In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Michael Torres
1. Tell us about your poems, “The Very Short Story of Your Knuckles” and “After the Man Who Found Me Doing Burpees at the Park Said: “I Can Tell You Learned Those on the Inside.”,” in Volume 21. How did they come to be?
“After the Man Who Found Me Doing Burpees at the Park Said: “I Can Tell You Learned Those on the Inside,”” began in a workshop led by Marcus Wicker, who was in Mankato for the Good Thunder Reading Series. The experience it’s based off is true. I’d sort of forgotten about it. Rather, I hadn’t thought it was much for a poem until Wicker’s workshop where I realized what the man said had remained, quite vibrant, in my mind.
“The Very Short Story of Your Knuckles” was a poem I couldn’t write for years because I needed it to be “perfect.” It became more of a responsibility than anything else. After multiple failed drafts, I shelved it. Years later, while teaching, I wrote on the board “The Very Short Story of Your ________” as a freewrite prompt for my students. I decided to jot some lines myself. It was only after class, that I realized what I’d written felt closer to that very poem I failed at writing for so long. Coming at it from a different angle and without all that pressure to write towards perfection allowed me to discover what the poem itself needed.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
Vagueness and untethered abstraction tend to be my writing-turn-offs. Like many writers I know, I love a surprising yet somehow fitting line or image. Those surprises end up being the moments I find myself recalling long after I’ve read the poem.
3. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
My sister Rose leant me her copy of Luis J. Rodriguez’s memoir, Always Running, when I was fifteen or sixteen and had stopped caring about school because, among other reasons, the books I was assigned didn’t include characters who looked, spoke or lived like me. Those years, I spent most nights spray-painting walls all over town. The memoir deals with identity and manhood as a Mexican-American man. Graffiti symbolized my own struggles with who I was. In Rodriguez’s work, I saw myself. That’s when I realized that being a writer was not only a possibility for me, but that what I had to say could mean something to someone.
4. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
I’m so very interested in masculinity, identity and loyalties. I grew up in a very macho culture. All car parts and boxing gloves under a southern California sun. Now, I’m a poet who lives in southern Minnesota, who teaches in academia. For me, there’re tensions to explore at those crossroads.
5. What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?
I like to move around. Mornings, I head to a desk in my apartment’s spare bedroom. I open a draft of a poem because I fear starting blank. I write, revise and stare at the poem for an hour or two. I take a break. Go for a walk. Wash dishes. Return to my desk for a while. I get up and read. I go for a run. I get ready to teach. On days I don’t teach, I hit a coffee shop or the University library. If it’s warm enough, I’ll walk to wherever I’m going to write. Evenings, my wife or I will make dinner. Evenings, I try to relax. I still struggle with the myth that a writer needs to write every day. I do like to “write” every day, though. Walking around with an awareness and openness, with questions, that’s writing. Watching a documentary is writing. Reading over a friend’s poem is writing. Listening to a podcast (Ologies!) is writing. Attending readings in the Twin Cities and thinking about the arrangement of your collection on the drive up is writing. I try not to get to bed too late.
6. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’m very blessed in the support my writing has received this year. As far as poetry, I’ll be spending a good chunk of this summer working on a series of poems that may or may not make it into my first collection. Last summer I began writing what has become my “All-American Mexican” poems. That term—what it could mean, what it seems to imply—has been an obsession since it first came to me. I plan to explore the idea into exhaustion then gather poetry on the return trip.
Through the Loft Literary Center’s Mirrors & Windows Fellowship, I’m working on YA novel—my first long-form endeavor. Currently, that project is in its very beginning stages so all I can say is that it’s inspired by adolescence and the homegirls who I did graffiti with.
Congratulations to Michael on being a 2019 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant recipient! Visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter.