A native to Miami, poet Fausto Barrionuevo recently earned an M.F.A. in poetry at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where he was awarded a full-time lectureship position. He has poems published or forthcoming in several journals, including Off the Coast, decomP Magazine, Rugarou and Sliver of Stone, and was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2011 for his poem "Ground".
Fausto talked to us about what has influenced his work thus far, how he sees poetry in relation to other genres and his fascination with New Orleans.
Dariel Suarez: Can you describe the process of going from being an undergrad English major in Miami to now a graduate of a renown M.F.A. program? How has this process changed you?
Fausto Barrionuevo: The transition helped my individuality as a writer and developed a new reliance on finding interesting prompts in the news, folklore, and history. This, in turn, provided many avenues for my writing to contribute to a variety of conversations.
DS: How has growing up in Miami influenced your poetry? What interests you most about South Florida?
FB: Looking back as I tend to do in work, Miami has become a place of mystique and atmosphere, where I comment on characters / people I’ve meet or heard about. As a result, I have used forms like the dramatic monologue, much like Browning tended to do in his work to capture these voices and stories, which ultimately acts as a vehicle to comment about things I both like and dislike about Miami. Now living in Greensboro, N.C., South Florida seems like another planet, which, in some way, has rekindled my relationship and interest in a very multi-ethnic culture that deals with materialism and self loathing, and I try to capture these layers in my work.
DS: Some of your work can be described as surreal or as having surrealist influences. What draws you to this kind of writing?
FB: In terms of surrealism, although the era itself is over, I find that its techniques are alive and well in contemporary poetry. For instance, in Simic’s rather surrealistic collection, The World Doesn’t End, his work allows for an atmosphere and sense of wonderment that hope. I see myself aligning with such an aesthetic. While not every one of my poems is surrealistic, they do create a different perspective and angle on topics that have been discussed at great length in other works. In a way, though, I feel adventurous looking at world from a spoon’s perspective if only for a line or two, and I believe that this fresh, surrealistic perspective allows us to look at these mundane objects in new ways.
DS: New Orleans has been the setting in a few of your poems, including some of your previously published work. What about that place fascinates you as a person and a writer?
FB: Like Miami, New Orleans is home to a real-life host of characters who are more on the grotesque side. This environment nurtures those voices that appear throughout my writing. I try to have my settings shape my personas and even inflect the dialogue in my work. On a personal level, I have always been a sucker for hoodoo merchants and voodoo grandmothers, they intrigue me.
DS: Poetry is often thought of as a very personal or confessional genre. Why do you think that is? How personal should writers get in their work?
FB: Writing a diary and writing poetry are two very different things. There is a visible line between the two that many consider thin, and others, unapproachable. I even find that some poets even fear poetry’s power to reveal a type of honesty. However, I believe that poetry demands such honesty. The mark in the sand for me in my own writing is that poetry should never become so confessional that it no longer is universal. When it transgresses like this, the poet has gone too far.
DS: What aspects of life, yourself, and your background are you most interested in exploring?
FB: My sister, who is autistic, is the focal point of my exploration into my life, and inevitably this draws my mother and father into my work as well. Autism is not one of those words (if there are any) that tells its reader all they need to know. Growing up, I found that my life was somewhat unique, as I am connected to a responsibility that will live with me to my end. At the same time, my sister is a joy and the source of my happiness and inspiration. I find looking at her and trying to perceive the world as she interacts with it allows for a level of empathy that cannot, at least for me, be matched anywhere else.
DS: What's the process like for you to write a poem? How do you balance musicality, rhythm, and content?
FB: In my poems, I balance musicality, rhythm, and content in the revision process, through trial and error, and most importantly, by simply spending prolonged time with the work. For me, constructing the content of the poem is the best part, as this element creates the poem’s importance, and without something for the reader to grasp onto, even the most brilliant and lyrical phrases are eventually forgotten. At the same time, I remain conscientious of how musicality can entrance the reader while rhythm propels him/her forward in the poem.
DS: Film is one of your main interests. What kind of impact does it have on your writing?
FB: I grew up with film. At a young age, my father exposed me to all types of movies. I learned the structure of storytelling through visual learning and applied this knowledge to my writing once I turned to poetry. Film affects my poetry in several different ways; for instance, in my ability to pick out key descriptors that transport my reader into that memory or time presented in my poetry. Also, just like how a director moves an audience through a scene, I move my readers’ eyes and thoughts towards objects, personas, and important themes. Naturally, this has shaped the form of my poetry as well, as I typically use dialogs to explore tensions, conflicts, and inner emotions of different characters and situations.
DS: What main differences do you see between the craft of writing poetry and the craft of writing fiction and screenplays?
FB: I would argue that most people think that what differentiates a poem from a work of fiction or a screenplay is how it looks on the page. In other words, most think that what is distinct about poetry is the fact that it is broken into lines. I offer the case of the prose poem, one of my favorite kinds of poetry, as a challenge to this. This kind of poetry pushes us to think of the form not just as lines on a page that convey meaning, but as a precise and concise genre that creates a jolt in its readers through this compact precision.
DS: What projects are you working on at the moment? What can we expect from Fausto Barrionuevo in the next few years?
FB: Currently, I am working on my first chapbook, which as of right now will explore speakers and personas who are paradoxically grotesque and lovable, who shoulder real responsibilities yet also commit questionable acts. I hope these poems comment on contemporary society and its occasionally destructive habits. These are not characters that are on pedestals. These are characters that we all know, have come into contact with, and as much as we wouldn’t like to admit, are reflections of ourselves.