Lisset Alvarez is a Cuban-American poet from Miami,
Florida. Her debut collection of poetry, Shapeshifting
(Spire Press, 2006), was the recipient of the
2005 Spire Press Poetry Award. A second collection,
The Stones (Finishing Line Press, 2006) followed
that same year. Poems from these collections are
also in the anthologies White Ink: Poems on Mothers
and Motherhood (Demeter Press, 2007) and Letters
to the World (Red Hen Press, 2008). Other stories
and poems have appeared in the Iodine Poetry Journal,
the Powhatan Review, Tar Wolf Review, Alba, Poui:
The Cave Hill Literary Annual, zingmagazine, and
Mangrove, and in the anthology Women Moving Forward:
Narratives of Identity, Migration, Resilience,
and Hope, Vol. 1. (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006).
She holds an MFA in creative writing from the
University of Miami and teaches at St. Thomas
-There is a theory that says that
all writers even the male, write with a feminine
soul. After all, the Muses were goddesses and
not gods. ".What do you think about this
I am always wary of making distinctions
between men and women as groups. I feel it’s
safe to say, however, that many women have been
socialized to think more of others than of themselves,
and that this awareness breeds an empathy that
leads to the creation of poetry. In many cultures,
as well, women lead more isolated lives: they
stay at home more than men do, they often have
only the company of small children for long periods
of time. They also engage in repetitive yet natural
tasks like cooking or gardening that breed an
interiority that also leads to poetry. I would
not call empathy or interiority exclusively feminine
-“I feel that if real poetry
were written ,the pen would break into half, for
it would not possibly tolerate the madness , the
originality. The genuine poem .” Do you
I like the notion of the power
of poetry, but I also hesitate to embrace madness
as poetic. I think we often glamorize the idea
of the mad artist, but I would hate to think that
only those artists who have cut off an ear like
Van Gogh or committed suicide like Plath have
written genuine poetry. Poetry has a powerful
emotional impact that defies what we normally
think of as sanity, but it is also a meticulous
science. One of my favorite poems is Billy Collins’s
“Advice to Writers,” in which he urges
the writer to “wash down the walls and scrub
the floor / of your study before composing a syllable.”
Poetry can be a way of establishing order where
none exists, which is also powerful.
-Marilyn Krysl says:
"Globalization really means that rich countries
exploit poor countries ". What is your interpretation
I find this statement frank and
true. I hate to see what is happening in the Caribbean
in particular, because that is my family’s
home. There, the main exploitative industry is
tourism. There are always two islands in the Caribbean:
the one where the tourists play, and the one where
the natives live. They are always night and day,
and the dichotomy is disgusting. In Cuba, young
people sell their bodies for dollars, for the
opportunity to follow a European tourist out of
the island. They starve for food and basic necessities
while having to watch—and serve—the
tourists who drink, eat, and shop gluttonously.
This is the same all over the world, and not just
in tourist areas, but when it comes to cheap labor
and degrading working conditions that keep our
first-world discount stores in business. I don’t
feel there is such a thing as globalization. What
we are witnessing is exploitation on a global
-The noise around the lives of
Sylvia Plot and Ted Hughes has resulted in them
being more popular than Walt Whitman, Ann Dickenson,
and Carl Sandberg. This is even more so in America,
and in England. Who is stirring this fire up?
I never would have thought that in a journal book
of a poet you could ever find her picture in a
two piece bikini suite! What is your idea?
I think that sometimes we confuse
the poetry with the poet, which is not to say
that Plath is undeserving of the attention she
receives; I consider her work to be worthy of
it and more. What I am saying is that there are
certain personas that appeal to us when we think
of poets: the tortured woman, the passionate rebel.
Plaths and Ginsbergs. When some people say they
want to be poets, I often wonder whether all they
want is to wear black turtlenecks and wallow in
adolescent angst. I suppose there is something
romantic about that stance, but also something
immature and not very realistic. In America we
are also a very celebrity-oriented culture. We
have an almost morbid fascination with voyeurism,
and, when we fixate on someone—like Plath—no
detail is too mundane or insignificant when it
comes to sating our thirst. We live largely by
proxy, and do our screaming and writing through
others. That being said, however, there is something
very powerful about Plath’s poetry, and,
because it is confessional, some curiosity about
where it came from is only normal. In the end,
I’m glad that any poets are getting attention;
it’s a welcome break from hearing about
the lives of actors and politicians!
-Proust says : if I did
not have poetry, great literature, music to listen
to, I would not have survive my sorrows. ".Let
me know please what did you lose without poetry
I love that quotation. When we
lost power here in Miami after hurricane Wilma
two years ago, my husband and I passed some of
the time away by answering some magazine questions
that were meant to be conversation starters. One
of the questions asked us to list the top five
things we could not live without. Beauty was in
my top five. I don’t think I could live
in a world without beauty, even something as small
as flowers in a vase or a clean tablecloth. Poetry
is innately about finding the beauty in the world.
Even poems that catalogue the world’s ugliness
do so in some part to bemoan the travesty of lost
beauty. Without poetry, I might not ever have
seen the beauty of the world.
- Poetry can do a hundred and
one things ,delight ,sadden , disturb , amuse
, instruct – it may express every possible
shade of emotion , and describe every conceivable
kind of event , but there is only one thing that
all poetry must do ; it must ………………….
This is W.H. Auden’s statement in “
Making , knowing , and Judging . “ Please
let me know poetry must do WHAT ?
Reveal something. I suppose that’s
a pretty broad answer, but it’s the only
one that makes sense to me. To reveal something
that is hidden. Beauty in ugliness; depth in the
mundane; sorrow within happiness; fear within
faith. The poem must make me see something, some
truth, I would not have been able to see on my
-Let’s admit that finding solitude for a
man to stay home and write is as natural, as for
a woman to peel onion in the kitchen. Even in
societies where equality is not the slogan among
men and women, she feels uneasy with the circumstances
when she sits behind a desk to write, she feels
unusual, as if she has betrayed others. Her conscious
suffers from the guilt that she might have robbed
If you do not agree with this statement, then,
would you please express what is the difference
between Women’s Literature, and Men’s
I do agree with that statement,
actually, although I would not feel comfortable
attempting to describe differences between men’s
and women’s literature outside of a sociohistorical
context. I think that men’s literature,
because most of the world has been and continues
to be patriarchal, is much more extroverted: man
against nature, against society, against himself
or his gods. Women’s literature is often
the opposite, about the writer’s or protagonist’s
struggle to find a place in the world that will
validate her humanity. It is an interesting dichotomy,
but not a natural one, I think. I would say there
are more similarities between men’s and
women’s literature than there are differences.
- The Turkish poet Enis Batur
writes: “If ‘Death’ didn’t
exist, Mankind would never write poetry. He would
never need it.” The Iranian poet Soufi writes:
“Everyone fears death: Poets fear it more.”
How do you interpret this? To what extent do you
agree with it?
These two statements are most
likely true. Even poetry that seems celebratory—I’m
thinking of the Song of Solomon—has a hint
in it of mourning for what has not yet been lost
but inevitably will be. Maybe that’s just
my own darkness, however, seeing what is not there.
Certainly much poetry deals with death’s
presence. That’s undeniable. For me, a poem
can be a way of pinning down a moment that is
evanescent. Poets are lovers of life, I think,
and the more you love this world, the more you
fear its end. Or maybe it’s biochemical!
Maybe all poets do have a hint of madness, after
all, a tiny imbalance in their serotonin levels
that makes them always see the darkness, even
in the middle of blazing light. If so, thank God
for mild depression.
-What do you think of anthologies
of love poetry? I think it takes the hearts out
of great poets, as if the rest of their poems
were irrelevant. May I also know your feelings
about anthologies of social and political poetry?
Perhaps they are a necessary evil.
I do see your point: the same poems are anthologized
over and over, and seldom do most people become
familiar with a poet’s body of work. However,
realistically speaking, anthologies deliver a
quick breadth of material with which it would
otherwise be near impossible to become familiar.
Ultimately, I would say there are really no bad
anthologies, just bad students and bad readers.
An anthology is not meant to be more than an introduction.
If you do not take the time to read beyond the
anthology, it’s not the anthology’s
fault. As to the singleminded obsession with the
love poem, that is unfortunate. Many people think
all poems are love poems, or, worse yet, that
all love is poetry. However, there’s room
for all, I suppose. The problem with the social
and political anthologies is that they often have
too broad categories. I don’t particularly
like the idea, for example, that, should I ever
be lucky enough to be anthologized, I would probably
be “classified” as Cuban or Cuban-American
and also as a woman. No matter what I write about,
that will be my “category.” It’s
- At what time of day do you usually
write? What are your special habits?
Most of the poems in my two collections
were written in the afternoon, with my dog, in
the back yard. I was working only part-time and
had the luxury of that freedom, and my beautiful,
green, south Florida back yard, the steady, quiet
company of my dog. I hope to be able to return
to that soon, once the academic year is over.
I often start to write by reading. I’m reading
another poet’s work, and, when I stop to
think, I start composing in my head. Often it
trails off into nothing, but, if the train of
thought persists, I jump up and write it down,
and, sometimes, it’s good enough to actually
work on. I suppose you could say I write by accident.
Now that I am busier this happens less often and
at more inconvenient times and places, like early
in the morning (I try to keep paper and pencil
by the bed). These are not good habits, however.
I would like to be the kind of writer who writes
for a certain time every day.
-What is your idea about the translation
of poetry ?Please tell us of your own experiences
as a translator .
Ironically, I don’t attempt
translation, although I’m fluent in English
and Spanish. What sounds good to me in one language
comes out ridiculous in the other. Maybe that’s
because these two languages are so diametrically
opposed, because the cultures they represent to
me are so diametrically opposed. I don’t
believe, however, that poetry is not able to be
translated simply because I lack the detachment
or skill to do it myself. I think all art has
the potential to exist in more than one language
or culture. In many ways, translation is a higher
art than creation. The creator has only one burden
of signification, although you could say that
certain creative goals are universal. But in the
end even the expression of the universal is in
only one language. The translator, on the other
hand, has to bridge often distant worlds. To execute
this successfully is the height of empathy.
- How do you interpret the September
11th tragedy? What do you think about a classification
of American literature before and after the tragedy?
Certainly it was a turning point
in American culture. In future—even now—it
is a milestone. People used to ask themselves
where they were when Kennedy was shot, and now
everyone forever remembers where they were when
they heard this news. My own relationship to American
culture in general is very strange, split. Sometimes
I speak of Americans as “we.” Sometimes
as “they.” I don’t feel this
tragedy “belongs” to me in the same
way as it “belongs” to native-born
Americans, especially to those whose families
go back for generations on American soil. It is
the type of tragedy I would feel uncomfortable
writing about from an immigrant perspective. Many
Americans (now “they” are not “me”),
however, still don’t feel comfortable writing
about it, either. There have been films about
it, for example, that struck many as potentially
exploitative, although they were meant to be expressions
of grief and pride in those who responded to the
events. It’s probably still “too soon”
to make sense of what happened, especially since
no one really knows yet what the long-term repercussions
of this event will turn out to be.
- What is the relationship between
literature and religion?
Literature is religion, religion
is literature. All art is an attempt to make sense
of the world and to figure out the point of living.
If that’s not religion, I don’t know
what is. And religion itself would not exist without
its literary counterpart, the storytelling that
is the vehicle, in every culture and every religion,
for the transmission of beliefs, of hopes, of
faith itself. It’s funny that the two are
at odds so much of the time: literature with its
liberal, secular tendencies, religion reserving
the right to judge literature. These two are like
those couples who fight constantly but love each
--Do you like visit my country
? what do you know of Iran ?Which Iranian writers
are you acquainted with?
I’d love to see Iran, I’d
love to see many places. Between my indeterminate
citizenship, my limited funds, and my pets (whom
I hate to leave behind), however, I don’t
do much traveling outside of Florida. As to what
I know of Iran, I’m ashamed to say, not
enough. What I know is textbook knowledge: its
rich history and culture, its ever-flourishing
arts. I’d love to see the old-world architecture
up close. Since I met you, I’ve tried to
acquaint myself with more Iranian writers. I’ve
been reading Forough Farrokhzad and admiring her
passionate, musical poems. I love “The Wind
Will Take Us.” I love the line, “I
am addicted to my despair.” It is the type
of frankness that we don’t hear in American
poetry right now. I thank you for introducing
me to Iranian poetry.
-Dead are no longer alive. They
no longer can see. They can not sense the fragrance
in a flower any more either. Yet, it is customary
that all over the world people visit their dead
in cemeteries with flowers. As a poet, how do
you interpret this common behavior?
This common strand in our diverse
world makes perfect sense to me. It is proof that
there is such as thing as a universal human soul,
even thought that concept has largely fallen out
of vogue. I think all human beings intuit the
existence of something beyond what we can perceive
when we are alive, and I think that this in more
than just wishful thinking. It is a universal
act of faith in the afterlife. Even atheists do
this, although they would argue the act is merely
symbolic. That’s fine. Even so, there’s
something to be said here about the universal
hunger for symbolism, for metadefinition.
-What would you ever do ,if there
was no poetry?
I think I might have already answered
this question, but I will attempt a second answer:
I’d write fiction, or paint, or play music,
or dance. I don’t think I could ever be
happy in a world where all I could see was its
face value, where no one would attempt to define
or make sense or interpret reality in some way.
Which one book is always by your
bed right open, and which book is always, before
any things else, in your briefcase, when traveling?
I wish I could say that I have
such loyalty, but I’d be lying. I rarely
read something more than once, although sometimes
I long to do so. When the rare moment I can sit
down to read arrives, however, I always feel compelled
to reach for something new. Some poems I return
to more than once. Louise Glück’s “All
Hallows” and “Metamorphosis,”
when I can bear it. For some reason, Houseman.
I constantly feel I haven’t read enough,
that there is too much I should be reading. This
makes it difficult to indulge in what I’ve
-I strongly agree with the Kafka’s statement
that says: “war, in its first phase, emerges
out of total lack of sense of imagination. How
do you view the main source of war?”
Ignorance, of course. All conflicts
derive from ignorance. Ignorance of another’s
point of view, ignorance about how to reach compromise,
ignorance about what the options are, ignorance
about imagining a different solution, yes.
-The dedications in the poetry books are considered
the most important poetical aspect in the book
for me. This means, that when I read these sections
my understanding for the poet greatly enhances
me, and I can express much more feelings of affection
or a deep inner sense of connection that reaches
a peak of purity. However, whenever I read Roman,
Critics, or Articles, I do not feel this way.
As a poetr how much do you value these feelings
of a reader such as me?
The reader’s feelings are
the whole point of poetry, to me. I think poems
are meant to be read and enjoyed and understood.
I don’t particularly understand people who
talk about writing for “themselves,”
I can’t quite believe this is true and can
only attribute such statements to lack of confidence
over what one has written. Writing is communication.
That requires at least two people! I don’t
know that I make distinctions when it comes to
that reader-writer relationship between genres,
however. Poetry, as well as all writing, is for
me an attempt to ellicit something from someone
else, someone who might be far away and completely
different from you, but that you can somehow bring
to see something the same way you do: that’s
-I had a friend who was saying that she could
not cry when her father died, even though she
liked him. However, after she heard the news that
her favorite poet had died, she intensely could
not stop her tears from falling. Since, it was
the poet and the impact of his poetries that helped
her managing her life in times of difficulty.
Have you ever had such a connection with a particular
That’s a difficult question.
I’m not a highly emotive person, and less
so with every passing year. I can have an emotional
outbreak just like anyone else, but they are rare
and usually personal, so that I probably don’t
have those intense cathartic experiences people
who control their emotions in their personal lives
can have. Which does not mean I am not touched
by particular poets. When I was an adolescent,
I went through my Plath phase just like most American
girls who grow up to write poetry. I still feel
very strongly about her, although now I focus
my feelings on her work more than her person.
When I go to the beach in the summer I think of
Sexton and her beach poems. When I am truly in
trouble it’s not poetry I turn to, however,
it’s religion. Some prayers are really poems,
and these I find very cathartic. They are often
not attributable to a single author, however.
Music has a more cathartic effect on me than poetry.
I was very moved when Kurt Cobain killed himself,
although not to tears. I used to lie in the dark
and listen to Tori Amos and Hole, whose lyrics
are very poetic, as late as my twenties. I don’t
really do this anymore. I’ll stop now—I’m
not sounding very much like a true poet, I think!
-Gustave Flaubert in a letter writes : "
I want no love, neither wealth, nor fame; what
is bothersome for me most is not having enough
“sympathy around”, sympathy,sympathy.
We could never have enough of this one!"
what is bothersome for you ?
Oh, many things are bothersome
for me! I suppose, if I had to pick one bothersome
thing only, however, it would be a certain lack
of freedom. When I first seriously thought of
being a writer (when I was young enough to believe
that was something you could “be”),
it was a clever idea for being everything at once.
I could not be a teacher and a ballerina and a
piano player and a mission specialist all in one
lifetime, but I could write about being one, or
so I thought. I soon began to realize, however,
that—at least if I consider publication
a goal, and I do—I can’t just write
about “anything.” There are all these
rules about what sells and about consistency and
what people expect a Latina to say that really
cut back on one’s possibilities. I find
myself negotiating between what I want to write
and what I think I can publish. I suppose, in
the proverbial nutshell, I find the quest for
-Blaga Dimitrova , great Bulgarian
poet in ARS POETICA says :
Write each of your poems
as if it were your last.
In this century, saturated with strontium,
charged with terrorism,
flying with supersonic speed,
death comes with terrifying suddenness.
send each of your words
like a last letter before execution,
a call carved on a prison wall.
you have no right to lie ,
no right to play pretty little games.
you simply won't have time
to correct your mistakes.
write each of your poems ,
with blood-as if it were your last .
Reading world Contemporay poetry in poetry magazines,
it seems to me , the young generation have lost
the TIME .They can write about very unimportant
details, very relax and without a worry .And astonishingly
they win important prizez !Their poems are talkative
, and inspite of saying everything , say nothing
. May I know your idea about today's poetry in
America and other countries ? And I should be
very obliged if you would please tell me the name
of your favourite poets in America, England ,
and other countries .
I think American contemporary
poetry is not as varied as it could be. You see
some variety in the multicultural arena, and some
journals, like Fence, continue to publish something
different. Largely, however, there’s a certain
genrefication of poetry that’s similar to
what’s happened in the film industry. The
most widely read poetry (in what is really not
a very large market) seems to be of a quiet, contemplative,
usually bucolic mode that is very beautiful, but,
at the same time, only represents one of many
possibilities when it comes to subject matter
and style. Passion seems largely missing, almost
frowned upon. We are afraid to rhyme outside of
established forms or slightly modified forms.
Sometimes I feel that everyone is afraid of appearing
maudlin. We prefer the wry or cynical to the sarcastic.
Outside of the multicultural scene, most poetry
is personal and depoliticized. A split has occurred
between the written market and the spoken word
scene. Spoken word poets are the complete opposite:
often only passion and politics to the exclusion
of everything else. All these neat little categories
are too limiting. Maybe I’m just not reading
enough, or Americans are just not reading enough
to support a more thriving poetry culture. I have
the funny feeling Canadians are reading more,
or at least supporting the arts more. Every time
I hear about a grant or a prize, Canada’s
involved. That’s where Anne Carson is writing,
and she’s wonderful. Here in America I suppose
my favorite would be Louise Glück, and Maxine
Kumin, of course, although they are very different.
Alice Oswald intrigues me, but her poetry is a
little too subdued for my taste. I’m not
sure how to classify Sandra Cisneros. She is American,
Latina. I love her poems, although I think her
prose is more poetic than her poems.
-Sylvia Plath says in her biography
book that the world to her is consisted of only
two sects: those who are loyal, and others who
know nothing of loyality. What about for you ?
I think honesty for me functions
as the great divider. For me, people are either
honest or dishonest. America is a very dishonest
culture because of the predominance of capitalism
and adverstising. We do not even question the
daily manipulation of the adverstising that surrounds
us so completely. We take for granted the fact
that it’s somehow okay to try to trick someone
into buying something they don’t really
want and take pride in the ability to do so. This
attitude pervades our culture and has corrupted
everything about it, from academia to healthcare.
It has affected interpersonal relations. We pretend
to like each other and see each other only in
terms of the persona we advertise through our
clothes or our cars or whatever. I like brutally
honest people. There is nothing more refreshing
than people who say exactly what they think. I
find duplicitousness the most exhausting thing
in the world.
-Fame ,means : condition of being
well known.You are a well-known poet.Please tell
me what is the good or bad points of being well
Stevenson in her book : Bitter Fame claims that
Sylvia plath 's most mental distress was Fame
.She needed it . James Tate in one of his essays
says : Fame for a true artist is luxuries .What
is your idea?
Oh, I’m not well-known!
Not at all! I don’t think we have what you
could call a truly “famous” living
poet, except maybe Maya Angelou or Billy Collins.
I suppose fame and poetry don’t go very
well together. Fame means a kind of generic appeal
that is probably near impossible to achieve and
still write honest poetry, which is probably why
we have so few famous poets. On the other hand,
it must be wonderful because one imagines it would
come with the economic freedom to actually write
for a living. It’s very distressing to see
so many truly excellent poets write so little
because they have to dwindle their time and energy
away on noncreative work, or, worse yet, work
that zaps the creativity out of you.
-Thet terrible irony is that it is possible to
be not a very nice kind of person and at the same
time to be a marvellous poet. It shouldn't be
possible but, by example, I see that it is.What
is your idea?
Of course. Poets are still
human and subject to the same tendencies—kindness,
cruelty—as others. I long for variety in
poetry and that can only come from variety in
poets. A good nasty poem can be very appealing.
That’s why I like Cisneros’s Loose
Woman—it’s full of edgy stuff, threats,
anger. I’m sure she’s a fine human
being, but she’s also in touch with the
full spectrum of human emotion. I love Carolyn
Kizer’s “Bitch” and Plath’s
“Lady Lazarus.” Poems that curse and
threaten. There aren’t enough of these.