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An Interview with Gloria Muñoz

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

JUKE JOINT: Gloria, we are entirely pumped to be sitting down with you for an interview! Given your resume, you’re clearly involved in a lot of projects—which we will definitely talk more about later—so we’re honored you could spare some of that time to let us pick your poet-brain!

Tell us about what you’re working on. This doesn’t have to be poetical in nature. If you’re currently planting begonias or compiling a new record collection or building a cigar-box guitar in your spare time, don’t hesitate to share (but we’re also totally interested in your poetry projects as well).

GLORIA: How did you know I love begonias? Seriously, I have a three-year-old angel wing begonia that I work to keep happy and healthy on a daily basis. I’m a hardcore plant lady. My home and backyard are full of plants of all kinds. Recently, my partner and I have gotten into gardening vegetables. Our raised bed is bursting right now with leafy greens. Honestly, I write a lot about plants because I spend a lot of time (physically and mentally) in the weeds and turning soil. It’s always incredible to witness resiliency, and plants, and nature in general, display resiliency every moment. I’ll stop here because I could talk about plants forever.

Besides hoping to soon find a home for my full-length poetry manuscript, I’m working on translations and a novel. The latter is in its very early stages, but it’s been a lot of fun to learn how to navigate the world of sustained plot.

JUKE JOINT: I love that you invoked this point about resiliency. These poems seem to show the power of rebounding, of being exposed but also recovering. I feel like there is also a great deal of power in your poems’ desire for sincerity and the ordinariness of grief and reckoning with it. In “Llorona”, the poem begins, All the public places I’ve cried: airports, beaches, parking lots— so many, waiting rooms, parks, train platforms, benches. And then you have this wonderful parallel in the end to Cihuacoatl mourning the coming conquest of Mexico, which seems to advocate for the beautiful force of grief— something the “you” in the poem seems to reject. I wonder if I’m too far off or if this is an idea you were/are concerned with in this and other poems?

GLORIA: Dean, yes, I do worry about this a lot in my writing. You’re totally in tune. It’s something I grapple with in most poems about loss. Whose loss is it? What is the role of reflection? How can I claim or even witness social, natural, or violent loss? I ask myself these and many other questions about loss and meaning all the time. Simultaneously, I’m interested in this dichotomy of the ordinary and the profound. Some days, I think they are less different than we think. The only way I know to examine awe is through the ordinary. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Ecopoetics theory, and I think this has helped me make better sense of how human bodies and minds engage with the natural world (which, let’s face it, we can’t talk about these days without thinking about loss).

JUKE JOINT: It hurts to agree with you on this final point, but I think you’re absolutely right. Lest we digress into elegies about our dying planet, I’ll try and navigate things in another direction. To your point though, in your poem, Cihuacoatl’s mourning of Mexico’s conquest becomes a universal analog for the conquest of Earth—not to sound too terribly glib. And I think this makes the scope of your work far more universal than labels such as Latinx poet or female poet.

GLORIA: My poetry and prose examine human concerns and how bodies interact with nature, change, and loss. These themes are pretty universal, and they are some of the first questions I saw in the poetry I first encountered as a young reader. I am unable to peel away layers of my identity—be it female, Latinx poet, first-generation American, or educator—when I write. At the same time, the themes my writing explores reach wide beyond the checkboxes of classification.

JUKE JOINT: Your thoughts about your identity and your work speak so poignantly to what we hope to showcase through the writers we publish. At its core, Juke Joint is interested in place, origin, identity, otherness, and how these things shape the artist’s work. How do see this in your own art?

My poetry and prose examine human concerns and how bodies interact with nature, change, and loss. These themes are pretty universal and they are some of the first questions I saw in the poetry I first encountered as a young reader.

GLORIA: Lately, I’ve been thinking about my introduction to poetry and writing, and it strikes me as interesting (read ironic) that I grew up reading John Donne, Walt Whitman, and William Blake as a Colombian-American pre-teen in Florida. Granted, I also discovered the incredible writing of Francesca Lia Block (which changed my life!) during this time, but mainly my introduction to poetry came from dead white men. As I discovered more and more writers outside of assigned reading, I began to read the world. Yet, I cannot negate that my foundational understandings of poetry came from the aforementioned poets. I still return to John Donne’s Holy Sonnets often because he asks questions that I find myself returning to again and again. While genetically, culturally, historically different, I like to think writers are in dialogue with writers they love. Keeping this in mind, as an educator, I encourage my students to read broadly across cultures, genders, and time.

JUKE JOINT: To get back to your work from this issue, I’m thinking again of lines in your poem “Llorona” that figuratively assert, “when headlines read / like requiems” and I would imagine that, of all the times when the need for more Latinx voices in poetry was vital in our country, this is/was that time. Do you think being a Colombian-American poet gives a sense of urgency to your work at all, given the political climate?

GLORIA: As a Colombian-American, I write because I can; I have a voice in a world where many people, due to their social circumstances, do not. Through writing I aim to inhabit the spaces between, history, circumstance, culture, and gender. I am interested in the way poetry in particular can build communion around experiences. Colombia’s political history, Global Warming, immigrants in ICE facilities, and displaced refugees are some of the issues that drive me to write with urgency.

In reference to those lines in “Llorona,” reading the news is an important part of my understanding of the world. Although, reading the news is not new to me, it has become something that we are not able to get away from. This can be taxing, but even the choice to turn away from the news is a privilege. I try to keep this in mind when I’ve reached news exhaustion.

JUKE JOINT: We’ve waded into some emotional territory, but your comments about ICE facilities and displaced refugees are timelier and more devastating given revelations about the Department of Health and Human Services losing close to fifteen hundred immigrant children. It does feel impossible, these days, not to feel exhausted and heartbroken by the news.

I write because I can; I have a voice in a world where many people, due to their social circumstances, do not.

GLORIA: I am fortunate to have been raised in a very literate household, where current events from Colombia, the US, and from around the world were often discussed. Hearing stories of how family members and friends made it to the US—and then seeing their difficult transitions in this country—taught me a lot about what it means to be an other. As someone raised by immigrants in a bicultural household, I’ve been aware of social disparities and differences for a long time. Today’s political climate and our leader’s hateful rhetoric is not new, it’s just louder (and on Twitter).

JUKE JOINT: On a different note, it’s impossible not to feel like a cosmonaut when we read your poems in this issue. What is it that draws you, poets even, to the night sky’s “disco / of shadow”? Why is it that we find “moon-gazing” on the hoods of our collective cars so damn enthralling?

GLORIA: I mean who doesn’t want to go to outer space, really? But, in truth, I have had a deep fascination with astronomy and physics for a very long time. One of the first novels I remember reading—probably long before I should have—was Carl Sagan’s Contact. After that, I read as many books about outer space that I could find, ranging from topics of cosmology, to physics, to alien-driven Sci-Fi.

JUKE JOINT: This is certainly true of your poems in Juke Joint—preoccupation with space—but a lot of your work seems connected to the cosmos. Are you telling us you’ve actually wanted to be an astronaut your whole life? Is this your biggest regret?

GLORIA: In fifth grade I had a brilliant teacher who built a spaceship simulator in our classroom. It was a full operation, with mission control set up right outside the simulator and wired headsets. It was incredible, and this was public school! After that year, I tracked shuttle launches and meteor showers, these are two things I still do today. In college, when I decided I wanted to become a writer, I simultaneously took astronomy courses. It was there—where I could talk about relativity, black holes, and time travel with some professors, while considering the turn of a poem, metaphors, and structure with others—that my fascination with space first entered my writing. For me, writing (and I imagine most artistic forms) are born from a deep sense of wonder and searching. To this end, aren’t we all cosmonauts in some way?

JUKE JOINT: Woof. I think we might need to let the grease from that last point settle before we move on. We are all cosmonauts. Take that one to Twitter. #profound.

It was close to this time last year that you published your first chapbook, Your Biome Has Found You. Can you tell us about that process/project and where your work is headed now?

For me, writing (and I imagine most artistic forms) are born from a deep sense of wonder and searching. To this end, aren’t we all cosmonauts in some way?

GLORIA: Phew! It’s been a ride. Publishing a chapbook was a very exciting opportunity. Mainly, I’m grateful for getting a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing world and the making of a book. Since then, I’ve been working on my full poetry manuscript, which is almost done. Poems in this collection examine culture, identity, loss and nostalgia. It’s pretty different than Your Biome Has Found You, but a few of those poems are still foundational to the new manuscript so there’s some overlap in themes. In The Triggering Town Richard Hugo says that, “most poets write the same poem over and over.” The more I write, the more I believe this is true. I’ll likely keep exploring the same questions and themes across collections.

JUKE JOINT: You’re also working/have worked on a screenplay(s)?! Is there anything you don’t do? Can you juggle?

GLORIA: I can’t juggle or whistle, or do a lot of other cool stuff, like; I’m horrible at small talk and making omelets too. I do love learning new things though. Lately, I’ve seen more and more adults continuing their educations and expanding their skill-sets with online classes, labs, in-person workshops. In my city there are a lot of remarkable crafters and a lot of them do inexpensive workshops for adults. On any given weekend, I could learn to make sourdough, learn about cycle syncing, take a French class, learn about succulent propagation, or learn to code. This is all pretty cool to me. Screenwriting was pretty similar, it was something I knew nothing about, but when an opportunity came into my life to learn something new, I said, yes. I am vey fortunate to run an organization with two dear friends where I get to meet screenwriters and work with some remarkable filmmakers. And, although screenwriting, like any new skill, was daunting as hell at first, because it’s image-based, it feels like an extension of poetry in a way.

JUKE JOINT: Tell us more about this amazing NPO you’re spearheading, Pitch Her Productions, who “promotes the advancement of women in the film industry.” This is an incredible project, certainly considering you began well before the power of the #MeToo movement came into the spotlight. What lead you down the path of starting this venture?

GLORIA: Honestly, friends (Caitlin Morris and Chanel Waterhouse) led me down that path, friends who had a lot of faith in my ability to tell stories and make art. This sense of trust still blows my mind. Seriously, they both had way more experience in filmmaking than I did. And, it took me a while to not feel like a total interloper in the film world. Now, four years in, Pitch Her Productions has changed my life. We started the organization because we wanted to create a supportive community for emerging female filmmakers and artists. And, we’ve done just that. From educational workshops, to professional mixers, to our Riveter screening series, to creating opportunities for female-identifying filmmakers in front of and behind the camera, it has been incredible to see how much the Pitch Her community has grown.

As we know, the #MeToo movement is part of a long trajectory of assault and systemic sexism, not only in Hollywood, but also across all kinds of professional fields, institutions, and households. The thing is, we started Pitch Her before people were listening to women and now that the tides are slowly changing, we’ve witnessed a rise in women telling the kinds of stories that matter to them.

JUKE JOINT: Who/what are you reading right now that readers at Juke Joint can’t miss—poetry or not, fiction or non?

I just finished Victoria Chang’s The Boss and Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS less than two weeks ago. Since then, I keep thinking about the role of language and identify in both books. I can’t recommend them enough. Now that I’m almost done grading, my summer goal is to re-read all the Harry Potter series. I love these books and it’s been so long since I read them all. I feel this is the perfect summer to dive back into Hogwarts!



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