Who Are You to Write a Perfect Poem?

Paloma Martinez - Cruz photo credit: Mike Travis

Paloma Martinez – Cruz photo credit: Mike Travis

 

I want to dedicate this La Neta post to the adventure of being a creative.  It was at Proyecto Latina’s open mic Mondays that I first started playing my songs for an audience. Now I am playing out frequently with my band Tijuana Jai Alai.  The ska and punk music scenes are heavily male dominated, and I have to wonder what it would look like if more women had access to a safe space like Proyecto Latina in which to share their creativity?  My work of editing the upcoming volume Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology comes from my gratitude at having such a space.  It is a compilation of poetry, art, prose, drama, chismes and reflections from the Proyecto Latina community and beyond, and happily it looks like we’re on track for a late summer release date.

My fear of sharing my art, and my relationship to this fear, is a long one.  When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in the second semester of my sophomore year, I withdrew from college to help with his care. He smoked two packs a day since he was a teenager, and led a swashbuckling life of non-stop community action and partying. He was now skeletal and bedridden, and relied on me for all his needs, but I still found him intimidating.

My father’s approval had always been elusive, but that summer I enjoyed an exciting victory: he was proud of a 120-page poetry collection that I had authored over the course of my second year at college.  I called it The Chicana Who Built the Earth.  Dad wanted me to read him something from my collection, but I knew that I had already read him the ones that he was most likely to enjoy, so I was challenged at that moment to choose from the ones that didn’t say something explicit about love or sexuality, and didn’t indict the way I was raised.  Flipping through the pages of my book, I knew there were no more poems that fit these criteria, so I did what young and nervous performers do.  I began to apologize for what he was about to hear.

You know what, he said.  Get off it.  Who are you to write a perfect poem?  All that shy crap.  It’s just ego to think anyone cares what you do.

There wasn’t much you could say after that. I read him a poem I had written about Grandma, how she lived her life on her knees in the kitchen, a model for the banality of domestic violence in our universe.  It had images of Mission Indians escaping to “fornicate,” and a repeated refrain of, I feel a fever, I feel a fever.  Dad liked some of it.  Other parts he felt were too preachy.

Who are you to write a perfect poem?

I wanted to edit Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology because I believe that the fear and awe and isolation that it takes to write and share our stories are what define perfection. Our rebellion is not in plucking the right verse, but rather in taking the risk to embrace our own danger and strangeness.  The bad art is the sound of us apologizing for who we are.

*This post is part of La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing it All

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