Pocha and Proud: An Interview With Sarah Borjas

Brenda Delfino interviews Sara Borjas      FROM: LARB

20190415_224157Poems can be windows. They can also be doors. These are truths to prescribe to while reading Sara Borjas debut  poetry collection Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff. A window can work as an enterence, can mirror the reflection of someone familiar. In her poem “Lies I Tell,” previously published by the Academy of America Poets, Borjas writes,

     A woman has a window in her face: that is the truth. I look
like
my mother: that is the truth. I want to tell you I am not like
her:
that is the truth. I am ashamed walking in a woman’s body:
that is
the truth. I wish to take back everything I say: that is the truth.
A
window can be a mirror. It can also be a door: that is the
truth.

Borjas, who dedicated this book to her mother Criselda, is looking into her reflection in order to make sense of the life and the heritage of a Mexican-American Pocha from Fresno. She very much looks like her mother, at least this is true from a photo she shares on her website, depicting her mother Criselda in sepia. She has her mother’s diamond-shaped face, her full cheeks, and her almond eyes. But what separates her from her mother (among other things) is a master’s degree in Creative Writing and a cropped undercut that matches her bold personality and her refusal to fit conventional female stereotypes. In her poem “I Know the Name of the Desert,” Borjas writes, “I am a daughter / who walks through a desert carrying my mother’s wounds — / each open palm across her child’s face, each time a man offered her / something he did not have.” These wounds caused by toxic masculinity and generational trauma reappear in the collection as a way for the poet to learn to love the place where she comes from. This theme is clearly depicted in the opening quote of the book, written by Cherrie Moraga: “Home is the place, for better or for worse, we learn to love.”

 

Sara Borjas is fourth-generation Chicana, a Pocha, and a Fresno poet. She earned a BA in English Literature from Fresno State and an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from University of California, Riverside. Sara is a 2017 CantoMundo Fellow, a 2016 Postgraduate Writers Conference Fellow at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a 2013 Community of Writers Workshop at Squaw Valley Fellow. She is the recipient of the 2014 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize. Sara was also named runner-up for the 2010 Larry Levis Undergraduate Memorial Prize judged by Phillip Levine and nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently a lecturer at UCR, and her debut poetry collection Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2019.

 

I’m sitting across from Sara in a sushi restaurant walking distance from University of California, Riverside. This is the campus where she teaches Creative Writing to undergrads and where I’m currently pursuing an MFA in poetry. It is no coincidence that Sara and I cross paths again. I met Sara four years ago in a Poetry Workshop she taught for undergrads. She was the first person to call me “a poet” and the first to introduce me to confessional poetry, a term Sara has personal beef with, as she says it “tends to be used when speaking about women’s poetry that is simply personal in nature.” In short, Sara subscribes to the idea that some labels do female poets like us no favors. When I bring up the word confessional, she responds, “[We] should pay particular attention to [these terms] and not let [them] contain us.” If I can say one thing that Sara has taught me, it is that there is power and clarity that comes with saying things directly. Either in person or on the page, there’s no need to “dance around it.” The words “Just say it” still ring in her tone of voice while I edit my poems. As I read Sara’s poems in her new collection, I could detect her own advice flashing through lines like, “I wish / a whole woman would wake up inside me.” And “I, the girl who / talks to my parents like children. / I, the girl who listens to their stories / and wishes to be someone else / inside them.” In our conversation, both in person and with her poems, I hear Sara admitting that it took her many years, an education, and a lot of poems to decolonize her love: to accept who she is, and where she comes from. Read Rest of Interview Here

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