"First of all, I am a Texas poet. This is where I became a poet, wrote poetry seriously, read poetry religiously, and found my voice. So I owe California thanks for life and memories, but Texas made me spit it out."
Lone Star Literary Life: Mr. Vidaurre, you are a poet, editor, Poet Laureate of McAllen, and now a publisher, having founded FlowerSong Books. A year ago, you told the Kenyon Review that being the McAllen Poet Laureate was like being the poet laureate for the entire Rio Grande Valley, because no other municipality had yet created the position in their cities. Has that situation changed yet? Please tell us about the pleasures and the challenges of being the McAllen poet laureate.
Edward Vidaurre: Hello and thank you for the opportunity to be a part of Lone Star Literary Life. As of now there is still no other poet laureate in the Rio Grande Valley area of south Texas except McAllen. That makes the position special because it allows me to cover all of the RGV. The challenge is that it is still a fairly new post for the entire region, and the city is still figuring out what to do with it, giving the poet laureate the freedom to explore with it and do as much or as little with it. It can be a good thing, or a wasted opportunity.
LSLL: Let’s talk about the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival, where you are the director of operations. The twelfth annual festival was held this year. Please tell us about your role in the festival, how it’s changed over the years, future plans, and the secret to its success.
EV: I’ve been honored to find myself in a place filled with a great deal of talent here in the Valley. The founders, Daniel García Ordaz and Brenda Nettles-Riojas, have put together a wonderful festival every year. I’ve helped in setting up venue locations for readings and travel for visiting poets. I asked if I could take the helm for 2020 to put it together from top to bottom: from making the call for submissions for Boundless, the anthology for the festival, to the choosing of featured poets and venues, etc. It has always been a well-organized poetry festival, with a family feel to it. If you’re a first-time attendee or fifth time, you feel like family and leave filled with so much love for not only poetry but a sense of togetherness.
LSLL: I had the pleasure of experiencing you reading your poetry at the 2019 meeting of the Texas Institute of Letters in McAllen, when we met between the river and the wall for a protest reading. How do you develop a style and voice for performance?
EV: I pay attention to my surroundings. I feel the breathing of the crowd and the ground. Believe it or not, nature and my surroundings dictate much of my tempo. Noise pollution, stillness, my own levels of calmness or anxiety choose the poems I get to read.
LSLL: I’m going to use this as a sort of awkward segue into your publishing venture, FlowerSong Books, because I overheard you discussing this with Dallas writer Ben Fountain during that reading on the border—I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I swear—and the gist was that it’s so very difficult to get published. So, you’ve taken that into your own hands and decided to publish books. What’s your vision for FlowerSong Books? Are you open for submissions and, if so, what are you looking to publish?
EV: I am looking to publish between eight and twelve books a year and move to maybe twenty in five years. There are many voices out there that need to be read. Our focus right now is the Latinx poet, compromising 95% of our publishing. Submissions are open year long.
LSLL: You have published, I believe, six poetry collections, not including the anthologies in which your works appear. Your newest collection is JAZzHOUSE (Prickly Pear Publishing, 2019), released in April. Please tell us about your new work and how it both continues and diverges from your first collection, I Took My Barrio On a Road Trip (Slough Press, 2013).
EV: JAZzHOUSE brings the reader up to date in my life with some persona poems; whereas I Took My Barrio On a Road Trip introduced the reader to my life growing up in Los Angeles, summertime in El Salvador, and my eventual move to Texas.
LSLL: Your work has appeared in many anthologies, such as the Boundless series from the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival and the Beautiful Scars series, which are Beat poems. You have also edited Called to Rise: Rio Grande Valley Youth Anthology (FlowerSong Books, 2018). What is your advice to poets who are considering submitting their work for such collections? What do you look for as an editor?
EV: I suggest you always send poems everywhere you can for submission but always make sure you read what it is they ask for—is there a theme, what type of poems do they usually publish, etc. Beautiful Scars is actually one of my books, not a series. And called to rise was the first in the series of McAllen Poet Laureate Youth Anthology Series focused on grade-school students from all of the Rio Grande Valley.
LSLL: Since this is Lone Star Lit, I always ask what Texas means to writers and their work. How has Texas shaped you and your work, particularly living in the Rio Grande Valley and McAllen, in particular? You came to the RGV from California; how do you think your work is different from how it would’ve been had you remained in the Golden State?
EV: I think of that always. First of all, I am a Texas poet. This is where I became a poet, wrote poetry seriously, read poetry religiously, and found my voice. So I owe California thanks for life and memories, but Texas made me spit it out. I don’t think I would be as political or as much of an activist poet if I lived in California, to be honest. I think I am here for a reason.
LSLL: Let’s talk process for a bit. How do you know that a particular inspiration or the fragment of an idea needs to become a poem, what form it should take, and whether there’s the germ of a collection in a new idea?
EV: When I smile, and it makes me stop what I’m doing. Literally, makes me stop anything to write it down. Lately, that’s what it has been. Something spontaneous.
LSLL: Which Texas poets do you admire and why? How has your work been inspired and shaped by those you admire?
EV: Every poet I’ve met in Texas inspires me. Every poet putting in the work and who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable deserves admiration. But it you want names, here are a few: Daniel García Ordaz, founder of the Valley International Poetry Festival, because he has made it happen for over a decade on his own dime and is one of the most creative writers I’ve ever met. Naomi Shihab Nye for being accessible and humble and writing important and necessary works. ire’ne lara silva putting in the work today that will be impactful for generations to come (she knows like who, I’ve told her). Emmy Pérez, maestra and 2020 Texas Poet Laureate, for her strength and community impact tied in with literature, and that’s rare and hardly celebrated. I read them and find my voice in their words and put them on paper.
LSLL: Can you tell us what’s next for you?
EV: My seventh collection, When A City Ends, is forthcoming from King Shot Press out of Portland. I’m finishing edits on my eighth collection, I Only Breathe Here, and FlowerSong Books is getting ready to release cose to ten new titles between now and the end of 2020. This month Let A New Earth Rise Youth Anthology of the McAllen Poet Laureate Series Volume Two will be released.
LSLL: What books are on your nightstand?
EV: I was recent my published in the New York Times Magazine and received an email from J R Solonche, and we exchanged books. So I have a few of his, which I’m really digging! Several late library books and a proof copy of Gris Muñoz’ Coatlicue Girl.
Edward Vidaurre is the 2018-2019 McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate and author of six collections of poetry. JAZzHOUSE (Prickly Pear Publishing 2019) is his latest and WHEN A CITY ENDS is forthcoming from King Shot Press. He writes from the front lines of the Mexican-American borderlands of El Valle in south Tejas and is the publisher and editor of FlowerSong Books.