“…old names can hold a position of both absence and presence. Like ghost limbs.”
Flower Wars (Newfound Press, 2017)
Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
Elegy by the Side of the Road
under the curved
spine of the highway,
folding blades of grass
in the shadows, wondering
what we’d call each other
tomorrow, which names
Then the foxes came,
emerging from the gutters
to hunt in the green dusk.
we couldn’t see them.
We listened but heard
only the low echo
of cars. Somewhere,
small things were
being killed, quietly.
Why did you choose this poem?
“Elegy By the Side of the Road” is one of the oldest poems in the book. I wrote it right after reading Cynthia Cruz’s collection, Ruin. When I’d finished it I felt like I’d learned something about the poems I wanted to write. This poem, like many of hers, takes a turn away from reality into territory that is more lyrical, and can’t be easily parsed as a fact or fiction. For me, it was a major breakthrough to realize that I didn’t have to be confined to a literal narrative. It opened the door for many of the other poems in this chapbook, which walk the line between reality and the supernatural.
What obsessions lead you to write your chapbook?
“Elegy” is one of several poems in the chapbook that explore an obsession with names and naming – the history and identity that can be contained within names, and the way old names can hold a position of both absence and presence. Like ghost limbs. Or the foxes in this poems who have disappeared but are still at work on the imagination of the poem.
Writing about names became a way into writing about my experience as a trans person that allowed for more space to address the intersections of race, migration, and desire. One of the problems that I have with many of the standard narratives about trans people, if we can call them that, is that most focus singularly on questions of the body and personal identity. I didn’t want to write about my body. That wasn’t interesting to me. I wanted to write about myself in relationship to the people and the environment around me, and how that gave shape and meaning to the choices I had to consider and the person I became.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I chose an arrangement that was somewhat chronological in terms of memory and personal experience, starting with poems that are representative of me at around twenty years old and the process I moved through from there. Flower Wars, I thought, contained a nice tension between notions of masculinity and femininity, and felt descriptive of the different levels of struggle and subversion that the poems in this book explore.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
“After Surgery” was one of the last poems I revised and comes toward the end of the chapbook. It’s more of a love poem than anything else. What I noticed in finishing it was that I could finally write a poem that contained longing that wasn’t charged by pain. This poem is about acceptance for what’s changed and what changes inevitably, and how it’s possible to hold that without feeling wounded by it. To feel joy and gratitude, even. That, to me, was a signal that I’d reached some sort of ending. My voice had changed. The older themes that once had a hold on me weren’t my drivers anymore.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Ari Bañas’ What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You is excellent, as is Chen Chen’s, Set the Garden on Fire. Getting introduced to these poets through their chapbooks first made me excited to see how their work has evolved as they’ve prepared to put out full collections. Both of them deserve all the attention they’ve been getting from their recent books.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Newfound Press has been wonderful and so committed to making the chapbook into a work of art that would do the poems justice. LK James designed the cover after some back and forth about what kinds of images might best represent the content of the chapbook. The scissors were her idea. I couldn’t be happier with it.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I love photography, especially portraiture. How it can capture something essential and fleeting about a person. Maybe that’s work I’d do if I wasn’t so shy.
Nico’s poetry has been published in Poet Lore, Big Bell, HOLD, Nimrod International Journal, MiPOesias, Plenitude, Rogue State, and APIARY Magazine. His chapbook, Flower Wars, was selected by Eduardo Corral as the winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize.