"Mi Abuelo," my grandfather

1.     Professor Alberto Rios, how are you?

I am a student in Central Texas College.  I am taking English 2328 American Literature II.  I have been reading your poetry and it is very interesting.  I love poetry, I am doing a presentation and I have decided to talk about you and your poem "Mi Abuelo."  I am from Guatemala, so to find someone like you that mixes English & Spanish is not easy.

I have been trying to interpret "Mi Abuelo"--may-be you can explain it to me so I can tell the class not just about the poem but about yourself also.  Hope to hear from you.

          Gilberto Marroquin
          Future poet

Gilberto, the poem, "Mi Abuelo," is about my grandfather, and is a companion poem to "Nani," which is about my grandmother.  They are both

These poems, of course, are all about language and understanding. English and Spanish are just two of the twenty ways in which the characters in these poems speak to each other.

sestinas.  This poem is really a personal poem, and the references in it--for example, to the ants--come from when I first visited his grave as a child.  He is buried in San Luís Potosí, in Mexico, and when I stood at this gravesite with my parents, from my child's eye view I

saw an anthill right on the top of his grave.  It made me think that the ants were going down into his grave and, who knows, maybe eating him.  As a child it made quite an impression on me.  Also, he didn't believe in doctors, so he was always trying cures for things.  My grandfather, whose name was Margarito, had quite a history, fighting in the Mexican Revolution on the side of Alvaro Obregón, which is where I get my middle name.  Obregón was to be my father's godfather (nino), but he was assassinated a few months before my father was born.  He was named after Obregón anyway.

I hope all this helps.  These poems, of course, are all about language and understanding.  English and Spanish are just two of the twenty ways in which the characters in these poems speak to each other.  Good luck.

2.     Responses to questions from a broadcast journalism major:

First, what inspired me to write?  This is always difficult to answer, primarily because I think there are many answers to this.  The easiest, and truest, answer is that I never made the decision at all; I just always did write.  I suppose I began to write for publication after I entered college and began to take creative writing courses.  These courses didn't particularly make me write more, but they showed me a great deal about what can happen to the writing that one does. 

I began writing in elementary school, I think.  They were little things, but I remember doing them.  Writing, in this sense, I mean to be things that one commits to the page without being asked or told to do so.  Something you do on your own.

That also describes an act of privacy, and in that sense a great deal of writing is private.  I remember writing in the backs of notebooks, writing for the sheer pleasure of writing, not knowing why, but feeling compelled.  It was a mysterious feeling, like wanting to walk on railroad tracks as a kid.

I was certainly doing a great deal of writing by junior high school, so it was adolescence, about 12, 13, which was really what was happening; that it emerged as writing, as it has for many writers, is simply part of what defines me as a writer.  Other kids worked on cars, or played piano, or started fires.  I don't know what happened to them. 

Next, who discovered my ability?  I think I did myself, but only because it was something I couldn't stop doing.  If you drink a lot of coffee, then you know how to drink a lot of coffee.  Something like that.

Who published my first book?  I first published a small chapbook,
Elk Heads on the Wall, with Mango Press in 1979.  But my first major publication came as a result of winning the Walt Whitman Award, which included publication as part of the award.  It's one of the two major first-book awards in the country.  It resulted in Whispering to Fool the Wind, by Sheep Meadow Press (New York, 1982).

As far as how to get literature published, there are many different methods.  Each field has its own protocol.  In literature, one of the first things to do is read.  Then read some more.  Understanding the field is the key.  When you get a grasp of what journals are doing what, then you begin to understand where your work might fit in.  This is laborious, but it's the right first step.

What have I learned?  Whew!  That's so big.  If I've learned anything, though, it's to be true to what I do--writing.  I've let the writing be my center, and what finally defines me.  All the rest is something else.
And the fact is, as I write I often don't know where the writing is going.  That's what's curious, and hard to see as a foundation.  But, in that sense, I don't think about the reader nor do I think about myself or what I might want to say.  I just try to let the writing come to some life of its own. 

And, I don't write every day, or at least that is what I fool myself into believing.  I write lines, words, paragraphs, whatever--always notes, always at random.  Then, about once a week or every other week, I get this feeling.  I sit down, I look over all these notes which I assemble in front of me, and then I begin to see something.

The human mind is forever remarkable.  I always seem to find that I have been working on several things at once, that there was no real randomness in what I had been doing, and that things simply fit together.  I am always surprised by this process, which has not yet let me down.  In this way I don't particularly ever suffer from writers' block or similar maladies.  I may work more slowly sometimes, but it is not from being stuck. 

As a broadcast journalist looking for a starting point in writing, I would first take a straightforward technical class--a place to learn grammar, punctuation, whatever.  It's a way to start putting together your toolbox.  These things are never going to go away.  Writing well may seem to have no bearing on speaking well, but that's a wrong assumption. 

Then, after a good sense of the basics, I'd certainly recommend a class in creative writing.  Journalism is what you'll be surrounded with, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you.  But creative writing allows you more experimentation, which in turn can make you a better journalist simply because you are learning where the lines are.

Let me add, simply, that there are no particularly good rules for looking at any writer's work.  Being a Chicano and growing up in Nogales, still living in Arizona--these things for me are freeing.  They are not restrictions.  I will always hope that they make my vision singular, but in the manner of binoculars: using two lenses to see something--anything--better.  As a journalist, trying to understand something better--for all of us--will be part of your job.

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