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Catalina Gómez: Good morning. We are here with poet Laurie Ann Guerrero from San Antonio, Texas. We are recording this morning for the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape here at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2015. I am Catalina Gómez from the Hispanic Division. Laurie Ann, thank you so much for being here with us. It’s a pleasure.

Laurie Ann Guerrero: It’s an honor to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

CG: To begin, could you please just tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you wound up being a poet.

LAG: Sure. I was born and raised in San Antonio. I’ve been writing since I was a very little girl I was eight when I wrote my first poem. I started writing I think because I come from a family of storytellers and my grandfather who helped raised me was a storyteller. He was often telling jokes and stories and I think I got my love of story from him. My mother would also read stories for me and she was the kind of mom who would be driving and, you know, she would say, “That woman over there, her name is Rosa.” And, you know, she would just start making up stories and so this idea, I want it to do that. And then I had this…the way my grandfather was, his delivery, his tone, his turn of a phrase. So I think I had this growing up, I wanted to do it. And, you know, when I was in school and I started reading more, I was kind of pushed to sort of discover my own, play it all myself. 

CG: When did you kind of turn that into actual writing? Was it with a specific teacher?

LAG: When I was in sixth grade, I had a teacher who had us write poems and, you know, I was like whatever poetry. But I wrote a poem and it won a contest and so for the first time, you know, I was the only girl in my family and so often unheard. Suddenly I was kind of put in front of this audience where people were listening to what I was saying because I wrote a poem. And so that really pushed me to keep writing poetry  and so by the time I was in High School, I was very serious about my poetry because it offer a way for me  to be heard and that was really important to a little girl like me.

CG: And then after school you…?

LAG: Well, after school… After High School, I got married right away and started having my babies. And it wasn’t until much later till I was 27 years old that I decided that I wanted to go back to school. I had stopped writing for a long time to have my babies and I got sort of caught up on that. When I decided I needed to write again, I went back to school and I ended up at Smith College where I, you know, had really great mentors and had a chapbook published when I was senior there. And then things kind of started taking off from there when I moved home in 2008 and, you know, I think having lived in Massachusetts for those three years that I did to finish my education really helped me see my own community objectively and so suddenly where I had left my community to have this, get this education, which was really difficult for my family and very difficult for me. But this experience helped me see my community objectively and helped me where I wanted to write, I suddenly had so much to write about because suddenly I could see what was lacking in my community, the kind of work that I wanted to do and all of that was translated in my work. And, yeah, it’s kind of… For me, it all went together, the writing and then the actual work in the community.

CG: And now you are back in San Antonio?

LAG: I am.

CG: And so how long has it been since you…?

LAG: I’ve been back since 2008 so it’s been a while.

CG: Okay.

LAG: Yeah, like a long time.

CG: I know you are the Poet Laureate of San Antonio right now and today we are going to hear that you are going to be selected as the…

LAG: Yeah, the Poet Laureate of Texas for 2016.

CG: That’s really great.

LAG: Yeah, I am really excited about it.

CG: Congratulations!

LAG: Thank you.

CG: Okay, so we can go ahead and start with the reading. The only thing that we ask you is to let us know the book you are reading from and then the tittle of the poem. And, you know, as I said, you can either preface it or say something after or before the poem, whatever you choose.

LAG: Okay, well I’m going to read first from my first book A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying and I’m going to read this poem “Sundays after Breakfast: A Lesson in Speech.” And I give it the title “Sundays after Breakfast…”  It’s the time when my grandfather…well, my grandparents all of them. After we would have our barbacoa and big red, we would sit in our back porch or in the living room and my grandparents would tell stories. So this is for my grandfather, “Sundays after Breakfast: A Lesson in Speech.”

  • Poet reads “Sundays after Breakfast: A Lesson in Speech” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: This next poem is called “Babies under the House.” When I lived in Massachusetts, I lived with my children. My children at that time were probably like ten, four and three. And there were so many things happening in my city, my state. A lot of domestic violence, a lot of murder, suicide; which happen still. And there were these two babies, whose bodies they found under the house in my neighborhood in southside of San Antonio. Being so far away from home, I felt very hopeless. But there was something about the distance, you know, being in Massachusetts and this is happening in my home, in my neighborhood…that made me feel very sad and I could only do what I can do. This poem is called “Babies under the House.” 

  • Poet reads “Babies under the House” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: This next poem is called “Roosters: Homecoming.”

  • Poet reads “Roosters: Homecoming” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: There was…when I was working on this, you know, these ideas and this research that I was doing for a lot of these poems kind of took over and sort of infiltrated my psychic and my dreams were really vivid and one of the dreams that I had often was... I was often dreaming about murder and abuse. This poem is called “Morning Praise of Nightmares.” Part two, actually. There are two of them, this is the second one.

  • Poet reads “Morning Praise of Nightmares,” part two - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: Should I just keeping going?

CG: Yes.

LAG: One of the things when I was living away from home, one of the things that I realized… I think that I certainly being away from Texas and San Antonio romanticized it. But also I was able to see clearly the kind of conditioning, sort of whitening that it was happening, not just in my city, in generations, but in our house, in our homes. This poem is called “Put Attention” and is for my grandmother.

  • Poet reads “Put Attention” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: I think I am going to read one more from this book and then move to the other.

CG: Okay. We still have half an hour so however you want to structure it.

LAG: Okay, perfect. Actually, I am going to read two more from this book and then move to the second one. This one is…When I was a little girl I lived for a year in California. My father was a construction worker so he moved the whole family there and I was so close to my grandfather who lived in the same property as we did. Our houses were on the same property. When we moved away from California, I was so sad to leave without him. But I inherited this other family, you know, and learned the history about my grandfather that I didn’t know because they knew him before we did. This poem is called “Pinedale, CA.”

  • Poet reads “Pinedale, CA” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: My grandfather was…suffered from glaucoma and so all my life he was going blind and before he died he finally lost his sight. But there are so many lessons and, you know, helping him with his medication and being with him. And so this last poem that I will read from this book is called “On Blinding.”

  • Poet reads “On Blinding” - A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)

LAG: So that’s from that.

CG: Very beautiful!

LAG: Thank you. This book came about A Crown for Gumecindo, which just came out. It came about after I lost my grandfather in July of 2013. And I had no intention of writing a book. I’d thought I maybe write a poem or two for him. I wanted to honor him; I wanted to sort of document him in some way. It became this heroic crown of sonnets. I’m actually working on an essay right now about writing these sonnets because I learned so much about grief and… but also about writing through grief and I really didn’t quite understand why I chose that form, you know, the sonnet. I thought was… my original idea, my original thought was I wanted to honor him and so a crown, right? I wanted to give my grandfather a crown and the only way that I could do it would be to write one because that’s what I know how to do. It was much more difficult than I ever expected it to be. But I realized afterwards, just recently, I realized that in writing a crown of sonnets it was very subversive. And I think it was a kind of a subconscious thing for me because essentially I was angry, I was angry that my grandfather left and I was angry…I was angry that I needed to use an inherited form to make sense of grief and so I think essentially what I was doing was stealing the crown and I am okay with that, you know, what I had to do,  I had to recognize that I was doing it on anger and that’s not something that I want to perpetuate, anger. You know, I don’t want to do that. But that’s the truth. I was angry. So I’m going to…The book is filled with meditations, the crown, the sonnets are go through. But it does have some meditations in it. I’m going to read some of the meditations and then I’ll read some of the poems. But I’ll start with the first mediation that opens the book. I should say too that my grandfather was a migrant, you know, worker and he picked cotton and vegetables and fruit until he moved to California and learnt carpentry. He eventually became a master carpenter. And I should also say that I started this book in El Paso where I was reading for the first time after he died and there was this sense very much like D.C., actually. That’s a city filled with ghosts and there was something about going to El Paso that felt like where I had just lost him it seemed like that’s where I could be in communion with him. That’s where, I don’t know, it was a lot of grief in that city, for me. So I started this book here. This is the first meditation. And this is the first sonnet. And this is, I wrote it…This is the one I started, well, in El Paso is called “Where the Dead Come to Speak” El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez and the epigraph for this one is from Valerie Martínez, “in this way could she.”

  • Poet reads Meditation #1 - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)
  • Poet reads “Where the Dead Come to Speak” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)
    LAG: Number two “Love is Our Mother.”
  • Poet reads “Love is Our Mother” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: And here is a meditation.

  • Poet reads Meditation # 2 - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: Number three “Praise Song for the Goat at the Grave.”

  • Poet reads “Praise Song for the Goat at the Grave” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: I’m going to skip ahead to number seven, which is called “Newborns.”

  • Poet reads “Newborns” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: Number eight “Día de los Muertos.”

  • Poet reads  “Día de los Muertos” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: I’m going to skip ahead to number eleven “Casketing.”

  • Poet reads “Casketing” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: Number twelve “Untouchable.”

  • Poet reads “Untouchable” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: Number thirteen “The Work: Blueprints for the Body.”

  • Poet reads “The Work: Blueprints for the Body” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)

LAG: I’m going to read, this last one number fourteen “En las Costillas de la Página.”

  • Poet reads “En las Costillas de la Página” - A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)             

CG: These are fantastic.

LAG: Thank you.

CG: Very, very beautiful. Thank you so much. I also wanted to ask you a little bit about this last book because there are also a lot of images of paintings by Maceo Montoya. And I did want to ask you a little bit about this relationship between poetry, your poetry and these paintings. How this came about?

LAG: Well, when I was working on, actually I have to go back because when I lost my grandfather just a few months after I lost my grandfather, I was in San Francisco in a mission doing a reading with Canto Mundo and it was the first time I met Maceo who’s the brother of Andrés Montoya, who’s the prize I won, for whom the prize is named. But after I lost my grandfather I realized how the only people that I really wanted to be around were people who knew what that felt like. And so when I was in San Francisco and I met Maceo there was an instant, for me anyway, I certainly felt connected to him because I knew his loss. He had lost his brother like I had lost my grandfather and so that I suddenly felt in communion with him. And I knew I wanted to work with him somehow. Really, I just wanted to talk to him I wanted to pick his brain. I wanted to know what it was like for him. When I started writing I had already started writing this book when I met him and so a few months later I sent him an email and asked him if maybe I could use some of his already done paintings for some of this work and he was absolutely, totally open and very cool about the whole thing. And then he asked to read some of the poems so when I sent him some of the sonnets he felt moved to create new work.

CG: Wow!

LAG: And so we talked about it and I said there are fifteen poems, if you are interested maybe you want to do fifteen paintings and so he said yes.

CG: So some of these paintings on this book where the ones he created?

LAG: All of them. They are fifteen paintings in the book and they were painted specifically for the poems.

CG: Wow!

LAG: I mean his work is tremendous and he totally captured it because I knew his work already. I knew that his work sort of had that energy that I was working with, too. I knew it would be a good fit, you know.

CG: Right.

LAG: And Macias is amazing, he is totally generous and very giving. So it was really great working with him.

CG: Yeah. So your grandfather is really your muse? He has always been and always will be.

LAG: I think so, yes. Totally.

CG: Wow! Well, I think this is a good way of ending and concluding this recording. Laurie Ann, thank you again so much.

LAG: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CG: Thank you.


U.S. Poetry at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC,

May 4, 2015

Approximately 37 minutes.

Recording Title: Diana García Reading From Her Work
Reading moderated by: Catalina Gómez


1). Selections from A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013)
- “Sundays after Breakfast: A Lesson in Speech” (min. 5:26)
- “Babies under the House” (min. 7:47)
- “Roosters: Homecoming” (min. 9:15)
- “Morning Praise of Nightmares,” part two (min. 11:35)
- “Put Attention” (min. 14:26)
- “Pinedale, CA” (min.16:35)
- “On Blinding” (min. 17:59)

2) Selections from A Crown for Gumecindo (2015)
-  Meditation #1 (min.22:06), “Where the Dead Come to Speak” (min. 23:15)
- “Love is Our Mother” (min. 24:09), Meditation # 2 (min.25:02)
- “Praise Song for the Goat at the Grave” (min. 25:58)
- “Newborns” (min. 27:05)
- “Día de los Muertos” (min. 28:03)
- “Casketing” (min. 29:14)
- “Untouchable” (min. 30:16)
- “The Work: Blueprints for the Body” (min. 31:3)
- “En las Costillas de la Página” (min. 32:49)

Concluding Commentary – (min 37:04)

End – (min. 37:04)

 A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying

LC Catalog record:
Laurie Ann Guerrero, Tongue in the mouth of the dying (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013).

A Crown for Gumecindo

LC Catalog record:
Laurie Ann Guerrero, A Crown for Gumecindo (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015).

Related Resources

Laurie Ann Guerrero

Laurie Ann Guerrero

Laurie Ann Guerrero was born in San Antonio, TX. She is the author of three poetry collections including A Crown for Gumecindo (2015), A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (2013), Babies Under the Skin (2007). Her work has also been featured in numerous anthologies such as the Texas Poetry Calendar 2008 (2007), The Weight of Addition: An Anthology of Texas Poetry (2007), Texas Poetry Calendar 2007 (2006), and Voices Along the River (2002). Her honors include the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, 2012 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, 2013, and the International Latino Book Award, 2014. Guerrero served as the Poet Laureate of the city of San Antonio and was recently appointed Poet Laureate of the state of Texas for 2016. She is the Writer-in-Residence & Literary Arts Director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio and Director of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros. Photo courtesy of The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

Learn more about Laurie Ann Guerrero at The Poetry Foundation