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Author Spotlight: Reyes Ramirez

Hub City Press | ISBN: 9798885740197

| $16.00 | Oct. 3, 2023

What living poet/writer had the biggest influence on your book?

I was lucky to have worked with Eduardo C. Corral for El Rey of Gold Teeth after he graciously took on some mentees for their poetry collections. I’d learned so much from him from Slow Lightning, a book that opened me to new dimensions of craft and language ever since I read it in college. He really pushed me to place my poems into different containers, to let them become the best versions of themselves through individual forms that couldn’t exist otherwise.


Can you talk about your use of form and theory?


As a writer, the tools for my craft encompass language in all its forms, as many as I can play within as possible. As such, I write fiction, poetry, essays, and more to find my limitations and liberties. I firmly believe that form and content cannot be separated, so whenever I choose a form for which my language can be expressed best for that project, I have to be very certain that that was the best container for the project at the time. As in, my first book, a collection of short stories, exists because those thoughts and languages could only be expressed that way. One story in that collection takes the form of a court document filed on Mars that appropriates legal language for fiction, a regular practice in American politics; that was my way of playing with that form to say what I wanted to say.


However, that’s not to say that this latest book, a collection of poetry, does not explore similar themes or subjects, but that the poetry allowed me to access new ways of looking at the same thing. In my experience, forms are merely conduits for language and thus should be thought of as facilitators and not funnels. For example, if a short story cannot cover everything you want to do within a given project, then try it as a poem since poetry is not bound by the sentence insomuch as the line. If a poem isn’t working, then try an essay as the essay can allow the writer the tools to show one’s math, so to speak, more smoothly, such as through citations or digressions or thought process (at least for me).


In El Rey of Gold Teeth, there’s a poem in the form of a translation of a broken turtle’s shell as I was fascinated by the fact that species of turtles all have the same number of plates that comprise their shells, like the red eared slider’s 13 scutes. Thus, I wanted to explore the red eared slider’s shell as an ancestral inheritance, that it was telling them something about their past that they carried but could not see alone. Moreso, it is a ‘translation’ of a broken shell, further fragmenting the history in which they carry, making such a history even more illegible to human language, further complicating the notion of inheriting history and language across languages and contexts. In that way, the red eared slider’s shell becomes a historical document and a textual embodiment of the immigrant experience. I honestly don’t believe any other form that piece could have taken as fiction or essay or what have you often have linear progressions bound by the sentence. The poem, for me, allowed me to clunkily sing what I could not directly say as efficiently and playfully.

What is your current obsession? Short lines, slant rhymes, couplets, trees, etc.


My current obsession for my poetry is establishing a form for a poem and running it into the ground by continuously writing in it until I break all its rules. In that way, I find the form’s first limitation for me and know what to indulge in the new form that sprouts from the former. In this case, it’s the use of a single stanza to fill the expanse of a page, mainly through line spacing and generous line breaks to make the scarce seem abundant, to make the reader slow down as to not get dizzy or lost in the language. In a way, the poems are becoming more visual in how they occupy the white space of a page, how the form embodies the content in ways I couldn’t see at first, like carving words into the marble of the page.

How did writing this book transform you?

This book really let me see how badass poetry truly is. Like, how awesome it is to play with language in such a way as to explore its power and violence and joy. Writing this book gave me the power to share my love for my people, my city, my community in ways that either make people proud of themselves and what we share or to look at what we have in new ways. This book let me navigate my given and learned languages however I wanted. For example, I have a poem in the form of a pulga; I can’t wait for readers to engage with that piece and share in the beauty of something so normal yet so wondrously human. My first book let me see myself as a published author who is contributing to a larger conversation; this book that let me become the writer I’ve always wanted to be. That is, the kind of writer that will always take something and run it as far as it can go in that moment. This book transformed me into a full writer on my terms, into someone whose lot in this life is to write and share stories and ways to play with what we’ve been given. I couldn’t be more thankful.

What role does the poet play in the 21st century?


A giant influence on my writing is Tomás Rivera, especially his book …y no se lo tragó la tierra. There’s a short passage in the book that briefly tells of a poet who travels between migrant worker camps to sell them poetry, tailoring them to local communities by including their names. The poet provides instructions to his customers, telling them: “…to read the poems out loud because the spoken word was the seed of love in the darkness.” It was there that I learned that the writer gives their community the language to find each other in times of darkness, to share love even when the world makes it harder to see the light. In that way, the poet gives each member of their community the ability to become a beacon of love.


For me, the poet in the 21st century carries on that tradition of taking language and sharing it amongst their communities to give them the power to speak, now more than ever when language is being obfuscated, used for violence, and facilitating oppression and division on a more massive scale than ever. My role is to tell you that love is real and that there is no singular use for language. We can use language to see a better reality than the one we currently have. When you read my work, I hope you see that language is something we can play with to process our histories towards a healing. That language is “the seed of love in the darkness.”


Outside of writing, what are some of your passions or hobbies?


Too many! But one passion that I’m enjoying lately is my curatorial practice, how I capture the thoughts and languages I can’t process through my writing (yet) but through organizing. I curated and launched a virtual exhibition in 2022 titled The Houston Artist Speaks Through Grids where I noticed many Houston artists of color of various backgrounds and practices using grids in their artwork. I curated the exhibition to put said artworks in conversation with the political, historical, and pedestrian to try and see how the grid, a conduit of colonialism, can be appropriated by the creative imagination by and for marginalized communities. The exhibition is free and accessible in English and Spanish.


In 2023, I curated and launched a series titled The Pylon Project in conjunction with The Houston Artist Speaks Through Grids where I invited artists and writers to play with the icon of the pylon sign, those big signs you see alongside strip malls and/or shopping centers that list their contents. These pylon signs permeate throughout Houston’s grids of streets, particularly unique as Houston has no traditional zoning laws, often placing things together that can complement and/or clash with each other. That too is free to visit online but also has a limited print run featuring each essay as a zine.


In 2024, I’ll be making another addition to the exhibition which I won’t say what it is yet. The point being, it’s really cool to work on something that grows with you yet has a foundation upon which to build, all of which is accessible and updated as you explore it more and more. The exhibition, then, is a conduit for aesthetic growth and organizing facilitated by visual language that I hope to one day turn into an exhibition catalog in book form.


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


As a writer, you can do whatever you want. For real. Throughout my writing career, whether it be the workshop or the editorial process, I’ve been told what I could or couldn’t do. But when I was told to not do something, that’s when I knew I had to keep it. It’s your work. Your craft. Your life. Do whatever you want. Please.


What are you currently reading?


I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately to help me with my own process, including: Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge; From Threatening Guerillas to Forever Illegals by Yajaira M. Padilla; How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon; Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino; I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux; Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib; and Undrowned by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.


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


My next project is a collection of essays that focus on pop culture as a nation building exercise and practice, ranging from film to video games to natural disasters to beer to music to art to anime and much more. I think this collection will allow me to show my thought process in a different way, especially in making connections across various topics. For example, how does the depiction of football in American cinema connect to my navigation of Hurricane Harvey? How does drinking beer connect to the immigrant experience? You’ll have to read and find out!


Other than that, I have a rotation of poems and stories and art criticisms and a novel that I work on at various intervals when the essays become too narrowing. I’ve also become a married man lately, so I’m always working on being a better husband.


Reyes Ramirez (he/him) is a Houstonian, writer, educator, curator, and organizer of Mexican and Salvadoran descent. He authored the short story collection The Book of Wanderers (2022), a 2023 Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist, from University of Arizona Press’ Camino del Sol series and the poetry collection El Rey of Gold Teeth (2023) from Hub City Press. Reyes has been honored as a 2020 CantoMundo Fellow, 2021 Interchange Artist Grant Fellow, 2022 Crosstown Arts Writer in Residence, 2023 Intercultural Leadership Institute Fellow, 2023 Dobie Paisano Fellow, and others.


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