Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Leslie Marie Aguilar. I had the pleasure of reading with Leslie at the Smith Poetry Center in March, and her stunning poetry (much of which came from her arid, quiet, strong chapbook, Mesquite Manual) blew me away. But don’t take my word for it– here’s the poetess herself.
Where can we find your work?
You can find me online at lesliemarieaguilar.com or on Twitter @lesliemaguilar.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
As a native Texan, the act of relocating every few years has become a sort of exodus. Leaving a familiar landscape behind and establishing roots in a foreign place has become a fixation in my work. Consequently, I braid borders, bodies, exit strategies, liminal spaces, and lineages, among other themes, into my work. Sometimes it’s a struggle to remove Texas from my poems, but then I think that the place that raised me deserves to be praised. So, I write it.
What were you like as a child?
Let’s see—as a child I was an inquisitive eavesdropper who preferred the company of adults to children my own age. I suppose not much has changed, as I still have a tendency to listen in on conversations in the hopes of excavating a few gems for future poems.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street—you saw/read that wowed you?
My parents were (and still are) huge proponents of the arts. I remember a trip we made to the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas when I was young. At the time, it was one of a handful of museums in my hometown, and many of the events hosted there were focused on introducing locals to other cultures. The particular event that I’m remembering featured Tibetan monks and the creation of sand mandalas. I’d never seen anything of that magnitude before—delicate and deliberate—and to this day it is one of my most vivid memories. I equate my art with my family, and I thank my parents for showing me
the value of the arts before I knew I needed it.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
For a long time, I resisted the urge to teach. I thought, what do I know; but in recent years, I’ve come to love being in conversation with students and budding writers. I enjoy teaching pop-up workshops in unconventional spaces, hosting week-long classes on special subjects, and chatting over coffee with prospective poets. With time, I’ve realized
that teaching doesn’t always happen inside the walls of a classroom, and that’s beautiful! As a poet, I wear many hats. However, I’m most proud of the work I do to give back to a community that has nourished me and supported me for many years.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
Over the past six months, I’ve been reignited with a desire to be healthy—mentally, emotionally, and especially physically. There’s something to be said about finding balance in a world where everything is feels off-kilter. I’ve been obsessed with the Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel, as a way of creating balance in my life. The energy that I find in an at-home yoga practice is something that I’ve come to treasure. Also, Adriene’s monthly calendars are a great way for me stay on track! Discovering that external strength starts from within has become a grounding force for me, lately.
Tell us a story.
Around this blue planet streak. Trails of dust. Across the sky. Their waking. I’m of the mind that constellations are maps. Ancient plans for colonization. Toward a distant horizon. Make the leap. Admiration to conquest. Erase centuries of scars from sunburnt skin. Unhappy with terrestrial expansion, build flying spheres coated in gold & precious
stones. Gather kindling. Set these chariots ablaze. Every region on Earth. Propelled in to the stratosphere. A leap. Another mass exodus. We are remnants, you say. A better civilization. Apprentices searching for familiar patterns. Located among the stars. (First appeared in Callaloo).
Leslie Marie Aguilar originally hails from the heartland of Texas. She received her MFA from Indiana University, where she served as the Poetry Editor of Indiana Review. Her work has beensupported by the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poemshave appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Hobart, Ninth Letter, Rattle, Sonora Review, and Washington Square Review among others. She is the author of Mesquite Manual (New DeltaReview, 2015), and currently works as the Editorial Assistant for Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, at Smith College.