In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Esteban Rodriguez
1. Tell us about your poem in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
I first wrote the poem “Ventriloquist” when I was living in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s by no means uncommon to hear English and Spanish (or a combination of both) spoken throughout the region. However, Spanish wasn’t my first language, and it wasn’t necessarily because it was discouraged (as it was in my parent’s generation) as much as it was neglected, placed on the back burner for what I assume my parents thought was the more practical English. The poem is a reflection on my struggles to learn Spanish throughout my childhood, and the hope that, through every Post-It note and botched pronunciation, I could connect with an important part of my culture that always seemed out of reach.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
As a graduate fresh out of college, I was living somewhat aimlessly, unsure what direction life was bound to take me. I started writing as a way to cope with the boredom and it quickly became a habit, then an obsession, and then a way of living. No one experience shaped my inspiration to write, rather, it was the process and struggle of trying to put something on paper that shaped the writer I am today. It’s still a process and it’s still a struggle, but if wasn’t, I know I wouldn’t have anything to say.
3. How has writing shaped your life?
Short answer: for the better.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
I try to read as much contemporary poetry as possible, but I find myself returning to collections by Bob Hicok, Dean Young, Tony Hoagland, Daniel Borzutzky, and Valzhyna Mort. No other contemporary writer for me, however, creates such poetic (and often nightmarish) landscapes quite like Cormac McCarthy. Each time I reread his novels and plays I discover something new and meaningful about the world I had never considered before, which is what good writing, regardless of genre, is supposed to make its readers feel.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on completing two manuscripts, one that extends on the themes and narratives of my first completed manuscript, Portraits from the Orphaned Plains (where “Ventriloquist” appears), and another (still untitled) that centers on war, violence, and the struggle to make meaning through chaos and destruction. Although they differ significantly in content and style, they each allow me to push my writing further, and to say something new about the world and the human condition.