Elm Staff Writer
The Rose O’Neill Literary House was transported across borders and time through the poetry of Erika L. Sánchez on Monday, Nov. 14.
Sánchez is a New York Times bestselling author whose debut poetry collection, “Lessons on Expulsion,” and her first young adult novel, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” were met with critical acclaim. She is a PEN America Open Book Award and National Book Award finalist, Fulbright Scholar; and was named the 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow.
According to her website, she has “always been determined to defy borders of any kind,” especially since Sánchez is the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House Dr. James Hall and Sánchez discussed this aspect of her poetry.
In his introduction, Hall said Sánchez’s poems are “bridges” that “take us to many places, including the interior of the body where imagination and desire reside.”
The borders Sánchez discussed were defied through her teaching at Princeton and her writings.
When asked about teaching creative writing, Sánchez said she wants to undo the damage of teachers who portray poetry as a code.
“The way that I teach intro to poetry is by having students grow and enjoy language,” she said. “I don’t tell them what to think.”
This concept connected with sophomore Sarah Bowden, who said it reminded her of class with Hall.
“It was very focused on ‘What do you believe?’” Bowden said. “I appreciate the open-endedness.”
The defiance in Sánchez’s poetry was related to her culture. Sánchez is bilingual and incorporates Spanish and pre-Colombian words in her poetry to, as she said, “honor her indigenous past.”
This is highlighted throughout her poetry in its narratives, language, and setting.
During the reading, Sánchez presented 12 poems. Nine of them were published in “Lessons on Expulsion,” two were new unpublished works, and one was from another author. She opened with the guest poem, Tyree Daye’s “Neuse River.”
“I feel like so much of my success is due to the help of other people, and so I feel like I need to pay it forward and propel other writers as well,” said Sánchez in way of explaining her decision.
This piece was followed by the first poem of her collection, “Quinceañera,” and another, “Saudade.” These were accompanied by a new poem titled “A Promise.” She continued with “A Woman Runs on the First Day of Spring,” “Forty-Three,” “Poems of my Humiliation,” “On the Eve of the Tepehuán Revolt,” and “Self-Portrait.”
Sánchez delved into her heritage with “Forty-Three” and “On the Eve of the Tepehuán Revolt.” The first was inspired by the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico, while the second depicted the 1616 Tepehuán Indians’ attempted uprising against Spanish control in Mexico.
She finished the reading with the unpublished poem, “My Angry 2018 Poem,” and two published pieces “Donkey Poem” and “Six Months after Contemplating Suicide.”
While her writings covered uncomfortable issues, Hall described her poetry as having “grit and beauty.”
He said the narratives she depicts are both sites of suffering as well as “the wellspring of empathy.”