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Talking with Valorie K. Ruiz

Valorie K. Ruiz is a Xicana writer fascinated by language and the magic it evokes. She lives in San Diego and is assistant flash fiction editor for Homology Lit. You can read her writing at valorieruiz.com or follow her on twitter @Valorie_Ruiz.

Valorie’s poem “Life Advice from a Girasol" will appear in the Spring 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe with a discount by March 31.

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The most striking aspect of this poem for me is its beautiful and unique imagery. What was the impetus behind these images?

Thank you! I wrote this poem when I was in the process of a lot of change. I was questioning whether the change was happening out of choice or out of a habit of needing change. I was having difficulty writing, and I was stuck in an episode of metaphor-obsession that I often go through when I’m working through a poem that I can’t quite figure out. In this case I was stuck on the image of a sunflower, stuck on the Spanish word for it, and questioning what it meant for me to constantly be looking at the good or the light in my life. The images came from attempting to personify the girasol both as a self and as part of a larger community; and what it meant to be on a fate-like path that sometimes felt equally empowering and disempowering.

There’s such an easy, natural feel to the way you’ve intermingled Spanish words, yet when you look deeper, you’ve also played the English and Spanish off each other in a really clever way. One of my favorite lines is “We are all but spinning girasoles, turning,” which is a lovely image just on the surface, but also has the added layer of the word girasol (sunflower) being essentially a spinning sun (“gira” meaning spin or turn, and “sol” meaning sun) which isn’t something that would be accomplished if you had just used the English word “sunflower.” How do you approach using two languages in your writing and how does this shape your work?

I was raised bilingual and primarily spoke Spanish my first years of life so there are a lot of times when a certain idea can only be honored in Spanish. In the case of this poem, the word “girasol” like you pointed out, was so much more moving to me than “sunflower” because of the verb “gira” and the overall theme of the poem. Often times when I’m writing a word in Spanish there’s a dual or layered meaning that I weave in specifically for the audience that reads/understands Spanish. In this way it’s me reaching out to readers like myself. Other than meaning however, there are times when I simply enjoy the meter of Spanish more than English, or certain words in English just sound funky read aloud (funky is one example of this).

Can you talk about your use of space in this poem—how do you hope this structure will affect the reader’s experience?

I’m glad you asked about this! I thought a lot about the movement of the poem primarily because it deals with cycles and change and becoming. I knew I wanted the poem to have more space between the images and commands to allow space for the reader to go through the metaphorical phases. This is what I hope the caesuras do for the poem. The movement across the page, only to then suddenly jump back, was an attempt to visually share the journey of going forward only to jump back to the start. As a general answer I was hoping the form would kind of mirror the cycle of the girasol.

What’s on your bookshelf; who inspires you as a writer?

I love this question! SO MANY AMAZING WRITERS! I feel so lucky to be writing alongside such amazing people in this lifetime. Since reading Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel I have nonstop recommended it for poets and prose writers alike. I’m currently reading Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be based on a staff recommendation at the Last Bookstore in LA. And I love it. Formally, it’s very innovative and the story feels validating in a lot of ways as an artist.

I recently finished Nicole Sealey’s Ordinary Beasts which I think is just a wonderful full-length debut. Each poem hits in a way that makes you immediately go back and reread it. I’m very excited to jump into Sara Borjas’ Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff next. I think Noemi Press puts out amazing books. Outside of contemporary writers, a classic poet I frequently return to is Lorca for his ability to surrender to the strangeness and magic of the world.

In addition to books I try to continuously read literary journals whether online in bits or physical issues. I’m a huge fan of Black Warrior Review, Split Lip, BOAAT, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, and McSweeney’s. But truly, I’ll read just about any lit journal that someone raves about on my twitter feed. There are so many good ones emerging every day!