In the Field: Conversations with our Contributors—Interview with Jose Hernandez Diaz
Your poem, “Ni de aquí, ni de allá: ni de la pinche luna,” speaks to cultural rejection, this difficult place of trying to find yourself while being caught between two cultures. What was the inspiration behind this poem? How did it come to be?
The inspiration is daily life as a first-gen Mexican American. Many times I’ve felt not Mexican enough for Mexicans and not American enough for Americans. I think it is something many folks who come from dual backgrounds can relate to. In fact, my forthcoming book is titled, “Bad Mexican, Bad American.” Eva Longoria famously said, “I’m not 50% Mexican and 50% American. I’m 100% Mexican and 100% American at the same time.”
I love poems that use multiple languages, like this one. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of the title being in Spanish and the poem being in English? What other poems have you written that use more than one language?
It’s just the way it came out. I think it is predominantly in English because it is my dominant language. But I am working on improving my Spanish by reading Spanish language poetry and singing along to Spanish language music (with the lyrics googled in front of me lol) as well.
I have written other poems with Spanish words but most of my poems are around 90 percent English. Growing up I would speak English to my parents as a kid when they would speak Spanish to me. Then, my parents both learned English and we all spoke a mixture but mostly English. Now, as I’ve grown to appreciate Spanish more I am trying to reconnect with Spanish. I have even begun working on translating some of my poems into Spanish. It isn’t easy, like English is for me, but I am noticing improvement which is promising and encouraging.
On the Poetry Foundation website, you mention that Russell Edson is one of the writers who inspires you. What other writers inspire or influence your work? Who are some authors you enjoy?
Some favorites: Ada Limón, Alberto Rios, Diane Seuss, Harryette Mullen, David Hernandez, Claudia Rankine, Ray Gonzalez, James Tate, Eduardo C. Corral, Terrance Hayes, Victoria Chang, Felicia Zamora, Sabrina Orah Mark, Marosa Di Giorgio.
You have a chapbook, The Fire Eater, with Texas Review Press, that just came out a few years ago in 2020. What are you working on now?
I also have a full collection coming out early next year with Acre Books: “Bad Mexican, Bad American.” I have another full collection coming out early 2025 with Sundress Publications: “The Parachutist.” Additionally, I have two full length manuscripts which are being read by potential publishers. I’ve been busy with writing but now [I’m] looking for more balance. I have also been teaching workshops with places like The Writer’s Center in DC, Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop to name a few.
In your beautiful poem Pan Dulce, you let us peek into your writing process a little with the ending of the poem. Can you share a bit more about your process? You write both verse and prose poetry; do you have a preference? When you begin a new project, do you know what form it’s going to be in, or does it develop along the way? How do you decide which form to set the poem in, or does the poem choose it?
Many of my linear verse poems are based on my reality or past as a first-gen low-income Mexican American growing up in Southeast Los Angeles and Northern Orange County. My prose poems tend to be surreal, absurdist and/or infused with Mexican and Mexican imagery or literary and cultural references.
JOSE HERNANDEZ DIAZ is a 2017 NEA Poetry fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Colorado Review, The Georgia Review, Huizache, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, POETRY, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He teaches creative writing online and serve as a guest editor for Frontier Poetry.