Paul Hlava Ceballos Recommends...

It’s easy to fall into the despair of wanting too much. The decade I was researching and writing my poetry collection, banana [ ], was punctuated by that despair. Old classmates and colleagues published books and won prizes, and I wanted that. I wanted to be farther along in my research. I wanted my poems to be perfectly crafted. I wanted them to be more than that: to also have substance. To complete the book’s title poem required years of personal growth, and for years the poem was so close—I could feel it like an ache.

I needed to remind myself that the work was not about what I wanted. The poems about banana laborers, or even about my family, were not about what I wanted. Poetry didn’t need me. What I needed was my communities, my local and political communities. I needed to work with them and for them—off the page.

Volunteering at a dayworkers and immigrant rights center for a few years helped me see myself as part of something. I occasionally joined folks who organized marches against police violence, friends who organized against predatory developers, and local labor protests. Craft classes ask what is at stake in a poem, but it’s important to remember what is at stake where we live, what are the risks, and for whom. Even people who don’t belong to threatened communities must remember who we owe the land to, our agriculture, and the economic debts we owe. By working around my people, I was reminded of where I came from, and why writing is important. I made a couple friends too.
—Paul Hlava Ceballos, author of banana [ ] (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022)  

Photo credit: Tasha Nicole Uria