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Catalina Gómez: We are here recording Valerie Martínez. Today is February 14, 2014, and this is a recording for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. Valerie, it is a great honor to have you here with us.

Valerie Martínez: Oh thank you. I am so honored to be here.

CG: We would like to start by asking you to just give a little introduction about yourself, about how you became this great poet that you are today.

VM: Oh, thank you. Well, I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I am descended from the native peoples of North America. The pueblo peoples and Navajo Dine people, who themselves of course were descended from the peoples who migrated from North Africa up through Asia and the Bering Strait and then south into North America, and also descended from the Spaniards who came to North America in the late 1500s. That’s my father’s family. And who themselves co-mingled with the native peoples of present day Mexico coming north, so I’m truly mixed blood. And I started writing not until I was in adolescence, but my mother said I loved to read the dictionary when I was a little girl. She sold world book encyclopedias when we were young to earn some extra money, and she said I used to lull myself to sleep reading the A-L dictionary. I’m sure I only made it to C, but so she thinks that that’s…somehow I always had some sort of love for language from early on. But then didn’t really start writing in a notebook until I was an adolescent. And from then on that’s really what I do best.

CG: And you started with poetry, or you also wrote prose?

VM: I think prose and poetry and it was just my little journal as a girl. Nobody really ever read it, and I didn’t have any training really in high school, but when I got to college I took a course in poetry, and my professor suggested that I try to get my poems published, which was shocking because I didn’t ever really think of myself as a writer or a poet until that moment. And then I started publishing in my college literary magazine, and that was the beginning.

CG: You also have done plays, right?

VM: I’ve done…Yes, I’ve done translations and written plays, and I work as a collaborative artist now with other artists in communities. I work with underserved communities where people really have a chance to work with an artist team and express themselves creatively.

CG: That’s wonderful. Okay, well you can just dive in to the reading.

VM: Okay. I’m going to read the book-length poem Each and Her, which is in seventy-two mostly short parts. And I don’t think I’ll give an introduction because there’s an epigraph that tells, and I think the poem hopefully does its work.

CG: Okay.

  • Poet reads “Each and Her” Each and Her, University of Arizona Press (2010)

CG: Thank you Valerie so much. It’s a wonderful poem.

VM: Thank you.

CG: I think I just have one question. There’s a lot of mention of roses; and then there’s a lot of women named Rosa.

VM: Yes.

CG: So that is something that is in the poem right? You’re playing with their names?

VM: Yes.

CG: Okay.

VM: So rose is this, you know sort of, long standing symbol for woman, and so as the book unfolds, there’s also a meditation about roses and the cultivation of roses, and we breed them and we cut them and we shape them and…in the same way we have really a historical cultivating of what a woman is supposed to be.

CG: Right.

VM: And so in the poem that sort of interweaves with these women who have been murdered, who have names of flowers. And…so the poem, in that way, is evoking on so many levels, what it is to be a woman, what it’s been to be a woman cultivated, and the fate of these women so many that we’ve lost. So yeah…

CG: And then the…the Marías.

VM: The Marías of course. Right? So we have the Virgin Mary revered, absolutely revered in Mexico. Women…a woman revered at the same time, simultaneously, the brutal murder of hundreds of women. So that layering I think is part of the collaging of the poem where I try to get at what is sort of impossible to get at, which is the reality of so many women being murdered, so the poem approaches it as a collage in some way ‘cause there’s no other way to try to get at what is a fever of unimaginable violence against women.

CG: Right. When was it that you felt like you needed to write this poem? Was it gradual…did it just start coming back to you in different moments or was it just one specific moment that you felt it?

VM: Yeah, well I had been following the murders for many years, um, as many people have been, and uh, I would have never chosen to write the book because the subject is so difficult. But I went to a performance by the Latina Dance Project one evening, and the, their first little dance narrative was a story about one of the women of Juárez. And I don’t remember anything after that. I don’t remember the rest of the performance. I don’t remember driving home, and the next morning I started writing, and about three weeks later I sort of emerged and I had this, what I thought was a very mixed up, complicated thing on my hands. I didn’t even know what it was…a poem? I just didn’t know, and I called a friend and said I am working on this thing. I don’t know what it is. I don’t think I can do it, and she said, stop thinking. Don’t. Just keep writing, and don’t even start to analyze what you’re doing, just keep going, and so I kept going, and that was the beginnings of this book. So my way of coming into it was not at all intentional, but the book needed to be written. And of course woven in our things about myself, things about the loss of my sister, and so the book just became an enormous thing that made me quit many times, just the darkness of it in place, in places, in so many places. But I do say that really it is a love poem, and the book is a love poem for these women and for an urgency for us to feel connected to them no matter where we are.  For all of us to feel connected to these women. And to be aware of what’s happening there because I think the only thing that has a chance of stopping them is people’s awareness and activism and attention on it. But, no, I never expected to write the book.

CG: It’s interesting because something about it also made me sort of think of a play.

VM: Yeah.

CG: I mean I don’t know… I don’t know how I can explain this but it’s sort of the different scenes, voices.

VM: Yes, many different voices and quotes and references to works of art, and it is a poli-vocal piece maybe that’s why and also I think it’s meant to be read aloud. I think it’s great if you read it…read the text, but I do think it’s a poem that is meant to be heard.

CG: Right.  

VM: And maybe that’s the best way to experience it.

CG: Though there’s one section that it’s a blank page…

VM: It’s blank.

CG: There’s a number that’s a blank and there’s no way for…

VM: No…

CG: For the person listening to know that

VM: Except for a longer pause…

CG:  And that…I thought that was fascinating.

VM: Yeah, and that comes after the list of Marías which is tough.

CG: Right.

VM: And then an image after that of my sister, and um, so it really was an interesting moment because in the writing of the book there simply could not be a section that followed those two. And that’s why in the book it’s a numbered section with nothing on the page.

CG: So it’s a silence.

VM: Just…there are no words. There was just nothing.

CG: Wow.

VM: Um, so yes, and I remember my publisher kept checking with me. There’s no…are you sure there’s nothing on this page? Yes, there’s nothing on that page. Yeah…

CG: So, but if you’re reading it. It sort of gets lost, right? That specific part.

VM: Yes, if you’re reading it aloud, how would you know?

CG: Right…Well this was magnificent. Thank you so much, Valerie.

VM: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

CG: Thank you.

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Poetry in English at the Library of Congress Washington, DC —February 14, 2014

Approximately 42 minutes.

Recording Title: Poet Valerie Martínez Reading from her Works

Introduction

1) Book poem: Each and Her (2010) – (min. 3:02)

Conclusion – (min. 35:18)

End – (min. 41:41)

Each and Her

    Valerie Martínez, Boomerang (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010)

Related Resources

Valerie Martínez

Valerie Martinez

Valerie Martínez was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of five poetry collections, Absence, Luminescent (1999), World to World (2004), And They Called It Horizon (2010), This is How it Began (2010), and Each and Her (2010). She also edited two anthologies, Lines and Circles: A Celebration of Santa Fe Families (2010) and Ask Me Who I Am: Writing and Art by CYFD Youth (2010), and co-edited Reinventing the Enemy’s Language-Contemporary Writing by Native Women of North America (1997). Martínez’s poetry has been published in over seventeen anthologies, such as The Best American Poetry (1996), and New American Poetry: A Bread Loaf Anthology (2000), and Santa Fe: Exploring the Past, Defining the Future (2011). Her honors include a Greenwall Grant from the Academy of American Poets, as well as the Arizona Book Award, the Levis Poetry Prize from Four Way Books, and most recently the 2014 Creative Bravos Award from Creative Albuquerque. She was the poet laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico from 2008-2010. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is the executive director of Littleglobe, Inc.

Learn more about Valerie Martínez at The Poetry Foundation