Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Vickie Vértiz

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about? Who would you love to collaborate with?

Everyone should read Beast Meridian by Vanessa Villarreal and There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker. For recent music, I’ve have Twin Shadow‘s first album on rotation with Chicano Batman‘s latest. If either ever wanted to work together I would be thrilled!

What’s the earliest experience, or a stand-out experience, you can remember that made you realize that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you? Has this been difficult for you?

Cherrie Moraga told us in a workshop that the more specific we write the easier it is for people to relate to the work. It has not been difficult to write from my syntax and experience because I’ve had role models to make that road for us to follow (like Lorna Dee Cervantes or Juan Felipe Herrera or Carmen Giménez Smith). This doesn’t mean writing is easy, the point is that you do it despite its difficulty and how you have to write into silences in order to really raise the stakes of your work and its impact.

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter? What brings you joy?

Tending to our succulents, dahlia season, quiet. Practicing Danza Azteca. And dates with myself.

Let’s talk about mental health.

We should all have access to someone that listens to us and helps us make better decisions in our lives. Also, lots of sleep and yoga. I’m missing both right now.

Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?

There’s a speaker who may be me in my poetry, but it’s not always, and also, the me on the page is not the real me. It’s the imagined self. She does a lot more crazy shit than me.

How do you feel about recent conversations about “literary success,” prize culture, personal brands, and the idea of “poetry business?” What are the best ways to support poets and poetry?

Best ways to support writers? Let’s ensure living wages for teachers at colleges and universities.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Read beyond your own interests, borrow these from libraries. Read and support journals that you’d want to be in. Always, always be kind and thoughtful. It is a small community, truly.

What advice do you have toward readers who want to be allies?

Bring us to your campus, help get us paid, and get our work into students’ hands. 

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?

So many things! Too many to list here. First and forever: see the value in art, its creation, and in what it reflects.

Does gender or gender performance affect your writing?

Of course! You can’t un-see what you’ve already seen (and lived). And neither can your writing. 

How does performance fit into your writing?

Maestra Moraga said my work was performative and she’s completely right. I’m working on making the writing as alive as how it’d sound if I read it.

We’re living in a police/surveillance state. How has this affected your approach toward poetry, art, persona, and personal presence?

My phone is both a tool and a tracking system. Let me get back to you in couple of years about what that did to my life.

Has 2017 been different for you than other years?

Just trying to survive. Lots more therapy, limpias, danza, and writing to finish this memoir on education and our value (before the world ends). 

Can you share work from other media that either inspired or is in conversation with your piece in Bettering American?

Photos from the catalogue Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement [P.s. the movement will never end, it’s also known as “survival”] 

How are you?

TIRED. But we continue!


VICKIE VÉRTIZ was born and raised in Southeast Los Angeles. A Lucille Clifton Scholar at the Community of Writers, she was also the 2016 Poetry Center Fellow at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Her writing can be found in Huizache, Nepantla, and in The Coiled Serpent from Tia Chucha Press. Her second collection of poetry, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut, is available from the University of Arizona Press, Camino del Sol series.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. 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 these anthologies. 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.