Interview with Carmen Giménez Smith

Carmen Gimenez Smith

In a time filled to the brim with presses and journals, not to mention all the new MFA programs sprouting up every year and putting out poets by the thousands, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going in the poetry world. Sometimes, poems and, indeed, writers, get lost in the publishing world and don’t get the recognition they deserve. That being said, we at Columbia Poetry Review are always excited by the news of more presses and more journals–more poets, even–and I, for one, am glad Carmen Giménez Smith’s work is not only out in the world, but in our new issue. And, I was even more excited to have the opportunity to ask her to reflect on the poetry world and her place in it:

CPR: What are you currently working on?

CGS: Right now I’m mostly working on Noemi Press, but when I have a minute I’m working on a collection of lyric essays about watching television and on research for my next poetry collection.

CPR: Who was the first poet important to you?

CGS: e.e. cummings’s selected poems was the first book of poems I ever bought. I was a sophomore in high school. The poems were so subversive, both in form and in subject matter, and it called to me. His ear is gorgeous, and I fell in love. He was followed by Eliot, Ginsberg, Plath and Yeats. I had amazing teachers in high school.

CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your writing process/writing routine?

CGS: The reality is that my life is complicated enough that writing brings a bit of disorder to my life. I write with intensity at night, after my kids are in bed, but because I tend to get subsumed by any project I’m working on, I’m taking notes all day. In nonfiction, I tend to work on one project exclusively, but in poetry, I flit around. This way I can’t have any excuse for not writing. If I have several projects going on at once, then when I get frustrated with one, I go to another. In each of the “projects” I work on, I informally define formal and voice parameters so that the work doesn’t all bleed together. But when I’m full-tilt writing, everything works around it. I sleep less, I dress crappy, my kids eat fish sticks, and I stop exercising. Those periods of intensity aren’t sustainable, but they are productive.

CPR: Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape?

CGS: Three things. The small press boom has created an amazing array of aesthetic diversity, but now the challenge is reading all of it. We need to have a more rigorous conversation about race and class in poetry. Aesthetic quibbling is useless; the world is ending.

CPR: How has your editorial work with Noemi Press and Puerto del Sol affected your own writing?

CGS: It’s really a privilege to edit books and to help curate a literary magazine. I read pre-publication work constantly, so I feel very aware of what people are doing at this very moment in poetry and non-fiction. I’ve gotten to collaborate with fantastic writers who become great influences in my own work. But most importantly, as an editor, I feel part of a very exciting universe that I also want to participate in as a writer, so these roles keep me ambitious.

CPR: What is currently inspiring you creatively?

CGS: I’ve recently had the great pleasure and honor of reviewing some really terrific memoirs and poetry collections, and writing critically is compelling me to really think about how what I write becomes a site of interpretation for others.

CPR: What did you do today?

CGS: Today I answered email. That’s actually what I spend most of any day doing. Each email is a request of some sort, and each email requires several steps, so I’m constantly uncovering things to do, which horrifies me. I talked to my dear friend and colleague Richard Greenfield on the phone, I did dishes, laundry. Right now, I’m trying to convince Lily Hoang, another dear friend and colleague, to go with me for a fro-yo. Paperwork (including my very exciting sabbatical agreement) went out, and I watched an episode of Archer and Made in Chelsea in the backdrop of all of this busy work. It’s research, *wink.*

Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of three poetry collections—Goodbye, Flicker (University of Massachusetts, 2012), The City She Was (Center for Literary Publishing, 2011) and Odalisque in Pieces (University of Arizona, 2009). She teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University and Ashland University, while serving as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol and the publisher of Noemi Press.

Interviewed by CPR editorial board member Tyler Cain Lacy.