Poet Of The Week

Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz

     April 1–7, 2019

Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz is a multimedia artist, curator and educator born in Lima, Perú. Her work primarily touches on the imprint of intergenerational trauma within her own family in relationship to place and migration. She is the teen programs coordinator at the Brooklyn Museum, the visual arts co-curator at Nat. Brut and CEO of Beso de Moza, a hand embroidery business. In addition, Izquierdo Ugaz is the author of the self-published collections Standing in the Bathroom in the Dark Thinking About Green and El Mismo Pozo/The Same Well. Her work has appeared in FEELINGS and her first chapbook is Estoy Tristeza (No, Dear Magazine & Small Anchor Press, 2018).

Author photo by Vianca Lugo

I Think Maybe I Was Born on a Bus

It’s almost like the smell of gasoline, sweat and candy being sold is imprinted on my skin, like the chicha, salsa and cumbia blasting from the bus speakers is in a loop in my head

and all of it became my intense motion sickness and my everyday.

Everything happened on the bus.

Back then, the bus routes depended on the driver’s mood and the schedule? On whether or not they had a contender to race them.

That day, the bus—a repainted school bus from the United States—was going so fast it was rattling, trying to keep up with its rival.

We were on our way to visit my brother at the cemetery, to wash his grave. The flowers on my lap were shaking violently.

My father started to shout for the bus to stop and slammed on the windows until they shattered.

I think maybe I wrote my first poem on the bus and

met my mother’s boyfriend, Roberto. Later he would live with us in the projects but that day, she introduced him as a friend. He was a musician, he beat on the cajon and also …

I think maybe my first words were “esquina baja,” letting the driver know I had a destination, a plan to get off this bus and maybe,

I held money for the first time on the bus. It’s almost like the coins in my sweaty palms seeped their metal essence into my body.

I could never ride the bus without a bottle of rubbing alcohol to sniff to calm my nausea.

It was on the bus, in Miami when I was 14 that an old white man grabbed my leg and told me how beautiful he thought I was.

I think maybe I made my first friend on the bus, had my first kiss, walked my first steps.

And all of it became my intense motion sickness and my everyday.

—From Estoy Tristeza, No, Dear Magazine & Small Anchor Press, 2018.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Well, at the time I was just reflecting a lot on my own experience with public transportation. I’m originally from Lima, Perú, and then immigrated to Miami with my family as a child. We didn’t have a car for most of my childhood, so I have a lot of formative moments in buses and trains, often by myself. In a city like New York, this experience is pretty common, but many cities don’t have as comprehensive a transportation system as here (even though obviously the MTA has soo many issues and fails all the time). When I was growing up in Miami there was one train that only went north and south and maybe reached half the city, and when I was a child in Lima there was not even a formal public system; it was all private buses that had made-up routes. Many will argue that the majority of people in Miami drive cars, but it leaves out a large amount of the population that has no access to their own car, and makes getting around challenging; either way, it’s this experience that also made me start writing. So in the poem I was kind of mapping how my family and I had so many crucial experiences in public transportation that shaped much of our life, and thinking about that as tied to the intense motion sickness I experienced as a kid growing up in a smoggy city (and still today a little bit). Much of my writing takes place in movement, in buses, trains, planes. I think it has a lot to do with my being in constant movement, moving around so much.

What are you working on right now?

I’m actually working on the Spanish version of Estoy Tristeza, which is my chapbook that came out last year through No, Dear and Small Anchor Press as part of the Transformigrations chapbook series. I’m really excited about that as it means sharing this work with my communities that I haven’t been able to reach yet. Plus many of the poems were originally written in Spanish, so it only makes sense! Also No, Dear is planning another launch event for the second editions of all the Transformigrations chapbooks which will be in May, and I’m thinking about the launch for the Spanish edition as well. I also have a bunch of other projects going on: I started photographing again and have been doing lots of portraits, and I just launched my custom hand embroidery business, Beso de Moza, so that’s been wonderful too. And I’m starting a summer QTPOC reading series called Maracuya-Peach with my collaborator, friend and fellow poet Danilo Machado, so look out for that!

What’s a good day for you?

Pulling up my blinds, letting the light in, definitely waking up and playing some salsa and rumba, recently it’s been La India or Pedrito Martinez. A bike ride makes me feel super free. I love to cook a nice meal by myself and then share it with my friends and loved ones. Making time to go to the studio and work on my embroidery. A summer day when you can sit on the stoop.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I lived in Boston for six years and I started feeling antsy. I had some friends that lived here and some others had just moved from Boston to here, so I felt my community kind of starting to shift. I also was kind of leaving an abusive work environment and looking to start over. So I kind of took my bit of savings that I had and just moved here in January of 2016. My godmother lived in Staten Island at the time and I hadn’t lived near family in a while so that felt exciting too. And of course I was drawn by the art and queer communities that New York is home to, as I was still searching.

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 live in Bed-Stuy. I’ve been here almost two years now, and before that I lived in Crown Heights. Bed-Stuy is really beautiful, has so many trees, my neighbors are pretty chill and my landlords, who are a Dominican family, have been really warm. The block I live on has had a tremendous transformation ever since the condo at the end of the street was finished last summer. Our rent even went up, as I’m sure it may have for other folks on my block as well. I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I’ve definitely moved more times than I can count on both my hands. Bed-Stuy is unique in a lot of ways; it has a deeply rich history and is held by many pillars of Black entrepreneurship and history. I don’t live too far from Weeksville, one of this country’s first free Black communities. There’s also a legacy of Black and Brown queer organizing, love and celebration that I’m always so grateful to be held by and contribute to.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

Actually, just a couple of days ago I was hit by a car while biking to work. I was in a bit of shock and I had fallen in the middle of the street. Three Black women of three different generations pulled me to the sidewalk, called for help and stayed with me until the ambulance came. When the ambulance arrived it was two Black and Andean Ecuadorian women EMTs that stepped out and helped me. It felt very cosmic, to be aided in a moment of need by so many powerful women of color. It was an awful situation, but definitely something I’ll always remember because I felt very protected by these incredible femmes.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t know if I’ve been searching for a poetry community necessarily. I have definitely found family here, my chosen family, my beautiful Black and Brown queer and trans sisters, creating all kinds of amazing things. Although poetry is the skeleton that holds all my creative work together, I didn’t study poetry or writing, which in ways has kept me from totally immersing myself in a literary community. I started writing because I had to learn a whole new language as a nine-year-old to survive in this new place and help my family navigate this new world, so poetry has always been with me and, more than me finding a poetry community, it has always found me, in all the ways that it shows up.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

There is beauty in darkness, in the night sky,
in the eyes of mi gente
Beautiful is our love
Splendid is our survival
Our history is sacred and worth remembering

Emanuel Xavier, a Bushwick native, has been very important and impactful for me. I found his book Americano when I was a teen working in a thrift shop in Boston; it rattled me.

Fuck my gender, I am the contender, your man’s entertainer, I got vibranium, I got the flavor, I got the haters, I got the taser, give me my paper. Last time it was butch queen performance, now its femme queen performance, turns out Imma always be gorgeous.

Ms. Boogie is my sister and my dear friend, a rapper, all-around artist and fierce woman from East New York. She inspires me every day.

They always want to see us on our hands and knees.
Don’t forget we need too. And needing ain’t that fucking easy.
When you are young,
and black
and brown.

Keijaun Thomas is an amazing writer and performer and my sister. I literally get chills every time I see her perform live.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

When I was sixteen, I joined the Miami Poetry Collective. I was the youngest member. I was really blown away by being a part of a community to begin with and also learning and reading their work. We used to do pop-up poetry shops: we would be out with typewriters and write custom poems for passers by, and it was a really amazing experience for me. When I moved to New York, I reached out to Emanuel Xavier. I knew he lived in Brooklyn and I figured I should write to him. We’ve been hanging out ever since and he’s definitely my mentor and one of my heroes. When I was nineteen and found his work, I didn’t know of any other South American queer poets and his work was profoundly impactful for me. Another mentor of mine is Connie Mae Oliver, who is a close friend and the founding editor of FEELINGS. She has always supported me and pushed my writing, and it is thanks to her encouraging me to write that I was able to write again after my father’s death which caused a long writer’s block for me. I appreciate her so much.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I’ve been reading this book Al pie del cerro Puntudo: Relatos Yapateros, which is a collection of short stories from Yapatera, an Afro-Peruvian town and community in Northern Perú. It stood out to me because it’s just so crucial to be able to have stories that have been passed down through generations documented. I feel grateful that, thanks to Abelardo Alzamora Arévalo who decided to make this collection, I’m able to have these stories with me even though I’m thousands of miles away. I also just read Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri, which was so beautiful, refreshing and fierce.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

So many! I literally have a whole two shelves of books in my room that I need to get to. I’ve started to read Cecilia Vicuña’s SABORAMI; it’s a beautiful collection of poems, drawings, archives of hers. Edmundo Paz Soldán is one of my favorite writers, and I started reading Norte, his latest book (I think), when one of my close friends gifted it to me for my birthday, but still haven’t finished 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 definitely read many books at a time and sometimes it’ll take me months, though sometimes I’ll read a book in a weekend or a day. But I’ve been reading less and less these past few years, which is why the last few months I’ve been trying to get away from screens more and get back to the page a bit. I’m definitely a page-folder. I always fold my favorite pages, I underline and I write notes.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I feel like my work is very narrative. I want to try to be a bit more descriptive, travel a little less in one poem, you know? Try to describe one moment in one place, what it smelled like, sounded like, tasted like. Push myself to stay in one moment. I’ve been trying to do a little more of that, being fully present in the moment. It’s a work in progress.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Well, definitely buses, trains and planes, hahaha. Even though the motion sickness sometimes hits, it’s nice to read while moving. In a park, at the beach, on the stoop, at the pool.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the Botanic Garden; it feels like a lung, a place to breathe for a moment. I work at the Brooklyn Museum and I feel so lucky to be able to walk over and take a breath in the greenhouses when it’s winter and everything is dead outside! I love Bushwick and being surrounded by other South American families. Sugar Hill Restaurant & Supper Club is a really beautiful and historic place. Kosciuszko Pool is one of my favorite places for a morning swim.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate my name
And what I name you may reside in,
For every name, a home in me as good as a home in you.

Why Brooklyn?

For every gushing fire extinguisher in the sweltering summers, for every morning swim at Kosciuszko Pool, for every jerk chicken cookout, for every Andean woman selling chicha morada in the corners of Bushwick, for every mural of Harriet Tubman, for every night out till 5 AM ending up eating tacos at Regalo de Juquila with the gurls.