Born in New York, poet Carmen Giménez Smith is the daughter of South American immigrants. A CantoMundo fellow, she earned a BA in English from San Jose State University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa's Writer Workshop. She writes lyric essays as well as poetry, and is the author of the poetry chapbook Casanova Variations (2009), the full-length collection Odalisque in Pieces (2009), the memoir Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else (2010). Her 2013 collection Milk and Filth, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her latest collection of poems, Cruel Futures, is be a volume in the City Lights Spotlight Series in 2018. Be Recorder will be published by Graywolf Press in 2019.
Giménez Smith’s work explores issues affecting the lives of females, including Latina identity, and frequently references myth and memory. Wolf Schneider, writing in New Mexico Magazine, described Giménez Smith’s poetry as “waves of free verse, incantation and song.” With the publication of Odalisque in Pieces,Giménez Smith was featured as a New American Poet on the Poetry Society of America’s website.
She co-edited Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing, an anthology of contemporary Latinx writing (Counterpath Press, 2014), and she is the current editor of The Nation's poetry section, alongside Stephanie Burt. Carmen serves as the publisher of Noemi Press, which has published over 40 full-length collections of poetry and fiction.
Giménez Smith is the chair of the organizing committee for CantoMundo. She is a Professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA, where she lives with her husband, writer Evan Lavender Smith, and their two children.
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How do our identities intersect with our writing? How do the concepts of identity manifest themselves in poetry? How does the page represent both the art, itself, and the artist? How does the writing of identity intersect with the political and cultural? What are the interconnections between the technical elements of poetry in consideration with identity?
Gloria Anzaldua referred to her groundbreaking bookBorderlandsas an autohistoria-teoria, an epistemological autobiography. She conceived of the liminal space, El Mundo Zurdo, where becoming and thinking converge for radical acts of decolonization, and posited the possibility that writing is the praxis where activism, aesthetics, and scholarship converge.
Funny and ferocious, aflame with cross-cultural and multilingual inspiration, Carmen Giménez Smith is a poet and editor whose practices are linked by formal innovations and political commitments. Her most recent book, Milk and Filth (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry), rubs against the rough surfaces of history, shedding identities and mythologies like snakeskins. As an editor, Giménez Smith oversees Noemi Press, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which has published books by Shane McCrae, Rusty Morrison, Chloe Garcia Roberts, and Douglas Kearney. LitHub has called her “the entire package of what poets and poetry may aspire to.” As we spoke, I realized Giménez Smith’s sense of that “entire package” is larger than most poets: she seeks to be nothing less than a full-fledged “literary citizen,” as she put it, with all the difficulties, privileges, and responsibilities that implies.
I was light from the mouth from every part of me I was of the earth or a scar in the earth rent through the ruins of late civilization and bubbled from it and became a saint’s reptilian spirit and I could taste
We are here to say no. This is a statement of utter denouncement of utter refusal of white supremacist redeployment of the treatment of blackness, black murder as raw material for depraved pleasure.
—Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo
The moment the master, or the colonizer, proclaims “There have never been people here,” the missing people are a becoming, they invent themselves, in shanty towns and camps, or in ghettos, in new conditions of struggle to which a necessarily political art must contribute.
I tried to make my babies fall in love with the surrealists but they only want the acid pastels of the graphic age so the aesthetic pleasuredome I had planned for them when I was just an immigrant’s daughter corralling future reinvention from every TV set is dead long live my bohemian fantasy of children lolling over Proust in hammocks they wove themselves
---. "Suddenly." Fairy Tale Review, January 1, 2017.
I’m trying desperately to understand how ideology replaces reason, and I know part of it is fear and I know part of it is that innate sense of connection with this or that history and art of power. Fairy tales taught me that having power is always worrying about losing power: the whims of the king meant to test his subjects and even his children. That crucible is remote, except in theory, and then it becomes less remote. But the little omens in stories become something else with the word suddenly.
Rachel Zucker talks with poet, editor/publisher and professor, Carmen Gimenez Smith, about the intersection of the lyric and the spoken word, the long poem, punctuation, working on several books at once, Cantomundo, Carmen’s writing process, writing long poems, being an editor, working with editors as a creator, the imagined or intended audience, the importance of getting feedback, political charge, the politicization of the bodies of women and people of color, Carmen’s mother and father, poetry as a form of recuperation, destabilizing the lyric “I”, writing about adolescents, Trump, “self-help” books, privilege, and the gift of entitlement.