Spotlight on Latinx Writers: Urayoán Noel

Anomaly is featuring interview profiles with poets participating in Puerto Rico en mi Corazon,our forthcoming bilingual broadside collection of over 35 contemporary Puerto Rican poets. This project raises funds for Taller Salud to assist Puerto Rico in recovering from Hurricane Maria by providing health services to low income communities of color, women, and LGBTQ Puerto Ricans.

Today, we spotlight Urayoán Noel. He is a writer, translator, and artist from San Juan, and the author of seven books of poetry, including Buzzing Hemisphere (University of Arizona Press, 2015).

1. What have you been working on lately? Can you tell us more about your latest projects?

I just finished preparing a talk for the Thinking Its Presence conference. It’s called “Is Queer Afro-Latin@ Poetics a Thing?” I’m also working on turning the improvisational walking poems from my wokitokiteki vlog into a book-length manuscript. (One of the transcribed poems from the project already appeared in my last book, and others have appeared in journals, including the latest Fence.) It’s years of work, and so much has happened in my two homes/main walking hubs (the Bronx and San Juan) that this very processual, experiential thing has taken on a whole other geopoetic dimension. We’ll see how that turns out. I also did a durational performance/installation called “CONTRAERTE” at the Casa de los Contrafuertes, a colonial building turned arts and community center in Old San Juan. It was three nights for three hours in the August heat, so it was both exhausting and exhilarating. Of course, this was before the hurricane — talking about art and poetry seems pretty pointless as my island is fed to the colonial wolves and friends and family struggle to survive.

2. What writers or artists have shaped your work, the way you approach language, and the way you look at the world?

Too many, but the poets of the Nuyorican tradition stand out. I wrote a book on that and it still feels like there’s so much to say. Recently, I’ve been on a Stephen Jonas trip. His work is such a mess, yet it has these moments of stunning beauty and power, and a flow that’s hard to fathom. A few weeks ago I spent some time near Gloucester with Gerrit Lansing (himself a terrific poet), who shared some wonderful Jonas stories. I’ve always had a soft spot for my fellow freaks, the cult/occult poets, and that queer Boston scene seems so one-of-a-kind. Lastly, I’ll give a shout out to a classic of 60s poetry from Puerto Rico, Homenaje al ombligo, a collaborative text by José María Lima and Angelamaría Dávila, two of our greatest poets. It’s a cult book, finally reissued last year by the folks at Fólium in San Juan. I’d love to translate it, but it might be a hassle for a number of reasons. Check it out, though!

3. What newer writers are you most excited about?

I’m thrilled so many of my fellow CantoMundo poets are dropping first books. I’m a bit behind on my reading with everything that’s been going on, but I have Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied and Vanessa Angelica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian on my reading pile. I did a “Diasporican Poets Mixtape” when I blogged for a certain foundation last year, and I was thrilled to see so many cool first books, including ones by Vincent Toro and Roberto F. Santiago. I can’t wait for full-length collections by Carina del Valle Schorske and Malcolm Friend.

4. What’s on your mind lately? How are you?

I’m heartbroken and anxious with the hurricane — and political reality more generally. At the same time, I’m inspired by my people on the island and in the diaspora, all the hard work they’re doing, and just the way we survive. Just to highlight two initiatives here in NYC: my dear, visionary friends at the Loisaida Center are working on “SOLAR JIBARO … a series of solar-power systems, designed for the needs of the average household in Puerto Rico,” and the amazing folks at Pregones have launched the Hurricane María Relief Drive for Artists, “which will provide $500 micro-grants to theater, music, dance, visual and literary arts practitioners in Puerto Rico.” Consider donating if you like what they’re doing (in addition to Puerto Rico en Mi Corazón, of course!).

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