Welcome back to the Potty Mouth Interviews and I hope you enjoy my new interview with Steven Cordova (love his name!), a poet, who may also be a Borg, who is based in Brooklyn. More on that later. I read Steven ‘s book while I was held hostage inside a flying sardine can (American Airlines) and it made me laugh, smile, cry, and eat lots of pretzels. It’s a wonderful book. Steven is not afraid to speak universal truth without throwing it in your face. Long Distance is delicate, deliberate and really, really awesome. In fact, Steven’s poetry closes the distance between the reader and writer. It shines a light and that light illuminates the stars.
Almost Dorothy: In your first collection, Long Distance, you enter unlit rooms and bump into dressers, pose nude for Spencer Tunic, travel the federation starship Voyager, and hang out with the Chicken & the Egg and the last AIDS cat. How did you do it, how did you write this collection, and do you have the photograph? I guess these are questions of process.
Steven Cordova: Leading the life of whimsy that I do, I bump into a lot of things. Really, it’s amazing Long Distance got written at all. But the poems you make reference to above all came to me after I hit my stride as poet. Before that I was poetically constipated, and it took a long time for me to draft and finish a poem. So I think that a variety of subject matter comes from confidence, and from reading a lot. Reading has shown me a poem can be about anything—
or to be more specific, that there are a finite number of subjects a poem can be about—love, death and the changing of the seasons?—but that the characters and narrative devices we use to address those subjects—the Chicken, the Egg, the federation starship Voyager—are infinite.
As for my nudey pix, all the HIV-positive men and women who posed en masse for the 10th anniversary of POZ magazine received a signed Tunic print. It is probably the most valuable “valuable” in my apartment.
AD: The poem “Testing Positive” universalizes the experience of testing positive: “Above me, men’s eyes have starred open, collapsed to seism. The universe when they rolled off me became cliché, became cracked ceiling.” Discuss the difficultly or ease of writing about the personal in poetry.
SC: Writing the truth is not the same as telling the truth. The former allows for creativity; the latter demands face-to-face exactingness. Once you realize that, writing about the personal gets easier. And again, reading helps. There’s a lot of good gay literature that delves into the personal. Reading that literature gives a writer strength and courage, corny as that may sound.
AD: Is there ever a border that shouldn’t be crossed?
SC: The author should withhold some information—to protect his or her own privacy and, just as importantly, to respect the reader’s ability to fill in the blanks. Other than that, no, there are no borders. But the writing must be good. And the goal should be art for art’s sake, not shock for shock’s sake.
AD: Are you a Borg? Or, are you surrounded by Borg?
SC: Slaving away at my day job, I sometimes feel like a Borg drone. I also sometimes feel that I have so many Star Trek poems inside of me that I’m a nerd. Besides viewing sci-fi, I read horror and crime fiction, especially when its penned by literary writers like Wharton or Poe or James, like James Cain or Cornell Woolrich. Many of the poems I’ve written since Long Distance feature shades and co-star invisible men and vampires, so, among other things, I’m definitely a genre kinda guy.
AD: In an interview with Momotombo Press, you said that being gay, for you, is more of a process. Explain this process for those of us who want to be recruited?
SC: Did I say that? I have no idea what I meant.
AD: What’s your writing process like? Is it fixed or static? Fluid, in flux, or does it come from the big guy on the bus?
SC: I write in the mornings, before I’ve seen or spoken to anyone besides my cats. And the blank pages at the front and the back of books I’ve read are filled with the notes I scribbled down when the book’s contents triggered an idea. After that, if I can read my own handwriting, those notes and ideas become poems.
AD: What’s your favorite meal?
SC: Some days it’s any meal I don’t have to cook for myself. Other days it’s any meal I’ve had to learn to cook out of necessity. Right now, for instance, I’m eating a three-egg egg-white omelet with spinach, avocado and pepper jack cheese. Trust me, you don’t want to know how much that would cost if I’d ordered it out in New York City.
AD: You’ve spoken in the past about the disadvantages of having a political agenda that “may overwhelm the poetry, and poetry, for [you], is more concerned with universal experiences.” But, isn’t the universal political and vice versa? Talk to me about this. Come on, please?
SC: Yes, my ideas about that have changed a bit since then. I now think a piece of writing can be specific—specific about the political, specific about the personal—and that, at the very same time, that same piece writing can be universal. Nothing, after all, encompasses everything. But each of us necessarily experiences a lot and therefore each of us has something in that experience others can relate to.
I remain, however, weary of political agendas and how those agendas can and do overwhelm writing, my own and others’. Why? Because while I think it may be possible for an author or a reader to use a piece of writing for political change, I also think that writing and the writing process are primarily concerned with beauty. Beauty in and of itself is radical, and beauty which manages to realize itself in a workaday, political world is especially radical.
AD: Beautiful. But ugly can be beautiful too! If you could be a fruit, besides being a homosexual, or vegetable, what fruit or vegetable would you be and why?
SC: I would be a lychee nut because I like to say lychee nut. Lychee nut, lychee nut, lychee nut …
AD: Are your mother and grandmother proud?
Well, though my mother is not the kind of person who uses words like “morose” often, it is the word she uses to describe my chapbook, Slow Dissolve. She does, however, like Long Distance and actually shows it around. (Thanks, Mom).
My grandmother died long before I started writing. But she always encouraged my artistic pursuits, which, when I was in high school and my grandma was still alive, were acting and competing in prose and poetry reading. She encouraged those activities even when my mother would have preferred I say at home and be a mama’s boy. (Sorry, Mom, but I had to say it.) My grandmother and I, on the other hand, never discussed my being gay, so she would definitely be shocked by just about everything I’ve written.
AD: And, finally, what makes you cry and what makes you smile?
I am the source of my tears—I bump into things. And any one else who can smile at me at the same time that they smile at themselves smiling at themselves can make me smile, too.
Steven Cordova is the author of Long Distance (Bilingual Review Press, 2010) and the chapbook Long Distance (Mombotombo Press, 2003). His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, and his first published short story is forthcoming in Ambientes: New Gay Latino Writing (University of Wisconsin Press). Also forthcoming is an essay Steven wrote for an anthology entitled The Other Latino (University of Arizona Press). He lives in Brooklyn, New York.