Creative of the Month- September 2013
Rosemary Catacalos, 2013 Texas Poet Laureate
About the Author, by Bryce Milligan
Rosemary Catacalos is the eldest grandchild of Greek and Mexican immigrants to San Antonio, where her extended family has made its home since ca. 1910. Her work is deeply rooted in place and in classical myths, folklore, family stories, and history of both cultures. The first publication of Again for the First Time in 1984 received the Texas Institute of Letters poetry prize, and poems from that volume have been widely anthologized. Catacalos has received Stegner/Stanford University, Dobia Paisano, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and her work has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Greek.
On April 30, 2013, the Texas State Legislature designated the 2013 and 2014 Texas State Artists in a proclamation ceremony at the Capitol. Rosemary Catacalos was appointed as the 2013 Texas Poet Laureate and is the first Latina to ever hold the honorary position. Texas State Artists represent the best of Texas' rich and diverse artistic community and the designation is the highest recognition for excellence in the arts.
Since being named the 2013 Texas Poet Laureate in April, have you set your own goals for the next year for this honorary appointment?
My goals remain the same whether as a poet on the page and in the community, or helping others succeed by working in arts management, or being Texas Poet Laureate. That is, my work in all settings has been about opening doors, particularly for people who feel their experiences are not the stuff of “literature.” All human experience is vital to know and understand, and I hope I have helped and continue to help many, many diverse voices be heard.
What is your first recollection of writing poetry?
My first experience of “writing” in any genre was as a very young child growing up in a tri-lingual, tri-cultural, dual-faith household where the order of the day was to move three generations simultaneously out of poverty. I worked helping build my family’s small business from a very young age and spent a great deal of time alone with my assigned tasks. So I told myself stories about myself in the third person, “The little girl has found a nail with the magnet. Daddy will be proud and make her wax wings so she can fly to the sun.” As you see, these stories often connected with my Greek grandfather’s bedtime tales, which I only learned later were “the Classics.”
Who or what have been some of the greatest creative influences (poets, artists, family, etc) on your poetry?
Without a doubt, my four grandparents, with whom I spent the most time as a child, were – and remain – my strongest influences. They taught me how to negotiate profound difference, such as difference of language and faith. They inspired my formidable work ethic. They taught compassion and depth of feeling. They helped me learn to see, to attend to the world. They were my best role models!
Tell us about your time affiliated with Stanford University's Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG).
During my six years there, IRWG scholars came in many disciplines, though all with a focus on women’s experience. Historians (of all periods and cultures), economists, mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, and a few “working creatives,” though all the scholars were hugely creative. And we came from all over the world to learn about and respond to one another’s work. The invaluable gift of interdisciplinary exchange with such women is one that has enriched my life in ways I discover every day.
Again for the First Time (AFT) will be reissued this month for its thirtieth anniversary. It was originally published in 1984 and received the Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize. Has your writing style changed much since its original publication? If so, how? What brought about those changes?
AFT was my first full-length book and a young book, but I am delighted that I still feel able to stand behind most of it. Since then, the work has changed considerably, both formally and in terms of focus, something I can only describe as an “opening out.” But that’s for readers to discern.
What do you think is the greatest power of poetry?
Poetry is very simply one of the most powerful ways human beings have of sharing and understanding diverse experience, and this has perhaps never been more critical to human survival than it is today.
Since retiring from literary arts administration, how much of your time is spent writing? What is your ideal setting for a day of writing?
Like many writers, I first worked as a journalist, a general assignments and part-time cultural writer at the old San Antonio Light. (Once upon a time, we were actually a two-newspaper town!) That trained me to never be without a notebook, and I use it. I write best early in the morning or late at night, and I work every day – even if it’s just to “keep up the chops,” as jazz musicians say.
What sort of advice do you have for writers of any age just getting started?
My advice to all writers, whether “just getting started” or old hands is: read, read, READ! Read in translation, read the
Classics (of many cultures), read your friends and colleagues, read widely and deeply from the whole of the world’s literature. Always and forever.
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