Under Pressure: Esteban Rodríguez

Esteban Rodríguez, author of In Bloom

In Bloom, Esteban Rodríguez

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of the poetry collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. His work has appeared in Boulevard, Shenandoah, The Rumpus, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas. 


Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Esteban Rodríguez: I like titles that don’t distract from the poem itself, at least in the poems that I write. I wholeheartedly admire the way some poets utilize long titles and how those titles sometimes lead into the poems themselves. I, however, have never felt comfortable relying on such a technique, hence the one- or two-word titles that appear in my work (“Quicksand,” “Lotería,” “Ballad,” “Golgotha,” etc.). I’m hoping that my titles say something about the poem without revealing everything about it, and more importantly, I’m hoping that readers are invited to enter the poem without feeling as though—right from the onset—they will be burdened with what it’s attempting to convey. 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

ER: Deadlines are key for me getting work done. I’ve known poets—and have read about writers— who write when inspiration hits them. I like the idea of writing being organic in that manner (for some it works amazingly well) but perhaps because I’m a bit impatient at times I impose deadlines on myself. Generally, my goal is to write a poem every week, and I try to have the framework of a manuscript done in about eight to ten months. The project might change over the course of those months. I might go a different direction or add poems that I’m trying to salvage from a past project, so I always try the remain flexible. Nevertheless, I try to treat my writing as a job, and the more disciplined I am, the more I’m able to produce. It sounds highly impersonal (and oddly capitalistic), but it’s the route I fell into and the one I feel works best for me, at least for the moment. 

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

ER: W.S. Merwin has been occupying most of my reading this year. I read his collection The Vixen last spring, and to say that it had a profound impact on me would be an understatement. I bought his Collected Works in January and have been devouring it ever since. There is a timelessness to his work, and I’m glad my enthusiasm for his poetry has not waned over the past few months. I’m also reading Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s last two collections, Song and The Orchard, which have served as inspiration when trying to write about and depict landscapes in my own work.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

ER: The best advice I’ve received was not from a mentor, but from my wife. About five years ago, I became a high school English teacher and I was finding it difficult to adjust to the workload and the schedule (the hours were long to say the least). I was not writing, and the moments when I was were less productive that I had hoped for. At the time, I was seriously considering applying to a PhD program in Creative Writing, but not because of the passion that drives most writers to apply to such a program, but rather to escape the onslaught of work I was faced with. My wife, quite bluntly, said that was a stupid reason to apply, and that ultimately if I wanted to write, if I wanted to see myself as a writer, I needed to find a way to do so, regardless of what my job was. Though this doesn’t sound profound enough to warrant being put on a motivational poster, the discipline I have toward writing and poetry spurred from this conversation.  

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  (Have you read there? Highlight bookstores/eateries.)

ER: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite literary city. I live in Austin, which has a great literary scene (Malvern Books, Texas Book Festival, Michener Center for Writers), and it’s undoubtedly great to be surrounded by it. Inspiration, however, comes from the books I read, and I think Austin, or any city for that matter, merely provides encouragement to write. The Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes said in an interview once that his country was the country of artists and painters that he admired, and I too echo those sentiments.

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

ER: I’m really drawn to art, and my intention after graduating high school was study to become an artist. That path, for various reasons, didn’t pan out, but I’ve always been fascinated with creating artwork, and I deeply admire the innovative ways in which something can be expressed on a canvas (my art days, sadly, are behind me). Nevertheless, I see a lot of parallels between the two, and perhaps that’s where my needs to paint an image on page comes from. If I can get readers to see an image and examine it in a way that they would a piece of art, then I think I’ve stirred something in them that makes them seek a deeper interpretation and meaning.

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

ER: Reading. I read every day, even if my schedule makes it difficult for me to do so. If I can spare even ten minutes to read a few pages of poetry, then I make sure I spend those ten minutes wisely. Also, exercise is not a bad way to keep the mind focused.

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

ER: I used to write in a journal in my early twenties. I would spend a few hours writing down notes and sketching an outline for a poem. Eventually, this became unsustainable, particularly because as I changed jobs, the hours I worked increased significantly. I had to adapt, and nowadays I write poems on the Notes app on my phone. This has allowed me to work on my poems wherever I’m at—no need to find a space, open my notebook, and hope that the ink in my pen hasn’t run out. It also allows me to immerse myself in the poem more. Since it is quite literally on me, I feel a closer connection to it, and I feel that I can write it in a more intimate manner.

BRP: Would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

ER: Both. I feel I’m an editor of individual poems but a curator when I’m trying to arrange my poems into a collection.

BRP: What advice would you offer to young writers on the topic of inspiration?

ER: This advice has probably been given a million times, but if you’re looking for a source of inspiration, then look no further than books. Read. Read a lot. And when you feel that you have read enough to put pen to paper, finish that last line and read some more. 

BRP: If you had to describe In Bloom in only three words, which would they be and why?

ER: I would say the following three: Home. Family. Celebration. 

Order In Bloom here!