An Interview with Lorna Dee Cervantes

Kore Biters
A monthly interview series that highlights the writing and literary activism of
women writers who are transgressive and transformative.

by Arisa White and Rosebud Ben-Oni

Beginning with Her…


1. What was your last bite?

Ja! It’s been so long I don’t remember. I bit my lover in California a little too hard by accident. “The only thing I remember/ is the brush of my cat’s teeth/ when she tells me she loves me.” (from “Café Solo.”)

2. Provide us with a 300-word prose poem on living and writing endings.

“I’d rather write an ending than live one. I’m tired of this 15-year-old skin. I walk the day away. I rub my sole to the bone in my want to get away, to get somewhere. Will this bus ever come? The hail smarts and makes me feel smart to write it. Hail writes a calligraphy of bruises on my skinny ankles, shackles me to my Poverty Saves shoes. My big toes stick out of the holes, the ones fished out of bins on the first Thursday of every month. I go there. After hours. After all. And. Save. I save the half-crazed. The full-on. I tame. I give it up to the living Goddess, Xochiquetzal, mi nombre. In the name of The Father, The Son, I become the Holy Spirit to engulf them in my child’s body. My Spirit is old. Old as the Filth-Eaters who hunt for young girls in the dead night, who butcher the babies, who live by blood without a code. I do them for this. This ending. This climax. I came

Away with This. Beginning….”

And she laid her head on the warm rumbling track. She tried the train. This time, an ending. Beginning with Her…

3. Share with us the first four lines of a poem you’ve recently written. Tell us about the moment before.  

“It all comes down to this: ash

in the kitchen; ash, the bed; ash in my

graying head. I had had enough of ash.

There wasn’t enough vinegar in the world

To clean it….”

I had just pulled out a slip of paper with the word “Ash” as a daily prompt for a NaPoWriMo poem #26 (now a book, April In Olympia.) Ash makes me think of my brutally murdered mom. I start writing and try to get rhyme to save me. But it’s inevitable. I have to take on the subject matter – head on.

4. How is writing home? How is it not?

I write at home. I am always writing “home.” I write poetry to home a language. Never really having had one, in the traditional sense, and being born into the threat of homelessness, especially due to my gender, color and socioeconomic status, home for me is always already a creative act – under a pen and a roof and a love. Home is a garden to write in.

5. The _________ imaginary. And where do we limit ourselves?

The Ecopoetic Imaginary (it’s all “house-work” and Greek to me) where there are no limits, just another layer to the fugue. (My History of Consciousness dissertation, actually.)

6. What did you do with the Librotraficante Movement?

Showed up. I showed up to be a body in the body politic represented there in The People’s Commons, which in the first case happened to be the sidewalk across the street from The Alamo in San Antonio, a place that has my heart as one of the, if not THE birthplace of Chicanao literature and publishing. I paid my own way to show up along the route of the Librotraficante caravan in order to support the movement against banned books in general and the boxing of Chicano Studies textbooks in particular (including Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience,” two texts crucial to my development from a 14 year old gang-girl to a happy, productive and self-actualized person.)

The student-led movement was sparked by an increasing anti-immigration climate affecting our American institutions, specifically in Arizona, against Mexican citizens or perceived Mexicans, and the boxing of “Banned Books” (as the photographed labels read) confiscated under orders by the Tucson School District from students’ desks and class bookshelves while class was in session. These were middle school students being treated like criminal suspects along with their teachers. The majority of these authors, besides myself, included in all the middle and high school literature textbooks, were authors I had published in my literary press of the ‘70s – ‘80s, MANGO Publications. Why so many? Because I published the BEST. I dedicated my entire adult life to identifying, nurturing, and publishing whomever is GOOD; many saw their first publication in MANGO (Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Ray Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Alberto Rios, and in my later publication, RED DIRT, Sherman Alexie, and Nobel Awardees, Julio Cortázar, Bei Dao among others.) Now that they’ve arrived, they’re included “in the canon,” they’re banned, making it certain that the students who need to read this literature the most, don’t, and they will fail the questions pertaining to this American Literature presently on their SAT, PSAT and other entrance and scholarly exams.

Anyway, you can read that I have a LOT to say about the issue. I was surprised when I showed up and was recognized and asked to speak for the press conference gathered in front of The Alamo (including representatives from the Mayor’s office and other officials and educators in Texas.) You can go to YouTube and to their site for what else I did for Librotraficante besides show up. While there, check out the video of the reading and event they had in Forth Worth, at one of the “Underground Libraries” established along the caravan route that provides free books, that was simultaneous with the one that evening in San Antonio and streamed. It’s incredibly moving and informative.


7. What did you leave behind in the White House? What did you take?

Strands of my black hair. There’s never any hiding.

The fine 100% cotton or linen folded disposable “paper towel” with an embossed Presidential seal that was in the banquet restroom, the constant wish I had taken a silver spoon (too expected) and a funny story about President “Bill” Clinton saluting me with a lamb chop and cookies in his pockets while being led away from the food table by the Secret Service. We were the last two there, scarfing on shrimp while people were cleaning up like a couple of Chicana grad students. The President of The United States saluted me with a lamb chop!

8. Can you speak on the stamina needed to create a work like DRIVE, and is there a second quartet?


Yes. There are four more “Quartets” comprised of 5 books each. All with differing literary strategies (my preferred term for style.)

9. Kore Biters Womanifesto: Please add two-three tenets for transgressive and transformative behavior that you believe every woman writer should abide by or incorporate into their lives or writing practice.

Three of my four teaching tenets on 20 years of Creative Writing Workshop syllabi:

Be Brave. Be Real. Be there (and “Unbullshitable.” ~ Hemingway: “What’s the greatest asset a writer can have? Unbullshitability.”) In other words, don’t commit suicide, physical or literary.

10. Rosebud remembers you telling CantoMundo poets at the 2014 retreat how often you heard “No No No No No!” Come up with a writing prompt to defeat this voice that hinders creativity.

“Yes!” ~ Yoko Ono

Contributed by Lorna Dee Cervantes