At a Tuesday afternoon Ezra Stiles Master’s Tea, an intimate audience flocked around poet Laurie Ann Guerrero as she told stories of her family and personal history with laughs and tears.
Guerrero, the recipient of the 2012 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize — which supports emerging works by Latino artists — read poems from her 2012 book “A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying.” The poet discussed the importance of her community in shaping her work, as well as her creative process, with an audience of roughly 20 Yale community members.
Guerrero immediately adopted a personal tone when she described her family setting as an eight-year-old. She said her father was “abusive and alcoholic,” and that she used poetry as a way to escape this violence.
“I would just go to my room, and I only had a pen and paper,” Guerrero said. “I would put on the Beatles and just write.”
Guerrero said her poetry centers on community as well as family. She explained that she went to college because of a “desire to be more than what society and culture had prescribed for [her].” She described how shocked she was when, returning home after attending Smith College and meeting empowered women there, she realized that the women of her own community did not speak up. Guerrero read “A Meal for the Tribe,” in which she explains how the kind of conversation and discussion she encountered in college would have been beneficial to her family.
“I can’t imagine not living in my community,” Guerrero said of living in Texas. “I want the women — and men — of San Antonio to discover what I discovered, to feel empowered.”
Guerrero’s Latino background plays an important role in her poetry. She described her fascination with race in her Texan community, noting her interest in understanding how Latinos fit into the black and white dichotomy she feels is prevalent in Texas. She also spoke to the importance of her relationships with the women in her life.
“Not only did we have each other’s back, but I knew we were in it together [and] that we understood each other,” Guerrero said.
The poet went on to describe her writing process and influences. After citing authors including Sandra Cisneros, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, Guerrero explained that her inspiration was mostly internal.
“What keeps me writing is the inspiration I’ve had from living in my body for so many years, from my mother living in her own body, my father living in his own body,” Guerrero said. She added that everyone has within themselves enough to create poetry. “If we don’t pull it out, no one will,” she concluded.
Many of Guerrero’s stories took a humorous tone and drew laughs from the audience, but reading her poems and talking about her family also made her tear up. With emotion, she told the story of her grandfather’s graduation gift, a wooden table he had made that inspired her poem “Wooden Box.”
All three attendees interviewed said they appreciated the “conversational tone” of the discussion. Christofer Rodelo ’15 described Guerrero’s presentation as “genuine” and “heartfelt” and said he enjoyed her creative outlook on Chicano culture. Natalia Thompson ’13 reported that the discussion was a “breath of fresh air,” since she thinks Chicano feminist thought is underrepresented at Yale.
The last winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize was Emma Trelles in 2010.