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Interview with Thelma Reyna, author of 'Rising, Falling, All of Us'

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Thelma T. Reyna is author of The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories (2009), which won four national awards. Her two poetry chapbooks--Breath & Bone (2011) and Hearts in Common (2013)--were published by Finishing Line Press. Her new book, a collection of unpublished and selected poetry, is titled Rising, Falling, All of Us and will be issued in early summer 2014.

Dr. Reyna’s stories, poems, essays, book reviews, and other nonfiction have been published in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, online literary magazines, and in print media off and on for over 30 years.

She writes two blogs and has been a guest blogger on three others. She is also an editor and writing consultant with her company, The Writing Pros, based in Pasadena, CA. She has served as an adjunct professor at two universities: California State Polytechnic, Pomona; and at California State University, Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA.

She was named Poet Laureate of the Altadena (CA) Library District in April 2014 for a two-year term. In 2011, she was honored by her State District Legislators with a “Most Inspirational Award” for her work as an author and businesswoman. Contact the author at www.ThelmaReyna.com.

1. Welcome to Latino Books Examiner, Thelma. Please tell us about your latest poetry collection.

Rising, Falling, All of Us is my first full-length poetry collection, with my other poetry books being two chapbooks: Breath & Bone (2011) and Hearts in Common (2013). This book includes most of the poems published in these others as well as poems published elsewhere—in literary journals, anthologies, and textbooks over the years. Some of the poems are brand-new, never-before published. So I feel good about seeing these various poems all in one place together. They were written in a time span of over 20 years, though they were all polished further before being published in this book, of course!

2. How is it different from your other poetry books? What are the main themes explored here?

Aside from being the longest of my poetry books, since it’s a full-length collection, my organization of these poems into three sections helps its main theme or message come across, which is: In life, we all rise and fall together. Even the mightiest will fall at some point, and when this happens, it affects all of us somehow. Each of us will rise and fall in big or little ways throughout our lives. Such is life. We’re all in it together.

So my poems are organized into three sections. Yes, you guessed it: RISING, then FALLING, then ALL OF US. The poems are like snapshots in time of different people: real, fictional, famous, infamous, unknown, celebrities, soldiers, lovers, poets, parents, killers, heroes, immigrants, etc. The entire spectrum of humanity interests me. I have a poem about Pope Francis. Others are about Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic “blade runner” who killed his girlfriend about a year ago; the artist Edgar Degas; the poet Sylvia Plath, who died at an early age; and even Grumpy, one of the seven dwarves. These are usually called “persona” poems, which I love because they give me a chance to “get inside their heads” and try to capture what they may have felt or thought and how we see them.

3. What was your creative process like during the writing of these poems?

Highly varied! Numerous poems came to me quickly and easily, once I sat down and thought about the topic or person at hand. One of my favorites, “Pope Francis,” is an example of this (caveat: it’s not a typical religious poem but quite the contrary). It took less than an hour to create because my feelings about the topic were very clear to me. Another example is “The Undivorced,” about a woman in a loveless marriage. With both of these poems, there was very little revision from my first draft.

Since I don’t write poems every day, or even every week, I find it easier to compose them once I do sit down for that purpose. Almost always, it’s a matter of I have some strong feelings or ideas to express about a certain person, type of person, or a certain issue. This could’ve been spurred by something I read, saw, or heard, or some memories or recollections I just experienced. But when the ideas come to me, no matter what time of day or night, I’m good to go!

Other poems in this book “fermented” for over 20 years before I felt they were ready for publication! An example is my autobiographical “To My 12-Year-Old Daughter.” Well, she’s 44 years old now, so do the math! (Laughs.) This poem, and about five others from this time period that are included in my new book, were heavily revised, often ending up notably shorter than the original, with deletions, additions, rewording. Since I’ve evolved, not just as a poet but as a human being, in these intervening years, I don’t see the topic the same way. But I feel strongly that if a poem is basically good, though not ready to see the light of day, don’t throw it away. Keep it, and revisit it whenever you can, until your tinkering with it gets that poem to where you envisioned it being.

4. How long did it take you to put the collection together?

Since most of these poems had been previously published, it was a matter of organizing them into a good presentational format. Also, I added the new poems for further interest. It took about a year, off and on, of gathering, polishing, experimenting with different formats and layouts, as well as writing the new creations.

5. What would you like readers to take from your book?

Almost always, my goal as a writer—whether of poetry, short fiction, or nonfiction, all genres I enjoy—is to make my readers think. With each poem in this book, I’d like my readers to think about details I’m showing, or feelings I’m revealing in or about different people or different situations.

I’d also like them to stop and savor lines, descriptions, phrases that might seem unique to them, picturesque, different from everyday. This is what sets poetry apart from other writings: its language, its ability to paint pictures with word images. Poetic language is not conversational language. I hope readers can find pleasure and merit in the language of my poems.

Finally, if my readers cry over a sad poem (like “I Stopped by Your House,” about my friend’s death); or if they feel discomfort over some issues I depict, such as in “Hunger” or “Bobby Bales”…I’ll have stirred their emotions, too, and that is good.

6. Where is your book available?

Request a copy at your favorite bookstore. Or go to www.amazon.com . Or visit www.GoldenFoothillsPress.com to place an order. The Kindle version is also available at amazon.com .

7. Where can readers find out more about yourself and your work?

My author website is www.ThelmaReyna.com . I also share news about my writing on my “Author Thelma Reyna Fan Club” Facebook page. Another handy place is my blog, “American Latina/o Writers Today” at www.Latinowriterstoday.blogspot.com . My author website has other contact information. Thanks for checking out any, or all, of these!

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