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Author Spotlight: Nathan Xavier Osorio

















University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt Poetry Series

September 10, 2024

ISBN : 9780822948377



 

How did your relationship with your family influence your writing?


Like a lot of immigrant families in Los Angeles, both of my parents worked a lot as I was growing up. On latchkey days, my two brothers and I would keep each other entertained with stories. The challenge was always to stretch the truth but keep it believable so we could relish the moments when we’d make one another laugh or stir up fear. Other times, we’d stage comic book fights between our favorite superheroes in the dirt in our backyard and even break away from our house to hike unsupervised in the San Gabriel Mountains to explore abandoned buildings. We were curious. When we got tired of the world we looked to our parents, who often gave us the gift of attention after a day of work. We’d ask them to tell us stories about the places and people from which they came. We wanted to know more about the strange series of events that brought them here and, in turn, brought us here. It was like learning about our own version of the origin stories we couldn’t pull our eyes from during Saturday morning Spiderman or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons.  After all, it felt like we had more in common with these outcast characters than most of the “real” teenagers we saw on popular television channels.

Each time we asked our parents for their origin story they would tell it differently. We didn’t mind because each retelling revealed a new detail: a shadowy villain that hadn’t previously appeared, a landscape so striking it had to be described in a language that felt strange in our mouths as we tried to utter it with our anglicized tongues. As an adult now, I realize how painful it must have been to tell those seemingly infinite versions of their stories, to process what had happened when they were forced out of their birthplaces by poverty, war, and natural disaster in front of children who belonged to an entirely different world that was also—somehow—stubbornly tethered to these realities. Their vulnerability has never left me. 

These experiences were my first masterclass on how to use language to tell stories that turned to memory to understand the mis/connections within a community, within a family, and within ourselves. I like to think that my poetry continues to honor those instincts and imaginative muscles. I write against forgetting and reach towards that vulnerability.



Can you talk about your use of form and theory?


In Querida, I’m concerned about the possibilities and impossibilities of poetic form. I have a healthy suspicion of received forms and wonder what experiences they privilege on the page. Yes, forms are dynamic and they transform each time a poet wrestles a particular memory or rhythm into its line, but they’re also entrenched in tradition, in the canons of dominant languages across time. Despite this suspicion, I can’t help but be awestruck when I read how Patricia Smith uses a received form like the sonnet crown to render the musicality of Black sisterhood in Detroit in “Motown Crown” or how Marilyn Nelson bears witness to the violence of lynching in her crown, A Wreath for Emmet Till. These poets taught me how a suspicion of form can create the conditions for defiance. It prompts writers to defy rules and historical conventions and shift towards subjects and issues not historically privileged within the space of the received form in poetry.  Inspired by Smith and Nelson, I wanted the sonnet crown to be a central braid in Querida. Its melodic coolness and constant longing for return felt like the most surefooted way to work through a speculative narrative about boyhood set against the Los Angeles wildfires of the Capitalocene. In the end, I found the crown to be generative, albeit unsettling and haunting, perhaps because of the hypnotic spiral it enacts on the page.

Beyond just the sonnet crown, I imagine the form of the entire collection like a longing to find yet another shape for familial narratives of migration, labor under capitalism, and other powerful legacies of coloniality. It’s an attempt to make sense of the tensions between my literary inheritances as a writer in the U.S. and the familial knowledges I mentioned earlier—to most truthfully etch out the contours of what I know and feel as the son of immigrants. Many decisions in shaping and organizing this collection come from the cue to defy and push and pull open received forms, but also from being in conversation with the work of literary scholars and visual and performance artists. Important touchstones for this collection include installation artists like Beatriz Cortez and Amalia Mesa-Bains, the work of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and the performance troupe La Pocha Nostra, and even Gloria Anzaldúa’s altar building practices. Anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena and her research on Andean ways of knowing alongside Walter Mignolo and Pedro Pablo Gómez’s scholarship on decolonial aesthetics have illuminated the stakes of publishing Querida today. Decolonial aesthetics and Indigenous Studies help me understand how I use the forms I’ve inherited through my relationships with language but also why and to what effect. 



What was your writing process? Your editing process? Did you adopt a unique process for this book, or do you have a “go-to” approach for all your writing?


Earlier in my writing life, I would be embarrassed about how long it took me to get a poem to a place where I felt comfortable sharing it with others. Now I realize how each piece of writing requires different versions of myself for it to come together. That growth can’t be rushed and develops over periods of time. Patience—like in cooking—is an important writing ingredient for which to develop an awareness. When I return to a poem after some time, I feel changed by something I’ve recently read or an observation or a feeling. Often, that piece of information productively finds its way into the piece, revealing something I hadn’t noticed before.

Repetition is also important to my process. I’ll rewrite a poem by hand a dozen times in a notebook before I take it to the computer. The labor of moving my physical self across the page again and again forces me to slow down and experience the language through my body—it’s meditative. The editing also begins here. Each pass might unveil a changed image or a demand for new sound. This “slow cooking” might lend my writing its density, and surely, it’s helped me become a more patient writer and person. 

My writing process for Querida is also indebted to a whole universe of mentors and friends who’ve lent me their time and energy. Sharing work with formal mentors in workshops and classrooms was formative early on, but now informal writing communities have been the generative spaces where I can test new poems and get valuable feedback. People like my wife and fellow writer Kristi D. Osorio or friends like Nicholas Goodly, Christopher Blackman, Michael Juliani, and Anny Mogollón have been providing feedback on Querida for a very long time. In some places, they’re in the poems as much as I am. 



Do you have a new project that you’re working on? Could you tell us a bit about it?


Although I’ve been interrogating embodiments of masculinity through my poetry for nearly ten years, the newest poems in Querida are about my mother and my matrilineal history. Writing about my mother scares me the most because it feels like a portal into a deeper unknown of my familial history. My next project chases this feeling and takes up this line of inquiry. My mother migrated to Los Angeles from Managua, Nicaragua shortly after the devastating 1972 earthquake and in the years leading up to the Nicaraguan Revolution. After losing their mother in a tragic accident, my mother and her eight sisters were transformed into refugees and orphans by personal, geopolitical, and natural disasters. For them, the confluence of tragedies initiates a painful journey north to Los Angeles. Despite the fragmented documents and photos, this history is largely unspoken of and so forgotten between the generations in my matrilineal family. My next project works with documentary poetics, archival research, translation, and testimonios. I engage in these strategies to enact what writer and literary scholar Sadiya Hartman calls “critical fabulation,” which I understand as a way to create poetry that tends to the omissions of familial memory and the official archive—especially those omissions forced by colonial trauma and violence. In my next project, poetry is a tool for further probing the “colonial wound” and counteracting the erasure of histories of women of color in my family and in the Americas. 



Do you have any advice for new and emerging writers? Is there anything you wish you knew?


The process is a series of perpetual mountain climbs. When you get to the summit you realize it’s only “a” summit and that there are others as far as you can see. That’s alright. Keep building community, keep reading, keep listening. Develop and care for the muscle of patience. Time is, somehow, on your side. Passing moments allow you and your writing to mature, to gain more altitude and depth, to experience new vantage points, to see and feel the same old thing anew, to sense the new thing through the reflective lens of memory and its remarkable transformations. Sit with these emotions as an embodied intelligence for as long as you can. The “hustle”—especially of making and publishing poetry—is a social fabrication, yet another colonial pressure to conform our artistic production to the expectations of the market economy. Tranquilo, amigxs: breathe.




 


Nathan Xavier Osorio’s debut poetry collection, Querida, was selected by Shara McCallum for the 2024 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. His chapbook, The Last Town Before the Mojave, was selected by Oliver de la Paz for the Poetry Society of America’s 2020 Chapbook Fellowship. He received his PhD in Literature from UC Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in BOMB, Public Books, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Kenyon Review, and Poetry Foundation. He was born and raised in Los Angeles.

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