Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of three collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn, 2010), a finalist for the LA Times 2010 Book Prize for Poetry and the winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry, and from unincorporated territory [guma'] (Omnidawn, 2014). He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I am grateful to my first publisher, Tinfish Press (edited by Susan Schultz), for believing in my work. My first book opened up many opportunities for me, the most important of which was the opportunity to reach new readers.
My first book was the first book-length excerpt of an ongoing story about my identity, culture, and family in the context of the history, politics, and ecology of my home(is)land, Guahan (Guam). My newest book is the third installment of the series, and its subject matter focuses more directly on migration and militarization. In form, the newest book explores the poem-essay and the conceptual-collage poem.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Although poetry is my major genre, I am also working on a non-fiction book about food in the Pacific and a fictional collection of short stories about canned meats and culture.
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?
It doesn't take me long to start poems or projects; however, my writing process is very slow so it does take me a long time to finish. Any writing I do will go through pages of notes and outlines, as well as multiple draft, edits, and revisions. I try to consider every decision and alternative before a work is finalized.
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?
Poems usually begin with a subject matter, theme, or idea. I simultaneously work on longer and shorter poems, and then I will weave these poems into a book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy readings because I enjoy connecting with readers/listeners and being in a space enlivened by poetry. Public readings are part of my creative process in the sense that I am always experimenting with new ways to engage audiences.
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?
Within my writing, I engage with modernist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and indigenous theories. Some of the questions I try to answer include "What is Culture & Identity?" "What is History & Memory?" "What is Language & Story?"
Other important questions ask: "How has colonialism, missionization, capitalism, and militarization impacted and changed Guahan and Chamorro culture. How has our island and we, as indigenous peoples, resisted, challenged, adapted, and survived these impacts?"
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?
In Chamorro culture, the role of the writer has been to share stories; these stories are canoes/vessels that carry our languages, customs, values, practices, knowledge, memories, dreams, hopes, hurts, traumas, histories, beliefs, and much more. Chamorro storytellers have the added responsibility to protest ongoing colonization and to be involved in the decolonization movement.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an outside editor is essential. My new book would not have been possible without my editor, Rusty Morrison. An outside perspective helps us see our poems in new ways. This new vision allows us to see what is possible with the poem beyond our own desires for the poem.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Do something poetic everyday. Live deeply and write in the moment. Transform your life into a poem.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
It is not very easy for me because my poetry is very fragmented and nonlinear, whereas I try to write critical prose in a linear and coherent manner. The appeal is that writing criticism helps me theorize about my poems in new ways, and writing poetry helps me understand the art form that I am trying to analyze and interpret.
11 - 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 am currently a professor and administrator, so I don't have typical days. My schedule of classes and meetings are always changing from semester to semester, week to week. Between teaching, meetings, paperwork, mentoring students, and organizing events, in addition to household chores, I don't have much time for my writing. The little time I do have looks something like this: after dinner, 90 minutes critical writing, 60 minutes poetry writing.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read other people's poetry for inspiration.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Plumeria & Spam.
14 - 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 am most influenced by natural ecologies. The structure of coral reefs, as well as the movement of waves and ocean currents, helped me structure my new book.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Right now, the writing most important to me is Pacific literature. But I read a wide range of American poetry as well.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finish my dissertation. So stop asking me so many questions!
17 - 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 should clarify: I do not consider my occupation to be a "writer." My occupation is an educator. Teaching, inspiring students, designing curriculum, being in the classroom, conducting community-engaged projects, and witnessing students learn and grow is what I love most. That's my purpose in my life. Writing, to me, is another way to educate and inspire.
If I could pick another occupation: Politician. No doubt I would have ended up joining the military.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
At first, writing was a way for me to stay connected to my home after my family migrated to California. This is still true.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Javier Huerta's American Copia (I am teaching this book in my Poetry & Food Writing class). The last great film I saw was Even the Rain.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my fourth book of poems and my dissertation. Wish me luck!
12 or 20 (second series) questions;