Under Pressure: Sara Lupita Olivares

Migratory Sound, Sara Lupita Olivares

Sara Lupita Olivares is the author of Migratory Sound (The University of Arkansas Press), which was selected as winner of the 2020 CantoMundo Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Field Things (dancing girl press). Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Salt Hill Journal, DIAGRAM, jubilat, and elsewhere. She currently lives in New Mexico where she works as an assistant professor of English at New Mexico Highlands University.  


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did working on Migratory Sound take, from conception to publication?

Sara Lupita Olivares: I started the poems after moving from Michigan to Texas for my MFA where some were part of my thesis. I then moved to Brooklyn, NY for a few years and wrote some of the poems there, and then once I returned back to Michigan for my PhD I wrote the poems that finished the manuscript. It went through so much weeding out and adding in throughout this time and took many shapes. But for a short answer—I suppose about 9 years, which feels daunting to say!

SHP: Where did you get your title inspiration from?

SLO: Movement and migration became an important focus for me after leaving Michigan and later returning, as I started to see the ways my own movement felt paralleled to that of my family’s. Part of my family immigrated from Mexico to Texas initially, and during the summers they would come up to Michigan for seasonal work in the fields. Eventually my great-grandfather was offered work in the papermills and so they permanently relocated, and my mom and dad also supported my sisters and I in these factories. In returning to Michigan, I began questioning generational mobility and the ways that the traumas and dynamics within my family still felt audible in various ways. There is also a lot of secrecy within my family, so I think that adds to the narratives and stories being presented, yet partially intangible.

I have been interested in different points of access within these subjects and in looking more widely at movement and migration, specifically with animals and in the natural world. My writing process often involves looking to older texts, usually books with more technical language that give texture to my thought and ways of seeing. One of the books that I was exploring was called The Migrations of Birds (see, plain and technical title) and I was drawn to the logic behind the migration of birds, the shapes they took together in moving, and the invisible presence of wind. I wandered into the title Migratory Sound in trying to encapsulate the fogginess of movement and the ghosts and echoes connected to displacement.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

SLO: When I first see a deadline I think I worry a bit. But I do generally like them, and I am pretty quick about getting things done significantly before the deadline so I don’t lose sight of it. Workshop / submission deadlines give me a sense of accountability and I usually make necessary last minute edits before I know someone else is going to see the work. I think there is a shift in seeing that has to happen when you know something is going to be out of your hands in some way and this has become a large part of my process.

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

SLO: I do believe in “a room of one’s own,” or at least a space of one’s own that invites and supports rituals. It is important for me to be in my office around my plants and stones / crystals, to stretch some, and to meditate in the morning. If I try to write before I have meditated then it often feels hard to access anything. Having a clear mental and physical space allows me to approach what I am writing about from a more distanced and observant place. All of this also always involves tea.

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

SLO: I have received a lot of gold from my mentors, but something that I often think about is Kathleen Peirce telling me to “get into good trouble.” John Lewis says this too! I think this teaches me to measure risk, yet to maintain a sense of control—whatever amount of control that may be required in each poem. This advice also speaks to what may come to inform the poems and it shows a sense of compassionate risk, yet an inherent curiousity and joy that I wouldn’t want to ever lose sight of.

SHP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

SLO: Right now I don’t think I have a journal but in the past I have, so I should get one. I often write on notecards—my partner gifted me a green tin full of notecards from an estate sale somewhere and they are currently on my desk and easy to get ahold of. I will write on scraps if I’m driving or out somewhere, and I try to be intentional with notebooks (I have two that I’m going back and forth with lately), but I usually abandon the notebooks and go back to the notecards. More recently I have also been writing on lineless paper where I can sense white space and linebreaks a bit more. But in each case, I do think that the paper I use conditions the shapes of the poems.

SHP: Place seems to play a part in your manuscript. What is your favorite place to visit right now? Can you talk about your relationship to place a bit more?

SLO: I recently moved to northern New Mexico, so I have had a lot of new terrains to explore! I’ve never lived near mountains and it is pretty amazing having these quiet giants all around. My favorite place right now is the Wildlife Refuge near my house. There is a windy field you walk across and blue mountains further away but visible all around you. There are also signs to beware of wild creatures, and I like this sense of mystery in not knowing really what inhabits this space.

Place typically informs my poems, specifically natural spaces and the divisions and lines between the urban and rural. While writing Migratory Sound, I became interested in notions of the idyllic / pastoral and of what exists outside of these enclosed spaces. This contrast became important in looking at my family’s work in the factories and in the fields, and of how in returning to Michigan I began to notice both the prevalence of factories all around, and my family’s deep rooted connection to them—it felt like you couldn’t see one without thinking of the other. In going to nature there is a leaving and return and I am drawn to what becomes suspended outside of these spaces sort of haunting and shaping what occurs within them, and of the question of privilege and access to the idyllic. Natural spaces allow me to be lost for a minute and this is important to me for thinking and creating. I think, however, that this is more complex of a process for minority voices, or as Audre Lorde would say “disenfranchised” voices.

SHP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer?

SLO: I would love to wander around a museum in all hours and nap under a Bonnard painting. If I could create something here, can it be a lot of ekphrastic poems? If poetry isn’t an option then I would paint. I love the sense of layering and overlapping of colors with painting but I’m not sure how to do it or if there is a right or wrong way. I think in my 24 hours I would hover around an Agnes Martin, Matisse, or Bonnard painting and see where that took me.

SHP: You also have a chapbook too. Is there a conversation between that book and this one?

SLO: I have a chapbook Field Things, and some of the poems here are included in Migratory Sound. I wrote this chapbook while living in Texas and I think it reflects that location. This was the first time I had moved away from home and it was also a time when I lost a few important family members. I think it was a moment where I was learning to look at different parts of my life from a distance and discovering new vantage points. I do believe we constantly return to the same subjects trying to get them right in some way, so I think Field Things feels like an introduction to some of the subjects that Migratory Sound goes further into.

SHP: If you could describe Migratory Sound in three words, what would they be? Why?

SLO: Quiet, Shadowed, Periphery. The poems often slip into and out of the physical within the space they occupy and in their way of seeing. I think there is care given to detail but also a love for what is nearly out of sight or sound, though close despite being outside of the frame.

Order Migratory Sound here!