Author Spotlight: Leslie Sainz
Tin House | September 26, 2023 | pp. 64 | $16.95
What living poet/writer had the biggest influence on your book?
To choose just one would feel disingenuous, so I’ll say it’s a three-way tie between Hoa Nguyen, Eduardo Corral, and Mary Syzbist.
What non-living poet/writer had the biggest influence on your book?
Jean Valentine and Lorca—another tie.
You can often tell a lot about a book by how it begins and how it ends. What is the first line and last line of your book?
First line: “There is no country where the dead don’t float.”
Last line: “Come back, come back to us anyway.”
What are some key themes present in your book?
Exile and displacement, inheritance, codependency, devotion, self-determination, illness, the paradoxical lack and richness of Cuban American identity, anti-machismo, matriarchy, ancestral and spiritual longing, diaspora, anti-imperialism.
Do you have any advice for new and emerging writers? Is there anything you wish you knew?
People will toss around the word “community” a great deal and mostly for good reason. But try not to bind yourself to the belief that your community—the folks who support you personally and creatively, who serve as the best readers of your work and you theirs—must look like you or overlap your social identities. In life and in your art, be open to the possibility of being seen and understood by anyone with good intentions who dares to try.
What role does the poet play in the 21st century?
Does or should? The former depends on the poet, I think, but to be a provocateur—I’m thinking of the word outside of the state-sponsored context—seems to me a nonnegotiable characteristic of the profession. I feel strongly that poets should situate themselves wherever they can write as fearlessly as possible.
Do you have a new project that you’re working on? Could you tell us a bit about it?
In 2019, I began writing a series of persona poems in the voice of author and inspirational speaker Esther Hicks, one of the most popular and vocal proponents of the Law of Attraction. Esther claims that she can channel an “infinite intelligence” called Abraham that consists of “a group consciousness from the non-physical dimension.” The resulting poems are dark, nebulous, playful, and absolutely thrilling to write.
Leslie Sainz is the author of Have You Been Long Enough at Table (Tin House, 2023). The daughter of Cuban exiles, she is the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, the Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Narrative, and elsewhere. A three-time National Poetry Series finalist, she’s received scholarships, fellowships, and honors from CantoMundo, the Miami Writers Institute, the Adroit Journal, and the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts at Bucknell University. She is the managing editor of New England Review.