What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too intense or upsetting?
Take it slow. Take a break. Take a cry. Take a bath. Dig back in.
What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
We have to be good to each other, including listening to each other, reaching out to one another. Don’t be scared into careerism that pits us against one another. Instead, always aim to move forward, together.
What advice do you have toward readers who want to be allies?
Be afraid. Be okay being afraid, and be okay being uncomfortable. You might get hurt, but remember how often marginalized are hurting. Also, just generally—shut up once in a while.
What needs to change in the educational/academic world, with regard to poetry and writing? What can literary educators do to affect this change? What can students do?
Academics and educators need to put themselves at risk, put their institutions at risk. We have to love each other and justice more than we love our own safety and comfort. No one said it will be easy. But listen and act. Don’t be afraid to confront systems and perpetrators. If you’re afraid, imagine how your students feel.
How do you feel that writers or editors can engage in topics of oppression and violence without falling into tropes of exploitation?
For editors specifically, provide opportunities for marginalized people, but you also don’t have to rush to be the first/only. Promote writers and organizations engaging in oppression, even if it’s not your magazine or organization. Make your space a place for multi-layered voices that nuance, even if you are not the publisher. This way, you are a part of a community, instead of rushing to be The Voice of Oppression or Violence.
CARMEN GIMÉNEZ SMITH is the author of a memoir and four poetry collections—including Milk and Filth, finalist for the 2013 NBCC award in poetry. With John Chavez, she edited Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing published by Counterpath Press. A CantoMundo Fellow, she teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University, while serving as the publisher of Noemi Press.
This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry 2015. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”
Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for the anthology. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.