Thank you for joining us this week for Lyric Essentials! Amanda Galvan Huynh joins us to read Sara Borjas and discusses Latinx Heritage Month, Xicanx writer identities, and the power in rewriting our own narratives.
Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Sara Borjas for Lyric Essentials?
Amanda Galvan Huynh: During the last month, I’ve been spending more time with Latinx voices. Coincidentally, it’s also Latinx Heritage Month. So, there might be a subconscious longing for home as I’ve been reflecting on my writing as a Xicanx writer. In the reflection, I notice that I still struggle with being “Mexican” enough and with my understanding of identity. I think this is one of the reasons I chose Sara Borjas’ poems as she unflinchingly confronts the Pocha label—and embraces it. Her book is definitely one that I wish I would have had as a young adult. Sometimes, as a Pocha, you just get lost, and it’s reassuring to know there’s a voice, like yours, writing in the world—that someone has written these beautiful words for a reader like you. Her poems are also teaching me to be braver and unapologetic in my writing. In both of our works, there are similar themes and issues, but our approaches take different shapes. It’s refreshing to watch how others are in conversation with similar ideas, and how we’re collectively trying to bear witness to our family’s lives.
EH: Was there any particular draw to these specific poems that you chose?
AGH: It was difficult to narrow down which poems to read! Originally, I had picked out eight. Where to even begin with these poems—I feel like I just have to reiterate that I have been in my feelings a bunch lately and am a little homesick. With that, I’m going to start with “Míja” as this poem roots itself in longing—longing to be named, to be called, to be claimed, to be tethered to a mother. There’s warmness in the word míja that’s loving and endearing—something magical when you are surrounded by family. It’s like being called into being—into fulfilling the míja role—being awoken in the self. The poem also records subtle resistance to assimilation as míja remains on the familial tongue versus replaced by the English equivalent: my daughter. For myself, I know this feeling of being called míja and what that invokes in me.
For “Lies I Tell”, this reimagines a life. I think everyone can relate, at one point or another in their life, of wanting things to be different. Whether it’s wanting a different name, family, job, love, [insert your desire here]—“Lies I Tell” focuses on the specifics of one’s outlook. Sometimes the information we take in like shows, stories, Snapchat, Instagram, and other medias makes this longing easy. At times, our memories alter what we want to believe. This poem settles in between the awareness of realizing the kind of life you have been given and writing another life into existence. As writers, we are given a kind of power to rewrite our stories and claim our narratives. But we are also capable of revealing those truths for the lies they are.
EH: As a Mexican-American writer from the Southwest, what does Borja’s Heart like a Window, Mouth Like A Cliff mean to you?
AGH: In writing, it is important to see your reflection. Her poems were the first ones I saw myself. Of course, it’s not identical as there are some nuances that are specific to Mexican Americans living in California versus Mexican Americans living in Texas. Together, we share a culture but have different landscapes for each of our lives. This speaks to the many facets of the Xicanx experience. There will be overlaps within our stories even with the long distance between California and Texas. Especially, when you look at the ganas passed down from generation to generation.
EH: Lastly, is there anything that you are working on that you’d like to share with readers?
AGH: Right now, I am working on my PhD at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Just last week I made my first mini zine for a project—it was exciting to step out of my comfort zone as I don’t consider myself a good artist. My drawing skills are at the stick figure level, but I did have the fleeting thought: Not bad. Maybe I can make poetry comics or poetry mini zines. Something on the back burner but my curiosity and wonder has been piqued!
Since the pandemic started, it has taken me several months to get back into creating. It’s been a real thing for me to recognize and name. But, I have slowly surrendered to it. The most recent piece of writing I finished was a chapter of nonfiction. Over the last few years, I have been outlining, organizing, and trying to find a thread into a memoir idea. Now, I’ve moved into finding my writing style as a nonfiction writer. It’s a clunky jump for me—I’m trying to embrace the mistakes and identify my editing and revising tendencies. While I write by hand for poems, I write by computer for nonfiction—I’m still editing by hand though.I’m also still writing poems. I’m creating new work centered on intersectionality, interracial relationships, biracial and multireligious family systems and dynamics. So, my work still revolves around identity, but now it is in relation to a loved one. I’m exploring what it means to hang on to your identity while being in love with someone. How can two identities remain independent but coexist? How can you leave enough room for each other? How can you be without diminishing or losing you or your partner’s self? What do we compromise on? And when we compromise what is lost or what is gained? What parts of ourselves do we surrender in order to keep the peace within a new family? Or maintain order in our own? So many questions I still do not have answers to, but questions I’m trying to answer for myself.
Sara Borjas is a Xicanx poet and fourth-generation Chicana from Fresno, California and the author of the acclaimed debut poetry book Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff, which won a 2020 American Book Award. She is a 2017 CantoMundo Fellow, a 2016 Postgraduate Writers Conference Fellow at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a 2013 Community of Writers Workshop at Squaw Valley Fellow, as well as the recipient of the 2014 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize. Borjas is active in liberation, decentering whiteness, and reclaiming her pocha identity. She currently lives in Los Angeles and teaches Creative Writing at University of California, Riverside.
Purchase Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff by Sara Borjas.
Read this interview with Sara Borjas in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Listen to Borjas read at Writers for Migrant Justice for Poetry.LA in 2019.
Amanda Galvan Huynh (she/her) is a Mexican American writer and educator from Texas. She is the author of a chapbook, Songs of Brujería (Big Lucks September 2019) and Co-Editor of Of Color: Poets’ Ways of Making: An Anthology of Essays on Transformative Poetics (The Operating System 2019). Amanda has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net. She was a 2016 AWP Intro Journal Project Award Winner, 2018 Best of the Net Winner, a finalist for the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and a finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Her poetry can be read in print and online journals such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, Puerto del Sol, The Southampton Review, and others. Currently, she is a doctoral student in English at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.
Purchase Huynh’s chapbook Songs of Brujería from Big Lucks.
Read this write-up of Songs of Brujería from Poetry Northwest
Watch Huynh read her work for Rigorous Magazine from last year’s AWP conference.
Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/