I’m a Chicana jota feminist poet from East LA. I’m a marimacha. But now I’m leaning to the term, malflora. I like being known as a Badflower. But in my corazón, I will always be an East LA poet.
I’m juggling primarily reading events. I coordinated three events scheduled for AWP 2016. I’ll be reading in “Jotas: A Chicana Lesbian Reading by Barrio-Based Writers.” I originally asked around 14 Chicanas, queer and straight, if they would be interested in reading at AWP. They all said yes. I was super excited. I just knew that they agreed, and I was going to do my best to present topics that I thought were necessary to be heard at this major writers’ conference. So I put three events together. I thought it was necessary to have a presence there. I only attended AWP once in Minneapolis, but it was clear to me that our brown–queer and straight–presence was needed. This prompted to create the events. But it is only happening because of the generous time and presence that these amazing poets and writers are providing. I’m fortunate. I think AWP is also fortunate to have their presence there.
I will also be reading for Arktoi Books celebration of Eloise Klein Healy. This is an AWP offsite event on a Wednesday. This should be fun. It’s a kick off to a very queer/lesbian event.
On March 22, I am also presenting a keynote speech, “Jota Chronicles: East LA, Fronteras y Poetry,” for the 2016 J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium at New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, NM). The focus is “Social Justice for LGBTQ Identities in the Borderlands.”
I will also be reading at 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC. This reading I’m in is also a celebration of Arktoi Books. This will be my first time participating at this festival. I’m looking forward to hearing some firme poets.
And I know I’ll be doing more readings. But I’d love to find time to write. With teaching and doing events, it is hard to find that precious time. I have a WIP manuscript that needs to be finished. I have so many poems and short stories that I like to clean up. So I really need to take time to do that. I think it’s an important work. When I look at it, I’m excited with the possibilities for my characters and their narratives; it feels good. So I’m squeezing in time and waiting for the summer or a residency to complete this work.
On the influence of Latino/a or Chicana/o writers of the past
I was in awe of Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street. Her storytelling and lyricism just captured me. It was this Chicana voice who pulled me in. For obvious reasons, I loved Helena María Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories. She was from East LA like me, and I was proud of it. I was amazed with the language she used. It was so barrio. So home grown. I was there; I knew the streets, and they were in print. To see that our stories could be in book and be recognized by universities and the literary world was very important. I would be in the sala reading “Growing” and loving it. Then came Terri de la Peña’s Margins. Only now do I truly appreciate how her book affected me as a young baby dyke. When I was a Lambda Literary finalist, they had asked me the question of who was your influence. I automatically was going to write the two main jotas, but then a fellow joto scholar had already mentioned their importance. And so I thought about the 1990s and what shaped me. Margins really was a narrative that I wanted to hear. I read it as an undergrad in a Chicana literature course. The mundo of Chicana jota literature opened up, and I wanted more. Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years was important to me. Gloria Anzaldúa gave me “el lenguaje de la frontera.” I knew this was my path. I wanted to hear stories about the people I knew from East LA.
Marisela Norte, an East Los Angeles poet who rides the bus, was important for me when I was a young 20 year old. I saw her read at Self Help Graphics and I was enthralled how she could weave a story and transition from one topic to another with such ease. I thought of her work as symphonic poems. 14-17 minutes long that took the audience on a journey. And she brought you back. It was her speaking voice, the written word, the imagery, the Spanglish, el caló; it was amazing. I’m grateful to her.
I cannot leave out the importance of a Native American author. I love the works of Louise Erdrich. I am drawn to her works as a writer and reader. I’ve read all her novels. I love her ability to interconnect a community. She has characters in one novel, and they would pop in another as a background character. In this way, she has taught me how work a story and the importance of minute details. I am fascinated and just awe at her storytelling ability. Erdrich is a writer to learn from. She has a wonderful command of her craft.
There are many writers/poets of color that were influential. So I’ll limit the discussion. The important thing was to also recognize that these women wrote stories that reflected their communities. Yet they cannot tell all the stories. They can only write what they knew. And so I knew if I wanted to hear a story that made sense to me about el barrio, then I had to write it. But their presence gave me hope, inspiration to believe that it could happen. I wish the same for emerging writers. If you want to hear a story or know a story, then you have to write. It is possible to get it published.
Poetry by Verónica Reyes
About the Author Verónica Reyes is a Chicana jota poet from East Los Angeles, California. She earned her BA from California State University, Long Beach and her MFA from University of Texas, El Paso. She scripts poetry for her communities: Chicanas/os, dykes, immigrants, Mexicanas/os, and la jotería. She writes stories to provide images and diverse experiences that exist. She writes to bridge and fill in the gaps in the literary world. She writes so queer youth, straight gente, Raza can see a reflection of themselves in literature. Reyes has won AWP’s Intro-Journal Project, an Astraea Lesbian Foundation Emerging Artist award, and a Finalist for Andrés Montoya Poetry award. She has received grants and fellowships from Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, and Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, ZYZZYZVA, Ms. Magazine (on-line), and The Minnesota Review. Her book, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press 2013), has won Best Poetry from International Latino Book Awards 2014, Best Poetry from Golden Crown Literary Society Awards 2014, the Goldie award, and Finalist for Lesbian Poetry from Lambda Literary Awards 2014. Currently, she teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.