For the most part, in the U.S. I see a real interest in linguistic play and surprising syntax: An online interview with Sheryl Luna

Sheryl Luna was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She earned her BA at Texas Tech University, an MFA from the University of Texas at El Paso, an MA in English from Texas Woman’s University, and a PhD in Contemporary Literature from the University of North Texas.
In 2004, her collection of poetry, Pity the Drowned Horses, was selected to win the first Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Institute of Latino Studies and the Creative Writing program at the University of Notre Dame. Pity the Drowned Horses focuses on cultural identity, bridges, and barriers between the U.S. and Mexico border. Poet and final judge Robert Vasquez commented on Luna’s writing style: “her syntax—sometimes raw and edgy—creates a tableau where everything rushes toward ‘our wild need, all sweat, all shiver. The overall effect is simply mesmerizing.’”
Pity the Drowned Horses was also a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the 2006 Colorado Book Awards. Luna was recognized for her first collection in Poets & Writers Magazine, where she was named as one of the “18 Debut Poets who Made their Mark in 2005.” Luna was also nominated for the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize for her forthcoming second collection of poems, entitled 7.
Luna’s poems have been published in various journals including the Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Puerto del Sol, Kalliope, and the Notre Dame Review.
Luna has taught at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado and at the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Denver.Her new book SEVEN is forthcoming in 2013 from 3: A Taos Press. (source

Dupur Mitra: What is poetry?
Sheryl Luna: This is a difficult question as poetry means different things to different people. I do believe there are many kinds of poetry or as some say poetries. For me poetry is about breath, song, emotional movement and language. I for the most part believe in a compression of language, imagery, musicality and playful syntax.

Dupur Mitra: What are your observations about the trending of world poetry?
Sheryl Luna: I am most familiar with American trends, but see world poetry interested in human rights, activism and improving our humanity towards one another. For the most part, in the U.S. I see a real interest in linguistic play and surprising syntax. The line itself is seen as a playground for surprise and the unexpected. There is also a growing diversity that is finally being acknowledged. These various minority voices, in my opinion, are necessary and vibrant.

Dupur Mitra: Why is poetry important?
Sheryl Luna: Poetry is important because as Wallace Stevens wrote in The Necessary Angel, poetry helps us live. It is an art form that helps people find strength, joy and understanding for themselves and others. It addresses the mystery of beauty, the strength of the individual, and the community of human spirits.

Dupur Mitra: How does a poem begin for you – with an image an idea or a phrase?
Sheryl Luna: Poetry begins for me in a variety of ways. Sometimes an image strikes my fancy, and other times it may be an abstract concept with which I begin. Usually, I have no idea where a poem will go—only that there is some question or some striking beauty or terrible sorrow which moves me.

Dupur Mitra: How do you edit your poems?
Sheryl Luna: Lately I type poems out originally, I then write them out longhand in a journal. Writing them out helps me slow down and examine each word for sound and meaning. I like to try to condense lines and make them as surprising as I am able. Then I tend to retype them, usually in a shorter version. Then I may possibly try to expand in various places, and usually the whole process begins again.

Dupur Mitra: Can you talk about the importance of sound in your poetry?
Sheryl Luna: Sound is pertinent. I try to have my poems present a rhythm and music, though I tend to write in free verse. I try to break lines where sound is melodious. Sometimes I read poems aloud. At other times I move things around in order for a poem to sound better. I may play with rhyme, both internal and end rhyme for instance.

Dupur Mitra: Is there a relationship between your speaking voice and your writing voice?
Sheryl Luna: I think so, as I tend to use colloquial everyday language when I speak, and I think the rawness of that often enters the language in my poems.

Dupur Mitra: Can movement improve the poetry? if yes how, if not why?
Sheryl Luna: Yes, as stated earlier I like emotional movement in a poem. Perhaps it will move from lamentation to praise, or reflection to action of some sort. I like a poem to end in a surprising place. Usually I don’t know where the next line will take me. I try to move in the rhythm of the natural flow of consciousness, and let my subconscious mind come out to play.

Dupur Mitra: Can you describe your writing process?
Sheryl Luna: I tend to write to music, preferably classical, but sometimes rock-n-roll. Sometimes I do write in silence, but I think music helps me gain a rhythmical quality. I tend to write poems out long hand to slow down the process and not rush things. My poems tend to shrink then grow, shrink than grow, and where the process ends is often a surprise. I often cut out many lines, then go back and elaborate on things for clarity. Then I may cut words, replace words, and rearrange words, stanzas and lines.

Dupur Mitra: Who are your major influences as a poet?
Sheryl Luna: This is always a difficult question for me as so many poets, both living and dead have greatly influenced my work. Perhaps foremost in influence is Elizabeth Bishop. I also think Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Eliot have been an influence of sorts. I remember not originally liking Bishop or Eliot, yet both have made me think more about both sound and image. As a graduate student I read many Modernist poets and that did influence me. Also, Chicano/a poets such as Benjamin Alire Saenz and Lorna Dee Cervantes have been a huge influence. Contemporary favorites include Stephen Dunn, Dorriane Laux and James Galvin.

One Response to “For the most part, in the U.S. I see a real interest in linguistic play and surprising syntax: An online interview with Sheryl Luna”
  1. Rachel Escamilla says:

    Great interview! Interesting information on how a poet thinks and writes, especially from such a talented writer.

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