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SG Huerta

A Journey Through Poetry: A Conversation with SG Huerta 


SG Huerta (’23) is a Chicanx poet from Dallas pursuing their MFA at Texas State University. SG is the author of the chapbook The Things We Bring with Us: Travel Poems, published by Headmistress Press in 2021. The Things We Bring with Us was a finalist of the 2020 Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest, judged by Vi Khi Nao. SG is an assistant prose poetry editor for Pithead Chapel and a reader for Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. Naomi Wilson ('23) sat down with SG to discuss The Things We Bring with Us, traveling, Texas, Lorca, and craft.

NW: So, The Things We Bring with Us: Travel Poems was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest. How does it feel? What does the road that brought you to this moment look like?


SG: The first thing that comes to mind is the word unreal, that's what I've been saying since August. Honestly, I genuinely owe a lot to the creative writing department at my undergrad school, Texas Tech University, because that is where a lot of those poems were written, due to opportunities I had there. 

But I clearly remember writing my first poem when I was 10, when my parents got divorced. My parents, when they realized I had an interest in poetry, were both immediately like, yes, do that. I didn't know that you could do it, though, as a career. I've been journaling obsessively for the last 12 years of my life and in my old journals there's stuff that I would write that was like, ‘Oh, I want to be a writer when I grow up.’ But as I got older, it felt like that wasn’t an option, like ‘Okay, I’ll be a veterinarian.’

Then I got to college and chemistry was very hard, and I could not stop writing poems. So I, on a whim, switched to a creative writing major and thought I was disappointing everyone, but they were all very supportive. When I was younger, my parents were always big on reading and writing. So I genuinely owe a lot to my mom and my dad. I dedicated the collection, The Things We Bring with Us to both of them because my mom, especially, has been such a big influence on me and my writing. I actually found out about being a finalist for the prize the day after my dad passed away unexpectedly last summer, so it was just a weird, really weird feeling. Because I didn't get to share that with him. My family, my sister too, are very big influences on me.


NW: How did this collection start taking shape? Did you know before it began forming, that you'd be writing poems on your travels?


SG: Yes, and I owe this to my mentor, my professor at Texas Tech, Dr. John Poch, because I studied abroad with him in Spain. This was in 2018 when it started to take shape. It was an independent study in English, a senior level class, and the prompts he gave me we're all about poetry of travel. That's what we studied. I wanted to go to Italy for this writers conference in the summer and was trying to get funding from the school and he said, ‘Hey, you should make a chapbook of your travel poems.’ Instantly, I was like, oh, man, you're right. I should. I was in the Honors College and I was thinking about pursuing an honors thesis. Not too many people were doing creative theses, but I asked if I could do a creative one, like poetry, and they said yes. So once I realized that's what I was doing, I began leaning into it, I guess, a little bit more than I would have if it was just individual poems. But some of them, like the oldest poem in there is Mangled Pigeons, are in the Back Home section. I call that my cheating section because it was all poems I wanted to include that were not necessarily about travels. It all just came together.


NW: Can you tell me about the title, The Things We Bring with Us. What it means to who you are, and what your poetry is?


SG:  I remember I came up with the title when I was going to Columbus for a work thing with a couple of my co-workers. I was in the middle of working on my thesis and I just started writing a poem about, I don't know if this is like a cliche thing, but just the concept of baggage, literal and emotional. On my travels I have minimal literal baggage, but a lot of emotional baggage, for sure. I was just thinking about how a lot of the opportunities I got to travel, and I'm not ungrateful, it's just that oftentimes, my funding was secured, because, like the first line of the book says, white strangers often give me money for traveling for work. I feel like my identity does play a role in my life, my travels. So I just started to write about how, no matter where I go, I'm always going to be like this. Me. That's how the title came to be. I started writing the first poem in the book when I was inspired by this Carrie Fisher quote, where she says, ‘I wish I could go somewhere, but the problem is, I'd have to go too.’ So, a lot of the collection is me grappling with having bipolar disorder, with being a part of the queer community, being Chicanx. The title just popped into my head because, you know, the poem ends on a city with light and lighter baggage. The reason it's the things we bring with us, despite most of the poems being first person is that I am writing this for queer Mexican teenagers who are figuring shit out, you know? And maybe they also have a rough relationship with their dad, or maybe they don't really fit in anywhere, the Chicanx experience of not being enough of one thing or another. I wanted it to be a shared thing.


NW: In Santa Cruz, you say, “I'm facing 10 of myself.” I love that line. I feel that it speaks to your poetic explorations and the themes that you discuss. Do you often find that you're facing yourself in your poetry?


SG: All the time. And I don't always like it. It's a difficult thing because with poetry, there's no facade. It's all there. There is that distance between the poet, the speaker, and the audience, but for me, in the act of writing, there's no hiding. I don't have anything to hide behind, because it's me confronting these things. In that poem, specifically, confronting horrible things. I think it fits with the theme of religious turmoil, and just confronting legacy, and how I'm benefiting from these oppressive systems that have been in place for centuries.


NW: In Plaza de Espana, you use the phrase ‘pueblo magico.’ What did that mean to you then? What does it mean to you now?


SG: I have not spent extensive time in Mexico, unfortunately, which is something I've always wanted to do, I just haven't had the opportunity to do so. But I wanted to know more, in writing this poem, about where my grandma was born. She was born, as the poem says, in Villa de Santiago. The first thing I did in my poet research was Google it, because I didn't know much about it, other than the stories I've heard from her. I always find it interesting to learn about your history from someone who lived it. And the nickname for it, the town, is actually El Pueblo Magico. That's so poetic. But now, it also took on this mythical thing of like, you know, I've never been there. It's a different place than it was when my grandmother was born. It's a different place than it was before colonization, and things like that.


NW: One is one thing I noticed in The Things We Bring with Us is a precision and an intention, with line breaks specifically. For instance, in On the Steps of St. Jean’s, you write “And although this half empty New York City / Cathedral boasts high ceilings.” Can you talk about your process when deciding how a poem looks on the page?


SG: Everyone has their thing with line breaks. I really like to find the element of surprise, or the multiplicity of meaning. The line says one thing, and then you go to the next, and you're like, ‘Oh, shit, it also says another thing.’ With that line specifically, I think I was trying to invoke Lorca. Poet in New York is very much about his loneliness, so I felt that the first line, by not saying cathedral yet, was kind of invoking that loneliness of New York City. In terms of form, I really love prose poetry. It's so compelling to me, but I still don't understand it, if that makes sense. And I think that's the beauty of poetry. When it's right, it's right. It's just like a gut instinct. With Plaza de Espana, I thought this needs to be a prose poem because when I was there three years ago, I was just wandering around, not really any specific type of order to it. In that poem I discussed the symmetry freaking me out. So, I just wanted to express that in a block of prose as opposed to any fancy shape.


NW: You mentioned Eileen Myles in this collection. Who are some other poets and writers that have influenced your poetic style?


SG: I love that you mentioned Eileen Myles because I talk about them in every class. Gosh, so many. I'm always falling in love with more poets. It's hard to say for this collection specifically, but Elizabeth Bishop was a big one for me. In my first study abroad trip we read Questions of Travel. I thought it was very interesting that she was talking about colonialism, and condemning it, but also participating in neocolonialism. It kind of made me question, am I doing that? I don't want to do that. Her style, the way she reflects movement in her homes and the uncertainty, but yet certainty at the same time. The missing mother figure in her poems. Jorie Graham does very interesting things with line breaks, especially in the collection Erosion. I remember reading that while writing the poems in this collection.

Also, Chad Davidson. His work actually had an influence on this collection as well. Especially his book From the Fire Hills because he goes back and forth between California and Italy. He's just a fantastic person and fantastic writer. What he does with line breaks blows my mind and he is a master at wordplay, he'll use a word and then subvert it in the next line. It's just amazing.


NW: From reading this collection and other poems of yours, it seems to me that you identify strongly with your Texan roots. What does that mean to your work and how does Texas show up in your poetry?


SG: I love Texas. I'm not sure that it loves me but, you know, I have a very complicated relationship with Texas. I'm not one to go super far back into my genealogy but I do know that my dad's dad has traced back the land he has in South Texas back to before Texas was even Texas. When it was still Mexico. So I think that's fascinating to me because we've always been here. I think that my connection to Texas is also my connection to being Mexican American. I also think that part of being a Texan is portraying it in my work, because it has had an influence on me, but also grappling with it. It's okay to love something imperfect. If you love it, you're gonna work to improve it. So I think that's my take on it. Like I said, I did undergrad in Lubbock. I've always known since I was a kid that I was queer. But being openly queer in Lubbock, Texas was not my favorite experience. It could have been worse, but it certainly could have been less painful. I think that's another thing I grapple with is like, I can't even exist sometimes. Especially now with all the anti-trans legislation happening throughout the South. That's also a thing that I have to think about.


NW: Your poems discuss a range of both introspective and worldly things. Faith, identity, distance, closeness, inbetweenness. You’re able to find balance between feeling othered and knowing that you're part of a bigger picture. How do you find that balance and maintain it in your poetry?


SG: My life changed when I started reading living poets. I didn't know you could be a poet in 2015. I thought it was just Emily Dickinson, who I love, she was my first favorite poet. But I thought it was just like Dickinson and Keats. I wasn't aware of the vast, vast array of queer poetry out there. And trans poetry out there. And Chicanx poetry out there. I remember the summer of 2018, I had quite a bit of free time when I came back from Spain and I was checking out like five books a day from the library, mainly Chicanx. Once I started reading that, I was like, holy shit. I feel like the staple of Chicanx literature is that otherness, but also an unapologetic-ness. You're being marginalized on a few different sides, especially if you're not a man, especially if you're not straight, especially based on socioeconomic status. Once I found that those poets were doing the work and have been doing the work for decades, something clicked. With my poetry, that otherness comes when I'm getting into my head about things. Like, I grew up Catholic and therefore my sexuality was very much repressed. But at the same time, it's not just me, there are plenty of other people out there with the same experiences as me. I think that we deserve to be able to talk about it. It's a balance of expressing this is how it is and it's not the most ideal way to feel, but I'm not alone in it. And I want other people to feel less alone in it.


NW: The Things We Bring with Us is a collection of travel poems. How has your process had to adjust in the past year, when travel wasn’t possible?


SG: Not traveling is sad, for many reasons, and I pride myself on being a thrifty traveler. It's been hard writing the majority of my poems in my living room, within these 400 square feet, because most of my poems, before COVID, were written in Lubbock coffee shops, this bench outside the English building I was always sitting on, at work, just, you know, various places. On airplanes, on car rides. I'm becoming more observant, I think, of my own world. I used to love writing on that bench outside the English building because I could just take in everything around me and have that inform what I was writing, but now it's like, ‘Okay, I'm in the same place every single day, not much is changing. There are still things to be noticed, and discussed and explored.’ I think this is true for a lot of queer people, but right before COVID started, I knew that I was trans, but I wasn't really out until the pandemic started, when I had more time to just be by myself. Obviously, the pandemic has been a horrible thing and I think this is gonna have a lasting impact on everyone's psyche, but one benefit, that I think is true for a lot of people figuring things out, is that it gave me the privacy and space to figure things out. And also start writing about it. It's not as apparent in this collection, but the stuff I'm writing now is very much exploring gender identity and being unapologetic about it.


NW: Lorca has a big influence on you. You've even named your cat Lorca after the poet and your poem, Finding Lorca speaks to that connection and to a special moment that you've experienced. What was it that you found in Lorca that connected you to his poetry? How does that influence come through in your poetry?


SG: When I took that class in Spain, my professor was trying to balance showing us poetry of travel, but also some Spanish poets. I read Lorca for the first time, and he was part of the Generacion del Noventa y Ocho, Generation ‘98. He was born in 1898. I was born in 1998. I am a big believer in signs, like the littlest things and felt like that was a sign. We're learning about this poet who writes dope poems, and he's born 100 years before me. Then I learned the horrible circumstances under which he died, he was assassinated most likely because he was gay and openly gay. At the time I was, and still am, grappling with that myself. That was just another parallel that I felt. He died so young, which made me a little nervous, and I was living in Lubbock at the time so the fear of that active homophobia connected us too. I felt connected to Lorca, and this sounds kind of silly, but on a personal level, not just on a poetry level. Then when I started on my own, outside of that class, reading stuff from Poet in New York, the surrealism and the loneliness was at the root of it, trying to find himself was at the root of it. Were in Madrid at one point, and there was this statue of him. It was beautiful. Someone had even put flowers in his hands, and it was very close to his birthday. He just kept popping up. Then I heard Cyrus Cassells was coming to a reading when I was at Texas Tech, and I had read one of his poems on Poem-a-Day, one of my favorite ways of discovering poets. Then he comes, and starts reading all these poems about Lorca. Another sign.


NW: Where to next, SG?


SG: Are we talking physically, as in travel poems?


NW: We’re talking all the things! But yes, that was a little pun on the travel poem.


SG: Well, I just got back from Madison, Wisconsin. It was my first time traveling in over a year. I'm fully-vaccinated, my best friend from high school, he's fully-vaccinated. So I went up there to spend time with him, thinking maybe I'll write some poems. I did not write any about Madison itself, so hopefully I’ll be going there again. What's next? I have, in just one year of being here at Texas State, seen my work change so drastically. Everything has been so eye-opening to me and I’ve been learning from my classmates. Everyone has such insightful things to say, professors have such insightful things to say. Just getting to reach more people and read more people from all different backgrounds has been awesome. Last semester, I took a women's epics class with Cecily Parks, and it was an amazing class, we got to write our own epic. Mine focuses more on my dad and his bipolar disorder, my bipolar disorder, his death. It’s about six pages currently, so I am trying to expand it to chapbook length and see what happens with that. I just like having a project to be working on. So, that's my next goal. Same old writing about my little brain.


Find SG Huerta at their website or on Twitter.



Spring 2021