Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. He is the author of two full-length poetry collections, WARBLES and DREAMT, or The Lingering Phantoms of Equinox, both published by Hekate Publishing. His poems, short stories and op-eds have appeared in various print and electronic publications. He holds an M.A. in English Literature and Language from St. Mary’s University.
What is your writing process?
In hindsight, it would’ve been impossible for me to write the way I truly want to without first tackling challenging literature from writers whose walks of life vary astoundingly. In the United States, at least, once you sneak, or bulldoze, past the literary “canon” still prescribed to readers, you learn fast the world of writing (the written world) is a labyrinth, where one turn (i.e., traditionally underrepresented writer) begets another, so on and so forth ad infinitum.
I’ve come to terms that I won’t have time, mercifully, to read all the books on earth, so I do my due diligence and research carefully what I absorb. (This isn’t to say I play it safe.)
I try to write only when inspired, and by continually reading classic and contemporary literature, I believe I’m increasing my odds for inspiration. For instance, a poem in DREAMT, titled “Gallery,” which I wrote in maybe 20 minutes in April—in the horrible blooming of the coronavirus pandemic—arrived to me as a gift as I read Paul Auster’s White Spaces, a collection of his early poetry and prose.
Ideas are fleeting, and often interrupt me when it’s inconvenient, so I’ve disciplined myself to write them down as they come, to the extent possible. I sometimes wonder about the purgatory where all my missed-opportunity stories and poems end up, praying on their knees eternally for the slothful sins of their father. There’s my Catholic guilt popping out.
Another thing about my process is in 2016, I began drinking black coffee daily, and that’s helped me relax when I sit down to read or write. I listen to jazz, alternative rock and reggae records when I feel like searching for a writing rhythm to fall into. I sometimes pace around my apartment reading aloud something I or someone else wrote, because I enjoy experiencing the lyricality of words in motion.
How did you go about selecting which poems you wanted to be in this book? What was it about them that made you choose them?
Around the time I was finalizing the manuscript for WARBLES, I started writing these dream poems, or poems that began with the words: “I dreamt…” Which, I quickly recognized, were an homage (!) to—and continuation of—a series of starkly quirky poems by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño begun with the same words. “I dreamt…”
In these poems, I found myself conversing with writers dead (Bolaño, Ayn Rand, Denis Johnson, etc.) and, as of this writing, living (Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami, Sigrid Nunez, etc.) whose work—get ready for it—stirred me!
After amassing enough dream poems—while also continuing to write them as they frequently interrupted my conscience while I showered—I strung together another manuscript, of which I’d already decided on the title: DREAMT. (In April, Analog Submission Press published a chapbook, Dreamt; on July 4, Hekate Publishing released the full-length collection, DREAMT, or The Lingering Phantoms of Equinox.)
After putting together the manuscript, I occasionally eyeballed the table of contents, visualized the poems in a cohesive, physical collection (a very important step for me), and carried on with the delusion that my book would be published, that my poems would sing together in harmony—become a lifeforce that grew out of my brain and fingers into something else, something tangible, via the formerly blank page.
Part of the fun, and terror, of dreams is that they’re in many ways beyond our control and grasp, so in that sense, writing poems to replicate the squirrely and unruly nature of the dreamscape was a challenge and a worthwhile experiment. My dream poems needed to develop organically yet intentionally, if that makes any shred of sense…
You reference music quite a bit throughout DREAMT, and you even have an entire poem, “Ode to Brittany Howard”, dedicated to a single musician. How is the structure of your poetry affected by the composition of the music you listen to?
In my first poetry book, WARBLES, there’s a poem dedicated to Alicia Keys. Maybe I have a thing for soul singers!
The music of Brittany Howard and Alicia Keys, for example, moves me deeply, in a way that’s specific and also difficult to pin down in precise words. Hence, poetry, which allowed me a way in, so to speak, to access—and attempt to chronicle in writing—the emotions their songs evoked in me. For I believe that poetry is but one of many mediums in which people can respond to something with; poets, in this regard, are first responders of emotion.
Plain and simple, writers—and poets especially—ought to write about what moves them. Otherwise, poetry is merely a gratuitous exercise in wordplay. Boring.
I discovered over time that art and music stir me profoundly, so it’s no surprise thinking on my poems that some of them pay necessary homage to contemporary muses like Edward Hopper, John Coltrane, Yo-Yo Ma and OutKast. I use “necessary” specifically for my case; I don’t believe all poets are obliged to pay homage to another artist. Maybe the non-negotiable here, in my view, is that all poets ought to be stirred by their work, romantic as that sounds.
As for the structure of my homage poems, they’re usually dictated first by the uncontrollable nature of my emotional response, then, through tons of editing via the passage of time, I guess I can say I intellectualize the process, thereby attempting to craft the end product into a readable and, more importantly—fingers crossed—relatable work.
In “Native” how did it feel writing about Sherman Alexie? Did it feel like you were in his head or was it written more closely as disappointment in his actions?
I’m not sure how to answer the first part of this question, because writing “Native” happened spontaneously. But, if I had to assign it a feeling, it’d probably be sadness, and also frustration with Sherman Alexie’s actions revealed by the Me Too movement, and also heartbrokenness for the women he hurt.
Alexie is one of my favorite authors, and is such a culturally important presence—an American Indian writer whose work is raw, honest, and genuinely beautiful. His poetry is lyrical and soulful (read: “Tribal Music.”), and his novel, Indian Killer, should be studied at all universities.
In “Native,” I hold my muse accountable for his dishonorable deeds, and lambast him despite his literary significance, which, to me, feels like a damned Greek tragedy.
What is the funniest or oddest dream you’ve ever had and can remember?
I wouldn’t dare put in writing the oddest (and scariest) dream I’ve had! But the second-oddest (and funniest) dream involved a friend and I going to the mall—a place that resembled both Rolling Oaks Mall in San Antonio and the now nearly defunct Sunrise Mall in Corpus Christi. I was on a mission: to swing by a pawn shop operated by Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars from the History Channel and perform some hardnosed bargaining. I’d discovered in my kitchen cabinet, for whatever reason, a gold-seeming and seemingly valuable trinket, and I can clearly recall Rick examining my item, then, after a few seconds, asking me how much I wanted for it. I answered, with a smirk, “Oh, probably twenty thousand or so.” Rick, stone-faced, immediately responded, “Not gonna happen, buddy. Try twenty bucks.” Shamelessly, though a little ticked off, I said, “Deal,” and Rick handed me a twenty and didn’t even bother doing the paperwork. My friend and I walked to the food court and I said lunch was on me. He went to the restroom and as I waited for him, a man in a beige trench coat accosted me and said, discreetly, “Hand it over.” I said, “C’mon, man, it’s only twenty dollars.” The man, who must’ve known what I was already thinking, then pulled out a gun in his right hand and a knife in his left. I said, “Really, dude? Is that necessary?” As I handed him my money, I asked, “Do you take checks?” then kneed him hard where the sun don’t shine—just as my friend stepped out of the restroom. “Let’s get the heck outta Dodge!” I yelled at my friend, then kicked away the gun and knife that the thief had dropped. (Amateur mistake, I know.) A foot chase ensued, and after narrowly escaping the thief and speeding off in my red Mustang—yes, I was driving a red Mustang all of a sudden—the earth cracked open and lava shot out what seemed a hundred feet in the air. Suddenly, my friend and I were airborne, screaming for the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like action movie our lives had become—also, for our probable imminent demise.
Interested in reading WARBLES and DREAMT?
So are we!
You can find both in paperback on Hekate Publishing’s website here!