- Manuel Paul López
Voz Presents: Manuel Paul López
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: Do you know what it feels like to possess a glass object beneath your chest that is on the verge of constant breakage? No eyes saw my fragility incarnate. There were moments when I needed to simply sit myself on the mound and cry. But I didn’t. Much to my detriment. You ask the cocaine? The cocaine replies: Cocaine is. Cocaine is EYE.
THE ROSIN BAG: Uh huh, Uh huh, O, do continue this tale.
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: And so it was an ice cube that sat beneath the umpire’s skull. Always melting. I raced against that melting. I missed the World Series parade. Millions of people waited, and I’m still picking up the stepped-on ticker tape and the faded confetti everywhere I go.
THE ROSIN BAG: I knew you. You were the great one. As I graced your hand I embarked upon space travel.
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: My hands?—
THE ROSIN BAG: Your hand.
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: I was vilified by the media.
THE ROSIN BAG: So!
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: So my mother and father bore the shame!
THE ROSIN BAG: And now that media bears the shame. You were a meteorite that flew over Manhattan. You keep flying over Manhattan. I scrawled your name in dirt beneath me and waited patiently for the next, though I knew the next would never come. There’s only one—
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: 19 K’s.
THE ROSIN BAG: 20-plus game winner. Cy Young. Rookie PRINCE!
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: Let’s write a new script and forget!
THE ROSIN BAG: From your hand I reached someone’s heaven.
#ROOKIEOFTHEYEAR!: I’m a candle that won’t blow out.
THE ROSIN BAG: O hush and heal. None of this is for real.
Ghost Teacher calls me Permanently Unfinished.
Ghost Rector nicknames me Tiny Incapable.
A fallen ghost basically adds up to nothing 1 1 1.
Our eyelashes fall and our voices drip from the inner faucets of ourselves a few times and then no more.
Sometimes I feel like an empty speech bubble. An invisible comic strip so no one laughs.
Many of us simply want to read our poetry by the river 1 1 1.
Many of us want to say so long to this curriculum without fingerprints nor with one last breath spared.
Many of us just want to read our poetry by the river, to close our eyes and be just as such.
Un Cafecito con Manuel
VOZ: You work incorporates a critique on the capitalization of both the recognition and defaming of marginalized voices. You're not afraid to name the "fragility" that is enforced by a voyeurism and outside authoritative perception. What inspired this exposition that feels very prevalent and purposeful?
MANUEL: First, thank you very much for allowing me to share some thoughts. I’m happy that you’ve identified the critiques of the authoritative gaze in my work. Let me just say this, if someone or some organized force is capitalizing on something, especially if it seems disingenuous or at the expense of others, I feel obligated to take a closer look as to why and how it’s achieving this. There are often ulterior motives at work, and I think it’s imperative to see these operations from different angles to better capture the hypocrisies, the greed and the performance in full view—motivations that drive systems to capitalize, devour, and exploit. I’m thinking of gentrification, immigration policy, economic and state violence, mass incarceration, and the inequitable educational experiences dished out to so many children in this country. I’m constantly thinking about the ways authoritative bodies interfere in or attempt to legislate the internal life of the individual or community. There are reasons why there are so many people on the verge of collapse. When we consider some of the organized efforts directed toward erasure, omission and neglect, shit, it’s overwhelming, but the fight must continue, and it does, courageously it does. I’ve always had problems with passively accepting authority and all that mess, because more often than not, the abuses of power inevitably emerge.
On another but similar note, I’m also concerned about our collective tendency to constantly reach for the next shiny object. I’m guilty of this as well, but it’s something that I’m constantly working to improve in myself. It’s unbelievable to me that Edward Snowden’s revelations of a few years ago are hardly discussed these days, even in light of the most recent Facebook fiasco. We are moving steadily toward the dangerous territory of unimpeded surveillance and data collection, and I’m not sure if we can remain interested long enough to even begin to resist this force.
VOZ: There is richness, truth, and innovation that is often ignored by mainstream audiences and publications within the works of Latinx artists and writers. Yet, when there is recognition it is often forced into the positionality of the racial and ethnic other. Do you find this often affecting the style and presentation of your work?
MANUEL: I wouldn’t say that it necessarily affects the style and presentation of my work, but I am certainly conscious of what’s happening with mainstream audiences and publications. Honestly, I don’t think too much about mainstream audiences—I never have, because I’ve heard what the mainstream listens to, and I don’t want that stuff in my ears. The inner sanctum’s reserved for Miles and Coltrane. I’m kidding. Though I do understand where you’re going with this question, and I agree wholly that it’s important to resist the forces that attempt to dictate which stories or bodies of work are acceptable for broader consumption. Gatekeepers must be dealt with in a way that dissuades potential gatekeepers from following that same path, by which I mean compelling them to explain their ways by calling out these unfair and reductive practices. There have been many changes for the better, but we know that there is a lot more change that needs to happen, especially as it relates to the diversity of writing programs across the country, both in terms of faculty and students.
As a CantoMundo fellow, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many dynamite Latinx writers and scholars who are producing work in so many different styles. It’s breathtaking just to think about it. What I think organizations like CantoMundo have been able to do, among many other things of course, is provide a gathering space where we see ourselves as part of a larger fabric, where we can talk and learn from each other, and hopefully build lasting and supportive relationships. As I navigate my days as a Chicanx writer, I try to remember during those tough moments when I might be feeling down, that I am part of a flowing current that constantly enriches itself with the contents of our antepasados, contemporaries, and the eventual work of future hermanx writers. If I’m in a rut, I know I can reach for Anzaldúa, Nicanor Parra, Luis Omar Salinas, and I’m up again, ready for the 12thround. And like I mentioned before, there is so much amazing work these days being produced by Chicanx/Latinx writers that I can’t contain myself. I’m constantly whispering into people’s ears about new works coming out in books, chapbooks and journals, and they in turn, point me toward work that I haven’t yet read. I am confident that the literary landscape will continue to change and become more representative, because there’s no doubt in my mind, that our gente won’t stop pushing.
I am grateful to have had my new book These Days of Candy picked up and published by Noemi Press’ Akrilica Series. First, to be part of a series named after Juan Felipe Herrera's seminal poetry collection; and second, to be part of a series that includes so many of my favorite contemporary Latinx writers. Carmen Giménez Smith, Farid Matuk, Suzi Garcia, and Sarah Gzemski were so supportive while pushing my thinking about the book throughout the entire process. And that’s where I want to be, up in the mezcla of inspired idea exchange with those I admire and respect.
Manuel Paul López’s books and chapbook include These Days of Candy (Noemi Press, 2017), The Yearning Feed (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 1984 (Amsterdam Press, 2010) and Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press, 2006). He co-edited Reclaiming Our Stories: Narratives of Identity, Resilience, and Empowerment (City Works Press, 2016). A CantoMundo fellow, his work has been published in Bilingual Review, Denver Quarterly, Hanging Loose, Huizache, Puerto del Sol, and ZYZZYVA, among others. He lives in San Diego and teaches at San Diego City College.