Midwestern Gothic staffer Megan Valley talked with poet Steve Castro about Latin@ Rising, trends in poetry, circular poems and more.
Megan Valley: What’s your connection to the Midwest?
Steve Castro: I came to the U.S. from Costa Rica when I was eleven years old. I spoke no English when I first arrived in this country. The Midwest is where I learned to read, write and speak the English language. I speak English with a Midwestern news reporter accent. It is where most of my formative years were spent.
From the time I came to this country in the fifth grade, to my senior year of high school, I lived mostly in the Southern Indiana region. Mostly in Evansville, but also in the nearby Indiana towns of Newburgh and Boonville and right across the border in Henderson, Kentucky. I also hold a couple of undergraduate degrees from Indiana University-Bloomington, so the Midwest is a big part of who I am.
MV: How has working with journals and magazines — poetry editor of FOLIO, assistant poetry editor of decomP, and co-editor of Public Pool — influenced your writing?
SC: I have read many different styles of poetry from poets from all over the world, and I’ve been introduced to many wonderful voices of poetry that I would not have otherwise known had I not been a poetry editor. I think that sort of diversity has helped me creatively as a poet.
MV: In your editing experience, what sort of trends have you noticed across multiple publications?
SC: As to trends regarding actual content, I see many love poems about a significant other, confessional poetry, poetry lamenting the loss of a loved one. I do not think there is anything wrong with this, but many poems I read deal with those topics. I have also come to realize that our poetry community is small. I recognize numerous poets who have submitted to all three of the publications that I’m a part of. I also receive poetry from young poets and poets who have never published before, and some of those poems are excellent and do get published.
MV: Your work will be featured in Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of U.S. Latin@ Speculative Fiction alongside authors like Junot Díaz, Ana Castillo and Carl Marcum; what are you trying to add to the current Latino/a literary scene?
SC: I’m just trying to write what comes from my heart. That is all. I love to write about the surreal, the strange, the speculative, the magical. My poetry manuscript, Blue Whale Phenomena is tailored that way. Every individual who has ever lived, has had unique fingerprints, and the same applies to my creative mind.
MV: Latin@ Rising features science fiction and fantasy, two genres that are often very white-centric or whitewashed. How does this collection address and challenge those norms?
SC: Matthew David Goodwin, the Latin@ Rising editor, answers this question beautifully in his foreword to this anthology when he writes, “What we hope to do in this anthology is to counter the separateness of Latin@ science fiction and fantasy by presenting a thrilling multiplicity of writers and stories, and by demonstrating that these writers have been part of the genres all along.”
MV: Which publication are you most proud of?
SC: I am a contributor to three highly anticipated U.S. based anthologies/special issues featuring Latinx poets, writers and artists coming out right now. One is the aforementioned Latin@ Rising anthology (Wings Press, Jan., 2017) and the others are the Green Mountains Review Special Issue dedicated to U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, guest edited by Allison Hedge Coke (Winter, 2016) and The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States (Tia Chucha Press, Feb. 2017) edited by Héctor Tobar, Rúben Martínez and Leticia Hernández-Linares.
I also found it interesting that I’m the only Latinx poet, writer or artist that appears in both the Latin@ Rising anthology and the Green Mountains Review special issue. I haven’t looked at the table of contents for The Wandering Song anthology yet, but it would be surreal if I’m the only contributor that’s featured in all three anthologies/special issues. If that happened, then that would be amazing. It would be similar to what American Pharoah did in 2015, i.e., winning the Triple Crown.
MV: You were the poetry editor of FOLIO while earning your MFA from American University. What was the most critical thing you learned during that period of your life?
SC: Inclusion. During my first year as FOLIO’s poetry editor, I felt shackled. During my second year as poetry editor when Priyanka Joseph and Joellyn Powers took over as Managing Editor and Editor-In-Chief, respectively, they told me that they believed in my vision and gave me full creative control of our poetry content. The same thing happened during my third year when Stephannie Sandoval and Kangsen Wakai took over as Managing Editor and Editor-In-Chief; they both also believed in my vision as the poetry editor. I therefore gave an equal voice to my two poetry readers during my second and third years at FOLIO. I didn’t have poetry readers during my first year at FOLIO.
MV: How can publishing help people understand the issues people of color face?
SC: My fellow Latin@ Rising contributor, Daniel José Older, in his BuzzFeed article “Diversity is not enough: Race, Power, Publishing” talks about the apartheid of literature in which “characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.” I believe publishing can help people understand the issues people of color face by unshackling the writer’s creativity and allowing them to express themselves in any way they see fit. This way, people will see the complex issues that people of color face, expressed in creative and diverse ways.
MV: How do you know when a poem is done?
SC: I have multiple methods in how I end poems. I will provide one example.
I tie my endings to the opening lines of my poems or my titles. In my poem “Amnesia,” which was published in decomP before I became the assistant poetry editor, my final stanza is as follows, “A precious metal is that fragment of shrapnel / that missed you by inches; the deadly explosion / that made you forget alchemy.” That’s how my poem ends. When you look at the title, “Amnesia,” it makes you rethink the poem and start it all over again. The ending is connected to the title. The poem is circular.
MV: What’s next for you?
SC: God willing, the publication of my first poetry manuscript.
Not long ago, I finished revising my manuscript, “Blue whale phenomena.” I recently got an encouraging personal note from Ron Wallace, the series editor to the Wisconsin Poetry Series’ Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes at the University of Wisconsin Press. “Steve, Sorry! It’s a very strong ms., and was read with pleasure here. I wish I had better news. RW.”
P.S. – I’ve been editing “Blue whale phenomena” a bit since the uplifting note I received from RW. I’ve replaced a couple of poems with two others that I feel make it a stronger manuscript. I’ll continue to edit/revise my manuscript until it gets published, lol. I have a mild case of Walt Whitman in that regard.