Palabras: Spiritual Oracle- Fertility.

 

Rethinking, revising, rewriting. These have been the three major elements of my weekend, thus far. I started my morning, as I have been for the last five weeks, writing my three pages as suggested in Julia Cameron’s The Prosperous Heart. I’d woken up on the negative side of the bed but by the time I finished the pages I had taken a turn toward the positive. The old shadows and doubts were cleared away in the process letting in room for light, excitement and anticipation of my continuing process. In fact, I realize that my personal writing has taken on a new slant. It now includes affirmations that I believe and clear visualization of goals achieved. Wow. These three pages have become a mix of prayer and meditation. They allow me to de-clutter, de-stress and disavow the stuff that “yuck” is made of. Having finished part of my morning plan earlier than I anticipated, I decided I would use this time to pull the weekly card. This leaves my evening open for free time to be me and enjoy the fruits of my work. I shuffled, smudged and fanned the cards out. I centered and allowed Graciella la Gitana’s carefree energy to merge with my own. We pulled the Fertility card.

Image: The image is that of a bulging pouch filled with jewels and gems that spill out onto a background of dark velvet.  

Words: About to give birth. Pregnant with the abundance of life. Giving forth to that which is expected, yet that which is still unknown. Keep steady as this new beginning bursts forth. It is rich with possibilities. The potential realized is forthcoming.

Read: New cycles in life and work are apparent in your life today. Look to where it manifests. Is it a novel, is it a baby or is it the tiny sprig of green that peeps in your garden this fine day?  Each one of us is blessed with a creative center from which that we generate takes form. It’s important to get to know your personal creation. What is that thing that makes your heart swell and allows you to feel the abundance of all that is good in this life? It may be different from that of your best friend or closest colleague and only you can determine exactly what it is. We may be infectiously affected by that of someone else and that may be your clue as to where you decide to place your energies. Have you thought of spending time with something that your neighbor is now doing? You wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ their idea. You might go along with them to that new yoga class where you will find the ‘you’ that’s ready to emerge. Taking sewing or fencing classes with a buddy will help you to cut your own cloth. There is crazy excitement in beginning a new creation. Yes, if it is a baby you will tend to spit up, crying, piles of soiled lap pads but that would never negate the joy that the baby brings to your life. Just the same, a novel will bring a sense of accomplishment and pride when you see the bound pages and intriguing cover. Rock on, people, enjoy the tedium and the hard work; it will only bring the joy you so deserve!

Are there any new or old ‘new’ projects you’d like to share about here? Are there stumbling blocks you’ve encountered or ways that you’ve found that cleared the obstacles?

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Interview with Gil Fagiani- Poet/Author

Gil Fagiani’s poetry collection Rooks (Rain Mountain Press, 2007) is set at Pennsylvania Military College in the 1960s, his poetry chapbook Grandpa’s Wine (Poets Wear Prada in 2008) focuses on his family’s immigrant generation, and has been translated into Italian by Paul D’Agostino. His book of poetry Chianti in Connecticut was inspired by his childhood in Springdale, Connecticut (Bordighera, pending 2010). Finishing Line Press will be publishing in 2012 his new chapbook Serfs of Psychiatry which is set in a state psychiatric hospital.
 
Gil’s poems and translations have been published in more than a dozen anthologies, as well as such newspapers and journals as The New York Times, The Paterson Literary Review, Mudfish, Skidrow Penthouse, Descant, Philadelphia Poets, Identity Theory, Lips, The Ledge, Italian Americana, The Journal of Italian Translation, and Gradiva.
 
He has translated into English, poetry written in Italian, Abruzzese dialect, and Spanish. He co-curates the monthly open reading of the Italian American Writers’ Association at the Cornelia Street Café, NYC, and is the Associate Editor of Feile-Festa: A Literary Arts Journal.
 
A social worker (L.C.S.W.) and addiction specialist (C.A.S.A.C.) by profession, Gil directed a residential program for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in Downtown Brooklyn for twenty-one years.
 
What was the motivating factor that started you writing?

My first sustained period of writing began in the early 1970s. I participated in the protest politics of the time, and writing served as an expression and documentation of my activism. Through advocacy writing—of leaflets, newspaper articles, and position papers—I strove to raise people’s consciousness about such social justice issues as health care, poverty, and racism.

What is your genre and who is your intended audience?

Today, poetry is my main genre, but I also write short stories, book reviews, essays, and memoir pieces.

I try to reach as many people as possible, and take particular satisfaction in attracting people who aren’t usually a part of the “literary scene.”

Of course, like most writers I value feedback about my work from fellow writers. In this regard, I’m fortunate to belong to Brevitas, an online poetry circle dedicated to the short poem (14 lines or less). Twice a month I exchange two poems with about 50 Brevitarians, some of whom make suggestions for revisions.

 What are you currently writing?

I just finished a book review of Robert Cohen’s, Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, which will be published in The Italian American Review.

I’ve proofread the galleys of Serfs of Psychiatry, my new poetry chapbook that will soon be published by Finishing Line Press. It was inspired by my 14 years with the New York State Office of Mental Health, and in particular, the 12 years I worked in a state psychiatric hospital.

I recently completed a book-length poetry manuscript entitled Logos, which focuses on my experiences in a therapeutic community for drug addicts in the South Bronx, and my involvement in the radical politics of the 70s.

I continue to write six-line poems known as fulcrums, inspired by the Cuban American poet Pablo Medina. As a member of Brevitas, I submit two fulcrums twice a month. To date, I’ve written more than a hundred and am considering translating a selection of them into Italian to create a bilingual book.

Later this year, Poets Wear Prada will publish a bilingual edition—English/ Italian—of my 2008 chapbook Grandpa’s Wine. The translator, Paul D’Agostino, holds a Ph.D. in Italian and is a poet, fiction writer and the Assistant Editor of the Journal of Italian Translation.

How do you make time to write? 

I’m wedded to structure, having been a cadet at Pennsylvania Military College from 1963 to 1967, which served as the inspiration for Rooks (Rain Mountain Press, 2007), my first book-length collection of poetry.

Since I retired in July 2011, my writing time is more flexible. In the past, I would write early in the morning before my workday started, a bit in the afternoon, and perhaps in the evening.

Now I think more in terms of at least one quality writing period each day. Since I don’t have to contend with a work schedule, this period can vary from early morning to evening. The great bonanza of retirement is that at times I can devote a day—even two—almost entirely to literary activities.

What inspires you to write? 

My writing could be spurred by a dreamy bittersweet memory: a scene, a song, or a few words of dialogue. Sometimes a news story serves as my muse. When I’m in this mode, I feel an urgency to express myself through the written word. This usually takes the form of a poem, which is accompanied by a feeling resembling the “high” of a mild intoxicant.

Once I’ve created a rough draft, I’ll continue to work on the poem, put it away, return to it, thus beginning the revision stage, when a poem is honed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. This process can go on for years.

When I believe I have it right, it feels preserved, even immortal; I experience a sense of wholeness and calm.

What would you have done differently in your writing life, if anything at all? 

This is a difficult question because before I retired my time was much more limited, and I had to choose carefully how to best use it. My tendency was to favor writing and to a lesser extent, organizing book manuscripts, over other activities. In retrospect, I think what I did made sense, but I pay a high price for not also learning how to more effectively promote my work, and extending my literary network. I am trying to rectify this by emulating other writers who have developed marketing strategies.

I also translate Italian poetry and some Italian dialect poetry into English. I believe there is an intimate relationship between translating someone else’s poem into another language and writing your own. In many ways all writing is translating, because even when we write in our native tongue we are translating feelings, sounds and images into words, sentences and stanzas. 

I regret not having lived yet in Italy for at least six months, so I could have acquired a better sense of Italian and dialect within their cultural matrix. I also have a love of Spanish, my second language, and again wish I could have spent more time in a Spanish-speaking country to deepen my understanding of the nuances of language and culture.

Tell us about your marketing strategy. 

My marketing strategy is limited, for example, I have an author’s page at Amazon.com, and continue to learn how to employ social media to my advantage. For now my online presence is limited to an Amazon author site [http://www.amazon.com/Gil-Fagiani/e/B001K8UL8C] and a literary profile listed in Poets and Writers’ directory as well as a professional profile on LinkedIn

[http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gil-fagiani/47/ba5/87a].

I think in terms of constituencies: There are my friends and general literary acquaintances. When I’m involved with a book launch or literary activity, I contact them by email, and in some cases phone and snail mail. I will also drop off leaflets promoting my activities at other literary events. My five books of poetry are archived at Poets House.

Secondly, there is the Italian American community. I’m a member of the Board of Directors of the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) and co-curate the monthly reading series at the Cornelia Street Café. I will mention from the stage what I’m doing, as well as circulate promotional leaflets to the audience. My profile is on the IAWA website, and I have an opportunity to post announcements in the IAWA Newsletter, as well as the online calendar of the John D. Calandra Institute of Italian American Studies, which is affiliated with Queens College.

I am also a member of the Calandra Institute’s Community Council, and at times present my work at their events, such as a conference they sponsored in 2010 on Italian Americans and Mental Health. I have also organized a series of bilingual readings—Italian or Italian dialect into English—with Brooklyn college professor, Luigi Bonaffini, who edits The Journal of Italian Translation.

Finally, there is the progressive political community. I am a founding member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, and some of my work is posted on their website (http://www.vitomarcantonioforum.com). I have presented papers or read my work at such venues as the annual three-day conference of the Left Forum, and the Puffin Cultural Foundation, with Veterans for Peace. Two of my poems, “Pigs” and “Birding Near the Mexican Border,” can be found on the online journal New Verse News (www.newversenews.com).  

Does Your Spiritual Life Influence Your Writing? If So, How? 

Yes, it does in several ways. First, I feel a need to bear witness to scenes of injustice, such as anti-immigrant prejudice, and the official neglect of the mentally ill. Secondly, I try to give voice to those who rarely express themselves in a public literary forum, such as the institutionalized mentally ill, and career drug addicts and alcoholics. By giving them a voice, I hope to affirm their dignity. 

Finally, there is the issue of redemption, particularly as it relates to my years of substance abuse. By turning destructive experiences into the clay of poetry, I feel I have created something of value that I can pass on. 

I believe with few exceptions, people caught up in inhuman conditions are capable of committing inhuman acts against others. In my writing—and as a writer—I strive to be modest, truthful and explore the complexity of human suffering, including my own.

What Is Your Literary Community Burning Desire? 

Having friends in the literary community in Canada, I have become more sensitive to the benefits of government subsidies of the arts. I would like to see something similar to develop in this country, so that writing and literature wouldn’t be so beholden to expensive MFA writing programs and elite cultural brokers, thus limiting its reach to the general public. 

For more information, visit

http://www.amazon.com/Gil-Fagiani/e/B001K8UL8C

 

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Palabras: Loyalty

I sit at a window overlooking the woods. There is snow coming down and the flakes seem to be getting    larger. Today has been one of those days that I take a minute to give thanks for the abundance of wonderful people, opportunities and “stuff” that I have. I took a moment to smudge myself and the cards with sage, I centered and then I asked Graciella, La Gitana, what her message for us is today. I felt her presence as light as a breeze as I pulled the card with her. The card that we chose is the Loyalty card.

Image: The image for this card is of a cloaked woman who is standing at a crossroad. At this intersection stands a large cross with some flowers planted in the earth surrounding it. The figure stands amid what seem to be miles of pasture land. We cannot see the woman’s features because her back is turned away from the reader. Her hood hangs and her hair seems to be wrapped in a sort of turban-like headdress.  She holds what looks like two pieces of palm or twigs in her hand.

Words: Loyal to the situation to a fault. Are you loyal to yourself or to what is expected of you? Lift your head and your eyes to the sky. Be brave.

Read: The figure stands at the crossroads and there is actually the figure of a cross there. It looks like the ones that are left to commemorate the life of a person whose life has been taken in an accident. There are so many ways to read this. The possibility of not going on with our own lives because of the traumatic loss of another is something many of us contemplate, at probably some unconscious level. How can we go on despite the fact that others meaningful to us no longer have the opportunity? This type of thinking may not be consigned only to death. All too often the survivor of whatever discomforting experience may feel guilt about continuing forward and living fully as their path warrants. The symbol of the cross may of course be taken as a religious symbol but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. The number four is known for its expanse of its significance. A few meanings that come to mind are the four corners, the four directions, and the four seasons. While three is the number for transformation and change, actually crossing the intersection brings solidity to the change that we expected or feared when we happened upon the opportunity to make a change.  Go across that street or that barrier that you may have erected for yourself. While we are responsible for our own decisions and the awareness of the consequences of the actions we take, we are not responsible for the responses by others. Being accountable and answering for our actions impacts our decisions. In our thoughtfulness we may also be brave- guilt is not the same as responsibility.

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Mental Illness Takes a Seat

I’m completing some suggested revisions for my novel Covering the Sun with My Hand that is about a family dealing with mental illness. In my story, Julia Acevedo, Rene’s twin, tells how she and her parents manage the unexpected diagnosis and a subsequent extreme life change when they find out Rene has schizophrenia. Many people who hear the word Schizophrenia think it’s about having multiple personalities. It’s not.

Rene is in his first year as a student in an architect program in a prestigious college. This is a dream come true for Rene, who is a Puerto Rican adolescent in NYC. He is struck with the symptoms of schizophrenia and becomes paranoid and fearful that others are out to get him in his college program. He carries all of his books back and forth each day. If he leaves them in his locker, he’s sure other students will steal them.  It’s so much more than the normal apprehension that comes with the start of a new college experience. Julia notes the changes in how Rene dresses, how he begins to isolate, and is overwhelmed when he admits to believing that his classroom number is an anagram of his birthday, their birthday- all coded by the FBI. She hears him talking to himself behind his closed bedroom door. Rene begins drawing symbols on this same door for protection against evils that he is certain will overtake him. These are just some of the things that the family contends with as they adjust from having high hopes for Rene to excel in school to acceptance that all of their lives will be very different.

As I write this, it sounds strangely enough like a movie or a novel. I wouldn’t be able to raise my hand if someone asked me whether I have a family member diagnosed with mental illness. I’ve been close to people like Rene since my first year as a nursing student-thirty or so years now. When I began nursing school, I trained in large state hospitals like Manhattan State Psychiatric Hospital. I taught briefly as a psychiatric adjunct faculty member on a locked ward at Rockland State Psychiatric Center later on. For many years I worked on a mobile crisis management team. Visiting people in their homes gave me a clear view of the devastation that mental illness can bring. Sitting at people’s dining room tables, I was entrusted with a slant of life that many people may never experience but would be profoundly moved by.

My master’s degree thesis was called Social Support and Coping of Families of Persons with Mental Illness. I completed a pilot study that several families agreed to take part in- they filled out questionnaires and answered brief questions about their intense lives. My professor thought it was a stellar study. She suggested that I take it further and introduce it in another forum. Twenty years later, I am. This forum is fiction writing- different than anything that I would have considered at the time but where it needs to be.  

Novels are real life stories that are told in ways that illuminate some part of the world for others to experience. I look forward to sharing this corner that I’ve kept very sacred to me.

What books have you read or written that you’ve felt was an area that needed to be brought into the light?

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Palabras: La Muerte

We went to visit a dear friend, yesterday, who is very ill in the hospital; she’s been very helpful to my spouse and me in our spiritual lives. We did energetic healing work, prayed for her and translated “hospitalese” for her son. As a nurse, I take for granted the language of medicine. I hope that I translated it to the language of healing. Afterward, I read a poem I’d written at Bluestockings in NYC with a Latina writing group, La Pluma y La Tinta that I’d helped to found with Raquel Penzo. We’re on hiatus but still get together to read. Busy day, diverse as life can be. This is why I’m pulling this card today and didn’t last evening. I first smudged myself and the cards with sage, shuffled and fanned the cards. Together, Graciella la Gitana, my spirit guide and I pulled the card- La Muerte – the death card.

Image: The image is that of a male hiding behind a wall or doorway. He stands with his eyes gleaming, darting furtively. In his right hand he holds a dagger, ready to plunge at a moment’s notice. Is he the hunted or the hunter? Is his fear well-founded or a manifestation of thoughts that are unclear and an inability to discern the truth of the situation?

Words: Reflect on the actions you are about to make. They may bring discomfort and distress. You can stop what you are doing swiftly. Let your heart bleed into your brain and create a pure channel from which to work.

 Read: Frightened at first when I pulled this card, as always. Why is it that the death card- no matter how long I’ve been reading oracles- is alarming? Death is about transformation- from the old to a new way. There are so many ways to read this. We can live in fear and ruminate about something bad happening. We can wait for it-whatever that awful thing is- to take a prominent place in our lives. The truth is that the other shoe will always drop. The truck will come bounding round the corner. Actions that we take are the ones that end up more determining than the one situation we are sure will make or break or lives forever. This message to me is one of taking time to stop, reflect, meditate on what is important and take positive action. It may not seemingly change the events at hand but a pure channel is one that makes living with the consequences and results much easier. Heart and brain together make for a place of serenity when they are linked and not blocked with fear.

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Palabras: The Wagon

This is the second general reading of the New Year that I’ve done using my Palabras de Graciella La Gitana- Spiritual Oracle.  This weekend was a lazy, happy time. Not much work. Yay! Instead, we had friends, including their dog, who shared laughs, singing, and lots of food with us. We spent the morning at one of the state parks. A couple of us ran and a couple walked in the brisk air. The path surrounded a lake that was quite frozen. There weren’t many people on the road. We passed one couple with their beautiful white dog who I think was smiling- the dog, I mean. I couldn’t be sure because of the branch he held between his teeth- but his tail was definitely wagging. The four of us engaged in exercise, somewhat together, but not altogether, we all did what we wanted to at our own paces. Lovely. Tonight as I began this reading, I first smudged myself and the cards with sage, shuffled and fanned the cards. Together, Graciella and I pulled the card- The Wagon.

Image: The image is that of the side of a wagon. A step ladder is at its side along with a bucket of paint. There is a box with a jar there too. A hammer is thrown on the ground in front of the step that leads to the wagon’s door. There is a large sign on the side of the closed wagon. It says- Crystal Readings. A couple of stars adorn the sign too.  

Words: The spirit is housed within one’s body. Take a moment and feel the breeze come in through the narrow window. Curtains are gently flaring. Breathe. Take stock. Note. Is your wagon frayed? What is closed and what is open? Are there sounds, colors, scents? What aspects of the body need tending to by its spiritual owner?

 Read: Many questions to ponder. Sit quietly. Feel your body and listen to what it may be saying. At the New Year many of us attempt to jump start a whole new fitness plan. Others of us have paid lip service but haven’t taken action as yet. Even others have been attending to a physical exercise regimen for a while and have done so on automatic pilot. Changes in our physical beings such as illness, colds, or plain old feeling run down may mean that a few tweaks are in order. Rest is an important part of a physical regimen. Are you getting the sleep that you need? Being up at night with a case of the worries due to stress can be helped. Runners run. Great. Would a few strength training exercises make that run just a bit more easy and enjoyable? Listen to your breath? Are you struggling? Just because your best buddy can cycle in the cold or run in frigid temperatures doesn’t always mean that you can. You might be able to with a few adjustments. Run a bit slower. Give up that after meal cigarette that you’ve been clinging onto- no one the wiser. Each individual has his or her own delicate balance. Get acquainted with your own. Maybe treat yourself to a consultation or two with a personal trainer. Pop the yoga DVD in that you bought last year. Don’t be shy. The family member you dread watching you, may actually join you. The suggestion to have a physical examination and a doctor’s go ahead before starting an exercise program is a sound one. Most of us don’t know that our arteries are blocked, that our hemoglobin has dipped below the norm or that we need more protein in our diets. There are internet sources, books, articles and, most especially, trained professionals that are available to give you the information you want.  Check out your old wagon. Shiny new wheels, tightening up some screws or a coat of paint may be all you need to carry your spirit happily into the New Year.

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Spiritual Sightings I

 

Meandering through New York City is something I’ve taken for granted. There are tourists doing what they do best – they walk slowly. Mothers chat on cell phones while maneuvering strollers. Construction workers carry large slabs of drywall. Panhandlers discreetly ask for coins- not pans. The greyness of the city is large. It’s cold. Mostly everyone is in a hurry. No one is gathering at outdoor cafes.  After the holiday, discarded Christmas evergreens are strewn on sidewalks awaiting pick-up. A few chilled dogs are walked by their similarly freezing human companions.

 Very much aware that my state of mind and spiritual condition are an inside job, I’ve still been on the lookout for something that might zap me with some peace and tranquility-I’m only human. Daydreaming about new things that I’d like to get involved in for the New Year 2012- I decided that this year I will add a new category to my blog. It will be called Spiritual Sightings. I was one of those little girls who jumped for joy when I heard the old black and white flick, Song of Bernadette, was going to be on television for the umpteenth time. I screamed with delight when Jennifer Jones lifted her eyes in awe at the sighting of the Virgin Mary. This still happens- not only when I watch an old flick but at all the odd times that ‘things that make the spiritual happen’ show themselves to me.

 

Going to work a few days a week I pass a shop called La Sirena NYC. The owner Dina Lear has held the doors open for twelve years. She travels frequently to Mexico and brings back wonderful folk art objects of all types. Her sign calls them ‘chucherias’- a word I’ve always loved. They are, of course, for sale but I think they are there for so much more. On the front step is her statue of Our lady of Guadalupe. An icon you might say! I say so much more. The shop is located on E. 3rd Street on the Lower East Side, right off Second Avenue. The statue with rose petals thrown at her feet lend beauty and a profound sense of spirit to what otherwise might be a bleak part of New York City. 

Across the street is a Shelter for Homeless Men. The men gather for a talk, a smoke or a quick interaction of some sort. There’s often an ambulance or a squad car in front of it. To know that just a stone’s throw away is the statue, a symbol of deep love for the humans in our world shifts my perspective whenever I pass by. This is not about religion but a sense of spirituality, community and well-being for all of us- whatever our backgrounds or hopes and aspirations may be.

 When I stepped into La Sirena NYC for a quick chat with Dina, one of the first things she did was talk about the shelter and the men who are there. Her sense of community is apparent. Dina goes beyond herself as a shop manager to one who cares about history, culture and her brethren. What a breath of fresh air. Go over for a visit when you’re in town. She and Our Lady in whatever form would love to see you.

*Deep breath* *Gives Thanks*

Are there unexpected places in your community where you go for a breath of spirit?

 

 

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Palabras: La Luna

I’ve decided to post the weekly spiritual read from my Palabras de Graciella La Gitana- Spiritual Oracle here on this site. Ambivalent for a time, I finally came to the decision when having dinner with some friends the other night. We spoke about the wonders of being our whole selves- whatever that may be. There is a little sadness that comes along with taking a hiatus from my LatinaLibations blogspot. But there is comfort in being fully myself and not parceling out the different aspects of myself in ways I hadn’t even thought about. Posting meditative practices, information received from within and other delights, that I’m not even sure what they are yet, equals me being more out front with who I am as a reader and a writer. So for 2012, I’ve decided to make some changes and this is one of them. First, as always, I smudged with sage, found Graciella wanted to smoke a cigar, lit one, shuffled and fanned the cards. I threw a beautiful black, flowery shawl I’d been gifted with be a client and together, Graciella and I pulled the card- La Luna.

Image: The image is that of a woman, seen from behind, arms upraised praying to the crescent moon. She stands on sand dunes. The shapes of pyramids are in the dark distance. In her right hand, she hold a feather held high. The trick of the eyes shows that it may actually be a slender knife. It is a prayer instrument, for sure, that may also be used in sacrifice, of one’s self. Smoke encircles the figure, probably from a fire she stands in front of-unseen to the reader.

Words: Beauty and intuition of the Feminine nature. Take time to sit still. Allow the voices to come to you. Allow the visualizations to be shown directly to you. Clear vision, clear hearing, and knowing from deep within.

Read: There is much beauty coming to you in this New Year. The sacrifices and love that you have freely given will be returned to you in sight, sound and voice. Listen for the messages you yearned to hear and sought longingly for- they will come. While your life may have seemed barren, all that you prayed for has been heard. Look around you with love in your eyes so that you will not miss the ways in which you are gifted. Particulars of prayers answered may not look exactly how you wanted but they will be answered. Especially meditate-for most of the answers that you seek are within you and are ready for you to listen to when you take the time for them. Again, I say, especially meditate. Most of your comfort, healing, and reprieve along with the sweet juices of life will come to you in this form. You will receive what you have so long sought.

I would love to hear how this message inspires or invokes a response within you!

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Interview with Author Sarah Cortez

Sarah Cortez has numerous poems anthologized here and in Europe.  Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award in poetry, her debut collection is entitled How to Undress a Cop.  One of her poems recently placed in the annual contest of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century.  An award-winning anthologist of five volumes, her most recent is You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens for Arte Público Press.

What was the motivating factor that started you writing?

From an early age, I was convinced that being a writer was the coolest occupation under the sun—with the exception of being a soldier. Reading was introduced to me at an early age, and I adored the magic of fictional stories.

What is your genre and who is your intended audience?

I write and have been published in almost all genres: fiction, poetry, prose [including personal essay, memoir essay (a type of personal essay], journalistic pieces, academic pieces, prayers, etc.  The intended audiences differ depending upon the publisher.  I write for the adult market, the young adult or teen market, the academic market, the blue collar market, the literary market, etc.  You might also look at markets in terms of literary vs. popular, rather than looking at age ranges, but I believe that the false distinction between “literary” and “popular” is being seen as such by many perceptive readers.

A large part of what I write is poetry.  You can see an example on my website at www.poetacortez.com.   

I also write and edit a lot of crime fiction or mystery.  In fact, the last three anthologies I’ve edited (selected the stories, then worked with the authors to get them in publishable form) are in crime fiction:  “Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery,”  “Indian Country Noir,” and “You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens.”  The publishers are Arte Público Press (Houston) and Akashic Books (Brooklyn).

 

What are you currently writing?

Currently, I am writing several pieces.  I have two personal essays I am working on for national distribution.  I am also working on a book of poetry lessons for the intermediate and/or advanced poet.  The other items on my agenda include book proposals for my next three books.

How do you make time to write?

Oh, gosh, this is a difficult question to answer.  Since I have my own freelance editing/consulting business, AND I also teach classes in advanced poetry, as well as in memoir, there is precious little time for me to write my own work.  In fact, the only reason I finished a poetry ms. that I had been working on for eleven years was that I broke a bone in my foot last summer and, thus, was confined to bed.  This old-fashioned “confinement” allowed me to spend hours a day working on poems.  In fact, one of the ones I wrote just recently placed as a semi-finalist in the annual contest of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century.  They told me that it was chosen as one of twenty out of 6,000 poems for that distinction.

What inspires you to write, other than fame and fortune?

I would say that “fame and fortune” have never inspired me to write.  I write to communicate with an audience.  I write to try to put something that is basically ineffable onto the written page.

What would you have done differently in your writing life, if anything at all?

I can’t think of any major decision that I would change.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

It’s fascinating that we authors now live in an age where we are expected to know the marketplace and maneuver within it in ways that will both sell books and “sell” ourselves.  Many writers prefer to look with disdain upon the marketing aspect of writing, perhaps because they feel that writing is an art form and they don’t wish to sully their art.  However, none of us who are currently producing have the luxury of knowing whether we produce art or something that will be eminently forgettable.  In other words, others will decide after we die if what we wrote is “art” or not.

I feel that if a writer’s goal is communication, then he/she doesn’t have the luxury of saying that he/she won’t help market books.

With that said, I feel that the foundation of a marketing strategy is to produce excellent and brilliant work.  (In the final analysis, the work must stand on its own.)  Once an author produces a high quality product, then he/she must use any and all tools to let people know about the work:  book readings/signings, visits to universities/schools, speeches, presentations, chairing panels at academic conferences, sending out a newsletter, etc, etc.  Each author will have certain activities that they are in a unique position to do.  You must do it all.

Does your spiritual life influence your writing? If so, how?

My spiritual life is the cornerstone and anchor of everything in my life, including my creative life in writing and teaching.

What’s your literary community’s burning desire?

I have so many different literary communities that this is a difficult question to answer.  I do a lot of work with middle school and high school kids to connect them with the power and joy of writing.  If I could wave a magic wand, I would give to this particular literary community the gift of intellectual curiosity—the desire to keep learning more and more and more about everything they encounter.

I also work with many fine advanced and intermediate literary poets.  If I had a magic wand, I would give them each an impeccable ear for hearing the breath, intonation, and effect of each syllable of a poem.

It is my pleasure to work with many memoir writers, from beginning to advanced.  Here, my magic wand would be for confidence in their hard-won wisdom already attained and the persistence to find the perfect words to capture it on the page in a fresh and unpredictable way.

My most prized community, however, is my law enforcement community.  I have been a police officer for sixteen years and took a crippling pay cut to change from the corporate world to the law enforcement world.  For this literary community, I would give them continued courage to communicate their vision and vocation.  You see, because so many loud-mouthed people in America like to praise and protect criminals, it is easy to become discouraged and feel that there aren’t too many decent, law-abiding folks left—which isn’t true.  But because the social misfits are always louder than the decent people, they steal the show.  Yes, I would give this community the steadfastness of vision amid the social chaos of our contemporary society.

And, finally, to those readers you might have who desire to become writers, I would give persistence.  I have been studying writing for almost twenty-five years.  I’ve had good teachers and bad; I’ve had shining opportunities and depressing rejections; I’ve had glorious promises come to naught and chance meetings with strangers open doors into amazing opportunities.    And, just recently, I had a ms. of my own accepted for publication that had sat in a drawer untouched for almost eight years.  If you truly wish to become a writer—a good writer—you must be in it for the long haul, study hard, find good teachers or mentors, and work at each piece of writing until it is “perfect.”

I hope you’ll visit my website, Theresa.  www.poetacortez.com

 

I’ve been to your site, Sarah, and I can’t decide which book to choose next! I’ve read Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Público Press) and Indian Country Noir (Akashic Books) – both that you co-edited with Liz Martinez.  The writings are evocative and the stories are told in a language that speaks to my heart. I think that my next selection will be Urban Speak: Poetry of the City. I’m making a Christmas list with your titles on it!

I thank you for visiting and sharing your experience as a writer and service oriented individual on my blog. Mostly, I thank you for your tireless efforts in fulfilling a vision that includes helping others that have sparks of creativity to build a fire that roars with the telling of their stories – all meant to be shared in this world, at this time.  This was an honor for me. 

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Interview with Jason Baumann Montilla/Librarian-Poet

Interview with Jason Baumann Montilla

Jason is Coordinator of World Languages and Collection Assessment at the New York Public Library. He is in charge of the foreign language collection in the Library’s branches and also the statistics about the Library’s Collections. He currently lives in New York City. Jason is of German and Puerto Rican descent and grew up mostly near Woodstock, NY.

Theresa- Welcome today, I’m so excited to have this opportunity to sit with you. First off, please tell me a bit about your doctoral studies.

Jason– Thanks. Sure, I’m working on my PhD in English at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’ve finished all of my course work and now I’m starting on my dissertation which is going to be focused on prison literature in the United States, particularly on black and Latino writers, specifically about intimacy, love and sexuality in their lives.

Theresa-How did you become focused in that area?

Jason-I was really interested in the writer Miguel Piñero. He was a Puerto Rican, playwright and poet from the 1970s in NY. He started out as a writer in prison. When I was looking up secondary things written about him, I noticed that no one was talking about his sexuality even though that’s what he was mostly talking about- romantic relationships-in context of prison life. That is to say, between people of same sex and also about sexuality on the outside. I think a lot of his writings are about sort of the clash between the conceptions of sexuality in Puerto Rico and American ideas about sexuality and how they don’t really match up. This is especially around identity and identifying as gay and that sort of thing. When I was looking through the people who write about him, I found that they really didn’t do that, so I started questioning it. I first started thinking about it when I became a librarian. The branch I worked in held very classic African American Crime Fiction. Authors such as Chester Hines, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines all started out writing in prisons. I started reading these writers when I worked there as a librarian because my patrons in the library really loved these books. It was all the same kind of things- all the writers talking about intimacy. In prison literature you expect it to be very harsh.

Theresa- You speak about crime fiction in the African American population, what about the Latino population? What do you find are the trends?

Jason– What people like to read? I do the collection development for the foreign languages, so I just have an idea about what people are reading in Spanish. Romance is always the biggest thing in Spanish, such as Harlequin romance novels-in Spanish translation- which are some of the hottest things in the library. The Latino population likes romance and also spirituality. They like American bestsellers in translation. They want to read what they see everyone else reading. They also want Latin American fiction bestsellers. Right now I have a big problem, Isabel Allende has that new book, El Cuaderno de Maya, and the demand is out of control. Although the New York Latino community is very diverse, it’s the core Latin American fiction they’re most interested in.

Theresa- So what about urban New York-San Francisco Latino writers? What are they writing and what are you seeing, is there a call for it?

Jason-I think of Ernesto Quinones, and Lyn Di Iorio who’s written this supernatural romance about a woman who gets involved in Palo Mayombe. It seems like a supernatural crime romance. There is a sense of the history of these places. Latino history in various American cities is addressed. It’s haunting in the way that the past in the city ends up being expressed in these supernatural stories. I don’t always have a good an eye on what’s out in English. I don’t really buy books in English. My English collection development colleagues would have a better sense of that. The Latino readership, in Spanish, is a hard market to reach. That’s something I’m struggling hard to work with right now. The Chinese speaking community in New York City is smaller than the Spanish Speaking community but the Library circulation and usage in the Chinese community is much higher.

Theresa-What do you think some of the obstacles are?

Jason– The New York Latino community is much poorer. It’s actually the poorest and least educated community in New York City if you look at the statistics. I feel like in the past we gave them a lot of high literary fiction and felt that romance, like American bestsellers in translation, were sort of a bad thing-like a lot of fluff. I just want to give people what they want to read and turn this around. Part of it’s focusing on core needs: books on health, education, and career. And the other part is just the love of reading. I’m focusing more now on Genre fiction, because if you look at the numbers, that’s what people want to read. It’s not for me to make judgments on literary value. For those who study the history of literature you see that what was thought to be in bad taste 100 years ago are what people seem to be the most interested in and think are the most valuable today. Take Melville, he was a trashy writer (laughs). Herman Melville wrote trashy adventure novels up until Moby Dick and everybody hated Moby Dick and they didn’t think it was good, but weird. The focus on literary fiction seems to be a mistake because nobody is ever interested in the literary fiction of a hundred years ago. They’re always interested in the trashy fiction of 100 years ago.

Theresa- What would you term as your burning desire for the community in terms of your work? What is your fever in what you do?

Jason– There’s a pleasure in getting people things that they didn’t think they could get. To make the NYPL have the hottest materials in all these different languages-particularly as bookstores disappear more and more. That there be a neighborhood location, free to their community that would actually have materials they want in their language. Some languages are easier to get. For instance, it’s hard to get materials in Albanian, so we’re working very hard to make sure the Albanian neighborhoods have a full stock library in Albanian available. And also to get people the core books they need for their lives to support their health, education, personal growth. That’s the excitement at the baseline of my gig. Right now, I’m trying to fill the library with classic merengue and bachata cds (laughs). Like Fefita la Grande and Milly y los Vecinos. I want to bring that to life. Yes, bringing unexpected content that I know people would love if they knew it was there.

Theresa- I think about my father, who for years has made treks into Bushwick or Flushing [Brooklyn] to get those old records. We had them growing up but like you say the Latino community is poor, so they’re not going out there. They don’t have the money to spend on the records, books- make it accessible. It’s not about clicking on-line to Amazon and getting a book or record of your choice. First of all, it may not be there and then, who can afford it?

Jason– Right now libraries are going digital. People think that everyone is online and everyone has an ipad. From circles I run in, I know that everybody doesn’t have an ipad. How do I both manage to make sure that they continue to get all those things they need in print? The people I serve are not so connected and my quest is about how I help those communities to get connected. How can I hep make this transition real? That’s the problem, that’s what’s exciting and the challenge of what I do.

Theresa-I know that you’re a writer, so can you tell me about your writing?

Jason- (laughs) Right now, I’m barely writing at all. Between work and school and family, it’s a real balancing act. Mostly I write poetry. Most of it, I’ve been thinking about this recently, has a lot to do with my grandmother. She would say all these refranes (proverbs) in English, translated very literally into English. I always heard these weird things, like “You can’t be so bald that people see your brains” (laughs). I was always sort of wondered what that means. My poetry is a lot about that. Direct translations make the language very weird. I also use her sense of humor in my poetry in a lot of ways. She was a very funny person, a tragically funny person, because a lot of times horrible things happened. My mother has the same kind of sense of humor, something awful will happen and we’ll just say whatever horrible thing it was and we’ll think it’s incredibly funny. It’s so ironic and sardonic and ridiculous and an example of how weird the world is and the ridiculousness of all the people involved. I’ve always had problems with different boyfriends, one in particular. He’d say “That’s not funny. How can you laugh at these things?” How could you not laugh at these things? I try to make my poetry funny because I think a lot of people don’t think a poem can be funny. They think poetry has to be depressing in a self-referential sort of way. Very direct, autobiographical and it’s your life (lightly beats center of chest) and it’s sincere. So I try to push my poetry in the opposite way to be funny and sardonic, and also in the middle of a conversation. So if I were writing right now (laughs) that’s what I’d be doing but unfortunately I haven’t had time this year to write. It’s been very depressing to me (laughs).

Theresa- Do you have particular philosophy or theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat? You’re so busy!

Jason– (Laughs) You know me! You know that I’ve been deeply inspired and affected by Afro Caribbean spiritualities. I’ve also practiced yoga all my life. I think those two things keep me grounded. I went to school for philosophy originally. I’ve always loved Spinoza and Democritus and Nietzsche. They were all divine materialists- who believed the immanence of God into creation, so that the world itself is God. Everything you do is a creative expression, everything striving to express that Divine Essence all the time. We’re all creatively making things happen as part of God’s image. That’s my philosophical base.

Theresa-I love the image of that- all of us working together and keeping us dynamic. You’ve just answered three questions with that (laugh). You were behind the Stonewall exhibit. Can you tell me about that?

Jason- One of the other jobs I do here is I work on gay and lesbian collections for the library. The library has one of the largest archives of Gay and Lesbian history in the country. There’s another center called the One center on the West Coast that grew out of the Mattachine Society. Our collections grew out of an organization called the Gay Activist Alliance in the 1970s and out of that morphed the independent library called the International Gay Information Center. They collected gigantically and I heard that it filled several apartments at the end. At a certain point they decided to donate that material to the NYPL and the library became the cornerstone for Gay & Lesbian collections at NYPL. As those materials were being processed, a lot of activist organizations were coming to term. They donated while in transition, especially in terms of AIDS activism in the 1990s. So we had all this gay liberation in the 1970s, and then the archives of major organizations from the AIDS crisis from the 80s to the 90s. GMHC gave us their archives when they moved. ACT UP NY gave us their archives and People with AIDS Coalition- all of these big pioneering organizations donated their materials to the library. We took in so much material- more than we could easily process. So we had a bit of a backlog and we had to raise some money to try and process that material. When they started the fundraising initiative they needed someone who could speak to those collections. Having been part of that, part of the radical fairies which is very connected to that 1970s gay liberation, and of ACT UP. I knew what all the material was and I could speak to the content and was part of that fund raising initiative. We’ve raised 2.2 million dollars and were able to do a lot of processing. In 2009, I looked up and thought “Oh my God it’s the 40th anniversary of Stonewall” and given the institution that we were, I knew we had to do something. So I curated an exhibition that showed off what our holdings were in history of gay liberation focusing in that year 1969. In 1999, the library had done a really pioneering exhibition that was called Becoming Visible. That was the first major exhibition done by a public institution on Gay and Lesbian history, but that was like an encyclopedic show. Really from the 19th century to the present about gays and lesbians in the United States. I focused on 1969 and the political changes that happened. I think a lot of people act as though that moment of the Stonewall riots caused gay liberation and I wanted to dispel that notion. I wanted to show how much activism had led up from the 1950s on to that moment. There was the gay political community in NYC already in 1969. When those riots happened they mobilized around that and turned Stonewall into a symbol. If there hadn’t been ten to fifteen years of political activism already in NYC- that would have fallen into nothing. But that happened and everybody mobilized around it and turned it into a symbol of gay activism. The activism before that of Mattachine era and the Daughters of Bilitist-they a lot of sense of respectability. I think they had to make the argument for gay liberation, gay rights, along with being respectable and good citizens. In 1969 there was the whole surge of energy from the student rights and anti war movements. All these people who might have been gay but who were also involved in those movements sort of fused with the earlier generation of activists and stepped up the game in a different kind of way. So it was about that transition from the earlier gay activism to 1970s gay activism. And that’s how that evolved. (Laughs) Also, it’s great to put that in a public library setting where everyone will come for a tour of the library and to change minds and put that on Fifth Avenue, in this bastion of culture, to show that that’s culture and historically important. That’s the goal.

Theresa-The whole goal of activism from apartments, to street corners where people are hanging out giving the message to each other by word of mouth- to what seems suddenly- it’s here on Fifth Avenue in the main branch of the NYPL. It’s pretty astounding. It’s actually very moving.

Jason- I feel very blessed to do what I do. It was a great opportunity to be in this position and to help make that happen. Yeah.

Theresa- Can you tell me more about the Daughters of Bilitist?

Jason-The Daughters of Bilitist was the main lesbian organization in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. It was started in San Francisco. It produced the newsletter called The Ladder. To be in the know you had to subscribe to The Ladder. Barbara Gittings was the head of the New York Chapter of The Daughters of Bilitist in the 1960s. She was a key activist in taking homosexuality off as a diagnosis of mental illness. She was a key person, her and Frank Kameny, were the two that spearheaded that effort. They personally took it on to declassify it at the American Psychiatric Association’s meeting in 1970. They brought in a gay psychiatrist who was dressed in a Richard Nixon mask and had his voice disguised via microphone. This psychiatrist couldn’t professionally risk being known as testifying at that meeting. It was a turning point in the psychiatric community in the United States. The library has Barbara Gittings’ and her partner Kay Lahusen’s archives. We’ve digitized a great deal of the photos. http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1606153

Theresa- One last question, Jason, how do published authors get their books onto a library shelf?

Jason– For those authors who want to get their books in libraries, the key issue is whether their publisher is being picked up by library wholesalers. Many public libraries buy their books from Baker & Taylor and Ingram, so if these distributors aren’t carrying them they will be hard for us to get.

Theresa- Jason, I’d like to thank you for sharing some of your experience as a librarian for the New York Public Library. I say “some” because your knowledge base is immense. I, for one, have been provoked, by your words, to read more and to continue being an active servant in this vast spiritual life working side by side with other like minded people. Thank you.

 

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