Alfredo Aguilar’s poems refuse to be silenced

So our current political climate makes poetry a crucial method for voicing the things that our admin & its supporters want to silence: identity, ethnicity, immigration rights, beauty, consent. How do you use poetry to respond to our environment?

I think one of the many uses poetry has is to illuminate the experience of others & in that way build bridges & cultivate empathy. As incremental as that progress is, I really believe that in sharing our experiences with others we can perhaps connect with other people & make the world a less lonely place. In thinking about the current political climate & poetry, I’ve thought a lot about this Osip Mandelstrom quote: “Only in Russia poetry is respected – it gets people killed.” Poetry isn’t thought of like that in the U.S., but I do think it speaks to the how powerful & galvanizing poetry can be. Poetry can be a threat because it encourages imagining. It also reminds me of the kind of danger poets at different times face(d) just to write. It reminds that I am here, this is my world, & I cannot be silent.

ALFREDO_AGUILAR

How do you use poetry to talk about personal matters? Many writers describe poetry as a way to understand what they think about something. What ways does poetry interact with your emotional and mental journey?

I think sometimes the poems articulate certain emotions before I’m totally aware of it. This is one of the things I love most about creating something, the act of discovery that can occur if you manage to get out of the way. I think poetry has at times given me a lens form which to view & sort out my emotions on the page. & to see it existing in some form outside of myself can maybe help me understand those emotions better.

When did you begin writing poetry? Why?

I began writing poetry about four years ago. Writing poems came about because I frequented this open mic, Glassless Minds, where I saw people reading & performing poetry. When I first saw it I thought it was incredible, but I never thought of it as something I wanted to do because at the time I was writing & signing songs on guitar. But when I burnt out on writing songs, I began thinking in the kinds of rhythms I heard at Glassless. I wrote down what was in my head, shared it, & that whole community of poets were super supportive & spurred me to keep writing.

Who are you as a poet? How does writing poetry influence your identity (and vice versa)?

I definitely think of myself as poet whose entry point into poetry was song. I believe I fell in love with language through music & I think a lot about the music in poems. I’m not entirely sure how writing poetry influences how my identity. I know I am not my poems & that this hold true for other poets as well, which I always think is a good reminder. I also know that when you’re described as a “poet” people will sometimes project whatever ideas they have about what a poet is or should be.

As for identity influencing my poetry, I really can’t separate who I am when I sit down to write. & it definitely shapes how & what I write about. My poems will always be brown kid poems. But there is a range of emotions & experiences that come with that & it’s more than just how people perceive my otherness.

Tell me about the publishing process. I stumble across your poems in obscure journals and also in widely-read journals. How frequently do you submit your poems? Where have you felt honored to be published?

I tend to write for a few months, assemble packets, & see if any of the journals that I enjoy reading would be a good fit for my work. I submit maybe every couple months or so. Honestly, any place that has been kind & generous enough in their reading to be say “Yes, we’d love to publish your work” feels like an honor. It still kind of leaves me in awe when people believe in my work.

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What do you like about culture? What don’t you like about culture / society? 

One thing I love, as it relates to poetry, is the community of people I’ve found through poetry. I have met so many close friends that I would never have met had it not been for writing poems… Through this art, I’ve found my tribe. & to me it’s so wild that all of this happened because I wrote down my thoughts & shared my words.

One thing I don’t really like & that I think about often is the ways in which capitalism shapes certain pressures around creating poems. In particular, the pressures to always produce or publish. Feeling that you’re always falling behind or aren’t doing enough. I think this holds especially true for younger writers. I think these pressures can be incredibly detrimental, & I try to find ways to push back against those pressures in my own practice of writing.

I really appreciate that perspective; I know I’m indifferent to being rejected now, after years of having my poems rejected, but many other people our age haven’t built up their submitting skins yet, and rejections can cripple the creative soul. Keep on pushing back on that expectation (although if you do keep publishing, I won’t complain). 🙂

What are your goals for the future?

I’m going to try & trick myself into writing a first book. I’m also working on being a better friend, brother, & son.

I can’t wait to read more from you and wish you the best in your debut collection journey. 


Interview edited for clarity and grammar.

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