Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Jorge Argueta: Interview series with California poets for young people

Poetry holds a special place in my heart, for the way it helps me slow down and notice. As I share poetry with my students, it's very important to me to help them see that the poems we read have been created by real people. We need to help our children see that they, too, are poets.

I am thrilled to share interviews with California poets for young people. This month, I will share interviews with Jorge Argueta, Nikki Grimes, Isabel Campoy, and Lee Wardlaw. Please consider inviting these wonderful poets to your schools to connect in person with your students. In the meantime, let's welcome our first guest.

Jorge Argueta
Jorge Argueta is a prolific Salvadoran poet who lives in San Francisco. I love sharing his bilingual poems and stories with children. Argueta immigrated to the United States more than 30 years ago in the midst of his country’s civil war. He writes poetry and children’s books, runs Luna’s Press and Bookstore in San Francisco, and gives poetry presentations and workshops in the US and in El Salvador.

Argueta’s two most recent books are Salsa, a cooking poem illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (see my review), and Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran cumpleaños, a sweet story illustrated by El Aleph Sanchez (see a review at De Colores). I am so honored and happy to share this interview with you.

1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?

When I write a poem, I normally visualize it. If it’s a place or a person, I visit with them. In my imagination, I talk to the people, trees and fruits and vegetables. I live with them. I have an office, but I like to do my writing in my kitchen because I feel it is a place where I can dream. My tea kettle is a steam train, it brings people, cows, mountains, rainbows, rivers, moons, suns, stars, they all come to keep me company when I’m writing.
three of Jorge Argueta's cooking poems
I love writing in my kitchen because it reminds me of my home in El Salvador. I have the sweet company of my family and friends, here I can bring the past to the present, to the future. In the kitchen I have chairs, tables, kitchen utensils and photos. I am surrounded by wonderful colorful vegetables and fruits, each with different shapes and scents. To me the kitchen is a place where I make connections with the whole world. Just as life, the kitchen is a poem.

2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids. What are some words that you have been thinking about lately, that might be particularly delicious?
Water    fire     colors   mango   sunrise
I believe words were given to us to talk about our happiness, our sadness, our joy, our perseverance, our justice. As an indigenous person, a Latino person, I need to talk about our endurance. I believe words were given to me to talk about the needs of people for justice, and to see the world in different ways.
from Jorge Argueta's website
3. What are three (classics) books you’d like to see in every child’s home?

The Popol-Vuh, 1001 Arabian Nights and Jungle Book.

There’s definitely classical literature that you can turn to, like The Popol–Vuh for children, a classical book by the great Mayan people, adopted for children by Ana Maria Dueñas, or The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, or picture books by Dr. Seuss. But I also want to share other poets’ work with children.

The great Chilean writer, Gabriela Mistral, wrote for children’s and for social justice. She was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1945. Pablo Neruda’s mind, his writing touches children, young adults and adults. His words are child-like, yet also powerful enough to touch anybody. Also a Nobel prize winner. In El Salvador, Claudia Lars, wrote amazing poems for children.

Most recently, my good friend, Juan Felipe Herrera--current Poet Laureate of the United States-- conveys the power and the tenderness to share the experience of the farm workers and Latino immigrants, to talk about important issues today. Francisco Alarcón—another good friend who just passed away, wrote such fun poems for children, that make me laugh and smile and wonder.

A good message to convey to parents is the importance of the oral tradition. We are telling parents to make sure their children read, read, read -- but we also need to remind ourselves how important it is to keep the oral tradition alive. Tell children where they come from, who grandpa was, what he did as a young boy. We have beautiful family stories that we sometimes forget to tell our children.

4. Is there a poem you can share a snippet with us?

I’d like to share a little from my newest book, Olita y Manyula: The Big Birthday/El gran cumpleaños:
My name is Holly
but my friends in El Salvador call me Olita
Spanish for little wave
I love to be called Olita,
little wave…
This fall, Jorge Argueta's next book will be published: Somos como las nubes: We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, October 2016). Here is the description from the publisher:
Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Mr. Argueta. It was a true delight and pleasure.

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©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this interview! Love Jorge's work. Looking forward to the other posts in this wonderful series. :)