Summer storms and memories: An interview with Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez
I remember learning about poetry back in school. Our teacher carefully explained iambic pentameters, the fourteen lines of a sonnet and the amazing power of a well written haiku. While I loved poetry as a kid, I have to be honest, its been years since I took the time to sit down and read a poem. That all changed when I was introduced to poet Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez. We met for the first time in a local coffee shop and though we were complete strangers she was so open about her journey with poetry and how it helped her become who she is today.
That very day I took Tatiana's collection of poems "Coconut Curls y Café con Leche" home with me and haven't put it down since. Tatiana's writing has a way of drawing you in that makes you feel like you're a part of the story and reminds you of your own. As I read "Summer Storms" I actually feel transported back to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. With each word, my mind is flooded with memories of playing on the front porch of my abuela's house with my sisters and cousins. Every line of "Things my Daughter Must Know" makes me miss my own mother, but makes me grateful that she spoke these truths to me, "you are loved, and deserve to be loved." And in her poem "Say my Name," (featured below) Tatiana reminds us of the power in our own names and encourages us to never settle for anything less.
Soon after Tatiana and I met, things around the world started getting more intense and social distancing became the new normal. Even so, she graciously agreed to do our interview remotely and share a poem with us on video. I hope you enjoy getting to know Tatiana and her poetry as much as I did.
How did you become a poet? Could you tell me how writing has impacted your life?
I started writing as a form of self-care and survival. At the time when I started writing, there was a lot of turmoil in my personal life and I was young. On top of that, I was very introverted and I had a hard time expressing my feelings, so I needed to find a healthy escape. Poetry was that escape for me. I just started writing in my notebook until I started feeling better. Eventually, I realized that my poetry couldn't be just for me. I realized there must be more people who were going through similar experiences, having similar emotions, and needing a similar escape, which was when I decided to stop writing just for myself, but also for those who were like me. Writing really helped me come into my own identity. It pushed me to be authentic about who I was to myself and to other people. It encouraged me to be more extroverted. It helped me discover my calling as an advocate and it brought me closer to my community. Without writing, I would be in a completely different space in my life.
Nature is my calming point, but also a point of strength. I think there's so much beauty, power, mystery, and legacy in nature...
Where do you pull inspiration from? I pull inspiration from three main places: my culture, nature, and gaps. In most of my poetry, you will find at least one small nod to Puerto Rico, my family, or how I was raised and this really comes from my goal of maintaining authenticity. It's hard to disassociate the personal with the work, so Puerto Rico usually ends up coming into play in some form or another. Plus, I just think about how rich the culture that I grew up in is and I can't help but find new ways to be inspired by it. Nature is my calming point, but also a point of strength. I think there's so much beauty, power, mystery, and legacy in nature, so how can I not be inspired? So much of religion and ancestral stories come from nature. So much spirituality comes from nature and so much origin comes from nature. The inspiration is endless. Gaps are the people not being highlighted, the places not being looked at, and the conversations not being had. As a woman of color, I come from intersections of marginalized communities. Because of this, I recognize there are countless necessary stories not being told simply because they "don't belong" in the mainstream. A lot of my inspiration comes from changing that dynamic.
Who are the writers that you look up to? What was was it about them that captured you? Julia de Burgos hands down is my favorite poet. She was a Puerto Rican Afrolatina and she is arguably the greatest poet to come out of the island. Her work brings a lot of nature and Puerto Rico's landscapes into play. Her poetry talks about the feminine and challenging roles of society. But she also lived during a time where Puerto Rico was under strict oppressive regulations put in place by the U.S., yet she still spoke out in favor of Puerto Rican independence, which I admire so deeply. Elizabeth Acevedo (Liz) is another poet I look up to. She's an Afrodominican who started as a spoken word poet and is now a bestselling author. I've had the good fortune of meeting her a few times and she truly never disappoints with her kind, humble nature paired with her words of wisdom. I look at Liz and I see someone winning for us and representing us. It makes me so happy and hopeful that one of our own can go so far... and she's not even done blooming yet. I respect and admire so many other writers for so many different reasons, but just to name a few more: Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Patricia Smith, Willie Perdomo, Danez Smith, Safia Elhillo, Fatimah Asghar... Describe your creative process. What goes into developing a poem? I like to think of my poems like a caldo. They can't be rushed and they have to be made with care, but they shouldn't be overthought. Very rarely, a poem comes to me and I'm able to write it down immediately. Most often, a thought comes to my mind, maybe the idea for a poem. This idea might come from something I read, something I experienced, or something completely random. Then, I let it marinate in my head for some time (usually, a few days). Once the first few lines of the poem come to my mind, I start writing. From there, I write and write and write, until I feel like it's come to an end. I try not to edit immediately. I like to let the poem breathe before I go into editing it. How did you first get published? I was first published in The Acentos Review back in 2016. I had just completed my first workshop residency with Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA) at the University of Miami and the two poems that were published were workshopped during that time. I honestly think if I wouldn't have invested the time and energy into myself as a writer, I don't think I would've seen a poem of mine published at that time. From that point on, I just continued writing, editing, and submitting. I got a lot of rejections, but I also got a lot of work published. Tell us about your first book of poetry “Coconut curls and Café con Leche”?
My first book of poetry is truly an intersection of my three greatest forms of inspiration and I see it as my perfect introduction to the world of poet authors. It's divided into three sections. The first section focuses on land, nature, and the idea of home. The second section shares poems of family and culture. The third and final section discusses social justice issues. It is almost what a mother (being anything from a land, to a river, to an actual person) and the evolution of motherhood (including not personally birthing a child) might share with a new, growing generation.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write?
I would tell someone wanting to write two things. First, think about why you want to write. Are you writing for yourself, for fun, to help others, to invoke change. Your why has to be clear. Second, be willing to learn. Be open to feedback, dare to workshop your work (with trusted writers because not everyone's feedback is helpful feedback), read poetry, and try new things. You're only going to get better by learning.
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