October 3–9, 2022
Irene Vázquez is a Black Mexican American poet and journalist, currently based in Hoboken, NJ, who writes at the intersection of Black cultural work, placemaking and the environment. Irene’s debut chapbook Take Me to the Water is forthcoming from Bloof Books, with a launch event at Brooklyn Poets on October 15. By day, Irene works at Levine Querido, editing books about feisty twelve-year-olds. This past spring, Irene was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Bernard Ferguson’s workshop on the poetics of climate change.
Author photo by Gerardo Velasquez
When I Die
before rigor mortis sets in,
wing my eyeliner with the oil slick
of your overflowing greed,
halo my braids with the oysters
you drove from the Gulf,
rouge my lips with the red tide
of the algae blooms,
let the skirt shimmer
brown and Delta blue,
let the neckline sink
deeper as the coast erodes,
lace my Doc Martens
one last time.
Slink towards my skeletal rapture,
my sunken hum,
come with me
as I repack the canals,
the dredged wetlands of my discontent,
when my body rises from the dirt
because the cemetery has flooded yet again,
you will learn that I was once a bride
married to amazement
& now, spurned,
I am coming for blood.
Leaving a trail of sewage behind me,
you will know
where to find me, you’ll remember
exactly what kind of bitch you messed with,
Because I will not leave here,
slapping my brother on the back
and saying heck of a job,
I will not be bought,
won’t be relocated,
or fly away,
and if I cannot be saved,
I intend to die.
—From Take Me to the Water, Bloof Books, 2022.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I’ve never been good at writing based on prompts, but something about the prompts that Shira Erlichman developed for her virtual workshop, In Surreal Life, helped me access new planes of my writing—I think there’s something about the sense of play that Shira values as well as her multi-modality as an artist that pushed me in new and exciting (and it must be said, surreal) directions with my work. I wrote this poem during the January 2020 session of In Surreal Life, without which my chapbook would not be what it is today.
The clothing began this poem—what pieces of the Gulf of Mexico would form The Look. Then I had this vision of a corpse-bride-like figure rising from the muck to exact her revenge upon the colonizers of the coast—dressed to the nines because she’s dressed to kill.
What are you working on right now?
I moved apartments recently which has given me space for a desk in my room, so I’m trying to just get into the habit of writing every day again, mostly writing sonnets and sestinas (something about sestinas has always felt very playful to me and gets me out of my own way). Starting work soon on a commissioned piece, a sonnet crown about Black hairstyles.
What’s a good day for you?
Wake up in the morning, make my coffee, light my candle and write for a little while. Read some poetry. Go for a long walk with more coffee, hit a farmers market. Go into a bookstore telling myself I’m not going to buy something then leave with an impulse purchase. Read some more, ideally with another beverage, maybe a kombucha—having a multitude of beverages is an integral part of any good day. Spend some time by the water, any body of water. Cook a meal with loved ones.
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 Hoboken for a little over a year, but in my current apartment for about a month. This part of town feels a little homier than my last place—you see people out on their stoops in the evenings shooting the shit, which reminds me a lot of porch culture in New Orleans, where I spent the first few years of my life. I love being so close to the Hudson—I walk by the river at least once a day if I can.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
My first time in Brooklyn since moving to the NYC area was for the Brooklyn Book Festival last year, walking an author around Fort Greene Park for a photo shoot (one of my day jobs is in publicity), so the park will always have a special place in my heart (even though by the time I left, my heels had done unspeakable things to my feet).
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
Poetry community is everything to me. I came up in a tradition of slam and spoken word poetry, and there’s no way I’d be the writer I am today without them, whether that’s the folks at Write About Now back in Houston, the people I volunteered with at the Texas Grand Slam, or the members of my undergrad group, WORD: Performance Poetry. Poetry, for me, has always been something that is meant to be shared with others and meant to be performed aloud. I’m slowly but surely building that here in the NYC area, in part thanks to the community I’ve found through Brooklyn Poets.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Like any good English major, I’ve had my Walt Whitman phases (especially after I saw the play I & You in high school). Angel Nafis—I’ve listened to her episode on the VS podcast about the ecstatic more times than I can count. I love her poem “Love on Flatbush Avenue.”
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I wouldn’t have survived the Yale English Department (where I did my undergrad) without Claudia Rankine. She saw me when very few were able or willing to. More importantly, she helped me understand the tradition of Black women poets that I come from and helped me find my place within it while also helping me figure out how the performance voice I was honing could emerge on the page.
Someone I consider a mentor from afar (sort of in the mentor-text sense) is the poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib. We’ve spoken a few times at his book tour stops, and he was kind enough once to be a guest on a college radio show I co-hosted. But he’s shown me through his writing what it means to love critically, how to look carefully and expansively and invite others to look with you.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’m currently reading Chen Chen’s newest collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency. There’s this sense of humor that pervades the collection even as you’re brought to tears within the same poem—it’s really something. These are also some of the first poems that I’ve encountered in a book that have wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I am one of those people that’s always wanting to read Ulysses and never gets around to it. I’m perpetually trying to start Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings. Frank Bidart’s Half-Light.
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 Goodreads is a mess because I’m constantly reading six or seven books at a time. I like always to be in the middle of several books across genres because I never know what I’ll be in the mood for (also because I can never say no to an impulse book purchase). When I’m working on a project I do try to plan out my reading in advance—currently I’m working my way through The Gulf South, a multigenre anthology that I picked up at Octavia Books in New Orleans last year. And I vastly prefer physical books (much to the chagrin of my mother, who’d have to help me lug bags of books around on family road trips when I was a kid).
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
One day I will write a villanelle that I actually like! Rhyme is very difficult for me, so a well-executed villanelle is this elusive goal that I have yet to achieve.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love reading on the PATH train, especially in the mornings if I have the rare opportunity to go against traffic and go from Manhattan back to Jersey. I also love posting up at a happy hour with a book. I’m more finicky about writing—I need quiet. I will jot down lines in my iPhone notes, though, when I’m out and about—commuter rail is good for that too because of all the signs and the eavesdropping.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Brooklyn bookstores have been very kind to me; I gave my first in-person reading since the beginning of the pandemic at Unnameable Books. I work a lot with the children’s book buyer at Books Are Magic, so I try to get over there as much as possible. I’m also a huge women’s basketball fan, so I’ve loved going to games at Barclays.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the water,
And what I pour you drink,
For every drop that falls on me as good will fall on you.
For all the publishing assistants that live in Crown Heights, for all the parks, for every bar that’s welcomed me in to catch the end of a Yankees game, and all the poets.