ISA GUZMAN IN CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS FUCALORO
Isa Guzman is a poet from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Invading the invisible borders of his mind, he writes to explore his puertorriqueñidad in all its rich history and personal testimony. He recently received his BA in English Literature from Hunter College. He has been published in journals including The Other Side of Violet (great weather for MEDIA, 2017), The Same Magazine, Symmetry Pebbles, Inclement Poetry, Tribe Magazine, and Underground Voices; and is also the recipient of The Edith Goldberg Paulson Memorial Prize for Creative Writing.
Thomas Fucaloro: Your grand poem, "Ars Poetica" is a great addition to our anthology, The Other Side of Violet. Can you go into depth on what you were trying to do with this poem? Also, do you feel poetry has a responsibility? What is that responsibility?
Isa Guzman: An Ars Poetica is a means to meditate on the act of writing poetry. Often, I think writers go back to the simple question: why am I writing? For me, this was especially true in the face of a beloved’s death. The death had me contemplating my own place in life/family/society/history, and where my writing fits in all that. Poetry is about bringing to surface the private chaos of our emotions from the night regions of the soul; to make them tangible, attempt to discern some understanding of them; to become vulnerable enough to allow others to partake in your essence and accept you; and in doing this, unite us all in our existing. The major responsibility of poetry is to unite people. To attempt to argue the necessity for people to unite with one another.
TF: "Conjure up the blood that wrote scripture/ writes testimony," is such a powerful line. There's something about the time shift in it that adds tremendous weight to the poem. What does this line mean to you? How does it relate to the rest of the poem?
IG: Throughout the poem I am conjuring up ghosts to help me understand the familial and emotional pathways that led to my body being here at this moment in time. In a related sense, I read poetry (especially of the past) to understand why I write today. We tend to hold things in the past with great reverence, such as The Scriptures, however we fail to consider the process as ongoing. Families keep growing generation after generation. Writings keep testifying to our lives and existence on this planet. The line is my attempt to illuminate that sense of ongoingness, and it is a call for others to see it as well. The poem itself is an attempt to show ongoingness as a whole. Ars Poetica has been an ongoing tradition for two millennia – over 2000 years! Still going strong and is connective throughout the entire world.
TF: Is there something specific you want your poetry to grow into? How does a poet grow? How do you grow within the world of poetry? Does growing within poetry help you grow within life? How?
IG: I believe the whole of life is interconnected. Anyone close to me can tell y’all, I will spend hours talking about unrelated topics connecting them with one another. And as in life, as in the poem. The only way for a poet or poem to grow is by being exposed to the work of others. Nothing works in a vacuum. Allow yourself to be inspired by the poetics happening aboard. There is so much interesting stuff happening in the world right now. There is so much stuff that has already happened that deserve reexamining. And I believe in that process of examination one’s poetics can grow. Beyond poetics, that examination also helps develop your perceptions of life. Hearing about the lives of other aboard, in their beauty and in their strife, helps you become a more informed and appreciative individual. In my own poetics, I feel I need to strive to speak to the issues happening today – in my community, my country, and the rest of the world. I’m currently exploring concrete poetics to develop something new in my poetics and see where it takes me.
TF: I know this is a bit of a loaded question but when you see the state of poetry today, how do you find your place in it?
IG: I found my place in poetry through my Latinx community. I think it is important for a writer to develop their connections to their communities. For me, my community has been a major bedrock in my poetics. Not only as a subject matter, but also for support and love. It is important, no matter what you do in life, to have people behind you.
TF: What's next for you?
IG: Several things! I hope to pursue my MA/MFA in the coming year. I’m putting together my first collection of poems. I am also working with this amazing group, The Titere Collective. We are a poetry and spoken word collective of men dedicated into exploring and challenging the notions of modern manhood within our modern society. I am looking forward to everything we will create within that space, including shows, mixtapes, and books!
Isa Guzman's poem "Ars Poetica" can be found in The Other Side of Violet (great weather for MEDIA, 2017).
Poetry and prose submissions for great weather for MEDIA anthologies are open October 15 to January 15.