Poet Interview #11- James Diaz

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Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

A: I’m still trying to figure that one out, who I am. I know the places that I’ve come from and the experiences that I’ve accumulated throughout the years, most of them have not been very pleasant, but I think that who I am, whatever that is or isn’t, is in constant movement, poetry has been one way that I’ve tried to work that question out for myself. I started to write around age 13, so in a way I have always been writing poetry. As to what inspired me to start writing, I would say desperation. I was desperate and in a lot of pain, and I didn’t know what else to do with it except to try and write my way out of what felt like an impossible situation. I guess most people could say that they felt the same way as a teen, but this was a little more complicated for me, I came from a very abusive family life which included drug addiction, coupled with severe poverty. Sadly, I started to actually believe that the world didn’t expect great things from families like mine or from people like me. Yet there were indestructible things inside of me then, feelings lacking the right words, that I had to try and find a way to transcribe, this still holds true for me today. This is why I consider poetry to be a healing art of sorts. And also a political act, since we all live in time and place, there has to be a politics attached to all of our environments, locally and globally, writing is just as much a reflection of that.

My favorite poets are Jorie Graham, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Fanny Howe and Alice Notley. And also more experimental poets like Leslie Scalapino. Helene Cixous is also another one of my favorites, while not technically a poet, almost all of her books read like beautiful poems to the mystery of existence. I also like the outlaw poets like Jack Micheline and Gregory Corso, both of whom had a rough life as well, so maybe that’s why.

Q: How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

A: Usually it feels like a dam is about to burst inside of me, that’s when I know a poem is yearning to come out. If I don’t feel like that and I try to write anyway, well, the results have usually been pretty disappointing. Except for editing, when quite a lot about the poem will change, but the beating pulse of it, of what felt so urgent that it had to be written in that moment, that remains. I trim or add what feels awkward or simply doesn’t work, but that comes later. The desperation, the thrashing around internally of some story that needs to be told, that comes first.

My idea of poetry has had to change a lot since I started writing because I started so young, I had a lot to learn, there were many growing pains, and they were painful. I think that all writers get awfully attached to their writing anyway, but, since for me, writing felt like such an act of survival, I think I was that much more attached to what I was writing. That can make a person very defensive, and it can make it difficult to grow as a writer. At a certain point I had to give up the over protectiveness, to let criticism in, and challenge myself to evolve overall. Since I’ve always learned best by reading other writers, I had to practice reading everything, including poets I didn’t like very much, what are considered “the classics”, and a lot of poetry from the fringe, experimental, romantic, introspective, street, beat, bar room, reading from across the spectrum pushed me out of my comfort zone immensely.

Also something important I’ve learned is that often the idea of “I have a certain style and I’m not going to change that just to fit whatever mold or expectation is out there” masks a lot of insecurity. Listen to what other people think, they are the audience after all. It may not always be useful, but ask yourself what is to be gained from just rejecting what they have to say outright. My writing used to be so experimental you needed to be a philosophy major just to read it, I wasn’t letting other people in, there was nothing solid for them to attach to or feel connected with. Poetry is most profound when it makes these attachments or connections. So I’ve learned a great deal of what not to do just by sharing poems with other people and paying attention to what they think and feel about it.

Q: Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?

A: I am on both. I think twitter is probably more useful as a promotional tool for publications. Facebook’s algorithms are so messed up, there is almost no guarantee it will be seen. I do belong to a group on Facebook called “I just published something”. It’s made up of other writers and we all share our publications in one feed, I’ve found it pretty beneficial, I’ve also gained quite a lot of new readers that way.

Q: Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

A: I belong to a poetry group which meets once a month at my local library. It’s run by a woman named Pam Pooley, and it’s a great group of people, all extremely talented writers in their own right, and all very supportive and also very critical. Reading my work at this group has helped me to change the way that I write for the better, that’s where I first started to learn to pay attention to how other people were responding to what I was doing. It forced me to take the audience into consideration. Listening to what other writers have to say is a good way to combat your own creative narcissism. Expand your world, don’t shrink it, that’s where the promise of growth lies, this is true for all things, not just writing. Listen to others, take them in, it can be transformative.

Right now I’m reading a book by Alan Duff called “Once Were Warriors” which was also turned into a movie. Its about the indigenous Maori in New Zealand and it centers around the struggle of Beth Heke and her family as they navigate life in the midst of brutal violence and poverty in New Zealand’s housing projects. Duff has such tremendous empathy for the people he is writing about, and although it is a work of fiction, the reality that he is describing could be every Maori’s story. I highly recommend it, the movie version is just as powerful.

Q: What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

A: Just keep on writing and creating no matter what the terms are. You are worth it. And if you happen to be writing for some of the same reasons I started to write, then don’t worry about who is or isn’t noticing. Keep writing as if your life depended on it, because it probably does. And, as Kris Kristofferson says, “don’t let the bastards get you down”. That’s the best advice I can give.

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