Don't discard the lowbrow. Don't venerate the highbrow.
Find a different path.

An interview with poet Eduardo C. Corral, by Michael Laurenty

Eduardo C. Corral studied Chicano Studies at Arizona State University. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, jubilat, Black Warrior Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Post Road, Colorado Review, Indiana Review, Meridian, MiPOesias, The Nation, and Quarterly West, and has received a special mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Corral’s poetry collection Slow Lightning was chosen by Carl Phillips for the prestigious Yale Younger Series Poets Prize, and he is the first Latino poet chosen for the prize.

Corral has been honored with a "Discovery"/The Nation Award (2005), New Millennium Writings Award, Whiting Fellowship (2011), Yale Younger Series Poets (2011), and residencies from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.  He has served as the Olive B. O'Connor Fellow in Creative Writing at Colgate University, and the Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University. He's the interview editor for Boxcar Poetry Review.

His interests include 20th Century Poetry and Chicano Studies. His favorite music includes: Belle & Sebastian, Cyndi Lauper, Leonard Cohen, Juan Gabriel, LCD Soundsystem, REM, The Smiths, Tears for Fears, Arthur Russell, a-ha, Camera Obscura, and Radiohead, and his favorite authors include: Robert Hayden, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Robert Vasquez, Donald Justice, James Merill, Norman Dubie, Ronald Johnson, Jean Valentine, Bei Dao, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Bernard Malamud, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Larry Levis, Ted Hughes, Lorna Dee Cervantes and Cynthia Cruz.

MJL - Congratulations on your success! Can you share what you are currently working on?

ECC - I'm knee-deep in research for my second book: a book-length sequence in the voice of Martín Ramírez, a Mexican outsider artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California. I have notebooks full of lines and images. But I haven't figured out how Ramírez is going to "speak" on the page. Once I hear his voice, I will start drafting the sequence.

MJL - What is it about the work of Robert Hayden that has captivated you?

ECC - My first book is an homage to Robert Hayden. He's been my best teacher. He taught me this: craft and language are supreme. Subject matter is secondary. This freed me as a Latino poet. For years I worried about subject matter. Was it too Latino? Not Latino enough? Hayden's slender body of work is exquisite, full of poems about friendship, art, nature, and black history and culture. Hayden's work has given me the courage to both leap and to stand my ground. I want my work to explore and to question the world. I want my work to explore and to question the given particulars of my life.

MJL - Though it may be different for each, can you share your journey from blank canvas to poem?

ECC - Typically a poem begins with a bit of language I can't stop thinking about. I spend many hours obsessing; breaking down the language into syllables, rearranging the syllables into something akin to music. Once I start hearing music, I start drafting.

MJL - Your work has been described as “weighty” due to the subject matter you address. Does the comment encourage you to stay true to the poetry you write or offer alternatives?

ECC - I follow language. I don't lead it. I no longer worry about subject matter.
MJL - What are your goals as a poet?

ECC - To write poems that give me pleasure as a reader.

MJL - Have you written in other genres (fiction, non-fiction, playwriting), and if so, which do you feel most related?

ECC - I receive a lot of requests to write essays or reviews. I almost always say no. Why? Most of these requests come with deadlines. Deadlines stop me. They render me mute, deaf, and blind. I have dozens of abandoned essays, stories, and reviews begging to be finished. Maybe one day. Maybe.
MJL - What do you read or write when not reading or writing poetry?

ECC - These days I'm reading a lot of fiction. I just finished Junot Díaz's new short story collection and Bernard Malamud's The Tenants. I'm also reading the novels of Ismail Kadare, an Albanian writer who is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

MJL - Where action is vital to a screenplay and dialogue is vital to a play, what would you say is vital to a poem and how do you achieve it?

ECC - Repetition and variation are vital to a poem. For me that means a braiding of consonants and vowels into music. Some notes are struck again and again. Here and there you strike a discordant note.

MJL - Beyond writing poetry, what is your next great passion?

ECC - Thinking about language. No joke. I walk around obsessing over language. I'm a nerd. A happy nerd.

MJL - Though considered cliché, yet not for an institute of education, what advice would you give to aspiring poets?

ECC - Obsess over the dead. Not living writers. Read everything you can. Let it all seep in. Pay attention to the language around you. Don't discard the lowbrow. Don't venerate the highbrow. Find a different path. Translate foreign poems into English. Remember: an interesting life isn't enough. Don't worship your teachers. Your peers aren't your competition. Your competition is silence, the Void. Writing is hard work. Don't forget that.

MJL - Thank you so much, one last question... are you still drinking iced coffee and writing poetry at the Starbucks in Casa Grande?

ECC - Ha. No. I currently live in New York City. There isn't a Starbucks in my neighborhood. I usually write in my apartment or at a park bench. I love my life here. The streets are alive with so many languages and so many different faces. I spend hours walking around, soaking it all in. Yesterday, in the subway, I heard a man softly singing to himself in Arabic. I closed my eyes. I smiled.


Michael Laurenty is a produced playwriting student in the North East Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program (NEOMFA). He is currently working on his thesis, a series of plays entitled The Jung Trilogy and his first novel, Girl in the Wide-Brimmed Hat.

Eduardo Corral’s Blog: