Fall 2016 Issue: An Interview with Poet, Stephanie Adams-Santos


This October, on the 1st of the month, the BACKWORDS Press team has the distinct pleasure of sharing the work of our Fall 2016 poets: Bianca Flores, Stephanie Adams-Santos, and Janice Worthen. We're collaborating with a new graphic designer for the issue—we'll introduce you to him later on—because right now we'd like to acquaint you with our new writers.

Like we've done with past issues, our Fall 2016 Issue writers have helped us to gear up for the October release with a series of brief interviews—which posted last week, this week, and next. Today, you'll be meeting poet, Stephanie Adams-Santos.

Here's her bio: Stephanie Adams-Santos is a Guatemalan-American writer, educator, and divination artist from Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Swarm Queen’s Crown (Fathom Books, 2016) and several chapbooks: Total Memory (Finishing Line Press, 2016); Little Fugues (Sola Books, 2015) and The Sundering (Poetry Society of America, 2009), which was selected by Linda Gregg as winner of the New York Chapbook Fellowship. Adams-Santos’ poems have appeared in many print and online journals and magazines, including Guernica Magazine, The Boston Review, and Orion. Her work has also been featured in Poetry Press Week at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center. She is the founder of the Aperture Workshop Series in Poetry.

Read the interview below:

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BACKWORDS Press: How do you begin a poem?

Stephanie Adams-Santos: “ . . . I cast myself in a hollow of shadow / from the highest contour of the blood to the closest hip / from the skin to the light entering through dawn / from the shadow to the lips / climbing up through the syllable” –Eunice Odio

BACKWORDS Press: How long have you been writing?

SAS: When the brooding chthonic world within has somehow gotten larger than the bounds of the container, I think, the writer is born: you start to string things together in a private place, say, a journal, the inside of a textbook, you catch little pieces of the ineffable Thing and on the blank page they become like seeds and you can tend to them there, outside of yourself, where they continue to grow like little bonsais. You prune and tame them, trying to keep them alive. This started for me when I was around 13 years old. My first poem was written for Ms. Cross in the 6th grade:

A tree grows inside my mind,

Branches of burden blossoming wide.

When fall arrives no leaves drop,

And the joy of life comes to a stop.

BACKWORDS Press: In terms of prosody or form, what really makes a poem tick for you? What makes it speak?

SAS: Like Hélène Cixous says, “We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing.” In terms of prosody, that’s a very gnostic undertaking. The sounds you are looking for must surpass your ego, the needs of your ego. The music is Beyond. That’s a good line is not enough. People laughing and clapping in a bar is not enough. The line must form a dagger that slays you, so you must survive what you yourself create, and then you rise from it, you learn from it, you must bow to it because it also gives your life. It’s very spiritually demanding. I have only two poems I have ever written that “tick” for me, and I am still very far from my mark.

BACKWORDS Press: Which poets do you continually go back to?

SAS: The serious & the mystic ones. There seems to be absolutely no irony and very little humor in what nourishes me. I’m a Scorpio, death-drive & all.

BACKWORDS Press: Why BACKWORDS Press? What made you want to submit?

SAS: I enjoy physical objects. I am very material in that way—I am a builder of shrines, a collector of things I can hold and give away. I love that Backwords Press puts poems onto shirts, so they can walk about the world and be worn down and handed off, found years later in a vintage shop...

BACKWORDS Press: Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or any other Social Media platforms? How does this affect your writing, community?

SAS: I keep up an Instagram thing for my bruja-self at: @tarotobscuro & that has a great deal to do with my approach to poetry. I read tarot cards and have other divinatory practices that exist within and without my poetic practice. I enjoy the visual aspect of Instagram—the curatorial aspect. I like speaking to strangers...

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Adams-Santos's poem, “Woodcut,” is one of three original poems written by working writers for the Fall 2016 Issue. The full issue will be released on October 1st, 2016, everywhere, available online in the BACKWORDS Press Shop.