Leticia Urieta Interviews Tomás Q. Morín
How did this collection take form?
There were a handful of poems that didn’t make the cut for the first book. I set those aside and as time passed, every time I finished a new poem I’d toss it in a folder with them. Eventually I decided it was time to peek in the folder to see if there was the at least the skeleton of a new book. Happily, there was. It went through some changes over time, including a title change. It used to be called LOVE TRAIN. Some of my über talented friends helped me whip it into shape and make it better than I could have on my own.
Much of your collection feels like a rumination on the poet’s relationship to and interpretation of love, which is mostly imperfect. What do you feel is a poet’s relationship to love?
Whatever their relationship to love is in their real lives is my guess.
Many of the poems begin with witnessing: witnessing how seemingly innocuous moments in our lives are opportunities for seeing, such as in “Carita Americana,” which begins with a visit to the deli, and ends with feeding a dying father. How are these moments opportunities to find meaning?
These moments don’t feel like opportunities to find meaning so much as to find experience. I’ve never felt like I wrote poetry of witness, rather poetry of seeing. This is how I live my life. When I high-five the trees on my walk to work it’s not because I’m seeking knowledge. It’s because I’m seeking connection. One way to find that is through seeing. Seeing for its own sake.
You use a diversity of forms to shape this book. What forms do you find yourself returning to when you sit down to write? Do certain forms lend themselves to content more easily than others?
Not really. Each poem is in the form that it most needed in order to be its best self. For me forms are kind of like clothes. Some poems need a tuxedo while others want flip flops, shorts, and a tank top. Dressing my poems means trying things on from the enormous walk-in closet of forms. It’s bigger than even Mariah Carey’s!
Whose work do you turn to when you are feeling stuck in your own process?
If you’re asking about writer’s block, then since I only write during the summers when I’m teaching very little, I have a long list of ideas for poems to choose from. If one poem stalls, I just move on to another. As a result, I’m never stuck. But if you’re asking about whose work feeds my own, the list is endless: Isaac Babel, Traci Brimhall, Elizabeth Bishop, Bruno Schulz, Yoko Tawada, Philip Levine, Etheridge Knight, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Natalie Díaz, and on and on.
Several of your poems achieve narratives in a multitude of forms. Is it a poem’s job to tell a story?
It can be. I’m a narrative poet with lyric inclinations so it’s no surprise my poems contain stories.
In “Sing Sing” a Muse reflects on her failings and attempts to atone. How is this poem a reflection of your feelings on inspiration?
It’s not. One day I got an idea for a poem about the muse in prison. I thought, “Wouldn’t that be a fun story to tell.” And it was!
Is there any one poem in the book that speaks for the collection as a whole?
There are more than a few but if I had to single one out I’d choose the title poem. It took the place of “Love Train” as the title of the collection because it contains all of the tones and notes of the rest of the collection.
Tomás Q. Morín is the author of Patient Zero and A Larger Country, winner of the APR/Honickman Prize and runner-up for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award. He is co-editor with Mari L’Esperance of the anthology Coming Close: 40 Essays on Philip Levine, and translator of The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda. His poems have appeared in Slate, Threepenny Review, Boulevard, Poetry, New England Review, and Narrative. He teaches in the low residency MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.