All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
by Kate Barrett
Lit Fest this year is bringing in some stellar writers and authors to teach everything from one-day craft seminars to multi-day intensives. I for one am giddy with anticipation to think of meeting so many talented personalities. I caught up with one soon-to-be visiting instructor, Richard Louis Garcia—outstanding poet, lovely speaker of Spanish, and all-around fascinating person. Once discouraged in his attempts to write, he received a much needed message from Nobel Prize-winner Octavio Paz, who said, “[Selected poetry] impressed me so much that I re-read it two or three additional times. These successive readings, far from cooling my enthusiasm, made me discover fresh aspects of my own poetry, and gave me new reasons to say what I declare to you here: without a doubt, you are a true and authentic poet. Some of the poems are completely successful—at once intense and simple. Not all, clearly, have the same intensity—no poet can always equal himself—but the collection is admirable—the images, the emotion, the verbal economy, the tone (the words react—the images are seen).”
He was nice enough to answer a few questions before heading out to Denver this summer.
KB. I read some of your poems on the PoetryFoundation.org, as well as in the Cortland Review. I love your poem “Colorado” in particular. You focus a lot on dreams or what seems like pretty surreal imagery. Have you always written that way?
RG. I think my writing is partly influenced by the writing I read as a youth, which would have been the Beats, the Surrealists, European, Spanish and South American writers. At that time, as recently, some writers were working from the dream, the fable and the fairy tale. I grew up in a house that only had one book, a large book, in Spanish, that was a kind of dictionary where you would look up a dream you had and find out its meaning. I also grew up in a culture where part of everyday reality was what might be call Magical Realism today. I think that the emotional heart and lyric of a poem is carried and conveyed in figurative language, such as conceit, image and the metaphor.
KB. Yes! I’m absolutely with you. I took a class on how to bring dream imagery into your writing (last year at Lit Fest in fact! It was with Julene Bair. She’ll be here again this summer—perhaps you two should chat!) and found it really interesting. We talked about how dreams are essentially visual metaphors that you can deconstruct or boil down to find their meaning. Maybe this is an obvious revelation, but that meant to me that humans, at the core, are metaphor-making animals. Our default method of thinking is one of the most basic and beautiful devices in poetry or literature—figurative language, layered images, narratives or events with multiple connotations or meanings.
It sounds like your Lit Fest class is going to be focused on this kind of writing—you’ll be going over some pretty wild forms. What do you hope students will take from that?
RG. I hope my students take some new drafts from my class, and a new understanding of methods they can use to create more poems.
KB. Do you by chance remember the title of the dream book you grew up with?
RG. No, I don’t remember the title. But such dream books still exist in English too. This is not Freud or Jung—it’s more like if you dream of finding a spoon, you look up spoon.
KB. You say there was only one book in your house—did your family read much or did your attraction to poetry come from somewhere else?
RG. No, my family did not read but I read and loved stories and began to look into poetry and myth when I was a teenager.
KB. Your bio says you stopped writing for a long time. What made you stop? What did you do in the meantime?
RG. I stopped writing out of disappointment and from lack of knowledge of how to proceed. I had jobs, mostly low level, and did some graphic art, but kept reading. I don’t think I would have started again without the encouragement from Octavio Paz.
KB. That’s right—he wrote to you to say he thought you were a true poet. That’s incredible. I don’t want to dwell on your hiatus from writing, of course, but I think a lot of writers (both at Lighthouse and just in general) can definitely relate. Sometimes the disappointment is just overwhelming. Do you have any advice for writers who might feel that? Words of wisdom from the other side? If you’re on the other side, that is. Perhaps there is no other side?
RG. Returning to poetry writing was more a matter of survival because I came to a crossroads where I could not go on without it. I teach in a low-residency program and I always have students of retirement age, who have had their work careers, raised children and all the rest, but now feel a need to get back to their first dreams. Time becomes a factor.
KB. We look forward to meeting Richard Louis Garcia in a matter of weeks.