Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 3 — Roberto C. Garcia

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?

This summer I had the pleasure of reading submissions for the PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship. I was deeply moved by the depth, craft, and urgency of the manuscripts I read. The writers are committed to fighting the injustices of our judicial and prison systems.

I’m back and forth between both Alabama Shakes albums and Black Thought’s Streams of Thought Vol 1.

I’ve also been reading a lot of novels and essay collections. Anais Nin, Mohsin Hamid, Michael Eric Dyson, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and others. I’ve also been reading poetry by Marwa Helal, Su Hwang, Benjamin Naka-Hasebe Kinglsey, Tanea Lunsford, Belal Mobarak, Ruth Irupe Sanabria, Jasminne Mendez, Maria Fernanda, and so many more.

As an independent publisher, I run the small press Get Fresh Books LLC, I’m always reading poets both established and up-and-coming. We could be here all day! Lol.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

I would nominate the poets I’ve had the pleasure of publishing. Much like your mission: “We wish to challenge the idea that a few gatekeepers should oversee the publishing order each year by actively defining and maintaining a hierarchy of voices,” Get Fresh Books LLC is about giving space to poets who aren’t getting the limelight.

Lynne McEniry is a wonderful poet, writing honest and important poems. Her poem, “Dried Up Things,” is one of my favorites.

What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too “intense” or “upsetting?”

There’s a lot of poetry out there. Go find your groove.

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?

I wrote an essay titled “Po-Biz or Poetry Bourgeoisie” about this subject. It was published in Rigorous: A Journal Edited & Written by People of Color.

The MFA has made it inevitable that poetry would become a capitalistic enterprise, a small one, but one nonetheless. Once a person earns a degree in something, they have a reasonable expectation of making a living from it. Once art becomes part of capitalism things get complicated. Capitalism is a parasitical system. Art is supposed to be antithetical to all of that.

The best way to support poets is to showcase their work, the work of all poets, and not just the same eight or nine poets over and over again. Pay poets for readings. And equally as important is attracting readers, poets and the organizations that purport to support them must develop the next wave of readership. Social media has been an effective tool for connecting poetry and readers, but we need to do more. We need to go outside the MFA industry and show folks that there’s poetry out here for them.

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

Find your niche. There’s a journal for your work, there’s a publisher for your work, and there’s an audience too. Seek and you shall find.

Make community. You need a group of writers you can trust and talk shop with. And if you can workshop with your community, that’s a big help too. Apply to Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Kundiman, Lambda Literary, and any others. These are places for us.

Participate in workshops outside your community. Those fresh eyes make a difference. Learn from as many experienced writers as you can.

Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Ask questions. Repeat.

Be professional. Nobody calls back a dick. Everybody remembers a professional.

What would you like to see change in the literary world, or how would you “Better” American poetry? Can American poetry be “bettered?”

I would like to see capitalism die. I think we’ll be able to figure out how to “Better” everything once that happens.


A photo of the author, a man of color, wearing a white and black scarf and dark rimmed glasses, with brick walls behind him. He's looking straight into the camera.ROBERTO CARLOS GARCIA‘s second poetry collection, black / Maybe, is available from Willow Books. His first collection, Melancolía, is available from Cervená Barva Press. His poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Root, Entropy, Those People, Rigorous, Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, The New Engagement, Public Pool, Stillwater Review, Gawker, Barrelhouse, Tuesday; An Art Project, The Acentos Review, Lunch Ticket, and many others.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 3. 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 this 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.