April 14, 2017

POETRY MONTH! SPOTLIGHT ON YOLANDA A. REID


Poetry is like a song, like a psalm, like a prayer. Poetry is different things to many people, and April being Poetry Month,
The Latina Book Club is celebrating by featuring Latino poets all week long.


We’d like to welcome poet Yolanda A. Reid. She’s written two novels and has a collection of poems, SONNETS TO THE JAPIM BIRD, coming out this June.  The collection is a series of mesmerizing poems set in Brazil depicting the forbidden love between an Amazonian indigenous woman (a Tupi-Kawahib) and her husband’s guest (a European explorer).  Here is a small sonnet for our reading pleasure. (Note: Yolanda is donating 10% of the ebook proceeds to Amazon Watch.)


                           (X)

Compare you? What to? Neither amethysts
Nor diamonds evoke a love immortal,
Faithful, honoured, untinged by betrayal,
Unhindered and unhindering; my wrists
Glittered with these stones, ago–we’d not kissed
Then: I was yet a child. My girlhood hails
Diamonds–dozens of them–in sedimented pails;
By elfin hands pitched in, they clicked and hissed.
No.–Endow me yourself, and I’ll compare
You to many other selves I behold:
Yourself, in love; yourself ecstatic, far;
Yourself right-seeming, true-speaking, and bold;
Yourself in thought or overwrought.–You choose
The self, and I, the one on which I muse.
©Yolanda A. Reid. Permission granted to reprint. All rights reserved by author.






A CHAT WITH POET YOLANDA A. REID

Q:  Where did your interest in poetry come from? From parents, school, other?

Yolanda:  My grandfather used to recite poetry often, all the time, when I was a child. I still have a poetry book that he read as a schoolboy. So I cannot remember ever not hearing poems. Then I began writing my own little poems that my grandmother no doubt saved, but which are now either lost or in the attic. As a child, I also kept beautiful notebooks that I illustrated on one side and wrote the poem on the other. At the same time, I think my parents surrounded us with lots of books, encouraged us to read and write. That was life-sustaining for me.


Q: Tell us about your upcoming poetry collection. How long did it take you to gather all your poems? What themes are you exploring?

Yolanda:  SONNETS TO THE JAPIM BIRD is the love story of an indigenous woman of the Tupi-Kawahib tribe and her husband's guest. It's a love triangle set in the Brazilian rainforest. I'd been reading about indigenous culture for three or four months, as I'm interested in anthropology. I was so fascinated with the culture and customs.

Once I decided to write these sonnets, the actual writing took about 5 weeks. I wrote a poem per day, about forty in all. I'd say the entire process took about 5 months. And I was emotionally exhausted after writing them. Some Amazonian indigenous tribes isolate a teenage girl when she reaches puberty. For a year, she is placed inside a small hut by herself, apart from her family and the rest of the tribe. Writing this series of sonnets felt very much like that.

Some months after I finished SONNETS TO THE JAPIM BIRD, I wrote three or four more poems unrelated to this theme. I have not written a poem since. That is when I truly began writing fiction--which feels more expansive, less restrictive. In general, the themes are infidelity, love, hospitality, the city vs. environment/nature, romance. These sonnets make up about half of all the poems I've ever written.


Q:  Do you think poetry is a lost art regulated to one month of the year?

Yolanda:  I wouldn't say that poetry is a "lost art"--just a very exclusive one. I think we have to think of poetry in new ways. In pop culture today, rap is the New Poetry (and some of it is very good). Also, there are poetry-slams. In my grandfather's time, people recited long passages of poetry effortlessly. Today, not so much. It's worth noting that the more traditional poets/poems do have their devoted audience, but it's a very small exclusive--at times, elitist--niche.


Q:  Who are your favorite poets--Latino and non-Latino?

Yolanda: I was about thirteen years old when I memorized a little poem by a virtually unknown poet. Occasionally, that poem floats into my mind. In graduate school, I studied the Romantic Poets. Somehow those poets and their poems come back to me often. But I feel I modelled myself on women poets because the female voice in a poem is very personal. Sylvia Plath is a poet who had a major life-altering influence on me. I first read her when I was about 20 years old. (I wrote a blogpost about that experience; read it by clicking here.) Marianne Moore also had a major influence. I took books out of the local library to read her poetry. I was amazed by it. 

In college, I did not read Latino authors or about Latino culture until after I graduated. Even so, I think I read, maybe two poems by Pablo Neruda and that was probably because he was a Nobel laureate. Then, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, I spent a year reading Latina authors. It was a task I set for myself. Of those authors, Sandra Cisneros is a poet, though more well-known for her novels. (I met her once at a poetry reading many years ago.) I've read and admired some of her poetry. I was on the internet surfing yesterday and found a copy of Neruda's sonnets and I thought, Maybe I should read this.

For this poetry collection, my main inspiration was Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her book, SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE. Those famous--now classic--love poems were written for her husband.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your writing. Please share your social media addresses with our readers.

Yolanda: After this, I'll concentrate on writing my fourth book. Just lots of prose. I feel I am at a crossroads in my real life and writing life. I recently re-read a Robert Frost poem, which I found online by accident. "The Road Not Taken"--which I first read and liked as a teen. Only now, though, can I truly appreciate it.

Last year, I devoted myself to learning Chinese and immersing in Chinese culture and authors. I marvel at their writing (in translation): it seems so new, so distinctive. Going forward, I'd like someday to executive-produce an art film of either one of my novels (like author Esmeralda Santiago). Also, I taught a poetry workshop many years ago. I think I might like to do that again.

Also, I want to complete as many of the books that I've imagined and written down notes/chapters for. Just 2 or 3 days ago, I was reading a novel I began writing years ago and had mapped out. I wrote 3 or 4 chapters, then abandoned it. Today I think it's pretty good.

I'd love to discover the secrets of truly prolific writers. By that I mean, they actually complete and publish twenty or thirty books, sometimes every couple of years. I recently read an interview of Louise Erdrich--I've read and admired her work. I am in awe of the discipline. I get lots of ideas, too many perhaps. I write lots of notes, sometimes chapters, and maybe ten or more drafts of each chapter. I am meticulous about words. So only a fraction of the projects I work on actually get to completion or sees the light of day. Yet, I'm fortunate, because once in a while a vision or a theme or a character or an idea takes hold and will not let go until it's written to completion.




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