Q&A WITH THELMA T. REYNA
Q: What does poetry mean to you? What inspires your poetry?
Poetry is a very special compressed language, a shorthand way of expressing a lot. It’s a melting pot of other arts: photography (a snapshot in time), music (the rhythms and rhymes), and art (the verbal painting of pictures). The best poetry can stir deep thinking for days, or move your emotions, or make you smile with a few lines. The best poetry is timeless and universal, defying circumscriptions. What inspires my poetry? Any hour of the day, almost any action, almost any person, any place, and most thoughts that stir and stay.
Q: What is a chapbook? How is it different from short stories and novels?
A chapbook is “a small book,” according to the dictionary. It’s usually paperback and slim, sometimes without a spine. My new poetry chapbook, BREATH & BONE, is a bit larger than 5X8 inches, so it looks like a regular book from the front, but it’s far slimmer. Chapbooks can be of any genre: poetry (most frequent, I believe), stories, essays, etc. Whereas a regular book of poetry might be 50-100 pages long, for example, a chapbook of poems might only be about 30-40 pages long.
Q: You write short stories and nonfiction, and now poetry. Is this a new medium for you, or have you written poetry before?
I’ve published poetry before, going back more than 20 years, and it was my first love as a budding writer in high school. But I’ve never been prolific. I completed a couple of manuscripts in past years, but didn’t try to publish them. BREATH & BONE is my first attempt to publish a collection of poems in book-length format.
I think poetry, more than the other genres, lends itself to spontaneity. You can write a good poem on the spur of the moment, after seeing, hearing, contemplating, or feeling something that truly stirs you. It might take just a few minutes, or an hour. I don’t think we can write a good story, essay, or other genres as spontaneously or as quickly. Of course, such a poem is still a “first draft” and requires polishing for maximum quality.
I’ve heard of ancient haiku masters (haiku is a three-line poem with a fixed number of syllables per line) who devoted 20 years or more to revising one single haiku! In my case, some of the poems in my chapbook are 30 years old and just a page long, but I’ve revised them over the years, and they look very different now. So, poems can be written quickly if something truly inspires their creation; but they, like all other writing, must be revised and polished, for as long as it takes.
Also, you can certainly plot out a poem, like a story, though it’s usually much shorter. But writers of book-length poems—like Shakespeare, or Rodolfo Gonzalez, author of YO SOY JOAQUIN/I AM JOAQUIN—would probably say that writing their poetry was just as challenging as writing a novel!
Q: Your book wasn't even published and it won an award. Tell us about your national recognition.
I submitted BREATH & BONE to the 2010 New Women’s Voices National Poetry Chapbook Competition, by Finishing Line Press. (It’s actually international.) I was told that my chapbook was a semi-finalist. So although it wasn’t one of the top ten winners (finalists), the publisher still selected it for publication. Of course, for many authors, even small recognitions are meaningful!
Q: Who are your favorite poets -- from past and present times?
Oh, so many! My tastes in poetry are very eclectic and multi-cultural. I love classic authors like Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Ray Bradbury. Modern-day poets include Cassie Premo-Steele and Lisa Marie Basile, East Coast poets I admire.
Q: What modern Latino poets would you recommend to The Latina Book Club readers?
There are many I’m learning about, and I’m their fan! We have the great modern classics like Luis J. Rodriguez and Pat Mora. Then we have emerging talents like Melinda Palacio, Yago Cura, Ricardo Acuna, Marisela Norte, Vanessa Libertad Garcia, and Manuel Paul Lopez. I know I’m leaving some poets out, and there’s so much talent out there!
For more information on this multi-talented author, visit http://www.thelmareyna.com/.
To order BREATH & BONE, click here. (Scroll down)
And, as always, Read Latino.