June 21–27, 2021
Luz Emma Cañas graduated with highest honors from the Chicana/o Studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned her master’s in dance/movement therapy at UCLA. A certified instructor of Kundalini Yoga, Luz has studied Sufi healing in the Shadhiliyya Sufi Path for over fifteen years, leading workshops on the mind-body interface at Columbia University, Harlem Hospital, American Airlines, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere. Currently, she is giving continuity to the Capoeira passed down to her by her deceased master and husband, Jorge Luiz de Souza Jesus, through Capoeira Muçurumim. Luz’s three-part collection of Sufi poetry, From him to Him, was recently published by Maximalist Press. Her memoir Martial Love is slated for release through her own publishing company, Madrigal Publishing, later this year.
Author photo by Destiny Mata
Make me like a date palm
So that I might thrive
In the harshest of environments
Make me like a date palm
So when stones are cast at me
I offer only sweets in return
Make me like a date palm
So I can learn to bend
With the winds of change
Make me like a date palm
So that I can embrace
The solitude in my heart
And be grateful for the company
Of the occasional
—From From him to Him, Maximalist Press, 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem shortly after my husband was murdered. I had conflicting feelings of grief from his sudden death and anger because he was an abuser. I wasn’t able to speak on what I was going through at the time. I had a lot to process. The first Ramadan after his death, I read something about dates and it inspired the poem, which is more like a prayer. The poem was in a book I self-published and dedicated to him, Divan of the Infidel. The book was recently republished along with two of my other books in a three-part collection called From him to Him.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished my memoir, Martial Love. I am publishing it under my own publishing company, Madrigal Publishing. After I release it, I’m gonna need a nice long break. I have been working on it for ten years.
What’s a good day for you?
Waking up after restful sleep on my own time without an alarm. Getting a café au lait and a French pastry either alone or with company. Doing a little writing, reading a magazine, then thrifting or record-digging. Possibly cooking a succulent meal in the afternoon. Taking a disco nap for House dancing later in the eve. Or if I’m more in the mood for something quiet, watching a movie.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I always wanted to live in NYC. I was trained to dance at the NYC Ballet. But racism thwarted my aspirations. So I ended up finding myself in Capoeira Angola. I moved here with my cubs in 2006 to train with a Grand Master. Bed-Stuy is where we first landed.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’ve lived in Bushwick, bordering Ridgewood, for two years now but I’ve been in and out of different parts of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights for fourteen years. I like that I can walk to work and run into my students on the streets. But new apartment buildings are changing the landscape and makeup of the community. The rent keeps going up, but the quality of life doesn’t improve at the same pace.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Probably when the NYPD shut down a DIY space called the Glove, where we used to teach Capoeira and where my cubs were part of a Punks of Color collective that used to host benefit shows and do community work. That was a huge blow to the DIY underground scene in Brooklyn. Multiple DIY spaces got shut down, one after the other. It really drove the message home that no one was immune to gentrification. If you are radical, you are spurned.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Support and mentorship. I haven’t found that yet because my writing journey is unique. One doesn’t go to school to become a Sufi poet and healer. It is something that happens to you. It is a process of becoming illumined or falling in love. Also, I am no longer uber-religious and I don’t consider myself an academic even though I have a master’s degree. I like to think of myself as a radical spiritual intellectual. So I haven’t quite found where I fit in just yet.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I don’t really read poetry outside of Sufi poets, the poetry of my Sheikh Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal and the Quran. Saul Williams put me onto Hafiz. So I am grateful to him for expanding my palate beyond Rumi and stirring poetry within me.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
The publisher of my book, Maximalist Press, is an imprint of Groundwater Press headed by two poets, Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie. I learned a lot from Rosanne over the course of the publishing of my book. Even before I signed my contract, she encouraged me to use the experience as a stepping stone to start my own micro press. I really appreciate her giving me wings.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I am currently reading My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk. It is giving me some insight into Turkish culture. I am hoping to go to Istanbul before the end of the year. I had to postpone the trip I had planned last year due to the pandemic. But I love the storytelling in My Name Is Red. It is non-linear and non-traditional. It is told from the perspective of different people and objects picking up where the previous person or object left off. It reminds me of that Audrey Hepburn flick Two for the Road. I love the storytelling and the fashion in that film!
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I am ashamed to say I recently finished reading the Quran cover to cover for the first time. I made it one of my pandemic goals. I converted to Islam over twenty years ago and have tried multiple times to read it but never finished. Now I am reading it in reverse, back to front. Hopefully it won’t take me another twenty years to get through it.
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 usually read one book at a time, cover to cover. I like to take recommendations from people whose book tastes I respect. Physical books, hands down—I love the sensual experience. The look, feel and smell of books. If I am the owner of the book, I like to underline with pencil and a straight edge.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Sufi poetry has an organic form of its own. I don’t challenge myself when it comes to structure. More so with subject matter or theme. I tend to explore God in unlikely places.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to write at coffee shops, especially when it is raining or snowing. They are relatively empty then. During the warmer months, I love to read outdoors, at a café, a park or a beach.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
L’imprimerie in Bushwick and Café on Ralph in Bed-Stuy are the spots I like to write and hang at. They both have excellent coffee, good food and playlists. I love the Brooklyn Museum and BAM for art, culture and people-watching. And I love thrift shopping along Broadway in Bushwick. There is a two-mile stretch of thrift shops on every other block. During the summer, I like to make it to Brighton Beach at least once.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate sustenance,
And what I prepare, you ingest,
For every morsel of me as good nourishment to you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
Shit’s complicated with my father
He a slugger, me a dodger
Love I had to jack
My original sin
Seeks redemption through a pen
Vast as the Republic of Brooklyn
Daddy issues down to the socks, no Biggie.
Because what doesn’t kill you makes you a jaded New Yorker.