In The Land of Tropical Martyrs (Backbone Press, 2014)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
The Flood by Michael Hettich and Place of Mind by Richard Blanco (both by Floating WolfQuarterly) quickly come to mind.
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
Perhaps they indicate that I like poetry to be at once personal and universal, writing that evokes a greater truth by exploring a particular moment, image, or idea in accessible but precise language, as these two authors employ. These two poets have been an immense inspiration for my own work.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook deals mostly with childhood experiences I had when I lived in my native country of Cuba. It aims to explore the different connections that might exist between the person I am and once was, and how the setting and people around me then have had a lifelong impact on my life. It delves into several memories I have of Cuba and my family, hoping to make sense of what at the time maybe didn’t seem to have as much significance.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I believe the title poem definitely served as a starting point for the rest of the chapbook. It’s one of the most general poems of the bunch, in that it doesn’t focus on a specific person or memory, but rather tries to capture the sensibility of an entire country in a few lines (I’m not claiming to have succeeded at this, however). I remember liking the sound of it, the rhythm of it. I still think the image of the “apron-strapped” grandmothers and their radios was the right one to end the piece.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
When it comes to poetry, I revise each poem individually, not really worrying about how they might fit in a bigger collection. It’s only after I have enough poems for a chapbook that I begin considering how they speak to each other, and in what order they do it best. Nevertheless, having Cuba as the setting and my childhood as the central theme definitely helped.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
A good friend of mine, Cristobal Perez, designed the cover. He and I were guitarists in a heavy metal band some years back. Funny how years later we got to collaborate on a project involving different art forms. He read the chapbook and asked me a few questions about what I had in mind, but I basically let him come up with his own images, which he ended up juxtaposing into one that I was very satisfied with.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a novel about a Cuban political prisoner. I recently finished a story collection, also set in Cuba, that I’m hoping can serve as a good companion to the novel. I consider myself primarily a fiction writer, and the novel project now takes up most of my time.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Write and revise arduously, exploring the people, places, and ideas that interest you most. Then start to look at the poems as a group, and see if there are ways in which they talk to each other, in which they might enhance, as a whole, what the individual poems are trying to achieve. Finally, show the chapbook to trusted readers and meditate seriously on what they have to say before you decide that you have a final product.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
I’m hoping the chapbook creates a very personal world, meaning one which feels intimate and specific, but that also allows readers to relate, to see themselves in the poems, and to maybe learn something new.
How do you use computers/ digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
I write on my computer for the most part. I use notebooks for outlining, random thoughts and ideas, lists, words I might want to use in the future, etc. But the bulk of my creative process takes place on a Word document. Ultimately, a writer should use whatever tools are most useful and comfortable to them, no matter what they are.
Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?
Yes, my family has read my chapbook. They’ve really enjoyed it. Some of the poems are about my father and my grandmother, both of whom passed away last year, before the chapbook was published. I feel that perhaps the chapbook served as a way to honor their lives, and I suspect my family feels the same way. They also want to read my novel when it’s ready, of this I’m sure.
Dariel Suarez is a Cuban-born writer who came to the United States in 1997. He earned his M.F.A. in fiction at Boston University and has taught creative writing at Boston University, the Boston Arts Academy, and Boston University’s Metropolitan College. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals and magazines, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, The Florida Review, Southern Humanities Review, and The Caribbean Writer, as well as several anthologies. He’s recently completed a story collection set in his native country, and he’s at work on a novel about a Cuban political prisoner, titled The Playwright’s House.
Every Friday as we walked down Mayia Rodriguez Street
in Havana, Dad in search of rum, I’d sit on his shoulders
and slam my hand against curbside signs.
We laughed hysterically at their wobbling echo
while Dad pointed to the next, even bigger sign,
and we’d charge it like Quixote did his windmills.
Now, each time I see a street sign
I feel the urge to strike, hear that droll echo again,
lose myself in chaotic laughter
until my eyes water and my stomach hurts.
But Dad’s legs have given out from years of drinking
and the hefty burden of something other than his playful son.
He sits at home and mostly forgets.
Part of me hopes one day we’ll get to reminisce,
maybe stroll to a nearby Miami avenue and stare at the signs,
figure out what they’re actually trying to say,
and see how long it takes before we, like joyous maniacs,
lunge daringly down the sidewalks.