July 16–22, 2018
Analicia Sotelo is the author of Virgin, the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, selected by Ross Gay for Milkweed Editions and published in 2018. She is also the author of the chapbook Nonstop Godhead, selected by Rigoberto González for a 2016 Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. Her poem “I’m Trying to Write a Poem About a Virgin and It’s Awful” was selected for Best New Poets 2015 by Tracy K. Smith. Poems have also appeared in the New Yorker, Boston Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review, New England Review and the Antioch Review. She is the recipient of the 2016 DISQUIET International Literary Prize, a CantoMundo fellowship and scholarships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Image Text Ithaca Symposium. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston and is the director of communications and development at Writers in the Schools. On Sunday, July 29, Sotelo will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series at the NYC Poetry Festival with Ariel Francisco and Angel Nafis.
Ariadne Discusses Theseus in Relation to the Minotaur
When a man tells you he’s a monster,
When a man says
you will get hurt,
leave. Get into
a boat, out
onto a sea that everyone owns.
he touched the curls of his hair
before touching mine.
I didn’t question him until all the thread was gone.
—From Virgin, Milkweed Editions, 2018.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This is one of the first poems in the Ariadne / Theseus / Minotaur sequence, a modernized retelling in which Ariadne discovers the psychological complexity of her sudden relationship with Theseus, who later abandons her on the island of Naxos. This poem was all about finding a voice for Ariadne that felt true to her conflict, and true to her realization that Theseus might not be as much of a prince as she had originally thought or wanted to think. I like to think she’s encountering that in this poem, and is both warning others and herself. Though I had written other Ariadne poems, this was the one that helped me figure out what her narrative would be, and how to approach poems in the voice of Theseus and the Minotaur later on.
What are you working on right now?
More poems! Mostly I’m just experimenting right now and reading as much as possible. I try not to talk about them, that way I don’t determine what they’ll be.
What’s a good day for you?
Copious coffee. Good conversations with the people I love. Thrift shopping.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
Houston is home for me right now. I’ve been here for almost ten years. I love the multitude of cultures here, and how there is always this influx of new people who hate living here at first and then come to love it. Houston has more of a quick pulse to it than other places I’ve lived, but it’s also very friendly.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Not yet, but I can’t wait to!
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
Houston has an incredibly rich poetry community and it’s wonderful to see that there’s a poetry reading almost every night. It’s hard to keep up with! I also really love and admire all the poets I know that are all over the US. Each year, I make new connections and it’s a delight to read people’s work and get to know them personally. It’s also nice to give and receive even small encouragements along the way. We feed each other with our excitement and our attention to different aspects of the human experience. It’s uplifting to know that someone else is looking at the world closely and putting that adoration and astonishment into the work.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Whitman has probably been the most influential for me. I love how he wrote about atoms, and the expansive quality of his poetic voice.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Bishop, Plath, Glück, Olds and Levis were important voices early on, and my close friends, poets or not, were mentors in a way.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Victoria Chang’s “Obit” poems are in my mental space right now, and the last book I reread was Roger Reeves’s King Me. Chang’s work is gentle and painful at the same time. Reeves’s book has such a brocade of pain. I’m interested in how writers can burrow through feeling and bring you along with them. I also love Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Humor, attention and imagination create an irresistible combination in that book.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I want to read more of the poems that aren’t taught as frequently in poetry school, especially poems from cultures whose literary legacies have been lost. I’d like to read more international fiction and poetry as well. Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth is one of my recent favorites—I’d love to find more literature that surprises me like that novel does.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I’m definitely a haphazard reader because I get far too excited about new things and also sometimes want to never truly “end” a book. Eventually I get there. I have quite a few books on my “to read” list and sometimes I impulsively order a few and dip into them all at once. I always read physical books because I get lost in digital texts. I also like to write in the margins like a monk.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’d like to try incorporating actual visual elements into poems.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to read and write in coffee shops so that I don’t spend hours streaming shows. There’s also something nice about the energy in an independent coffee shop—so many people thinking in front of other people thinking.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’m not sure yet, but I accept suggestions! I’m a Texan—New York is still the idea of New York, and Brooklyn is still the TV and hearsay version of Brooklyn. Please turn it into a place of reality for me—and introduce me to all the amazing poets living there.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate these pigeons bathing in the light of a convenience
And what I see in them, you may not see in them,
For every one of them is to me as good as every one of you.