October 19, 2020

Hispanic Heritage Month Interview Part 2: Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Ángel García, & Vanessa Angélica Villarreal

In this week’s installment for the Hispanic Heritage Month interviews, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Ángel García, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal discuss literary magazines which amplify Latinx writers/poets, how COVID has affected their writing, and other topics, such as anxiety and Star Wars. Keep an eye out for part three next week! If you missed it, read part one here.

Lauren Davila: Do you have any advice for Latinx poets that are just starting out?

Natalie Scenters-Zapico: Yes. Aim high. If you think a publication is out of your league, keep pushing your craft, and keep submitting. This is perhaps controversial, but we need your voice in the community and in the canon. We need your presence, your being, your spirit. Keep working the poems until they cut like glass.

Keep working the poems until they cut like glass.

Ángel García: I would first encourage young Latinx poets to find community. This obviously proves more challenging in these COVID times, but being Latinx, being alone, writing alone, and reading alone, I think, is one of the most challenging things to do because it’s difficult to make that sustainable. I say this because I was that young poet with little sense of where to find community and because I didn’t know where or how to find community I walked away from poetry. It was heartbreaking. Because so many readings and classes and workshops and programs prioritize and privilege and promote white writers it can make a young Latinx writer feel like they are alone. But there are other BIPOC writers out there and there are opportunities to connect with those writers. It wasn’t until I pushed myself to explore that I was able to connect and create community. But there are so many options now, social media being probably one of the easiest ways. Through these connections we find new writers, new books, new ways of thinking about writing and revising and that, at least for me, was what has sustained me through the difficult times of this writer life.

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal: I know we hear “find your community” a lot, but this is indispensable advice. Community is not the same as “networking” which is inherently rooted in capitalist aims, but in finding people who can be a home for you when institutions cannot. You will hear “read voraciously,” and that is also important, but also redefine reading. Every text can be instructive to your poetry, not just poetry. Television, reality shows, medical textbooks, vintage children’s books, video games—everything is an entry point into your work.

Every text can be instructive to your poetry, not just poetry.

Davila: Are there any literary magazines/journals that you read or are familiar with which amplify Latinx writers that you would recommend to our readers?

Scenters-Zapico: I have a few that I read consistently: Waxwing, The Offing, and Huizache come most immediately to mind.

García: The first on the list, because it is one of the oldest journals in my mind, is The Acentos Review edited by Dr. Raina León. Dr. León does amazing work celebrating Latinx voices and always puts out important issues with poets who are just getting in the game and been around in the game. The Boiler Journal edited by Sebastián Hasani Páramo also comes to mind as well as Waxwing Literary Journal currently edited by Justin Bigos and Iliana Rocha.

Villarreal: The Acentos Review edited by Raina Leon is an incredible Latinx-run space. Dryland is another new literary space run by Latinx and Black editors. The Shallow Ends, Wildness, The Adroit Journal BOAATand Cotton Xenomorph are just a few indie journals that are publishing the best work right now.

Davila: How has the COVID quarantine shaped your writing process over the last couple of months? Has it impacted your creativity in anyway?

Scenters-Zapico: Quarantine has made my writing life much more painful. I used to write for a bit and then try to go somewhere to get my mind off it. Now, I write and am forced to sit with the pain the rest of the day. It’s made my process much slower, and to be honest quite difficult to navigate.

García: Initially, COVID shaped my writing into a little paper ball that was thrown into the trashcan. For the first many months, I stopped writing altogether. Luckily, this was only temporary and over the last few months I’ve been writing again, mostly over zoom with other poets friends who keep me accountable and make space for me. Aside from COVID, though, I think my creativity has been impacted by the nation-wide protests in response to the murder of black folks by police. I find myself pushing and pushing now to write with a greater sense of urgency while reprioritizing what matters. Not that I wrote poems about trees or cats, per se, but there is little room in my mind for those poems, or more generally, poems that are not making a political intervention.

I find myself pushing and pushing now to write with a greater sense of urgency while reprioritizing what matters.

Villarreal: I’ve been in relative isolation for a couple of years now, so not much has changed about my day-to-day except for the total cancellation of all my speaking events, which used to have me traveling at least once a month to a gig. So that’s a huge impact. In terms of writing, poems feel insufficient right now. Language feels insufficient right now. Language, and how we encounter language, is changing so drastically by the incredible increase in computing power of the last few years alone. That combined with the relentless onslaught of the news cycle, the way social media shapes our voices has made everything feel overwhelming and extinguishing. My poems feel threaded through with new urgency, a new need to resist metaphor and the aestheticization of violence. I want to clarify, not obscure. So my poems are becoming almost exclusively visual, plainspoken.

Davila: Are there any surprising outlets for your creativity besides poetry?

Scenters-Zapico: I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. If you hang out with me enough, you’ll notice that I’m always fidgeting and shaking my foot or tapping my hand. If I’m really bad, I even have a problem with my teeth chattering. So, I’m always trying new outlets to focus that energy elsewhere. I like to embroider, latch-hook stitch, make linocuts, and watercolor. I also like making altars with items I make by hand with paper, clay or found objects—what some might call rasquache. I’m terrible at all these outlets, but it reminds me to find joy in the making, not the product.

García: While I have no talent for playing or creating music, I love to sing. Those close to me know this about me and have probably heard me sing a song now and again, something old, something sad. That’s my style. Lately, I’ve been exploring musical components when I make poems. I’ve been asking myself, what would a musical bridge look like in a poem, what does the hook sound like, and where and why does the chorus enter a poem?

Villarreal: I have so much cultural criticism I want to write and no time or connections in media to do it. All of this academic training and reading I’ve done has me constantly deconstructing pop culture. I can’t relax! So I’m in the process of (hopefully, fingers crossed) developing a podcast called “Colonial Fantasies” to unpack and reread the stories that shape us like The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars through a critical race and postcolonial lens. Also, I used to play guitar and sing pretty well back in the day!

—Lauren Davila

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is from the sister cities of El Paso, Texas, USA and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. She is the author of Lima :: Limón (Copper Canyon Press 2019) and The Verging Cities (Colorado State University 2015). Scenters-Zapico has won awards and fellowships from PEN America, the Great Lakes Colleges Association, the Lannan Foundation (2017), CantoMundo (2015), and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation (2018). She is currently a professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

Ángel García is a proud son of Mexican immigrants, is the author of Teeth Never Sleep (University of Arkansas Press), winner of the 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize, winner of a 2019 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. His work can be found in American Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Huizache, Waxwing, the Acentos Review, Tinderbox, the Boiler, and The Good Men Project, among others. He currently lives in Lincoln, NE.

Vanessa Angélica Villareal was born in the Rio Grande Valley to Mexican immigrants. She is the author of the 2019 Whiting Award winning collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series, 2017), a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist, and winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Paris Review, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Rumpus, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Buzzfeed Reader, and Poetry Magazine, where her poem “f = [(root) (future)]” was honored with the 2019 Friends of Literature Prize. She is a recipient of fellowships from Canto Mundo and Jack Jones Literary Arts, and is a doctoral candidate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is raising her son with the help of a loyal dog.