Brooklyn College English class visit 3.15

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Introduction by Professor Matthew J. Burgess during reading/visit to his class,
English 3304/5 Writing Poetry:

In times of sadness or distress, there are a few things that I can reliably turn to: Stonyfield Farm Minty Chocolate Chip, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Sheila Maldonado’s one-bedroom solo. The anti-depressant effect of Sheila’s poetry is mysterious, but it has something to do with the voice in her poems: no bullshit, brilliant-yet-unpretentious, siempre abierta to the humor of everything yet unafraid of the darkness. Or if afraid, still willing to sit in it, as in “At the Meer in Harlem”: “It’s an early fake spring. It’s me with me in the dark park hoping no one will stab me. If it were to happen it would just be aesthetically inappropriate. That criminal would have done a disservice to his/her art.” In Sheila’s poems, you are as likely to encounter the Muse as you are a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart from a vending machine:

“It’s the best when I get a good
drop, the package tumbles
from the slot so clean, not one flake
flakes, the crust doesn’t crumble.

I get to break up that tart,
still intact, truly appreciate
the dextrose, the soy lecithin, the
sodium acid pyrophosphate.

That’s my shit right now, boy
I can’t be on the same shit
always, gotta diversify,
entertain the palate.”
(from “Baked Good”)

A poem this seemingly casual disguises its formal perfection—the enjambment of “good / drop”, the delicate play of consonant t-sounds in the description of the breaking of the tart, the just right balance between concision and conversation.

For me, Sheila is a Latina reincarnation of William Carlos Williams. Like the great poet-doctor, she walks around with her eyes open and shows us that so much depends upon “one grandmother push[ing] / a petite electric blue cart / lined with a woven plastic / plaid shopping bag.” And like “Danse Russe,” Williams’s meditation on dancing naked in front of the mirror while the rest of the family is asleep, Maldonado similarly rejects the fictions of maturity. To be grown-up is great not because you cease being a child, but because you can be a kid in your own damn space. In “Homebody,” she writes: “I got this place so I could be naked, / lotion up after a shower, no rush” and later, “I’m my own child here, dancing bare-ass nekkid, / don’t care if the neighbors see a rush of / skin from their window, my body taking off.” Ultimately, I read one-bedroom solo as a funny, sexy, anxious yet self-assured declaration of independence.

the next big thing

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Thank you to Conrad Wells, sleepy poet in the cubicle in front of me, for tagging me for this. Also shout to Kamilah Aisha Moon who tagged me as my birthweek began but I was lost in my stars not paying attention to a thing.

What is the working title of the book?

It has been a fully employed title for at least a year now. one-bedroom solo. All lowercase, yup.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

From all the poetry workshops I took and all the poems and lines in my journals and on my computer and on post-its and napkins and backs of envelopes, and the poems I wrote when I was little and lines I doodled during class or downtime from a job and most of all, from my father who loved words so much and passed away not too long ago and me finally getting the idea that time is ridiculous and quicker than all of us and it is time to put words out in the world.

The book was somewhat organized into sections, music and language, home and pop culture, some kind of spirituality, city and identity, and there were titles to some of these like “Skeptical Mystic” and “Restless Native” but all these themes were overlapping and just worked better to me looser, boundaries and tones shifting.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

America Ferrara a.k.a. Ugly Betty cuz she is a fine actress who also happens to be Honduran and adorable, and me (see one-bedroom solo: the movie in this here media section) who is not as cuddly but have my moments.

Other actors, hmmm. My mama could be played by Judi Dench cuz I was watching Exotic Marigold Hotel the other day and there was a resemblance. I would have to have open auditions for the cast of friends. I would want a Dave Chappelle/Rita Indiana/Wanda Sykes type for my friends.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

“I sat at water’s edge and smoked a vowel / the way my ancients used to write a star”
– “Water Way” pg. 76


“do I have a tilde / for a moustache” – “you Spanish?” pg. 5

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’ll say three to four years cuz that could be but secretly it might have been ten.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All of the writers and artists who are my friends, real and imaginary, all of whom I want to talk back to and stay in conversation with for as long as I can. I named as many of the real people as possible in the acknowledgments of the book to which one reader responded, “People of color and their long-ass acknowledgments.”

Here I will name my imaginary artist friends who I pretend to talk to across time and space, Roberto Bolaño, Björk, Nicanor Parra, William Carlos Williams, Pedro Pietri, Langston Hughes, Claribel Alegría, A Tribe Called Quest, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin. I will stop at ten for now.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It is really soft to the touch. Like my skin.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is published by a little press, Fly by Night, part of A Gathering of the Tribes, all still there on the border of the East Village and Lower East Side, holding on for dear life.

My tagged writers (and one filmmaker) for next Wednesday are:

Christina Olivares

Erika Jo Brown

B.J. Love

Nelly Rosario

Christopher Carmona

John Keene

Ndlela Nkobi