths.
There’s a powerful window to the mind and heart of humanity within poetry that only gets more mysterious when you find things about yourself within a poet’s work. There is no universality in language, but there is a common thread in emotions.
As the Senior Lit Ed at The Rusty Toque, how do you see contemporary poetry? What would you change?
That’s a loaded question. The truth is that a lot needs to change in poetry right now. Academia needs to reflect the community it is teaching and that starts with taking a hard look at students. Schools can begin by asking what traditional poetries and literature their students grew up with, and then expand from there. Maybe administrations can go into the community and foster what is already there before telling them or assuming “what real poetry” is.
I love experimental poetry, particularly conceptual poetry. It has a lot to offer disenfranchised communities. It’s a place where we can take back what was taken from us, whether that is our land, our voices, our people, or traditions, and take them back.
The latest controversies in the contemporary poetry worlds stalled what could have been a great progression for it. I think conceptual poetry could do with a bit of a burning down and someone pushing the reset button. Let’s have some new poets in there starting new things. I have big love for Kevin Coval & Quarysh Ali Lansana’s The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket). That book is a great example of a modern poetry anthology done right. It has lyricism and conceptualism in a giant spectrum of the poetic world. Some of the works included are still not acknowledged by academia as poetry when it fits every qualification.
How do you see the intersections between social justice work and literature; does this differ for readers and creators of literature?
I think with the world of social media that there is a big responsibility with the power that comes along with it for many writers. If you are a politically minded individual who happens to be a writer, you can use your talents to make a difference in the promotion of your work or the causes that inspire you to do that work.
A reader once said at an event I was at that she was appalled that writers who have exhibited racism in their work admonished her for not understanding the work. She had a legitimate complaint. This reader had an instinctive and visceral reaction to a work that offended her. Meanwhile, writers were taking offense at her reaction? How wrong is that? We are writing for readers! We should be listening to them.
Would you care to talk about the relationship between your love of film and your writing?
Books and film were my friends growing up. Growing up in a traditional Hispanic household in Toronto didn’t allow for much socialization. Plus, as social as I wanted to be, I mostly kept to myself. For me, it was always school, library, then home. On weekends my dad would take us to the video store and my sister and I would get our choice of movies to watch. Between the library and the store I was never out of books or movies.
John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian made a huge impression on me. Then I found a few of the Conan books by Robert E. Howard and fell in love with the cheesy Nietzchean warrior tales. I guess, somewhere in between there I kept finding connections between novels and films. Avant-garde films sealed my obsession with the basics of storytelling.
Where do you see your work taking you?
After working for a long time on experimental things, I’ve started writing in lyrical traditions again. I’m still mixing it up, but as my children are growing up and I’m going through my own transitions, I find that I need to explore where I came from. I want to find out who I am as a writer and what I want express to my reader.
You identify as more than a “Canadian woman” – can you talk about your identity politics and where that casts its impression onto your work?
Also, a heavy question! I try hard not to identify anywhere, but in order for a voice of mixed race within the Latino culture, especially in Canada, you have to find where you are in the maze of the writing world. Writers of color don’t want to spend their time expressing why they need to be heard. They just want to write. However, the current state of writing creates an environment that pegs you into niches. I just want to write and I want to be heard. I’m a writer first and foremost because it is what I have always done before getting published. Now that I have been published and because I try to provide a space for other writers of color to express themselves, I want one day for someone else to not have to worry about identity politics at all. If you write, whether that is from struggle, happiness, sadness, and experience, you are a writer.
I’m a Canadian writer because it’s my home and my home finds its way in my writing, especially as a Torontonian.
I am a feminist writer because it is an imperative duty for us as human beings who happen to be women, to take up space, and make it known.
Who are you loving right now? What are you reading?
As always I am still loving James Joyce! I’d say writers like Liz Worth and Lynn Crosbie inspire me immensely. There’s a great magical surrealism in Toronto women’s writing. It’s a thread I explore in my own work.
The last book I loved was Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs. I had a good cathartic cry at the end of that book and will never look at dogs the same again. The book that is currently in my purse is a re-read of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.
As for film, two my favorite films of 2015 are Yermek Tursunov’s Stranger and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d like add a special mention of Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. Greta Gerwig is a great acting force to be reckoned with.
Jacqueline Valencia is a poet and film/literary critic. She has written for Broken Pencil Magazine, Lemon Hound, Next Projection, Poetry Is Dead, and Notebook Mubi among others. Jacqueline is a senior literary editor of The Rusty Toque and a CWILA board member. Her debut collection There’s No Escape Out Of Time will be out with Insomniac Press Spring 2016. You can find her work at http://jacquelinevalencia.com or at http://thesegirlsonfilm.com. She lives in Toronto.
Lyndsay Kirkham writes and raises cats. She has written for The Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, Role Reboot, The Establishment, Queen Mob's TeaHouse, Kiss Machine, Rabble and various other print and digital publications. She is the co-editor of Gender Focus, a poetry reviewer at Broken Pencil Magazine and spends a great deal of time doing Feminism on Twitter. She is currently living in Vienna, Austria but misses her native homeland of Canada.