by George Hajjar
The Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House recently held an event to celebrate Copper Canyon Press and its two latest releases: Maps by John Freeman, and Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora. Every seat in the house was filled, and everyone was eager to hear these poets recite their work.
Michael Wiegers, the Editor-in-Chief of the publishing company, introduced John Freeman first. He mentioned that, in a conversation with the poet, Wiegers asked Freeman why he would choose to do poetry, because he already has a readership for his nonfiction and essay work. Freeman responded, “because I think in poetry.”
John Freeman, writer, literary critic, and NYU’s artist-in-residence began his reading by explaining how Maps came to be. As an undergrad, he had applied for a poetry workshop, but had been declined. This deterred him from writing poetry for 15 years; however, he turned back to poetry after a recent tragedy in his family—the death of his mother. Even though the content of Maps is serious and emotional, he maintained a positive and lighthearted attitude while he read “the blinding,” “repeat,” and even “blackout,” a poem about how his fiancée broke up with him. His poetry is introspective and crosses many borders, both physically and psychologically.
One theme of the work is overcoming tragedy. His mother was an anglophile, enthralled by French culture and history, however, she never once left the United States. With NYU, Freeman has had the ability to teach classes in Paris. After his mother passed away, he started seeing her all over the city. He wrote a poem, entitled “Via” about following one woman in particular, who looked like his mother.
Next Wiegers introduced Javier Zamora, a graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program. Wiegers mentioned how he had met Zamora while he was still in school. He said that this reading was special because the Lillian Vernon House was where Unaccompanied began, for both Wiegers and the poet.
Javier Zamora, born in El Salvador, writes about his experience crossing the border into the United States on his own. Because of the civil war within the country, around 20 percent of the population of El Salvador immigrated to the US. Among these people were Zamora’s father, then his mother, and at the age of nine, himself.
Mixing English and Spanish in his poetry, Zamora tells his own story, something deeply personal and relevant to today’s topics of border politics and immigration. He writes about leaving his cousins and grandparents, and his own parents leaving him.
One story, entitled, “how I learned to walk,” talks about his time in his town before crossing the border. Zamora told the audience that, when he was one, his father left for the US. This became a story among the townspeople. As he grew older, he was told that he tried to follow his father when he left, thus his first steps were made to find him. Zamora himself doesn’t believe this, but, he said, it made a good poem.
In this work, Zamora plays with what a poem can be. In “Cassette tape,” Zamora writes about how he used to communicate with his parents. They would deliver each other a cassette tape, listen to the message, then record over it their new message. This poem has a side a, side b, fast forward and rewind section, and the meter emulates the squeak of the cassette tape making its revolutions.
The Blotter congratulates Copper Canyon Press, John Freeman, and Javier Zamora for their powerful additions to the literary community.