Andrés Cerpa is the author of Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy, and The Vault from Alice James Books. A recipient of fellowships from McDowell and Canto Mundo, his work has appeared in Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day, The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Puerto Rico en mi Corazón, The Breakbeat Poets Vol 4: LatiNext, The Nation + elsewhere. He holds degrees from the University of Delaware and Rutgers University Newark.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
I see reading poetry as a beginning. If I believe language matters, and I do, the poem must then make its way into the language of my life. I must learn from it. Reading allows us brief windows into the depths of others, which is a terribly difficult thing to see, even in our most intimate relationships. When I find a poem I love, when I study an author, a whole system of the poet’s concerns, lives and ideas become connected to my understanding of the human experience. Therefore, poetry has given me deeper access to my own humanity and, as Peter Gizzi has said, “my bibliography is my autobiography.” When I am in the act of writing, the poems protect me. They protect me when I write them, and when I read aloud, and when I hold them in my body. I know many of my poems by heart. Not because I try to memorize them, but because they’re already a part of me, as sound.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
Each poem is comprised of all the poems that came before it. We work within our context and time through other poems, the way jazz standards are played with new interpretations and flourishes, voices and instruments, to arrive at a pattern wholly intricate with the work of the myriad voices. Poems necessitate and inspire their own revision. By acknowledging that, in the moment of writing, whether consciously or not, that other poems live within our work, we can become more open to the resonant notes that strengthen and ultimately challenge us to become more fully ourselves as writers. One line, an image, a system, or form can move a writer toward the articulation of the vast depth of their, and therefore our, humanity. Through this lens, each poem becomes a composite translation, whose ultimate aim is to birth another work. Yet all of this takes time, time and dedication. As Rilke said in Letters to A Young Poet, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.”
What makes a good writing mentor?
Writing is an act of discovery. The discoveries that writers make, through the development of their craft, about themselves and the world, have consequences for both their personal and artistic lives. The best mentors, in my experience, work to nurture their communities in order to ensure that the space – whatever that space may be – in which they collaboratively create is a place of deep attention and generosity. To develop that deep attention and generosity we must read and read and revisit. Mentors must speak honestly and offer avenues of possibility.
What is your style of feedback?
The heart of my work as a mentor is to foster improvisation and rebellion through collaboration. All writers are on a journey that takes solitude and deep attention, and sometimes it helps to have someone there. My strengths, and what I find valuable from a mentor, is to help students see connections between individual poems, aid in sequencing and editing as a body of work emerges, offer possibilities, and collaborate with mentees on how to navigate developments in their writing to propel their body of work and work as an artist forward. I often provide written feedback on individual poems and bring forth discussions of process, patterns, mentor texts, and the trajectory of an artist’s work