Monday, April 04, 2011

Lorna Dee Answers Questions From A Student

On Apr 4, 2011, at 7:49 PM, A. M. wrote:

Hello, my name is A. M. We were suppose to pick a poet that we enjoyed reading their poetry and I found your poetry really interesting and enjoyed reading it a lot. I was wondering if you could answer a few of my questions for the report.

What inspires you to write?

The Muse. She has a mind of her own. It's like love, you never know who nor what it will be next. Otherwise, the universe propels me. I just listen, and pay attention--with a pen.

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first poem in the bathtub to the tune of Greensleaves when I was eight years old. I wrote daily for years from the time I was in Jr. High.

What style of poetry is your favorite to read? To write?

Ha, good poetry. Like people, every poem is different. I look at style as strategy. I actually write in a variety of styles & teach that way, too. I read as much and as widely as I can. I spent decades reading nothing but poetry. Pablo Neruda has sustained me through the years since first discovering him at about age 13. I need different poets at different times for different things. I once had an anthology of Socialist poetry when I was very young, all of my favorite poets were in it. Now, I would say the "poetry of witness." Carolyn Forché has a great anthology, AGAINST FORGETTING, that is just that.

What other hobbies do you have?

Beadwork, gardening, hiking, biking, cooking. I don't do enough of the first four; hopefully when I settle down again. Although not really a hobby, I like to work jigsaw puzzles for relaxation. When I was kid, it seemed the only part of my world I could put into any kind of order.

What got you started writing?

(See previous answer.) My older brother's influence. He's a musician and very improvisational. He wrote stories and poems. I thought poems were songs for people with bad voices. My mother, too, would read poets out loud and play records of poetry: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edgar Allen Poe, Kahlil Gibran & Robert Frost were her favorites, especially Kahlil Gibran. I always say that I really can't remember a time when poetry wasn't at the center of my life.

Do you write for pleasure or for work?

My pleasure is my work & I work at poetry for pleasure. It's like being a nun or a priest, it's a calling, an avocation and not just a vocation. It's for Spirit.

What's your favorite location to write?

Outside. Now that I don't have a garden, in bed. But when a poem wants to get written, it doesn't matter where I am or what's going on around me.

If you could email me back your answer's that would be amazing and I would greatly appreciate it. If you can tell me anything else about yourself it would be great. I'd love to learn more about you and your poetry. Thank you for your time.

A. M.

Hi A,

You caught me at a good time. I'm traveling, preparing for a reading tomorrow at UC Riverside. I have another blog besides my main one where I answer these kind of questions from students at all levels. It's at My main blog is at which you can search for all kinds of things. I've been away from both due to some technical difficulties signing on, but I'm back now. I'd like to post these questions and answers at the first one. I won't post your name unless you want me to. It's a good source for FAQ.

Where do you go to school?

I'm also on Facebook, and once answered some questions from high school students there. As soon as I find them, I'll post them on this blog.

Good luck!

Lorna Dee Cervantes

P.S. I have a project right now, a book, where I'm writing 100 Love Poems to Strangers: for $10+ I'll write you a love poem, to you or yours.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 01, 2011

Where In The World Is Lorna? Spring Reading Schedule, April 5-8, Los Angeles

Spring Reading Schedule, April 5-8th, Los Angeles

Lorna Dee Cervantes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
1:30–3 p.m.

Location: Arts Building 335
University of California, Riverside

Category: Reading
Description: One of the preeminent voices in Chicana literature and American poetry,
Lorna Dee Cervantes is a dynamic poet whose work draws tremendous power
from her struggles in the literary and political trenches. Her power is channeled
by a keen intellect and careful attention to craft, which allows her to explore the
boundaries between language and experience. Joy Harjo says of her poetry,
"Lorna Dee Cervantes is a daredevil... We are transfixed as she juggles rage,
cruelties, passion. There is no net. Seven generations uphold the trick of survival.No one is alone in this amazing act of love."

Cervantes' first book, Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh, 1981), was a
recipient of the American Book Award. Her second collection, From the Cables of
Genocide:Poems on Love and Hunger (Arte Público, 1991) was awarded the
Patterson Poetry Prize, the poetry prize of the Institute of Latin American
Writers, and the Latino Literature Award. Her most recent work, Drive: The First
Quartet, was published in 2006.

Sponsored by Chicano Student Programs, the Department of English, The Center for Ideas and Society, the College for Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and MALCS de UCR.

For more information contact

Open to: General Public
Admission: Free
Sponsor: English Department

Contact Information:
Lisette Lasater

Lecture: Lorna Dee Cervantes, Apr. 6

Lecture: Lorna Dee Cervantes

Date: Wednesday, April 6

Time: 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Description: Lecture

Location: Hannon Library, Von der Ahe Family Suite, 3rd floor
Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Admission: Admission and parking are free

Contact: Dr. Eliza Rodriquez y Gibson
Chicana/o Studies

More about this event:

Lorna Dee Cervantes will read and discuss her book, "The Poetry of Improbability: Art Activism & Beauty." Lorna Dee Cervantes is an internationally acclaimed poet.

Refreshments will be served.

"Poetry Coffee House" with Lorna Dee Cervantes

34th Annual National Hispanic Women's Conference

Date: Friday, April 8

Time: 2 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.

Description: Poetry Reading & Workshop

Location: Salon 2, 1st Floor
Quiet Cannon
Montebello, CA

Contact: Tatiana Villanueva
Event Coordinator, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation

Labels: , ,

Where In The World Is Lorna? TOMORROW Night in The Mission, 8 pm at Precita Eyes Mural Center For MAPP

I'll be reading for MAPP, The Mission Arts Performance Project, Saturday night, April 2, at 8 pm at the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors' Center located at 2981 24th Street in the heart The Mission. Come by and say hi, buy a book, buy a love poem for you or your love: I'll write one for as low as $10 and it will be published in my book, 100 Love Poems To Strangers. I don't read very often in The City, and as with all MAPP events, this was added at the last minute. Come tour The Mission, check out the other performances and art in the neighborhood, and stay for music and a wonderful art show by former Precita Eyes muralist, Selma Brown. The price is right, it's all FREE. See you there!

From "Angels & Reflections" by Selma Brown

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 04, 2008

Where In The World Is Lorna? Spring Readings Calendar

April 4, I'll be reading/performing today at San Francisco State University in Humanities Bldg room 587 at 3:00 pm for the conference, Murder in the Margins: Global Systems of Exploitation
April 8, I'll be reading/performing at Yuba City Community College.
Wednesday, April 9th I'll be performing with Q.R. Hand at City College of San Francisco, Phelan & Ocean, in Conlon Hall, 101, 7-9 pm. Free. Open Mic!
April 15, I'll be reading/performing at DeKalb University, Ill.
April 16th I'll be performing with Rigoberto Gonzalez at The Guild Complex for the Pura Palabra Series sponsored by Poets and Writers in Chicago, Ill.
Time: Doors open at 6:00 PM, Reading begins at 7:00 PM
Cost: Free admission.
Location: Center on Halsted, Chicago's LGBT Community Center, 3656 N. Halsted, Chicago
May 3, I'll be reading/performing at The Cafe Boheme on 24th and Mission (my father's special hang-out) at 6:30 for May Day with Alfonso Texidor and others.
May 6, I'll be performing at Gavilan College in Gilroy.
May 15, I'll be performing in Fresno, CA.
May 21, I'll be reading/performing at Stanford University.
May 22, I'll be reading for the American Literature Association Conference in San Francisco. Followed by a panel on my work, featuring a new book of criticism on Lorna Dee Cervantes published by Wings Press.
??? Your venue or event? Book me now! Have Poems. Will Travel.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lorna Dee Cervantes - Featured Poet at Kate Evan's Poetry Monday

Lorna Dee Cervantes is this month's featured poet on Kate Evans's blog as her "Poetry Monday" feature posted today. Check it out. I post and talk about two brand new poems, process, moving (to Berkeley!), "home" and "ouija board" poetry. And, check out Kate's fine poetry while you're there. It was a real pleasure to read with her at the SJSU Poets Then and Now event last April.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lorna Dee's High School

Date: May 13, 2007 6:16:37 PM MDT
To: Subject: School Project

Hi, my name is michael, i am doing a school project about you, i know you grew up in San Jose which is where i go to school (have you ever heard of Bellarmine College Prep?). Anyways out of curosity my teacher asked me where you went to high school since you grew up in the area, so i was going to try to impress him and find out where but i couldn't find it on the internet. I stumbled accross the University of Colorado website and found your e-mail address...if you could tell me where you went to school i would appreciate it, thanks.

Hi Michael,

I went to Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose. I also went to summer school at James Lick on the east side. I graduated with high honors and had some really great teachers, some of whom are still there. You can find out more about it at my "official" blog [this one] at where there's the first part of a first draft of an autobiography.

I used to hang out in the school library after hours, and once "borrowed" a couple of poetry books. I intend to donate my poetry library to the school.

Here's a little known fact, just for asking: I was voted "Most Rowdy in High School" at my high school reunion. I also placed second for "Weirdest Career", losing out to a Baptist minister.

Bellarmine Boy, huh? Cool. In junior high school, I hung out with a couple of older girls who always had a flock of Bellarmine Boys surrounding. As a matter of fact, one once asked me, irritated, "What, are you writing a book?" "Yes," I answered, "as a matter of fact, I'm a writer." Seemed like a good thing. I liked a couple of the Boys a lot. They were always well-read and literary. Take advantage of it -- you're getting an excellent education.

Lorna Dee

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lorna Dee Cervantes On "The Poet Is Served Her Papers"

I noticed a great deal of traffic to my main blog site from people, mostly from Florida, searching for information on this poem, so I decided to write something on it. "The Poet Is Served Her Papers" is from the first section in my second book, From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. I call it my grief book, poems about loss and longing. There are several poems from the first two sections that are the result of repeating nightmares replaying old arguments from a divorce I wasn't very happy about. One way to exorcise those nightmares, I guess, was to revisit the trauma in a poem. That's the "fever dream" referred to in the first line, and in the line with the pun on "mare" later on in the poem. This is also a poem about what the media then coined, "the feminization of poverty." It was about a time I was divorcing, in grad school, and very poor. Divorcing and moving, eventually to another state, made for more than a few bounced checks -- and divorce being like those "bad checks we scrawl/ with our mouths" in saying those vows.

The first two lines of the second stanza have to do with being a poet who writes and recites love poems -- and wanting to believe those sweet lies in the aftermath -- to speak to the lover in anything but the harsh tones of a break-up. "Speak lips opening on a bed of nails" refers to the leap of faith required of marital love, like the yogic practice of lying on a bed of nails -- to trust and transcend the pain inherent in the form. "The creaking of cardboard/ in these telling shoes" refers to an early experience of deep shame and self-consciousness over having to place squares of cardboard over the holes in my shoes, and how mishapen they would become, and squeak from cardboard -- the intimacy of that shared memory; the loss of somone who shares that intimate memory: who else could now hear it? The "mint of my mind" is an image of the place where coins are produced; an old coin should go up in value, but here the image is of devaluation, like an old Mexican peso: for being old-fashioned, for holding on to the promise of longterm conjugal love. Also, I have several images comparing myself to a coin -- someone once, unkindly, told me that I resembled the portrait on an Indian-head nickle. It's a distant reference to the fact that there was a time in the early '70s when American Indian women were much desired by non-Indian men.

There are multiple puns and layers of meaning in the fourth stanza: the first refers to the question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? from a poem, the title and author of which escapes me. And the Biblical image of going through the eye of a needle. Here, like the coin image, it's devalued into angels milling around the head of a flea, a blood-sucking parasite, instead of a pin, meant to be useful and homey as a wife. At the time I was "broke" down to my "blood", or so it seemed; sorrel is a horse's color, a rare mare, sorrel is also a weedlike herb -- you can eat it if you're starving. "A lone mare", besides the pun on "nightmare", refers to how one calls a racehorse just by it's color: the sorrel; or, "the wife." Buffalo chips can be used as cooking fuel out on the plains when there is nothing else; "cashing in" as in a poker game: end of the game, i.e., divorce.

My ex-husband once wrote in my writing notebook early on in our dating: "The writer, it's a cul-de-sac," which was a quote from Franz Kafka's letters. He won me over early on with that line. When I read that line I make a gesture forming a heart with my hands and arms, than slowly separating them, making what looks to me like two cul-de-sacs in the air. In other words, I still love my husband, I don't want the divorce, I want to read all those love letters again in the mail, and not divorce papers I am being served. The painted hummingbird hearts had to do with an intimate detail from the relationship, he was in love with an Asian woman at work and had painted hummingbird breasts for her in the style of Chinese brush painting. I like the idea of a phone ringing sounding like the tactile equivalent of a licking or lapping cat tongue, for example -- the phone which doesn't ring, and change "my life." The "pay and pay and pay" line refers to the alimony I never asked for, and more, it refers to a Ruben Blades song I listened to over and over again during this time. It was about his mother and how she never slept ever since his father left, and how she would stay up and watch the ghosts on the television keeping away the ghosts of her memories. It had a verse line, roughly translated as it contained several puns, about how "the debts of the heart have never been paid in full" (nunca han pagado) that plays on how she never turns off the light. That song is in this poem, the ghost of it -- those dark angels milling around on the head of a flea.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lorna Dee Answers Questions On Race, Class and Gender and Her Poetry

Hello my name is Jessica and I am currently a student of professor Bill Allegrezza's recent writing class. I have chosen your book Drive The First Quartet which I am enjoying very much. I haven't decided on a favorite poem at this time still have about a 1/4 of the book left to read so I can't say at this time. I will say the one that seems to make me laugh the most is "On Why I Boycotted Cinco de Mayo". I have always felt that here in America it is just another reason to party and not only Americans but Mexican Americans even do not know exactly what is the history or meaning of that day. Not to mention we are usually getting specials on American products. I will have to say today especially I have spent time on reseachering history I should know as my mother is Mexican as well of course my grandparents. So that was also a plus to understanding some of the meaning, people/events, and words throughout your poetry. I have some questions I would really appreciate your feedback and answers to when you are able to respond. I have eliminated some due to answers found in my research, but these I have not yet come across. I am looking forward to your return email and thank you for taking the time to read my email and questions.



With being a part of the Latino movement when did you finally feel your voice was finally heard and achieved your sense of recognition?

As a part of the Chicana/o literary movement, my voice was never separate in the first place. From the very beginning, as a writer, I knew I was a step in the path we were creating for ourselves and for the seven generations walking behind us. I was always speaking for and with a larger community - which includes the dead and the yet unborn. My goal was never to be "heard", expressly, just the fact that I was writing at all was goal enough. I've never been a writer who was interested in achieving recognition. Of course, I'm grateful for any recognition I have achieved, but only in that it is a reflection on and an achievement of my community.

What was your biggest challenge trying to achieve your goals?

My own lack of self-confidence - however that was constructed socially, historically and politically.

Did you feel more discriminated against due to your nationality or as a woman?

As a woman. Without a doubt. And as not a very attractive woman at that. Secondly, and predicted and dictated by my gender and color, class; my socio-economic status in relation to power and privilege; i.e., not being able to play tennis and drink Scotch with the right people. (not really kidding, but smiling) As a woman of color I am ignored and excluded from page and mind as writer.

What was your biggest challenge as a writer?

See above. My own lack of self-confidence. But, as one of my mentors, Stanley Kunitz once told me (regarding my shyness), "It gets better."

Due to the history and struggles of the people you express in your writing what do you feel impacted you the most as well as in your work?

My experiences as a member of the welfare class, the poverty class in "America" as an indigenous person of the Américas. And, how I experienced history and struggle as a woman, a young woman of color. Lately, I've been reflecting on the times I've been called a "n..." to my face. And, how power is exercised differentially across the classes.

What do you feel are significant factors in becoming a good writer?

Writing. As I said in an earlier interview, it takes a lot of tending of the crocus bulbs to produce enough saffron for the paella. And reading. As I tell my workshop on the first day of class: "Write, write, write! Read, read, read! And the rest will pretty much take care of itself" - as long as you're not writing in a vacuum. Who you're reading makes a big difference, too. To put the right book in the right hands at the right time is about 80% of my teaching. That's why I like to read poetry blogs, certain ones, I know I'll read something good, something that will inspire. Poetry teaches us ways in which we are all connected.

What is your favorite poem that you have composed and why?

Probably, like a lot of us, the last one I wrote. "Nothing Lasts." Before that, "Shelling the Pecans." But, really, there's an answer to that. "Coffee," the long poem I wrote that's, in part, on the massacre of 45 civilians, mostly women and children, in Chiapas, Mexico is one of my best, I think. It had to be. I like it because the dead are there, speaking and alive. It's the second in a series of four or five poems I consider "docupoems" - a form inspired by my former colleague, Ed Dorn. I consider these four poems to be the "quartet" referred to in DRIVE. The first is "Bananas." I have long been working on the third, "Oil." It's been a long and learning process.

For fun or relaxation what do you enjoy to do?

Ha! Write poetry! Read poetry. I like to dance - helps to get my yayas out. I love and need live music - more like work for me, in that it's so tied in to my poetry. Ha, I ought to deduct it from my taxes. I love to scribble while listening to lyricless music. (Visit me on MySpace and check out the songwriters and bands.) For relaxation, I ought to do more yoga - I've been practicing by myself ever since I was 11. For pure zoning out, fun and relaxation, I work jigsaw puzzles. I'm a jigsaw fanatic. Got any?

Thanks for this, Jessica. Hope it helps. Glad you liked the "Coors" poem, it still makes me laugh, too. And, true.