The Texas-based writer appears at From the Language of Ash at Urban Arts Space on Thursday, Oct. 24
Analicia Sotelo typically begins a poem writing longhand in a simple drugstore notebook — no moleskins or leather-bound journals here — because it slows down her process and increases its intimacy. Once an initial draft is on the page, Sotelo will then edit while reading the work aloud, refining details until the poem feels as close to complete as it can, because, as she explained, “None of them ever feel done.” It’s only then that she’ll type them on a computer, most often in the Cochin font, which she described as “a grown-up Garamond.” This is partly a stylistic choice and partly an effort to prevent poems from existing in a more standardized email font, which can make the art and everyday worlds blend in uncomfortable ways.
Within Sotelo’s verses, though, common experiences often take on cosmic weight, to the point where even the simple act of passing along a family guacamole recipe becomes an exploration of tradition and culture, with some humorous twists, to boot. “The recipe is lime and salt then destroy to taste,” she writes in “I Want to Tell Them the Only Way to Make It,” which is both illustrative and an incredibly easy direction to follow. Lines in other works offer deep insights into the human condition, such as the poet’s observation in “Private Property” that “we’re all performing our bruises.”
Then there are pieces such as “I’m Trying to Write a Poem about a Virgin and It’s Awful,” which start to take on myriad dimensions, offering commentary on everything from the creative process to male-dominated cultural conversations. Addressing a character within the work, Sotelo writes:
“Some people said I should take her
out of the poem. Other people said no, take her out of
the lake and put her in a bedroom where one man is
saying, I can’t help you, and another is saying, You waited
too long. The men sounded like cynical seabirds.”
Reached at home in Houston, Texas, Sotelo said her poetry has increasingly adopted a more worldly quality, where the original, more intensely personal inspiration starts to adopt an outward posture during editing. “I think in the revision process, at least for me, there’s a big shift where whatever I was originally feeling becomes … more about the state of the world,” said the poet, who will read as part of From the Language of Ash at Urban Arts Space on Thursday, Oct. 24. “It’s certainly a process of investigating who I am. … But I think sometimes the strongest love poems or breakup poems are actually about a lot of different things. For instance, it might be a poem about the environment, looking at the eradication of coral reefs, and then it becomes a love poem, or vice-versa.”Most of Andy's poetry consists of lightly erotic odes to retired basketball legend Larry Bird. Sign up for our daily newsletter
Sotelo gravitated toward poetry at age 15 after reading Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” struck by its closing line, “And miles to go before I sleep,” which she said “felt like something I didn’t quite understand but wanted to understand.”
“I like that idea, that you can cross time and space and you can really get people in a way that you wouldn’t in our everyday lives, when we’re so polite and try not to talk about religion or politics or sexuality,” she continued. “With writing, you really can dig deep into what being human is all about.”
Early on, Sotelo also read a lot of William Faulkner and humorist Lorrie Moore, along with other poets and writers she discovered online prior to enrolling in her first poetry workshop late in her college career, which introduced a sense of structure she said she previously lacked. Through it all, Sotelo started to gradually home in on her voice, which remains an ongoing process.
“I’ve never been one to ascribe poetry with stealing from others, which some people like to joke about,” she said. “It’s more about being aware that our individual selves are not actually individual. Who we are even in our everyday life is strongly influenced by friends, family, someone we might run across on the street and say hello to, something we might read. And, in many ways, I think that the creative impulse, or creative attentions, is all about letting in as much as possible, making connections and continuing to absorb to the point where hopefully you’re saying something slightly different based on all of those influences.”
For Sotelo, part of uncovering this voice has been allowing her sense of humor to emerge, which has opened up her poetry in unexpected ways, particularly within her 2018 collection, Virgin, where the occasional light line serves as counterbalance to weightier themes.
“I don’t remember when I started using humor in my poems, but a friend suggested it because they thought I was funny, so I tried it,” Sotelo said. “It really allowed me to make bold statements that could sometimes be dark but that sort of acknowledged that … pain and sorrow are necessary for joy and happiness. Humor, for me, has become a tool for enacting that idea. So props to all the friends out there who give us recommendations.”