Mexican American poet and author Sandra Cisneros is not married to any particular style. In your 40-year career you have written novels, short stories, children’s books and poetry.
The Chicago-born author gained acclaim for her 1984 novel The house on Mango Street, he recently released his first poetry collection in 28 years.
Restore he talked about it with Cisneros shameless woman, the beauty of getting older and the way he uses writing to express his political views.
On why it took 28 years to publish another book of poetry
I wasn’t really trying to wait three decades, I was just busy writing other genres: novels, short stories, memoirs, and essays. I wasn’t really thinking, “Okay, now I need a book of poetry.” I write poems all the time, but I’m never sure if a poem is finished, so I’m used to keeping and filing them and waiting a couple of years sometimes to review them. It’s normal for my poetry process.
On being a ‘shameless woman’ versus a ‘shameless woman’
In Spanish, the word sinvergence it is used as a stone to punch a woman, to force her into shape, and to obey the patriarchy. So I didn’t want to be a sinvergence, which is a shameless woman. I wanted to be a woman who was unashamed, who was unashamed of the things I inherited, things that come from my gender.
And especially since I was working class, I had a lot of shame as a kid just about being poor, and shame about color and shame about the neighborhoods I lived in in Chicago. There was a lot of shame to overcome, and I’m still overcoming them at 67 on the verge of turning 68 in a couple of days. I think that’s something everyone grapples with regardless of your gender, regardless of where you’re from. We all have to work at it throughout our lives to overcome that shame.
On taking a political stand through poetry
Now that I’m older, I don’t care what other people think, and I especially dismiss my self-doubt and say, “Well, I’ll say it anyway.” And I remember writing that poem for a gathering of PEN, the writers’ association that meets against censorship and freedom of expression. I was talking to other writers in Mexico City and I live in a country where being a journalist can kill you. You know, it’s not about getting arrested for saying things, you get killed writing the truth here in Mexico with impunity. And I felt like I had to say something meaningful, because everyone else was going to be saying 200 words. Two hundred words are not many. And I needed to say something like it was the last day on Earth. Living in Mexico makes you aware of the precariousness of being a writer, especially a journalist.
On the difference between writing a book of poetry and a novel
For a novel you have a roadmap. He says, “Okay, I’m going to Cincinnati. I think maybe I’ll get there via California, but I could go via Kathmandu.” You never know, but you’ll be aiming to get to Cincinnati. But poetry, you don’t have a map. All you have is this urge to hit the road. And you have to chase something that you can’t see, you can only feel. It is something that has no views. It’s a feeling that has no clarity, it’s blurry. And you’re driving in the dark. Are you really driving in the dark and thinking, “Okay, I have to turn left here, am I right? Oh, I have to go back. Oh, I’ve hit a dead end. Poetry is very intuitive, and that’s why it’s so wonderful because it develops before your eyes, you have to give it a lot of time. And maybe that’s why I needed 28 years. I really wanted the poems to be real, and not something that came from my ego, and that came from a deeper place.
I felt so glorious in my 50s, like I was a big centifolia rose. Now I’m going to be 68 and I’m something else. I’ll have to write a poem for turning 68. I just feel for women patriarchal society has no idea to tell us how we will feel. And that we have to write from our hearts to see how we feel and why we feel this way. And if you don’t think about what other people think of you — which is the best part of aging — that’s really great, because you make so much money. Yes, you lose some of the physical parts of yourself, but you gain immense amounts of inner knowing about yourself, which is what I want in this life. I feel like I’m on a spiritual journey. I am doing a mystical apprenticeship for this part of my life. It’s surprising and fun and sometimes despairing, but it’s all of the above mixed together, which is life.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the red audio player above.