Library of Congress

Poetry and Literature

The Library of Congress > Poetry & Literature > Spotlight on U.S. Hispanic Writers > Eduardo C. Corral
{ site_name: 'Poetry', subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress/poetry.php' }

Back to Spotlight on U.S. Hispanic Writers Home

Georgette M. Dorn: Today, September 17, 2012 we are recording Eduardo Corral for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. It is a really great pleasure for us to have here Eduardo Corral and I am going to ask Eduardo a few questions.

Eduardo Corral: Thank you, thank you. Ok.

GMD: Tell us a little bit about your background.

EC: I was born in Arizona in 1973—Southern Arizona, in a small town called Casa Grande, Casa Grande. Even the Spanish speakers call it “Casa Grand.” We know you’re an outsider when you say “Casa Grande”—ha ha, it’s a tell-tale sign. It’s a small, cotton-farming community two hours from the border, from México. So, I grew up surrounded by cotton fields, which explains my fascination with snow and winter, because I would run through those fields pretending that the cotton plants, the fibers were snow. I used to adore that. My parents are from Mexico. They came to the states in 1973, and I was born later that year. Met, they fell in love very quickly, and I arrived nine months later. I am one of three children. I stayed in Casa Grande, Arizona until I left for Arizona State University to pursue my studies. I majored in Chicano Studies, and then in my last year in Chicano Studies I discovered poetry by accident. I enrolled for a Chicano Literature course, which I thought would be a survey course, you know? Read a book . . . write an essay . . . something I was very good at. So I thought, Easy A. But it turned out to be a workshop also, which I almost dropped because I had never written a poem in my life or thought of myself as a writer. But my professor said, “No, just stick with it, stick with it, stick with it, you know, you’ll do fine, you’ll do fine.” I remember writing those first few poems, and my professor—Dr. Aldama—saw something in those poems and he just encouraged me to keep writing. He liked the new stuff I was writing, the drafts. He encouraged me to talk to the professors in the MFA program at Arizona State University, Norman Dubie and Alberto Ríos. They were very kind to me; they took me under their wing, encouraged me, gave me reading lists and taught me about craft and tradition. That’s how it started rolling for me, by accidentally signing up to a workshop. It was a workshop.

GMD: That’s interesting. But, however, I did read somewhere that you had written a high school poem.

EC: Yes, yes, yes.

GMD: About “Beowulf.”

EC: “Beowulf,” yeah, yes. We had to write a poem in response to Beowulf. I did not really take it seriously—ha ha. I was a high school student. But, my teacher kept that poem. She really liked the way I came up with the end rhymes, and she read it to her other classes. I remember she pinned it to her board, her corkboard, which surprised me. Every time I entered the classroom, there it was, that poem. But, it’s something I did not think about after it happened. I just remembered it years, years later. And it was wonderful because I just gave a reading at Tempe, Arizona and she was there—my AP English teacher was there when I read for the first time in Arizona for my book. It was wonderful to see her there.

GMD: That’s wonderful.

EC: And she remembered the poem, too.

GMD: It’s very difficult, you know, that’s was one of the . . . you know, when I came from Argentina and I was studying in Nebraska, I found “Beowulf” very, very difficult, just having learned English. I am surprised that they teach it in high school because it is a very difficult poem.

EC: It’s a difficult text, but there’s always . . . teachers find a way to explain it,  and also it appeals, I think, to a young people. There’s murder, mayhem, revenge—ha ha. Yes, yes, something like that. Someone once called it a video game without the video graphics. Ha ha, you know. It’s a wonderful narrative.

GMD: So then from Arizona you went on to the Iowa Writer’s Institute.

EC: Yes, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. My teacher, Norman Dubie, at Arizona State asked me one day in 1999, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “Why don’t you get a MFA?” And I asked him, “What is a MFA?” And he said, “Basically it is a program two or three years degree where, you know, you are given time to read and write,” which sounded wonderful to me. I had no idea where to apply so he just turned over a piece of paper; he wrote down seven programs for me to apply to. And I applied to those seven programs. I got into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and I went there in the summer of 1999 with my mother and a Greyhound bus. It was a two-and-a-half day trip by Greyhound bus. I refused to fly; I was terrified of flying. I am over that now. And my mom refused to let me go by myself. She wanted to see where I was going to wind up and make sure the fridge was stocked before she left and all that. I remember I only took one book with me. I took Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and I read it three times because I was so bored on the bus. I always teach that book because I know it so well, ha ha.

GMD: That’s wonderful.

EC: I arrived in 1999 and I started my studies. Theirs is a two-year program.

GMD: And then you went, now, did you go back to Arizona after that?

EC: After I graduated in 2001, I did go back to Arizona and I had a few jobs: library assistant, Head Start teacher. Then, I also got lucky enough to get some post-MFA fellowships, residencies at colonies, which gave me time to think and write. Yeah, so I bounced around after graduation, you know, up to New York, Pennsylvania, home, back and forth. So yeah, I spent time in Arizona, across the country, just finding time and space to work on my first collection.

GMD: That’s wonderful. And then of course you won the wonderful Whiting Award.

EC: Yes, that was in October. I was in Uruguay, Montevideo, when I got an e-mail from the Foundation that the President of the Board wanted to speak with me. And I remember looking, turning to my left, to a friend I said, “What does that mean?” And my friend said, “You probably won the award.” Ha ha—I guess they are not going to e-mail you to say, “You came this close . . . ” I did not bring my cell phone because I did not want to incur ridiculous charges at international rates, so I used a phone from somebody from the Embassy in Montevideo and I called the Foundation and they confirmed and I was very happy. Then, I called my Mom. She works at a Mexican restaurant in the kitchen and she started crying; it was a wonderful moment. Empezó a llorar like that. Then, she called out to her compañeras, her co-workers, what had just happened and I heard a round of applause around her.

GMD: That’s wonderful.

EC: That’s the thing that makes me happy. All of this kind of stuff, I am very happy, very grateful for awards and stuff like that and these opportunities, but just knowing that it makes my Mom proud, my parents proud, and that it makes sense to them now. They were always very supportive of my choice to be a poet but they were always very fearful . . . like how is he going to feed himself, how is he going to, you know, make his way through the world. These kinds of moments, you know, provide comfort for them. Like ok, he might do well.

GMD: It might work out.

EC: He might survive.

GMD: And so you were already thinking about your first book then?

EC: Yes, it took me nine years to write my first book. I am a very deliberate and slow writer, so even when I publish a poem in a journal one of the first things I do is edit it. I cross out words. I edit lines on the journal itself.

GMD: And you actually do it on paper?

EC: On the journal itself, yeah. I get the new journal . . .

GMD: We were just talking about that. I went to a conference on Saturday and I had to talk about the Library’s digitization program, and I talked about the whole Library’s history. And then when I come to digitization, one of the things we regret is that writers now write online and they correct online.

EC: Yes.

GMD: So we no longer have the various drafts—the first, second, tenth, twelfth draft of a poet and this is really . . . I think it is wonderful. I congratulate you because we were just thinking about young people. I said, “Well we are going to lose that wonderful archives and collections.”

EC: Well, for the first book, I have about eight and a half to nine boxes, medium-size boxes of notebooks.

GMD: Ahhh . . . please keep them.

EC: I save them. They are at an aunt’s house. I did keep a lot of notebooks for the first collection.

GMD: Because especially in poetry that is so important. You know, every word matters. It is not like prose where you can correct your mistakes in paragraph after paragraph.

EC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I must admit nowadays I do both. I have an iPhone and I do take notes on it, but I also carry a notebook with me—a regular old-school notebook that I write in, too.

GMD: And on good paper, so the paper lasts. That’s also important.

EC: On good paper, and wonderful ink. That sensation, you know, of the pen gliding across quality paper—I love that.

GMD: And you see, the handwriting of the writer is also wonderful. So with all the advantage of a computer, it doesn’t for the Library and archives. We like to have that . . .

EC: I do not really like revising on a computer screen because it kind of looks already like it’s been published, like it . . . it looks like the page of a journal. It looks professional. It looks kind of done.

GMD: That’s a good thought.

EC: And that always tricks me. No, no, no. I like the messiness of the page because that reminds me, this is a draft. This is a draft. You need to work. You need to work.

GMD: And the crossing out . . .

EC: Crossing out.

GMD: And marginal notes . . .

EC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ha ha.

GMD: Wonderful. Well, we would like to ask you to read something from your book, from your wonderful book called Slow Lightning, which was published this year in April 2012. So, please give us the title of each poem as you read.

EC: No problem. My pleasure. This first poem is the first poem in the collection. It’s titled, “Our Completion: Oil on Wood: Tino Rodríguez: 1999.”

  • Poet reads “Our Completion: Oil on Wood: Tino Rodríguez: 1999”Slow Lightning (2012).

GMD: Beautiful.

EC: Should I read more? Another one?

GMD: Oh yes, please, please. Read as many as you wish.

EC: Ok, this poem is entitled, “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.”

  • Poet reads “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”Slow Lightning (2012).

GMD: Very beautiful.

EM: This next poem talks about my obsession with the snow, so being from Southern Arizona, people always question that. “The Blindfold”

  • Poet reads “The Blindfold”Slow Lightning (2012).

EM: This next poem is titled “Watermark” and this poem borrows two phrases from Gwendolyn Brooks from her poem, “A Boy Breaking Glass.”

  • Poet reads “Watermark”Slow Lightning (2012).

EC: This poem, the title also functions as the first line of the poem.

  • Poet reads “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes”Slow Lightning (2012).

GMD: Do you want to read the one on Frida Kahlo?

EC: Oh that’s . . . sure.

GMD: It’s very popular.

EC: There are actually two poems from my MFA thesis that made it into the collection. That is one of them. Let’s see.

GMD: I saw a wonderful exhibit of Kahlo in Phoenix some years ago.

EC: Yes. Ah, ¿dónde estás, Kahlo?

GMD: She is taught a lot in schools.

EC: Yeah. Yes, you see her,—yeah, a lot of high school walls and via poster.

  • Poet reads “Self Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso”Slow Lightning (2012).

EC: This next one is titled, “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez,” which is a famous composition by the Mexican singer songwriter Juan Gabriel.

  • Poet reads “Se Me Olvido Otra Vez”Slow Lightning (2012).

EC: A ver . . . a few more?

GMD: Yes, please.

EC: A ver . . . It’s funny. You spend years organizing your book and then when you want to find a poem, you can’t find it.

  • Poet reads “To a Jornalero Cleaning Out my Neighbor’s Garage”Slow Lightning (2012).

EC: This next poem is “Caballero” and it begins with an epigraph from Lorna Dee Cervantes.

  • Poet reads “Caballero”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “To a Mojado Who Died Crossing the Desert”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “Saint Anthony’s Church”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “Monologue of a Vulture’s Shadow”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “To the Angelbeast”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “To the Beastangel”Slow Lightning (2012).
  • Poet reads “After Bei Dao/After Jean Valentin”Slow Lightning (2012).

EC: ¿Un poquito más, o?

GMD: It’s fine, yeah. Wonderful. Really wonderful. Thank you so much.

EC: Gracias.

GMD: Do you have any principle inspiration? Other than . . . . I know you mentioned Robert Hayden.

EC: Yes. He is one of my foundational authors. When I first started reading poetry in Chicano Studies courses—Lorca, García Lorca.

GMD: Federico García Lorca.

EC: Aha, because of his imagery and because he is so well translated and there are so many translations you could compare translations, translation to translation to translation . . . so I spent a lot of time as an undergrad comparing translations and I just loved the clarity.

GMD: Very good translations.

EC: Then he came out with his images. I love good imagery, a metaphor, and simile. And he is so good at those. And they are very erotic, very sensual, and I understood where he was coming from, you know? He was a gay man in a very Catholic country, so I understood all those layers of meaning in his words and his imagery. Later on, poets like Elizabeth Bishop are very important to me. Contemporary poets like C. D. Wright, her use of vernacular, the idioms from Arkansas were very important to me, very instructional to me. It showed me it is very possible for me to also pull in all of the languages around me, which means the languages my parents speak, the languages I heard at school, high English to slang spoken by students . . . . So C. D. Wright and José Montoya were two of the poets who gave me permission to start just bringing in any kind of language that made sense to me or sounded musical, or just to bring all of these kinds of different languages onto the page and into my work.

GMD: When you were in Uruguay, were you lecturing at all about Chicano poetry, or what were you doing in Uruguay?

EC: It was a cultural exchange program cosponsored by the State Department and the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, so we had three writers. We visited Uruguay first, then Bolivia, and we just talked about, we gave workshops. We talked about poetry but we did not give any lectures specifically . . .

GMD: Not about Chicano poetry?

EC: No, no, no . . . they would ask about it, yeah.

GMD: Because Latin America is very slow in accepting it, and I was wondering how slow South America would be. I know Mexico was very slow in accepting it and it took them a while, but then of course now it’s very popular in Mexico—Chicano literature, not just poetry.

EC: When I would read my code-switching poems in Uruguay or Bolivia, the vernacular—the slang, the border slang—always threw them off. They knew that the Spanish, but, “What does that mean?

GMD: Totally different words.

EC: Yeah, yeah. There is actually a professor in Mexico City who is interested in translating my poems into Spanish, but the stumbling block is my Spanish because it is, you know, so tied to the border. It references the narco culture. It is very working-class, my Spanish so he is basically like, “How do I translate your Spanish to my Spanish?” which I love.

GMD: Who is the poet who is translating you?

EC: No recuerdo su nombre . . . but he is with the university.

GMD: But I mean, I think as far back as fifty years ago at the big festival at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a Symposium Chicano culture. It finally got accepted, you know? It took them a while. I think other countries further down they were more open to it than in Mexico, even though Octavio Paz had written already about the . . .

EC: The Labyrinth of Solitude . . .

GMD: Yeah, the border, which is very interesting.

EC: He is also one of my other favorite poets, Octavio Paz.

GMD: He is wonderful. We have two hours of recordings, and he recorded, that was before my time of course, he recorded right here and he was very good, very seminal poet, especially his . . . he writes a lot about nature, like you do, you know, but the context of the landscape.

EC: And he reminds me very much of Bei Dao, the Chinese poet. They work image by image, you know, the image accrues meaning and symbolism. You know, that is the kind of stuff I like to do hopefully in my own work somehow, maybe not, but that is sort of a response to Octavio Paz, the way he just constructs beautiful image after image. It seems like endless.

GMD: In fact, we need the permission from his widow to put him up on the web. And of course, we have your permission so we can put you up on the web. Well thank you very, very much. This was very, very interesting.

EC: Gracias.

GMD: As I say, you are our first border poet because you were born right on the border.

EC: Right on the border, two hours from the border.

GMD: Two hours, yeah.

EC: Yeah, yeah. Casa Grande, Arizona.

GMD: Must be hard for you. Are your parents still there?

EC: Yes. Most of my family is there.

GMD: Must be a difficult time.

EC: Yes. People keep asking me, “How do you feel about Arizona?” Well, the easiest response is: “Arizona is my home,” because when I think of Arizona, I don’t think of the current political situation, I think of my mother, my father, my nieces, my nephews.

GMD: Well, we know it will pass . . . everything passes. Thank you very, very much, Eduardo.

EC: Gracias.

Top

U.S. Poetry at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, September 17, 2012

Approximately 45 minutes.

Recording Title: Poet Eduardo Corral Reading from his Work
Reading moderated by: Georgette Dorn

Introduction

1) Poem selections from Slow Lightning (Yale University Press, 2012)

  • “Our Completion: Oil on Wood: Tino Rodríguez: 1999” – (min. 9:56)
  • “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” – (min. 11:12)
  • “The Blindfold” – (min. 12:28)
  • “Watermark” – (min. 13:03)
  • “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes” – (min. 15:08)
  • “Self Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso” – (min. 17:38)
  • “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” – (min. 19:28)
  • “Poem After Frida Kahlo’s Painting the Broken Column” – (min. 20:45)
  • “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” – (min. 25:12)
  • “To a Jornalero Cleaning Out my Neighbor’s Garage” – (min 26:35)
  • “Caballero” – (min 28:00)
  • “To a Mojado Who Died Crossing the Desert” – (min. 30:06)
  • “Saint Anthony’s Church” – (min. 30:53)
  • “Monologue of a Vulture’s Shadow” – (min. 31:40)
  • “To the Angelbeast” – (min. 33:05)
  • “To the Beastangel” – (min. 33:46)
  • “After Bei Dao/After Jean Valentine” – (min. 35:20)

Closing commentary – (min. 36:13)

Slow Lightning

LC Catalog record:  http://lccn.loc.gov/2011044948
Eduardo Corral, Slow Lightning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Related Resources

Eduardo C. Corral

Eduardo C. Corral

Eduardo C. Corral is the author of Slow Lightning, selected by poet Carl Philips in 2012 for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Corral is the first Hispanic poet to be published in the series, the oldest annual literary award in the country. Slow Lightning was also a finalist for the 2012 Publishing Triangle Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. Corral’s other honors include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Cantomundo, as well as the Discovery/The Nation Award, and the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize. A former Olive B. O’Connor Fellow in Creative Writing at Colgate University and Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University, Corral currently lives in New York City.

Learn more about Eduardo C. Corral at The Poetry Foundation