The Writer’s Desk features the desks and writing practices of Gemini Ink faculty, visiting authors, teaching artists, volunteers, students, interns, staff, partners and more. Receive new posts in your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter at bit.ly/geminiinknewsletter.
Join jo reyes-boitel on Tuesdays, June 22 & 29, July 6 & 13, from 6-7:30pm CST, for her workshop: Cultivating Fields: An Introduction to Writing Poetry. This class is built for the new poet, or for someone returning to poetry after some distance!
Has your preferred place to write changed over the years?
Because I am both a bit of a wanderer and a parent, I learned to write anywhere and everywhere I got a chance. All I need is paper and pen though sometimes I use my cellphone or memorize a few lines. Committed, quality writing time is a relatively new option for me of just the last few years and now I utilize an actual desk. I always had a desk – to be clear – I just didn’t get to use it. There is still something about writing early on Saturday mornings at a café where an expert barista crafts a lavender cortado just for me.
Who are your favorite writers?
All time favorite poets include Sonia Sanchez, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Lucille Clifton. I love Carmen Maria Machado and Octavia Butler. I have been reading a whole lot more lately though so I end up with new favorites all the time. Laura Van Prooyen’s new book is phenomenal. I have been eating up Raquel Salas Rivera. Mahogany L. Browne. Paul Tran. Roy Guzmán. Kaveh Akbar. There are so many! And I like delving into anthologies like LatiNext and We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics to meet writers I may not have known otherwise.
Is there anything you’ve been listening to lately – an interesting podcast, a song list, or album?
I’m really stuck on La Lupe, a Cuban salsa singer from the 1960s and 1970s. Her wild performances alienated musicians but she performed with a lot of emotion so fans connected to her. There’s a lot of truth in someone who sings about love or community and is uncontrollably, emotionally affected. Any boogaloo or salsa from that era makes me happy. For podcasts, I enjoy the VS Podcast, with Danez Smith and Franny Choi, which pits poets with major ideas in their work, and while it was around, The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith. She featured one poem each episode that felt borderline prayer and dystopic future.
What theme or symbol often emerges in your work? Why are you drawn to this?
Over the last two years, I’ve centered a lot of my work on the body. The body is our first point of contact with the outside world. From this beginning point, there are realizations around issues of trauma, outsiders’ views, sexuality, gender, capability. It’s a universal tool we each hold that can bring us understanding and inspection. And our reactions to the world through it makes for gorgeous poetry.
Do you like things to be carefully planned out or do you prefer to just go with the flow? Does this also apply to how you lay out a story?
I love to over plan, especially when traveling. I want to know ALL the possibilities. This is so that I don’t make it to everything and must then plan a second trip. I suppose this same idea is part of my writing preparation but the organization of it all falls away pretty quickly. As I’m writing I aim for large things then distill it to the most urgent issue or toward an unexpected path. I get bored easily so I continually excavate and surprise myself or I wouldn’t finish a piece.
What is one piece of writing advice that you value most?
San Antonio playwright Virginia Grise instilled in me that all that’s needed is body, breath, and story. I keep this reminder close.
What is your next project?
I have several things I’m working on for the summer, including revising and reconsidering the structure of a manuscript I have about my upbringing. I am also working on a novella about a woman who goes missing, which is challenging as I haven’t ever done a larger fiction piece before. I plan to take a libretto course through Guerrilla Opera this summer as it’s been a longtime interest of mine to work within the literary forms of opera, chorus, and choreopoetry. And I’ll be heading to UT-Rio Grande Valley this fall to start my MFA.
If people want to learn more about your work, where should they go?
I keep my website updated – joreyesboitel.com. I’m @jrboitel on Instagram if you want pictures of Japanese pens, coffee, and my cats. Or @BoitelJo on Twitter for late night rantings.
jo reyes-boitel is a poet, essayist, and playwright. jo is also a queer, mixed-Latinx parent working in community, a former music researcher, and novice hand percussionist. jo’s work includes Michael + Josephine, a novel in verse (FlowerSong Press, 2019) and the forthcoming chapbook mouth (Neon Hemlock, 2021), as well as the recently produced operetta she wears bells. Publications include The Ice Colony, OyeDrum, Huizache, Scalawag Journal, and Chachalaca Review. As of 2021 jo is a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop and begins her MFA with UT-Rio Grande Valley in Fall 2021.