Nightbloom & Cenote
Review by Chloe Martinez, RHINO Poetry
Review by Elizabeth Cohen, At the Inkwell
Review by Layla Benitez-James, Connotation Press
Review by Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes, Tinderbox Lit Journal
A Nuevo Bookstore Brings New Shelf life to Underserved Market (Interview), Houston Chronicle, February 2017
Childhood as Presence, Literary Mama
Writing in Texas: Recent and Upcoming Books from Texas Authors, Art and Culture Magazine, June 2016
Named one of the best books from Houston author in 2016, Houston Matters, December 2016
Poetry Sunday, Women's Voice for Change, December 2016
Review of Fuego, PANK, October 2016
Featured Fem, The FEM, September 2016
Houston poet turns harsh reality into verse, Houston Chronicle, May 2016
A Q&A with St. Julian Press Publisher Ron Starbuck and Leslie Contreras Schwartz about Nightbloom & Cenote
What influenced you while writing this book?
I began writing the book as a way to understand the body, and how it can carry disease and illness but also traumatic inheritance within our very genetic makeup. Violence cannot be undone but it can be repaired, I think, through a thoughtful approach and a reckoning with one’s self. One can carry herself in the world, despite hardships, by reaching towards acceptance, not of the unacceptable, but of the self’s ability to live and thrive even amid unacceptable conditions.
I do not accept, for example, that my body fails me due to a debilitating illness that can affect my ability to walk, see well, or go outside; at the same time, I accept that I am able to do many things within these limitations, the most powerful being activities of the mind. But everyone has some kind of limitation to one degree or another. We are all failing bodies, but also, bodies in flux, and the state of our body does not necessarily coincide with the state of our spirit. These poems are all an effort to have a conversation with myself—and others—about what this journey looks like.
Nightbloom & Cenote examines living with illness and surviving through family trauma, as well as touching on mythologies of women, our idea of God, and the impulse to continue living. How are these wide-ranging topics related in this collection?
I started with my own experience of surviving autoimmune disease, rape, and family violence. But in a larger way, part of what I explore, coming from a Mexican American background, are the specific mythologies around being female or not identifying as male within my culture and American culture, and how the virgin/whore binary construct and its indoctrination through religion can break generations of families to the point of disrepair—for both males and females. This binary allows men to continue traditions of oppression taught by colonizers and tyrants, to rape and assault and murder all those deemed Other, and it teaches women and girls to believe they are less than human. These indoctrinations are as problematic in 2018 as they were in 1492. Considering the ramifications of these mythologies made me ask myself, if these rules are deconstructed, where women and girls are neither bodies of service nor bodies of shame, but just bodies as they are and in their own natural existence without moral judgment, what kind of freedom opens up for the way we live? How might we teach our children ideas of God, how to view their own bodies, how to see the holy, full of flaws and divine spirit, inside themselves in all ways? And how does this redefine what we see as divine?
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
I want readers, most of all, to think about the questions I raise, to consider and question their own long-held ideas about gender and the idea we have surrounding health and being born into something. The glory of grappling with the questions I raise in this book is that they led me to embrace fluidity and open myself up to new ways of viewing the world. I began to simultaneously hold the seemingly contradictory views that the world is both in need of Tikkun Olam (bringing wholeness to a broken universe) and flawed irrepealably by its own design. As I held these ideas together, I found that it is through human connection that these two opposing ideas can be reconciled and propel us to live with joy. I want readers to consider that nothing else is more important than our ability to connect with other people.
How do you think your book fits within the vision of St. Julian Press, which aims to "call us into relationship with one another" through "thoughtful dialogue and interfaith conversations"?
As a Jewish woman, who was raised Catholic, and respects other religious thought, including the belief systems of Agnostics and Atheists, I write poems that seek to engage anyone who asks the question: what is my path in this world and how is it greater than myself? Some people call this seeking a relationship to the divine, others call it an active life in meaningful activity, but all of it, like the poems in this book, is a way to live an authentic life on its own messy terms. My hope is that Nightbloom & Cenote adds to the dialogue of what it means to have faith and what it means to seek real connections with others through this faith.