Saturday, July 06, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Brent Ameneyro

Brent Ameneyro is the author of the collection A Face Out of Clay (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2024) and the chapbook Puebla (Ghost City Press, 2023). His E-Lit has been selected for the 2022 Education and Electronic Literature Conference and Art Festival in Italy, as well as for film festivals in Denmark, Barcelona, Canada, and Los Angeles. He was the 2022-2023 Letras Latinas Poetry Coalition Fellow at the University of Notre Dame. He currently serves as the poetry editor at The Los Angeles Review.

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?

Poems in my chapbook Puebla (Ghost City Press 2023) are featured in my debut full-length collection, A Face Out of Clay, which is being published as part of the Mountain/West Poetry Series with The Center for Literary Publishing in June 2024. As a little boy, I created books with crayons and colored paper, and announced myself as “Brent, Author.” A Face Out of Clay is my first book, and although it isn’t out yet, it has changed my life by fulfilling my childhood dreams. I’m sure this is true for many writers, and maybe it’s even a little cliché, but I feel as though I’m fulfilling a lifelong calling.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I’ve always had a hard time with names. When I read books like 1984 and Lord of the Flies as school assignments, I fell in love with language and literature, only to return to class the next day feeling like it wasn’t mine to have. It felt like literature wasn’t meant for me because I couldn’t remember the name of the character that first appeared halfway through the fourth chapter. I’d fail a test or get called on and not be able to answer the question in front of the class, so I started to ditch school and focus my energy on music.

Reading was a big part of my childhood; my mom would read to me every night before I started picking up books myself. So, when reading took a backseat to music in my teenage years, I fell in love with language through a new medium: song lyrics. Community college—which, admittedly, started as mostly tennis, bowling, and guitar classes—helped to reignite my passion for reading. When I transferred to CSUS in 2007, thinking about ways to improve my song lyrics, I began studying poetry. At the same time, I was listening to a lot of jazz and experimental music, and I was creating more music without lyrics. For most of the following decade, I made instrumental music and wrote poetry. I created a clear distinction between the two artforms and my studies of them. I eventually found myself in grad school in 2019 where I immersed myself almost exclusively in poetry for three years. 

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?

Some of my favorite poems that I’ve written appeared on the page complete in one sitting, with the exception of a few minor edits. I’m thinking of “To My Ancestors,” a Shakespearean sonnet first published in Alaska Quarterly Review, and “Sweet Little Things,” a pantoum which was a finalist in the 2022 Iowa Review Awards. Most of the time, this isn’t the case for me. I usually write as a kind of desperate utterance—compelled by the beauty of a moment or a surge of inexplicable emotion—then over months or years the poem marinades in my subconscious, waking me in the night when it demands a change in syntax or punctuation.

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?

My work is a result of moving between different states of being. Therefore, any poetry written within a particular time period contains organic connections. Often referred to as “obsessions,” I visualize this phenomenon like a never ending hallway with doors on either side (channeling my inner William Blake, I suppose). Each door in this hallway leads to a micro-universe where a unique constellation of feelings, memories, and imagined realities crash into me. Publishing helps to provide a sense of closure. After A Face Out of Clay was selected for publication, I felt like I could finally close the door behind me and allow myself to fully enter a new one. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

The lifecycle of art while the artist is still alive almost demands community. The creative process as I’ve come to experience it is as follows: inspiration/compulsion; the initial creative act; allowing the art piece to breathe and make demands; publication; performance/community. I’ve been performing off and on—between music and poetry—for over 20 years now, and the periods of time where I didn’t perform felt like letters written that were never mailed. 


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?

In A Face Out of Clay, I primarily explore movement. Images and ideas that deal with movement range from small, immediate gestures made in sculpting, to larger, more abstract brushstrokes as the speaker moves through time and memory. Under the umbrella of movement, other themes and questions emerge, but even explorations of identity and place, for example, are tied to movement: how one moves through different phases of life and knowing oneself; how families move from one country to another; the way groups of people move through collective experiences; and so on.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

With the internet and advancements in computer technology came the democratization of art. Art in the 21st century is undoubtedly shaped by the way information, tools, and resources have been placed into the hands of the masses. This translates differently depending on which artform is being discussed. For writing, the greatest differentiator is the ability to “post” or “publish” work immediately via the internet. The etymology of the word “publishing” comes from the Latin “publicare,” which means “to make public.” Prior to this shift, publishing was costly and restricted to a few lucky individuals. In short, there are more writers and artists creating and sharing art today, I believe, than ever before. This helps to create a more equitable publishing landscape (in theory), to erase the myth of the rare creative genius, and it also allows for writers to nurture smaller communities and connect more deeply with their audiences. And in these communities writers have the same responsibility they’ve always had: to handle language thoughtfully, with care.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I welcome collaboration and feedback. Every editor that I’ve worked with, whether for my book or for journals, has been kind, generous, and supportive.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

My dad always told me, “No eres monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos,” which can be interpreted in different ways, but he always followed with his English translation, “you are not a gold coin for everyone to love.” 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to musical composition)? What do you see as the appeal?

I’m a poet, sure, but I see that as a subcategory of being an artist. My definition of an artist is someone who is compelled to create; a conduit for a creative force that wills art into the physical world; a translator of the divine. From this perspective, when I move between poetry and other artforms, I’m simply choosing which vessel is most suitable for the flow of energy passing through me. 

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?

My day begins with coffee and reading. I don’t have a writing routine. Out of pure convenience, most of my writing begins as a note in my phone. I then move it over to my computer where the poem nests and makes itself comfortable. Editing is writing; I don’t distinguish between the two in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever written more than one decent poem in a single day. Some days I open my manuscript and make huge shifts across multiple poems. Other days all I do is contemplate a single word. 

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I don’t seek inspiration. I’m perfectly comfortable allowing myself to exist without writing when I don’t feel the page calling to me. I do spend as much time as possible listening to birds, looking at flowers, and walking my dog. Being in love is also an endless source of inspiration, so I must credit my wife, Alita. Sometimes just hearing her breathing is enough to spark my imagination. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?


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?

Can I say everything? Is that cheating? Music, for example, can directly influence my artistic cravings and vision on the page. I might desire a little splash of Charles Mingus’ controlled chaos, or the distilled, droning calm of a drawn out Miles Davis moment. 

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read In Search of Duende by Federico García Lorca about 18 years ago. For the first time I felt that someone was able to describe feelings I had that I was not able to describe for myself. If I try to select my favorite excerpts, I might end up copying the entire text here, but I’ll share one quote that is powerful and affirming to me: “I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘the duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of your feet.’ meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’m not very interested in pursuing ideas or goals. I’m more interested in discovering ideas by allowing the art to flow through me, and creating space to cultivate surprise and wonder. 

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?

There are those who write to get a certain job, to make money, to fuel their ego, or to get attention, among other things, and that’s none of my business. I write as a result of my need to create. I think of the myth of Sisyphus when I think of what it means to be a writer or artist of any kind. I push this poetry boulder up a hill, and when I get to the top, it rolls back down, and I start all over again. Through the act of pushing the boulder up the hill over and over, I’m compelled to contemplate the life assignment I’ve been given (I’m currently reading The Life Assignment by Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, and the title is fresh on my mind, so I’m borrowing it for this point I’m trying to make). To answer the question more directly, I don’t have memories of a time in my life where I wasn’t writing. I don’t think I “ended up” being a writer, I think it’s hard wired into me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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