Diana Marie Delgado’s first poetry collection, Tracing the Horse, is forthcoming from BOA Editions (Autumn 2019). She is also the author of Late Night Talks with Men I Think I Trust (Center for Book Arts, 2015). She is a recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and has received grants and scholarships from The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. Delgado received her Bachelors in Poetry from the University of California, Riverside and her MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals, including Ploughshares, Ninth Letter, The North American Review, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly and Fourteen Hills. A member of the CantoMundo and Macondo writing communities, her work is rooted in her experiences growing up Mexican-American in Southern California.
Previous Featured American Poets
The High Window is pleased to include five new poems by Diana Marie Delgado, but first here she is in conversation with Nicole Callihan who was herself our featured American Poet in THW2: June 1, 2016.
This unedited email conversation took place at 10:30 am Eastern Time on January 22, 2018. Apart from a cursory email exchange setting up the nature and boundaries of the talk, neither poet nor editor knew in advance what questions or subjects would be raised until the conversation began. (NC)
Diana Marie Delgado (DMD)
Nicole Callihan (NC)
I’ve been reading C.D. Wright this morning, as I love to do mornings, and she says, ‘Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.’ Having been reading your work so closely for the past week, I can only imagine you agree with this function. What are the particular zones inside of you that you are declaring free? And is there any function you would add to Wright’s claim? (NC)
It’s funny, I’ve been thinking about the notion of freedom a lot. How freedom bears so much resemblance to joy. Joy because you are able to decide and are not a prisoner to yourself or anyone else. For me, poetry allows me to be a creator, not responder or victim; it is my highest self, which means I am no longer my Self, I transcend.
The zones that I declare free(d) are my body and mind. The body can be a time capsule. When I write I shed that body and become part of a larger consciousness. I declare myself free, therefore, shedding all that has happened to me. Even though my work is primarily written in the first person, my process is depersonalization from that speaker. And it’s with this disembodied voice that I am more able to reach a truth. Meaning, people lie, poems don’t.
I would add that one of poetry’s function is that of the archivist. If all the poems that have ever been written were compiled, we would have one great goddamn chorus of shouting, yelling, laughing, spitting – poetry’s function is to document what it means to be human. (DMD)
Yes. I so agree with you. What is means to be human! I’m drawn to this notion of ‘depersonalization’ from the speaker. Your poems are first person, yes, but, they are thickly populated, and so often you write in third person as well. You have a wonderful aptitude for describing crucial physical characteristics while really getting into the psyche and spirituality of others. I’m thinking a great deal of ‘Wolf,’ who often appears in your work. How does this depersonalization play out—or change—when it comes to seeing and writing about others? (NC)
When I am writing about others, frankly, there is no change — I am always the seer not the seen. This allows me, when writing about someone else, to delve further into areas that they, perhaps, are not even aware of; characteristics central to their identity, such as gestures, opinions, desires. Of course, maybe it’s also easy for me because I most often am writing about close family members or significant others in my poetry! So maybe, it just comes naturally, because I know them. Also, I come from storytellers, we all are talkers. Wolf was a talker. And when someone is talking, really about anything, you learn so much about them. (DMD)
Your poems often balance this talking—nearly conversational (What girl doesn’t want to come home from work and ride her horse around?)—with a surreal and startling beauty (The heart of a woman when pierced is a blister shut so tight it waters). Which poets have guided your way into this space? And what other influences—in addition to your storytelling family—do you feel have most shaped the way you interact with the page? (NC)
The conversations, yes, that’s an important aspect of my work. I love juxtaposing what people say in the everyday with over the top statements. We forgot how powerful it is, language of the everyday, but in poetry, we remember.
So many influences; I’m constantly reading. But I would say that Lorna Dee Cervantes, Chicana poet, luminary, philosopher, is my totem poet. I read From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger and that book changed my life. Finally, I had words for my feelings and experiences of growing up Chicana. Her work introduced me to French and Spanish Surrealism and how to utilize these traditions to write about injustice. It was a very profound discovery for me. I went on to study with her one summer in the Yucatan, Taller Ixchel. I still have a note she wrote to us women who arrived on Isla Mujeres, describing which palapa we were staying at. I was an obsessed fan. Still am. (DMD)
Any chance you’d share a few lines from the note? (NC)
It’s packed away but could find the note if I dig for it. It’s actually an amazing note so will see if I can find it! (DMD)
I’d love to see it. For now, I wonder if you might say a little about your process. I’m struck by how different process is for each poet. When I have a line that hits me, I find myself thumbing poems on my phone while I’m on the elliptical or walking down the street dodging buses; I throw away a ton; I don’t revise all that much; sometimes, I feel like I’m just throwing spaghetti (in the shape of my heart) against a wall and hoping it sticks. How does it feel for you? (NC)
[Yes, that note will be dug up. And it can be read below, the editors]
Hey, that might be the title of my next collection, ‘Throwing Spaghetti (in the shape of my heart)’! Don’t we all feel like this, full time?
I love talking process, not necessarily my own, but others. Because it says so much about the writer. Their nervous system mostly, what’s underneath. Hearing about process also sheds insight into how others have mastered duende.
My process is very time-consuming, wasteful, and erratic. It makes me feel like I know nothing. Or that there is a better way. But the truth is, this is the only way.
The word failure flashes in neon across my mind. I freewrite. No line breaks. No titles. Then I keep these originals in dated binders. I make copies of these originals that I then edit and play with. These drafts are seeds for all my poems.
The only certainty I get is when I go back and read a fragment that I wrote in 2013 and see this fragment as part of a completely different poem I finished in 2017. For instance, in Songs of Escape, that was me raking through 2011-2014, images and lines that I wanted to build around a central emotion. (DMD)
This idea of a ‘central emotion’ feels so important to me when I read your poems. They are simultaneously so real and visceral but also so mysterious, difficult to pin down; at best, I can just sort of point to the space between my brain my and heart, and be like, yes, yes, she GETS me; or not me, really, but IT; all of IT. Thank you for that, Diana.
Regarding Lorna Dee Cervantes, I’ve read that, growing up, she was forbidden by her parents to speak anything but English, and that this loss in language and, perhaps, in identity later fueled her obsession with language. What languages do you speak and/or write and/or feel in? And can you tell me more about what identifying as Chicana means to both your work and your life? (NC)
Thanks so much for your comments on my poems, Nicole! Especially because your description of feeling something that you can’t quite nail down is something that I strive to do, so that’s affirming.
I can speak Spanish fairly well. My maternal grandparent’s taught me. They didn’t speak English and I spent a lot of time with them. But we never spoke Spanish in our home. Similar to Lorna’s story, my mom came to California in 1962; she was four years old, so she lived through a time when Mexican culture was looked down upon. (Not sure if much as changed since then!) So she was careful when I was growing up, I remember that, as to what we shared about our culture and our identity. It was important for me to speak good English.
My Chicana identity is something that comes through in my poems without my trying to. The best way that I can describe it quickly is that it’s like a napkin laid down on a table and the napkin soaks up what’s on the table. It surfaces; I can’t hide it. But it’s also something that I can’t use to dress things. It just is. That said, my culture, my past, is one of the great joys of my life. I’m so proud to be a woman of color. To endure; survive. (NC)
And you are enduring and surviving beautifully, Diana, and, I can only imagine—through your poems and your fierce presence—you will continue to do so for a long time. By the way, I was so excited to hear the news this morning that BOA Editions will be publishing your book in Fall 2019. Congratulations! (NC)
Yes, beyond words. BOA Editions. I keep saying it aloud, BOA, BOA, BOA. Such a great surprise. I’m ready to tour and the book isn’t even out yet! (DMD)
Thanks so much for your time today. To end, is there any last thing you’d like to say about poetry? Perhaps you dug up that Cervantes note, or have some other quote about poetry that you abide by? (NC)
Hey, after about two hours of (un)packing, the note was found. It seems impossible that that was seventeen years ago. Maybe you can attach it so that others can read her amazing invitation to a young poet.
I think it’s apropos to end on something that Cervantes shared with me since we conjured her. During workshop, she once said, ‘Real acts can never be revoked.’ And I abide by that. That anything true is immovable.
Thanks, Nicole, for your time too (and your incisive questions). It’s been a pleasure e-chatting with you! (DMD)
Nicole Callihan’s work has appeared in PANK, Forklift, Ohio, American Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly and as a Poem-a-Day selection from the Academy of American Poets. Her books include SuperLoop, a collection of poems published in early 2014, and A Study in Spring, a chapbook which she co-wrote with Zoe Ryder White and which was released in November 2015. Nicole’s latest chapbook is The Deeply Flawed Human ( Deadly Chaps Press, 2016.)
And here are five poems by Diana Marie Delgado
I want to smoke weed
on Easter and walk with my cousins
up P Hill and passing 7-Eleven
look into the sweet and smoky houses
of the middle class and think,
you never know. I want to fade
in the doorway of the house
I grew up in and for my mom
to understand the green light
going off in Dad’s body
when the needle’s tucked in and the past
is something that can’t be taken off.
I want to wear a yellow sundress
in the hallway of a pink house
where I hold the letters I meant to send you,
prayers for what’s in me to finally come out.
I want to share the strange impulse
of daughters who have fathers
— but never really have one.
I want buy my first car the summer
youth authority shaved my brother’s head
and we spelled his name as a number.
I want to walk up P Hill with him
before he was shot, after the neighbors
carried him in on their dining room chair
and he yelled, “Mom, bring me my pills!”
WHO MAKES LOVE TO US AFTER WE DIE
I turn on the radio and hear voices, girls becoming women after tragedy. Talk about dreams! His heart was covered in a thin shell the color of the moon, and when I touched it, I grew old. The best movies have a philosophy to them, Dorothy, after being subjected to girl-on-girl violence, is rescued. Someone hung himself on that set, a man, who loved, but couldn’t have a certain woman. Management said it was a bird. The best movies begin with an encounter and end with someone setting someone free. In Coppola’s Dracula my favorite scene is when the camera chases women across a garden until they kiss. I once made love to a man who asked, after many years, for me to choke him in bed, so that later, cleaning a kitchen cabinet, I read a recipe he’d written into the wood, and I had a hard time believing him.
Wolf can’t walk
so he sends me to the liquor store
for Sisco and cigarettes.
‘Babe, make sure it’s the green one,
orange doesn’t give a good buzz.’
The sun is flashing
the pavement grain aglitter
when he lifts the cushion of his wheelchair
to show me a gun
wrapped in shoeshine rags.
“Just in case,” he says, pointing
the barrel toward
the cawing field
across the street.
Weeks pass after the fire,
still the birds circle, searching
for something to land on.
SOME GUY I LIKED WHO DATED STRIPPERS
You have sleep in your eyes when we climb the steep hill of the Sheraton Hotel in your minitruck. The golf course glistens on both sides, and we sit beneath an oak tree. When you grab my hand I’m bothered by every hormone inside me: you’re not my tomorrow. It’s 3 AM. The sprinklers turn on, and your jacket is covered in hundreds of watery diamonds.
FREE CHEESE AND BUTTER
Mom’s good at waiting.
We can stand for hours
but she won’t tie and untie
shoelaces like my brother
who yanks pigtails and pinches
with monkey hands
that smell of sweaty nickels.
I practice her signature in the air,
Mom’s name is a bunch of curlicues,
all the round letters of the alphabet are in it.
My brother tugs my arm,
points to the end of the line.
Patty Garcia’s there
with teeth like the keys
on Mr. Sergio’s piano,
eyes so big she blinks a lot
to keep them in. At school,
she’s who we chase.
(originally published in Smartish Pace)
Brother, deep in the moth hour and still no altar to speak of.
Everyone’s got a life they can’t stop; time passes, nothing survives.
The real me slipped out like a hiccup, and he marooned himself
in the arms of another girl’s couch. I have a book for you;
it’s about life and a real-time G doing it. Mom’s fine, breaking
crooked as an eggshell; Dad the same teething crocodile.
I’ve never seen so much sad architecture. Remember when the field
froze white and Mom tied plastic over our shoes?
This is the only place that’s ever felt like home. I hope you get this letter before
lights out…or have you learned to read in the dark?
(originally published in The Laurel Review)