Photo by Gabriel Garcia Roman
Editor’s note: YOU MAKE ME FEEL returns now with no organizing principle other than my desire to interview people who make my heart beat harder. Re-welcome.
Emanuel Xavier is a poet, spoken word artist, novelist, editor, and activist born and raised in NYC. His recent books include Nefarious (Rebel Satori Press 2013) and Americano: Growing Up Gay and Latino in the USA (Rebel Satori Press 2012), and he edited the Lambda Literary Award finalist Bullets & Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry (Suspect Thoughts Press 2005).
This past June artist Teresita Fernández installed her sculpture Fata Morgana in NYC’s Madison Square Park. The sculpture is “a mirror-polished, golden metal sculpture that [hovers] above the Park’s winding walkways to define a luminous experiential passage for Park visitors.” When it came time to organize a program to occur beneath the sculpture, Fernández collaborated with Xavier to curate Poetry Under Fata Morgana, a public poetry event happening Thursday September 17 featuring Latino/a poets Emanuel Xavier, Sandra María Esteves, Bonafide Rojas, Machete Movement, and True. The event coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month and “situates a broad range of Latino experience and literary production within the context of contemporary American poetry.” I interviewed Xavier over email about co-curating the evening, his connection with Fernández, and more.
How did you and Teresita Fernández meet? What affinities do you find between her work and yours, and how do you imagine those affinities being spotlighted during the upcoming event under Fata Morgana?
I had put together a successful event featuring Nuyorican spoken word artists with The Academy of American Poets and Teresita reached out about doing something in collaboration with her art piece at Madison Square Park. We met for lunch and I was impressed by her passion and ambition. We share an impetus to celebrate the contributions of Latino/a artists to American culture. As we highlight our heritage through our respective art forms, we both look to share universal truths with our audiences. The reading will take place under one of the larger installments of Fata Morgana so that the listeners will be able to catch a glimpse of themselves reflected from above as they hear our poems.
What social, cultural, and political issues did you hope to engage in your co-curation of Poetry under Fata Morgana? What kinds of trends do you see in the curation of poetry events in New York in general, and how do you see this event as being in conversation with those curatorial practices?
The featured poets were selected to reflect a range of different voices within the Latino/a community. Whether it’s immigration or LGBT rights, each of us are sociopolitical in our poetry and proud activists. New York has been home and an inspiration to many poets. There is great diversity but the Nuyorican experience is unique to Nueva York. If I’m correct, all of the featured readers happen to be native New Yorkers. We get to travel and share our stories with the hopes of reaching others but there’s something to be said about doing a poetry reading in your own backyard- in this case, Madison Square Park. Poetry readings trend toward featuring academic writers and literary darlings but there will always be an audience for the counterculture. In spite of gentrification, there is still room for all of us in this city. In light of the recent Best American Poetry controversy, you could use a false ethnic name to get published but you can’t fool an entire audience when you’re in front of them.
What are some artworks that have particularly moved you, and do you often (if at all) write in response to art? What are your favorite genres of art to engage in, and what makes them particularly exciting/generative for you?
I often find myself looking for inspiration at museums if not the influx of murals in my own Bushwick neighborhood. I came close to meeting Jean-Michel Basquiat just before his untimely death and I was friends with Juan Rivera Xtravaganza who dated Keith Haring. I’ve written poems inspired by both of them. I have a great affinity to street and contemporary art. I also wrote a poem inspired by a Salvador Dalí piece that moved me around the time my mother was battling cancer. Everyone interprets an art piece differently and that’s particularly exciting.
What are your current creative projects? Have you written any new work specifically for Poetry Under Fata Morgana?
I was working on a new poetry collection which I had hoped to have out sooner than later but unexpected life circumstances have temporarily put that on hold. I do plan to read a new unpublished poem, “Arbol”- one of my few nature poems which one could say was inspired by Fata Morgana.
I was so sorry to read in your blog about the return of a brain tumor. In light of your post’s requests for listeners to come to Poetry Under Fata Morgana to share “love and laughter,” can you speak briefly to the healing qualities of public spaces/gatherings, and how they might provide spirit and solace (if only temporary) for people dealing with issues both physical and spiritual?
I do look forward to taking the stage at a free public outdoor event before going through whatever awaits down the road. I come from the spoken word poetry movement so all of my readings tend to be emotional with a mix of fun. I just hope to get through my own set before taking on the role of host and introducing the other features. I know there will be a lot of love and laughter and it will be a spiritual experience, not just for the poets but for the audience as well. The beauty of it is that it will all go down underneath Teresita’s Fata Morgana, a sculpture which has certainly provided much solace and peace for many a passerby.