Q: Where do you currently live/reside? I currently live in Amesbury, Massachusetts, close to my hometown of Haverhill.
Q: How do you self-identify?: I Identify as Afro-Latina, Dominican American, a mixed race chica--black, white--I check off all the census boxes I can. (she, her, hers)
Affiliations: NYU MFA Poetry graduate, Community of Writers Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the poem above.
I think to understand what truly inspired this poem, it’s imperative for me to explain how the poem was crafted. I’ve been writing a series of poems over the last few years based on diaries that I’ve kept since I was a young girl. Essentially, these “diary entry” poems are collage poems written from language collected from each journal. The poem featured here, “Diary Entry #22: Vows” uses language collected from my 22nd journal. This project has been a way for me to revisit my past, inform it, and reinvent it. I do not hold the poems to biographical truth but rather an emotional truth. I’m interested in the obsessions and preoccupations of both the speaker of my diaries and of these crafted realities.
Most of my poems recently have visited the speaker’s, and quite frankly my own, obsessions with femininity, procreation, illness, and the ways in which all those obsessions cross paths. Motherhood has always fascinated me, and the question of my ability to ever become a mother has been at the forefront of my mind. I suffer from both physical and mental illness, making the possibility of motherhood a more complicated endeavor. This poem was an exercise in exploring the possibilities and the impossibilities of such an occurrence.
Q: How did you get your writing/performing start?
I’ve been writing since I was nine. My older sister, who was also a writer, gave me my first journal for Christmas, and I have been writing ever since. The years in between now and then have been more about realizing what type of writer I was. I didn’t consider myself a poet until my last year of undergrad.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
My writing style is like a mother possum with babies on her back caught in headlights while trying to cross the road late at night. At first the sight is rather frightening--a cluster of beady eyes staring back at you, long rat-like tails following behind. But it then grows hauntingly beautiful when you realize even the weirdest of things exist on this earth and deserve to live. My poetry is like that, born out of strangeness with an instinct to survive.
Q: How does your identity shape or influence your work, writing process, or writing life?
I’ve often felt this innate need to “perform” Latinidad in my writing. I thought I needed my poems to all be in Spanglish, that I had to write about my experience of being a child of immigrants, of growing up in the ghetto. Though these experiences are a part of my narrative, it was limiting for me to think that my Latinidad was the only portion of my identity that would be “marketable enough” for literary consumption. I held myself to the standards of performing my Latinidad so much so that I squelched the possibilities of any intersecting narratives. Once I was able to accept all other aspects of my identity--my sexuality, my disability, my complexity--my poetry became that much more genuine. And my Latinidad lived peaceably among these other categories of self in my writing; not as a consumable and romanticized narrative, but as a real and informative part of my lived experience.
Q: Can you tell us about a time you think your identity (Afro-Latinidad/Afro-Caribbeanness) helped or hindered your writing or writing career?
My Afro-Latinidad has helped shape my writing career because it’s allowed me the opportunity to connect with other talented Latinx writers. Though our stories are different in some regards, there is a common thread that draws us together. I don’t need to explain my feelings of otherness. They already know. Whether we connect on Twitter, Facebook, or at a reading, we celebrate with one another, we mourn with one another, we fight with one another. I believe that this community will only continue to grow.
Q: Tell me about your forthcoming collection Ugly Music:
My book Ugly Music was the winner of the YesYes Books 2017 Pamet River Prize and is scheduled to be launched in February 2019. The book is a cacophonous symphony of reality, dream, trauma, and obsession. The poems in this collection are a nakedness like no other. I’m excited and albeit nervous to expose myself in this manner. I’m hoping that in this exposition, I can connect with others in a way I haven’t been able to before.
Q: What else are you working on or what future projects do you have in mind?
Recently I lived in Florence, Italy for a semester. The opportunity came at a particularly difficult transition in my life. I was mourning the loss of a love, a home, a city, and a community. I fell into a deep sadness, and out of it was born a series of sonnets I lovingly have labeled Sad Girl Sonnets. This project was a chance for me to not only subvert the classical sonnet form into the modern voice, but also exorcise this sadness into digestible 14-lined episodes. Though I have since then come out of this particular sad period, the speaker of my Sad Girl Sonnets lives inside of me always. I’m hoping to continue this project, be kind to it, nurture it.
Q: What have been some of the highlights/defining moments of your writing/performing career?
Winning the 2017 Pamet River Prize has been a defining moment of my writing career. A dear friend nominated my work. He believed in my writing before I ever did. It gave me the boost I needed to truly feel like a writer. I can say: I have a book. That is a life-changing sentence.
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences and/or mentors?
Julia Alvarez and Sharon Olds are like my literary abuela and fairy godmother. I started reading Julia Alvarez when I was younger, mostly her fiction, but then fell in love with her poetry. It was the first time I truly thought that I could make writing a possibility. Here was another female Dominican writer who had made a name for herself. I saw what I could achieve represented.
I say Sharon Olds is my fairy godmother because there is truly a magic about her. I had the privilege of studying with her at NYU, and she made me believe and see things about my work that I thought were impossible. And we shared a similar upbringing, hers being raised Calvinist and my being raised Pentecostal. It was easy to talk to her about religion and its impact on my poetry. With her guidance, I finally felt in a safe space to start writing about those feelings.
Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give new writers/performers?
Stay true to your voice and your story. I write weird shit and at different moments in my writing growth, I was misunderstood. But I stuck with it and learned the sound of my own voice, went through a time of poetic puberty as it were. My poetry isn’t for everyone. And that’s ok. But it is for me, and for those who can appreciate all of the development that has gone into producing the work that I share now.
Q: Who/what are you reading now?
Right now I’m finishing Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith and just beginning to read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. My reading of one book informs that of the other and vice versa. Smith’s work is heart-wrenching, beautiful, cuts to my very very core. And Nelson’s work exercises a theoretical portion of my brain, yet still evokes an emotional response. Both books paint different versions of a queer narrative and I feel honored to be invited to listen.
Q: What’s your favorite platano dish/recipe?
I’m easy, my favorite would have to be boiled platanos con aceite with salchichón and queso frito. It’s simple, fatty, and delicious.
Q: What else should we know about you?
I’m a Virgo with a Scorpio moon and a Scorpio rising. This alone is my confession to the universe that I am an intense and complicated individual. My deep empathy draws people in though it can also alienate me.
Fun Fact 1: I like to sweep before leaving the house in the morning. It’s almost like a new form of therapy for me. There is something very satisfying and calming about a clean floor.
Fun Fact 2: I love a good gin and tonic with a lime. Buy me a drink and we’ll be instant friends. Te lo prometo.
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