Eloisa Amezcua sat down with our editorial intern, Grace Prial, to discuss her debut collection, From the Inside Quietly,(Sundress Publications, 2018). Amezcua touches on the gendered experience of restraint, the literary expression of silence, and the act of loving oneself in all its various forms.
Grace Prial: Silence seems to be a particularly important concept in your book, from being willfully silent, placing an emphasis on the inner self, to being silenced, whether by an exploitative partner (as in “On Not Screaming”) or by your own body (as in the poems on fainting). Yet the title, as the book itself, insists on voicing the interior, not hesitantly, but “quietly.” How did you come to this title?
Eloisa Amezcua: The title for the collection was pulled from a poem in the book, “Mission Bay.” When I was revising the manuscript, I sat down and made a list of potential titles using both poem titles and lines within the poems. It was important to me that the title of the collection speak to as many of the themes or poems, to give readers an idea of what they’re going to encounter before diving into the work. I wanted a title that considered silence as an opening, a way into language.
GP: The poetic speaker “I” is, of course, not always meant to indicate the author themselves. However, you have such clarity of voice and certainty of point of view throughout the book that I can’t help but ask, to what degree are your poems autobiographical?
EA: I’m not sure it’s my job as a poet to say how much of the work is or isn’t autobiographical. Have my mother and I driven to Mexico alone together? Yes. Do I have an older sister with whom I’d play house? Yes. What I will say, is that the emotions and feelings in the poems are real, were/are experienced by me as the author of them.
GP: There are four sections to the book. My read is that the poems mount to an interrogation of pain and an adamant assertion of self-preservation. The focus seems to be on things broken, while the presence of the mother becomes more pronounced as both a safety net and someone in pain. How would you describe the organization and development of your book?
EA: Originally, the book didn’t have section breaks but the more I revised and edited, the more I realized that the “E” poems could be anchors for the reader and I wanted to ground the reader a bit before diving into the narrative of the collection and the shifts in the narrative that happen from the first poem to the last.
GP: In “She” and “Self Portrait” (I and II) the speaker is negatively brought into being––they are built out of that which they are not. In your view, does this paradox reflect a restraint of language or of life (or neither)?
EA: Restraint is a kind of silence. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Silence is a kind of restraint. I’m very interested in exploring the ways I as a writer and as a woman have internalized both of those things as necessary to live in this world, to survive. I think I often find myself describing myself not as what I am, but rather what I am not or what I am lacking. It’s a learned behavior of course and so in writing these poems, I tried to do bring awareness to this habit in the hopes of undoing, unlearning it.
GP: Bodies are central to this book. It seems that whether ill or malfunctioning, familiar or strange, sexual, vulnerable, phenotypically or racially identified, or experiencing pain or pleasure, the experience of the body is linked throughout your poems to the experience of family and heritage (for example, the juxtaposition of “On Not Screaming,” “My Mother’s Been Trying to Kill Me Since the Day I Was Born,” and “Boy,”). Could you elaborate on this connection?
EA: I experience the world through my body and the kinds of experiences I had, and continue to have, are informed by the body I live in (as a woman, as a woman of color, etc.) so it is hard for me to imagine poems about certain experiences or emotions, particularly those connected to family or heritage, without a body attached to them—if that makes sense.
GP: Part of the process of this book, I believe, is falling in love with yourself. Would you agree?
EA: Oh, definitely! This book is sprawling in terms of both themes and time, and so it is made up of poems from very distinct and varied iterations of myself as the writer of them. The earliest poem in the book was written in 2011/2012 and the last two I snuck in were from the spring of 2017. A lot changed in my life over those 6-ish years. I changed. And I think when the manuscript was completed, I was able to love all of those iterations of myself for getting me to the finish line.
GP: What poets, authors or artists inspire you most?
EA: There are truly too many people that inspire me to name (and I find myself most inspired by my peers and friends on a daily basis). But if I were to name a “Trinity” of poetry books that have shaped me as a writer, it’d be Ararat by Louise Glück, Cortege by Carl Phillips, and Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska translated by Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh.
Eloisa Amezcua is from Arizona. Her debut collection, From the Inside Quietly, is the inaugural winner of the Shelterbelt Poetry Prize selected by Ada Limón. A MacDowell fellow, she is the author of three chapbooks and founder/editor-in-chief of The Shallow Ends: A Journal of Poetry. Her poems and translations are published or forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and others. Eloisa lives in Columbus, OH, and is the founder of Costura Creative.
Amezcua’s collection, From the Inside Quietly, can be ordered directly from Sundress Publications.
Grace Prial is a graduate of Rutgers University-Newark with a BA in English. She lives in New Jersey and is passionate about her studies on the reflection of political movements in literature.