Wendy Trevino was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. She lives in San Francisco, where she shares an apartment with her boyfriend, friend & two senior cats. She has published chapbooks with Perfect Lovers Press, Commune Editions and Krupskaya Books. Brazilian no es una raza – a bilingual edition of the chapbook she published with Commune Editions – was published by the feminist Mexican press Enjambre Literario in July 2018. Her first book-length collection of poems, Cruel Fiction, was published by Commune Editions in September 2018. Wendy is not an experimental writer.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook (128-131) came about in large part after my life changed in some pretty dramatic ways: I had been “radicalized.” I had broken up with my husband, after being with him a decade. I had made dozens of new friends. I had even participated in a conference about revolution &/or poetry. So whatever changes came after the publication of my first chapbook, they weren’t significant enough to really cause me to notice.
Cruel Fiction is my first book-length collection of poetry. Unlike my first chapbook, it is mostly serial sonnets—60 comprise the last 2 sections of the book. The first section, however, takes its title from my first chapbook (128-131). Still, there are only a few poems from my first chapbook that made it into the book—of course, 1 of them is the titular poem (pretty much) “From Santa Rita: 128-131,” which is a list poem about a couple of days in a jail after being arrested at a demonstration with 400 other people.
The poems in my first chapbook were mostly poems I’d written over the course of less than a year (January 2012 – November 2012), whereas in my first book-length collection, the poems were written over the course of 10 years—mostly between January 2012 & December 2017. The book definitely feels more “finished,” the ideas / interests more “developed” / thought out.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I hate to admit that my answer to this would be less than truthful if it didn’t include the sentence: I’d met a man. It’s not uncommon for a young woman to finally be able to believe in her own ability to do something when she ends up with a man whose ability to do that same thing she believes in. Of course, I didn’t know that then.
So, yes, there was this man who I started seeing & he started writing poetry not too long after we started seeing each other. I’d wanted to write for a long time before that, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I had been a double-major in Philosophy & Political Science & I wanted to write about the things I studied (as opposed to telling stories), but I knew the essay wasn’t the right form for me. Essays made me too nervous—they still do. Looking at the poetry my ex would bring home—poetry seemed flexible enough that I started to think I might be able to figure out something / a way of writing with / through it.
Also, when I started writing poetry, I dreaded nothing more than having to look for a 9-5 job. I was hoping I could get into an MFA program & get at least 2 years to read books & write, which sounded a lot better than service work or an office job.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
So far ideas for projects have come to me suddenly & a good chunk of the writing has come shortly / quickly after the idea. For example, when I started writing the sonnets that make up “BRAZILIAN IS NOT A RACE,” the first 15 sonnets (out of 30) came within a couple of weeks—all looking very close to what they would look like when I finished the project (30 sonnets) 6 months later. The last 15 sonnets, however, didn’t come together quite so quickly. Well, 16-23 came quickly (over a week or so a few months after the first 15), but then 23-30—I’d write a sonnet pretty quickly & then decide not to use it & then write another sonnet—again, pretty quickly—& decide not to use it & so on. I don’t know how I came to feel confident in the 15 sonnets I chose for the second half of that sonnet sequence, but I did.
In general, though, poems come to me quickly & almost in their “finished” form. When I do edit a poem, there tend to be few edits. There are a couple of exceptions, but that’s mostly how it is.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
For me, a poem usually begins with a problem. Actually, there are typically 2 problems. The first is almost always that I am scheduled to do a reading & need (new) material. The second is often some social phenomenon or social dynamic I’ve observed that I don’t but want to understand.
I haven’t been able to think beyond a 30-sonnet serial poem—& even that I’ve only managed to do once. To be very honest, it has mostly been editors (in 3 out of 4 chapbooks & 2 out of 2 books) who I’ve (known &) trusted to combine shorter pieces of mine into a larger project.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings are 1 of the 2 main reasons I write—I appreciate them for that, otherwise I find them very difficult to be a part of. I experience “stage fright” pretty regularly. The first time I read in the Bay Area (where live & spend most of my time), I started crying & my ex had to finish reading the piece I’d written. I still get choked up during readings—almost every time. I’m not a performer, but if I don’t force myself to do it, I won’t force myself to write. I’ll just end up anxious / with writer’s block.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
There are things I’m obsessed with—like anti-racism & the possibility of revolution. The social phenomena & social dynamics I notice & that lead to me write are always related to one or both of these things. Sometimes I am trying to answer a question or questions I have about this or that social phenomenon &/or social dynamic, but more often I’m just trying to think through a social phenomenon &/or social dynamic that stands out to me / trying to figure out why it stands out to me / what the questions are that I want to ask about it.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
If I am describing what I see as the role of the writer in the United States, I’d say there are several & that the role of the writer depends on the kind of writing they do. There are novelists & poets. There are screenwriters & writers who write for television shows. There are journalists who write for newspapers, magazines, websites. There are writers who write scholarly books & articles for publication in journals. There are playwrights. There are professional writers that write user’s manuals of all kinds. There are professional writers who write copy for advertisements & contribute to things like annual reports. There are professional writers who work in Development & write letters to donors, annual appeals & grant proposals.
I work for a nonprofit in Development & write grant proposals—that’s what pays the rent & bills. I’ve known a lot of writers who write poetry & are adjunct professors. What I’ve noticed: in general, they’re paid & treated horribly by the universities & colleges they work for. My job as a Grant Writer has so far seemed to pay a lot better & be a lot more reliable.
I would love it if people could write whatever & whenever / as much as they wanted without ever having to take on the title of “writer” & serve in that role for projects that aren’t their own & that they need to be at least somewhat permanent in order to pay their rent & bills. I guess this is also to say I wish capitalism didn’t determine so much about our culture.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven’t found working with editors difficult at all, in large part because I’ve only worked with editors who I really like as people & have felt very supported by. As a matter of fact, the majority of what I’ve published wouldn’t exist without those editors. I have mostly felt too overwhelmed by the idea of putting a bunch of my writing together & calling it a chapbook or book & have needed an editor to hold my hand (so to speak) through that process, which is to say that editors have played a huge (& yes, essential) part in most of what gets recognized as my work.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Actually, today my boyfriend was watching something on YouTube about making films & the person speaking said something like, “You want to see what you can get away with [creatively],” in relation to movie audiences. I don’t know a lot about film-making, but I’d say, when it comes to writing, I think that’s the best advice I’ve heard.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I try to write almost every night for the 2 weeks before I’m scheduled to read somewhere. I’m not doing that right now because I’m reading more than usual, with the recent publication of Cruel Fiction & all. I think I will probably try to write again sometime in December, when things slow down a little.
A typical day for me begins with me waking up to my cat trying to make room for himself next to me in bed. Then I sit in bed for a while & check Facebook & Twitter & then I take a shower & get ready for work & clean a little before I drive 15 minutes to “the office.”
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I smoke weed & watch movies / documentaries & write whatever comes to mind while I’m watching. It’s usually bad, but I learned a long time ago that I’ve got to write a lot of bad stuff before anything good comes of it.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
White Linen by Estee Lauder.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I definitely feel like my books inform my books, but so does riot porn, if I’m being honest, & music & movies—especially documentaries. & collective struggle.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There’s this anonymously authored pamphlet you can find online that I keep coming back to: “Who Is Oakland?: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety and State Co-optation” (https://escalatingidentity.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/who-is-oakland-anti-oppression-politics-decolonization-and-the-state/). I wish everyone who cares about anti-racism would read it.
Women, Race & Class, by Angela Davis, & “Rape, Racism & the White Women’s Movement,” by Alison Edwards (http://www.sojournertruth.net/rrwwm.pdf) & “From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor” by Evelyn Nakano Glenn are 3 texts I wish every anti-racist feminist would read.
Black & Brown: African Americans& the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 by the historian Gerald Horne changed my life & I’d recommend exploring his work in general.
The Fire & the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement by Gloria Muñoz Ramirez, which I read after Tongo Eisen-Martin recommended it to me, has been critical to my thinking about indigenous struggle.
Reading Otros Valles by Jamie Berrout in 2016 was the first time I felt truly excited about a writer coming out of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Discovering the work of barrio historian Eduardo Martinez, who writes for Neta RGV, was the second. I highly recommend checking out these 2 writers.
The anonymously authored “You Can’t Shoot Us All: On the Oscar Grant Rebellions” (https://ruinsofcapital.noblogs.org/files/2014/11/youcantshootusall.pdf) is a classic.
There are entirely too many writers who are important to my work & life to name, really, but I do want to also mention the writer & translator David Rojas & all the writers involved with Enjambre Literario—but especially Brenda Navarro. David translated my chapbook “BRAZILIAN IS NOT A RACE” & an interview I did with Chris Chen “Mexican Is Not a Race” (published by The New Inquiry) into Spanish & Enjambre Literario published it in the summer. It means the world to me that Brazilian no es una raza exists & I’m so appreciative of all the work that David & Brenda & the other writers at Enjambre Literario have done to promote it.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Abolish the police. Abolish prisons. Abolish the carceral state. Abolish borders.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would run an animal sanctuary.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Best guess: I was an only child, with overprotective parents, who loved reading & sucked at competitive sports. & I had really nice handwriting, which teachers confused for a talent for storytelling so I got a lot of encouragement.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently re-read One With Others by CD Wright, which is a truly great book.
Other great books read recently: June Jordan’s book of essays Civil Wars. Hassan Blasim’s collectionof short stories The Corpse Exhibition & Other Stories of Iraq. Investigative journalist Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras & the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Ryan Eckes’s book of poems General Motors.
I can’t stop watching OJ:Made in America—that 7 hour documentary ESPN put out as part of their 30 for 30 series. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a film this much before.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve been trying to write a critical response to Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity, but my anxiety around writing essays is making It really hard.