Cindy Williams Gutiérrez is a poet-dramatist who draws inspiration from the silent and silenced voices of history and herstory. The 2016 recipient of the inaugural Oregon Literary Fellowship for Writers of Color, Cindy was selected by Poets & Writers Magazine as a 2014 Notable Debut Poet. Her poetry collection, the small claim of bones (Bilingual Press), won second place in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards. Her poems have appeared in Borderlands, CALYX, Crab Orchard Review, Harvard’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, UNAM’s Periódico de poesía, Portland Review, Quiddity, and ZYZZYVA and have been anthologized in Basta: 100+ Latinas Against Gender Violence (forthcoming, University of Nevada-Reno) and Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press). She is also one of the founders of Los Porteños, Portland’s Latino writers’ collective.
Cindy will guide the Delve Seminar Inciting the Political Imagination: The Impulse of Martín Espada on Thursdays, April 6-20. Explore the political imagination of Martín Espada, wielding words to protest a failure of imagination. Reading includes The Republic of Poetry and Alabanza (Praise). Click here to learn more about this upcoming class.
Q&A with Literary Arts
Could you tell us a little about your teaching and literary/writing background? (I understand you just won an Oregon Literary Fellowship – congratulations on that!)
Thank you for your kind words.
In my teaching, I see myself as a guide responsible for creating sanctuary and honoring each voice in the room as well as posing questions and offering prompts. I am interested in deepening the craft of poetry and exploring the role of poetry in society and in our lives. I am passionate about poetry as a way of seeing the world and ourselves and about each individual poem as a vessel for transformation.
Writing primarily through a cultural, feminist, and political lens, I am inspired by the silent and silenced voices of history and herstory. My debut collection, the small claim of bones (Bilingual Press, 2014), placed second in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards. An allegory of Mexico’s history as well as an exploration of persona identity, the collection juxtaposes two call-and-response series of poems: the first section features poems in homage to my father in conversation with poems in the voices of Aztec poet-kings while the second features poems in the voice of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the first feminist of the Americas, resonating with poems celebrating my Mexican matriarchy. My current manuscript, initially inspired by Nicholas Kristoff’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s documentary, Half the Sky, explores the contemporary oppression of women in over 20 countries on six continents. My most recent play, Words That Burn, is a finalist for the 2017 Oregon Book Award for Drama. The play dramatizes the WWII experiences of conscientious objector William Stafford, Japanese-American internee Lawson Inada, and Chicano Marine Guy Gabaldón.
Why is Martin Espada – the poetry focus of this seminar – someone you think readers should read?
Noted essayist, translator, and cultural commentator Ilan Stavans said it best: “Martín Espada is a poet of annunciation and denunciation, a bridge between Whitman and Neruda, a conscientious objector in the war of silence.”
All you have to do is listen to Espada’s booming voice on Youtube and you’ll be hooked by his powerful presence and his poems that crackle with relentless rhythm and unflinching truth. Why Espada at this moment? In this new era marked by fake news and alternative facts, I believe truth is something we could use in larger doses in our current national dialogue.
Can you give readers a brief glimpse into some of the language and poetry they may encounter in this seminar?
Espada’s poem, “The Republic of Poetry,” dares to paint a hopeful vision of society that extends beyond defending national borders to rejoicing in our shared humanity. The poem ends with this image that contrasts starkly with the current experience of disrobing—no shoes, belts, jackets, or jewelry; emptying—bottles and pockets; and standing—spread-eagle in an X-ray machine—each time we migrate by air:
“In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.
It is this relentless return to hope that reminds the reader that, in Espada’s republic,
“‘There is only one danger for you here: poetry.’”