If You Don’t Know, Now You Know: Talking with Joseph Rios

Joseph Rios’s debut assortment, Shadowboxing: poems and impersonations, revealed final yr by Omnidawn, is a center finger to the establishment in each type and content material. This isn’t to say that Rios isn’t well-versed in custom, as Rios steps into the ring exchanging blow after blow with poetic custom. Insurrection bobs and weaves on every web page. Rios throws mixtures of playwriting, lyric, narrative, and experimental methods that always have a Romantic ring to them.

What makes this assortment a knockout is its investigation of the self by way of Josefo, a laid-back farm boy turned scholar whose idea of affection, language, narrative, fact, household, academia, psyche, and music begin and facilitate Rios’s goal to destabilize American notions of custom. There’s a delight on this assortment that reinvigorates the Latinx/Chicanx group to seek out power of their historical past, to like that historical past, to not be erased. Rios asks: What’s poetry that doesn’t save nations and other people?

The California native was a current winner of the Earlier than Columbus American Ebook Award, a VONA alum, a Macondo fellow, and was named a 2017 Notable Poet by Poets and Writers Journal.

For the interview Joseph and I selected a bar in West Adams referred to as The Dwelling Room, a spot crammed with individuals who appeared like aunts, uncles, and older cousins—the identical individuals who make the world inside Shadowboxing uncooked and trustworthy. I had by no means been there earlier than, however the identify alone made me really feel welcomed, made me really feel like as quickly as I walked by means of the entrance door shit was going to get actual, and it did. Rios and I talked about who he’s making an attempt to impress, digging within the crates for inspiration, and talking for the usually silenced.


The Rumpus: In your debut assortment Shadowboxing: poems & impersonations, your prologue did one thing that many prologues fail to do and that was set up a real connection with the work that follows it. It wasn’t merely one thing you grazed over or skipped. It was profound, gut-wrenching, and uncooked. I learn your prologue a number of occasions earlier than I began the remainder of the gathering.

I discovered myself deciphering the prologue as a collection of voices that represented this fixed tug of struggle with the self. The bracketed textual content had a special tone than the parenthetical textual content. A brutally trustworthy dialog between the three totally different texts was at play. Three totally different voices that I assumed all belonged to the primary speaker on this work, Josefo. The three voices typically cleaved and different occasions divorced from each other based mostly on their understanding or lack of knowledge of language, politics, establishments, household, and defining oneself.

Joseph Rios: I wrote the prologue at an important transitional time in my life. I had been at Berkeley for 2 years and been entrance and middle for the Occupy motion. I used to be coming into social/political consciousness in a method I hadn’t earlier than. I had skilled adversity a lot all through my life, however that place gave me a language and understanding of the techniques that make our oppression so, you already know what I imply? Getting arms placed on us by campus cops was virtually a weekly prevalence between 2010–11. Me and my roommate would go to Occupy each day. All that was actual. I can keep in mind being on Telegraph in downtown Oakland in entrance of 100 riot cops whereas they’re launching flashbangs and smoke bombs. I keep in mind being in entrance of Sproul Corridor linked up with individuals whereas they’re hitting us with batons. All very actual.

However I all the time felt like some nation bumpkin at Berkeley in these English courses. The primary weeks, I might go sit within the toilet, on the bathroom, in between courses. That’s how afraid I used to be. I might go to the toilet within the multicultural middle and sit there within the stall and anticipate my subsequent class. I even printed out a replica of my acceptance letter, simply in case it got here right down to that. So, I had all this power. I had all that power from this newfound educational information, being in white areas, being from farmland central valley, being a younger man making an attempt to know what meaning, and all that getting churned up by this righteous anger discovered its method to the web page. The one method I might describe all of it was by placing the whole lot in all these totally different voices.

Rumpus: So, when we have now the poem “If You Don’t Know” the place it’s solely the bracketed voice and the parenthetical voice and they’re having a face off, is that this an instance of the voices overpowering the topic? Is that this a second when these voices are saying, “Hey, we can articulate this poem better than you. So, let us do that.”

Rios: Yeah, so I meant for the parenthetical voice to characterize the Hood Authority/non-academic voice. I see him as like an uncle. Or somebody who is aware of higher than me, a minimum of in his thoughts. The brackets are all the time the tutorial making an attempt to provide credence to what’s occurring. The essential textual content is Josefo, principally.

Rumpus: On the web page, that’s a real success. And as an rising author I used to be actually excited concerning the execution and separation of topic and poet. However I’m interested in how Joseph Rios, the poet, navigates within the “real world.” If you’re in a literary area and the one author of colour surrounded by all these people who find themselves making an attempt to offer you credence or by the tutorial voices, how do you navigate that area? How have you learnt that Joseph Rios is current and that your work is what you need it to be?

Rios: When the ebook first got here out, I went to New York. I had three or 4 readings lined up. A few them have been painfully white. No shit, each non-white individual within the viewers was somebody I had personally invited. And on the similar time, I used to be the one individual of colour set to learn. It’s awkward, for actual. I can’t even skirt round it. It may be uncomfortable as all hell. And a few of these rooms are filled with probably the most well-meaning-est white individuals, too. It sucks. In these areas, they’re all the time actually quiet they usually simply stare at you once you learn. There may be like forty or fifty individuals within the viewers they usually don’t clap, snicker, hum, whistle, or nothing. I typically choose areas the place individuals aren’t fascinated with poetry, so you need to win them over. The rowdy type, those who would a lot slightly watch the sport or shoot the shit with their associates.

I obtained an instance. I used to be invited to Chicago to learn some years again and my mother and grandfather got here with me. The studying was on the theater on the state school. Through the studying, there have been two or three custodians there speaking hella shit. It was only a work day for them, perceive. These dudes stood behind my household the whole time (my grandfather needed to park his wheelchair a number of sections up and all). Later that night time my mother informed me the custodians talked by means of everybody, however once I was up there they have been laughing so arduous. They have been ending the film strains earlier than I might. This was three years earlier than I might publish the ebook. However that second proper there, it did one thing. It was like, that’s it. You know? The issues that could be inaccessible to the literary world have been apparent for these three guys. After my mother advised me that, it was like, sure, that’s all of it.

Rumpus: So, if you write, who’re you making an attempt to impress? Do you’ve a really perfect viewers?

Rios: Nicely, yeah. My viewers is my cousins, which I say within the prologue. However notably, probably the most pivotal individual is Javier Huerta who was a grad scholar in English once I acquired to Cal. He’s from Houston and in addition a poet. He was my mentor. We’d do a whole lot of dumb shit collectively, however we additionally talked poetry. Javier is the right marriage of popular culture and educational brilliance. I used to be writing to him more often than not. I might hit him on the tutorial shit, and he’d get it. I’d hit him on some skilled wrestling reference, and he’d get it. I might drop actually any Biggie line, and he’d realize it.

Rumpus: Talking of Biggie, music was so essential on this assortment. From Glady Knight to Bootsy Collins to Biggie to a Tribe Referred to as Quest. Principally, most of the musicians who’ve formed my concept of poetry have been on this guide. So, naturally I used to be blown away by the poems that took music into their arms and cradled the lyrics. What’s your relationship to music because it pertains to your poetry and your course of?

Rios: I really feel like poets have a robust kinship with the producer and the DJ. I’m considering of somebody like Q-tip or ninth Marvel. I’m a scholar of the crate dive. It’s magic: digging via crates to discover a snare, to seek out one hook, to seek out any small little bit of music so as to make a beat. Hip-hop has given us that mannequin of digging within the unknown and the discarded to seek out treasure and re-remember custom, you understand? It’s concurrently new and honoring custom. You’re placing this new artist in line with some resurrected artist from the previous. I really like that shit. My mother was an enormous Tower of Energy fan and continues to be in love with Lenny Williams. Once I was at residence, I listened to her music assortment. She had stuff just like the Isley Brothers, Santana, Heatwave, The Dramatics, and The Spinners. Or Change! The primary CD I ever purchased with my very own cash was The Very Better of Change.

Rumpus: I really like what you stated about hip-hop and manufacturing being like scavenging via a barrel of vinyl to seek out all the correct items. This jogs my memory of your assortment. You use bits and items of literature. You’re principally sampling literature. Take me by means of your crate search.

Rios: I by no means speak about Javier this a lot, however he created this hideaway for me. He and I might speak shit about books and what we favored and didn’t like about books. How we didn’t match into it. I really feel like beneath his umbrella, I used to be capable of write the guide I needed to put in writing and wanted to put in writing with none calls for or expectations. Truthfully, the method was about writing to him and other people like him who have been uninterested in listening to the bullshit. Typically you learn poets’ work and you realize precisely who they learn. You know who taught them and who they need to be like. It will get previous typically.

I’m a follower of Jose Montoya. He stated shit like, “On our own terms, ese” and meant it. From him is the place I start. Gertrude Stein has this line, “A rose is a rose is a rose” after Shakespeare. You realize it. I don’t gotta clarify it. They train courses on what her work meant to poetry. Jose Montoya, nevertheless, wrote this line after hers, “Arroz is Arroz is Arroz.” And I really feel like that’s the place I enter. To me, Jose is saying, “I read all your literature, but I’m going to do something different.” There’s a simultaneous nod and a center finger to the Western canon. Our foremothers and fathers did a lot work to create this big terrain for us to fuck with. Creatively, I imply. Our individuals have been writing poems and tales eternally. So, for me, when Jose Montoya says, “Arroz is Arroz is Arroz,” that’s me. I learn Gertrude Stein. I learn Shakespeare, however I’m additionally this different shit. It’s like, why reinvent the wheel? Individuals have already been in your place two, three generations deep doing this work. I rely myself within the custom, and that’s not a nasty factor. That’s truly every thing. Custom is the one purpose I’m right here. I’m them. They usually’re me. If you inform me to be one thing else, then that’s the place I bail.

Rumpus: The dialog round custom and writers of colour poetry has typically included the phrases catharsis, confessional, or too narrative and plain to be labeled poetry. How can you efficiently write your work with out the load of these labels ridiculing your course of and willpower to remain true to the web page and to custom?

Rios: In a singular approach, I’m a Fresno poet. Everybody from Fresno writes narrative poetry or writes tales by way of poetry. Gary Soto, Phil Levine, Andres Montoya. The listing is lengthy, you recognize? The primary writings dedicated to paper have been poems. These poems have been tales. Like The Iliad is poetry and story. A historical past. It’s our birthright as poets to inform tales. This all makes me consider my grandmother and the way she was the storyteller in our household. I inherited her tales from having to take heed to them so many occasions. But in addition, I inherited the duty to recount these tales. I by no means understood the actual position of a poet or storyteller till I needed to eulogize a deceased relative. In a really tribal sense, the poet’s obligation, to carry story and converse for the lifeless, is a necessity. Each group of individuals should have a holder of historical past and custom to cross that right down to the subsequent era. And when my grandma handed, I used to be the one chosen to inform her story as a result of that had turn out to be my position. I had the capability to encapsulate our mourning. I really feel like that second, greater than the guide, has taught me that my objective is to retell our tales in my poetry. It’s romanticized and cliché to think about literature as one thing that immortalizes individuals, nevertheless it’s very actual. It’s our jobs as poets to talk for the individuals who can’t converse. We’re those who make their tales immortal.

Rumpus: Shadowboxing speaks to and for the unlawful immigrant, the sector palms, the mechanics, the individuals who can’t converse as a result of they’re targets in our nation and everywhere in the world which makes it such a well timed learn. Due to all of the political unrest and injustices, did you are feeling much more motivated to talk for them?

Rios: My household is three generations farm employee, so timeliness isn’t new. My grandmother labored fifty seasons packing grapes. My mom labored within the grapes. I labored within the grapes. My grandfather labored within the grapes. The burden of that labor has not modified with administrations. That’s what we’ve all the time executed. For 100 years, we’ve labored within the fields. So, it’s not like I used to be consciously writing a set that anticipated the bully of Trump. I used to be merely writing the story we’ve got all the time recognized. We’re brown. We’re migrants. We’re farmworkers. We’re gardeners. We labor. We’re working class. That is us. And it has all the time been us and our story has all the time been related. Typically this group seems to be totally different relying on the place you’re. Typically it’s Latinx. Typically it’s Black. Typically it’s poor white individuals. Writing about this expertise is already timeless within the worst method as a result of the wrestle has all the time been the case.

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