Steven Perez is a writer and musician living in Philadelphia. We've asked her 7 questions about her work and his life to share with us. His writing has been published in Bedfellows, Sink Review, La Galería Magazine, NOÖ Journal, Southeast Review, Five Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, and Zoomoozophone Review. Find his two self-released chapbooks, in palm and cup, on his website: ehstevenperez.wordpress.com or follow on Instagram @pedazodecarneconojo
1. How old were you when you wrote your first poem? What inspired you to do so?
I think the first time I set out to make something I understood to be a poem was after reading “America” by Ginsberg in high school. I was writing before that, but if it wasn’t a short story it was probably me trying to be a rapper or something. From a very young age, I was the youngest of siblings and cousins who would egg me on to freestyle over hip-hop instrumentals, so I’m sure there’s a composition book in a landfill out there with a bunch of raps I wrote.
After reading Ginsberg in high school, though, I remember a lot of things opening up for me. Poems didn’t have to be these boxy bodies of writing with Victorian language or something. Ginsberg’s language and candor was the most significant source of inspiration for writing my first poem. I wish I still had it, but it’s probably so embarrassing.
2. What are some of your recent sources of inspiration?
Dolores Dorante is someone I’ve been reading a lot of. I spent a lot of time with Intervenir and the way she and Rodrigo Flores Sanchez navigate the presence of the speaker in that book really widened the scope of what I hope my writing can be. Morgan Parker has also been really huge for me.
I think the most important sources of inspiration for me lately, though, is Frank Ocean. What he did with Endless, specifically, deeply impacted me. At first listen I felt like I was encroaching in someone’s bedroom as they recounted all of these personal stories on the phone with a close friend they haven’t spoken to in a while. The more I listened the more I couldn't wrap my head around how someone could craft these beautiful narratives, in songs, nonetheless.
3. If you could hang out with one poet, who would it be and what would you do?
To be real, Earl Sweatshirt. I could mention any of the more established “poets,” but the forum in which he presents his writing is really how I was introduced to poetry. Hip-hop was in a lot of ways the way I felt poetry was a world I could be a part of. And he’s almost around my age and skates so it’d be cool to go skating or something.
4. How has your ethnicity influenced your work?
Identity, in and of itself, has played a major role in my work. Whether it be coming from an immigrant family or someone who grew up skateboarding, all of it plays into my creative endeavors. With being a first-generation Dominican-American, language and food trickle their way into my writing pretty often, but it’s less of a conscious effort to waive a flag and more of a “this is all I know,” kind of thing. My ethnicity is important to me and it occupies a lot of the spaces I’m trying to navigate between. What does it mean that my family sucks the marrow from the chicken bone and others don’t, or that I’ve never been to a family party where “Suavemente” doesn’t play at least three times? And yet, I was born in the states—I am American. Even with the many contentions I have about how this country functions/has always functioned and having immigrant parents, I not only try to remind the audience that my America is just as valid as any other’s America, but also myself. When I speak Spanish I am speaking American; and the same goes for devouring platanos and listening to Antony Santos. All of these things are American.
I may have just rambled off, but that’s honestly where the influence lies. Bordering these identities leaves me and my work often trying to be embraced and yet still feeling validated in just being here.
5. How has love, whether romantic or platonic, affected your poetry over the years?
My poetry often acts as the vessels for how I work through different relationships in my life. I feel like this is how a lot of artists work. My writing is a search for how I think I’m residing within different relationships and how I can be a better friend / partner / person. Even in the more resentful, or solemn poems I have, it’s always just me trying to process what’s happening/what happened with my loves, whether they be romantic, platonic, healthy or harmful.
6. What do you think sets poetry apart from other forms of art and makes it special?
This is honestly a really tough question. I feel all art forms are inherently special in that people attempt to make and share things they've created. In poetry you are almost always by yourself reading these ideas tucked away in your brain and it really does take a lot of courage. In creating these tiny universes, you are constantly feeding an ego—which can be really pervasive and destructive to how you interact with the world—but you're also in a really vulnerable place. Coming out alive in poetry can feel like a fucking feat sometimes, so maybe that's how?
7. What are some accomplishments that you have achieved through your work that you're proud of?
I've been fortunate to have some of my writing published in some amazing places and it still amazes me that anyone would want even want to read/hear my work, but being a part of the Tagvverk team means the most. Although I'm not an active editor anymore, to be asked to join was such an honor. From the writers who awarded us the opportunity to publish their work to the amazing editors I worked with, I'm still in awe I got a chance to be a part of that team.
Interview by Katryn Macko