September 24–30, 2018
Claudia Rojas is a poeta born in El Salvador and raised in northern Virginia. She completed her undergraduate studies in English at George Mason University and has debuted her writing at open mics, community gatherings and in journals including the Acentos Review, the Northern Virginia Review and Argot magazine. She is currently a staff member of Argot and leads workshops through Split This Rock. This past summer, Rojas was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Hala Alyan’s Poetry as Truth Serum workshop.
My Bones Said “Write This Poem”
—after Andrea Gibson
and like Andrea Gibson, I have to remind
myself over and over and over
other people feel this too.
Call me big baby
honey, I know.
I haven’t forgotten how to crawl
toward my mother,
muttering perdió perdió.
But what am I saying?
Hillary Clinton didn’t lose:
el amor perdió. Love lost.
And I didn’t get enough
sleep last night.
I don’t understand
this self tucked
in my mother’s arms
this grown-up self
sobbing like a big baby.
It’s the morning after
Election Day and I can’t name
It is like the day the world taught me
about ugly. Like the day I learned
people die and that means, I die too.
It is like one of those unfortunate
days that find me
crying in a room full of strangers,
or crying as David Kaufmann
lectures about Claudia Rankine’s pain,
and I am not black,
but I’ve been there before.
I’m having a hard time,
I’m that kind of girl.
How come no one’s ever
told me you feel too much?
I do, I really do.
And I can’t stop
thinking about the U.S. classrooms,
the children learning
that nothing bad happens
when you call your classmate names.
This day is dangerous.
When I was a little girl
I learned from Spanish telenovelas:
hierba mala nunca muere.
Is it true? A bad weed never dies?
Today I know nothing
bad ever happens to the bad.
Lo siento. I’m sorry you found me
like this, and I can’t stop myself.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. I began writing poetry as a teen, and there was a lot of emotional angst in those first poems. I’ve always written out of feeling. When I got to the academic study of poetry, I polished out a lot of that rawness. I wrote this poem without any consideration to properness, to try to capture the great pain and fear regarding the election results. The poem is also written after poet Andrea Gibson, who was my first introduction to spoken word and who very much informs my craft. The title and italicized lines in the beginning come from Gibson’s “The Nutritionist.” The phrase “you feel too much” is an alteration from a line in Gibson’s poem “Jellyfish.”
What are you working on right now?
Honestly, survival. I hold an immigrant status under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program that has been ended under this administration. Much of my poetry is narrative and about my experiences as an immigrant. I’m also working on a poetry manuscript and MFA applications.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me involves getting a few things (if not all) checked from my to-do list. A good day is productive, maybe writing, revisiting and submitting poems. A good day is full of sunshine because I like taking walks.
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?
I’ve lived in Falls Church, VA, for over ten years; it’s the first city I lived in after immigrating to the U.S. in 2001. The part of the city where I live isn’t the safest or the richest, but it’s very diverse. The neighborhood is full of children whose parents are hardworking Latin Americans, much like my mother. Early mornings and afternoons are full of buzz as mothers take the children to and from school. Outdoor birthday parties are common. Over several slow years, gentrification has reached our shopping centers, though it’s something I hadn’t noticed until recently and after working in uptown Washington, DC.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Brooklyn is on my wishlist! The first and last time I visited New York City was in 2017, when I discovered Poets House; the resumés of Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka were on display.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
A poetry community motivates you to create and revise, following you throughout your poetry career. I’ve found communities at university. I’m still open to other poetry communities because it’s harder to be part of something when you’re not in the academic world, which is true for me right now. Split This Rock, based in Washington, DC, has helped me find community, offering regular poetry workshops and events.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Javier Zamora, whose book Unaccompanied has brought visibility to the immigrant narrative.
Natalie Diaz and Ocean Vuong for showing me how to treat family narratives.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Jonathan B. Tucker—the first teaching artist I met. Jonathan encouraged me to write and perform as a youth. My first drafts and tries at poetry weren’t very good, so I’m very grateful. I’ve known Jonathan for as long as I’ve been studying poetry.
Sally Keith—for continuous support. I was Sally’s student during a time when I was questioning poetry’s place in my life. She allowed those questions, while expanding my reading scope.
Joseph Green—he has mentored me in teaching (and surviving) in youth spaces as a teaching artist.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X reminded me that the verse novel is possible and exists. I first read a verse novel in high school, then quickly forgot about the form. The Poet X returned me to my experience with poetry during my youth.
This summer I also read and taught Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” whose last lines are so often quoted. I hadn’t realized the poem was a sonnet, so I’ve had that in mind, along with how refugees are treated in modern times in and out of the U.S.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
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?
My process depends on my workload. As an undergrad, I read multiple books at once. I have an ongoing reading list. I pick books from that list, but now and then, I come across a book that takes priority. When that happens, I read as much as possible until I’m done. I love the weight and scent of an actual book. I leave stickies in favorite pages. I highlight or underline.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Writing a long-form poem; I usually fall under two pages.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
My local library. Park benches. Quiet spaces.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’d love to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Brooklyn Bridge Park just to spend hours outdoors.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate my survival, this not-yet dust body,
And what I call home, song, and mine you resent,
For every narrative with my words fade; a world without me
as good to you as full of you.
Because of history, city life and poets with community, and I’m head over heels about poetry’s potential.