Words or Water: An Interview With Nuyorican Poet LiYun Alvarado

By Suset Laboy

From: Centro Voices

 

The warmth and exuberance of LiYun Alvarado, whose name combines those of her parents, is captured in her seamless ability to jump from Spanish to English. Her ability to code-switch also comes with a knack for combining sweet humor and deep emotion in her poetry. Hers is a poetry that lives in the intersections, that hurts and heals at once.

The first time I heard LiYun’s intoxicating and melodious poetry was at a Capicu People’s Open Mic in May of 2015. Mind you, we’ve known each other for over 15 years, and I had yet to listen to her work, mainly because poetry wasn’t my cup of tea and I’ve never quite understood the beauty others find in it. That is, until that day.

As I watched her, in a flower-printdress, recite, though it felt more like declaring, an ode to her mother, I understood what the deep connection to our poets is all about. Li Yun’s poetry provided a gateway to the past. She spoke to the new generation of poets’ ability tether us to the present while keeping us rooted in the history and strength of the stateside Puerto Rican community.

On the brink of releasing a new collection of poems, Words or Water, I had a chance to ask Li Yun about her life, process, and how she came to fall in love with poetry and dedicate her life to it.

SL: Tell us a little bit about you. Where did you grow up?

LYA: I was born in the Bronx and lived there until I was about 12 before moving to Queens—Ridgewood, to be exact, long before living by the “M” train was hip. My parents are both from Salinas, Puerto Rico, and my brother and I would spend summers in Salinas with our grandparents and large extended family.

SL: How did you get into poetry?

LYA: I’ve always been a voracious reader. As a young girl I loved reading YA novels, but didn’t read much poetry until high school and college. One of my most vivid memories of falling for poetry is from high school. During my senior year, Liz Fernandez, the Director of Diversity of my predominantly white private high school, invited Pedro Pietri to one of our high school assemblies. I was blown away. Pietri’s humor, energy, and unabashedly Puerto Rican poetics made me look at poetry in a new light. Being one of about a dozen Latina/os in our high school made me feel like an insider as Pietri code-switched and cracked jokes that only made sense to those who knew knew certain cultural references. That was probably my first visceral experience of understanding the importance of writing with an authentic voice. I chatted with Pietri after his performance and feel so blessed to have met the great Pedro Pietri before he passed. I only wish I had known at the time that I was in the presence of one of the giants of Nuyorican poetry, but I would not learn about the Nuyorican poets until I took a Latina/o literature course in college. Read Rest of Article Here

 

 

 

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