In Class with Professor Norma Cantú from Trinity University
A primary mission of Frontier is to provide high quality resources and practical help for serious poets—so we’ve been reaching out to poetry professors to help give clarity to this strange journey and stranger craft. This month, we got the chance to hear from Norma Elia Cantú, Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University.
Who were your early literary/scholarly influences? What led you to pursue creative writing as a career?
Norma Elia Cantú: In high school, I was influenced by American women poets like Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath, and later by Latin American writers like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rosario Castellanos, Alfonsina Storni, and Gabriela Mistral. I also read widely and love Mary Oliver and Elizabeth Bishop. Contemporary writers like Gloria Anzaldúa had a profound influence as I felt I was given permission to write in my natural language, TexMex or Spanglish.
What is the most common piece of writing advice you find yourself giving your students?
Read! Also, take risks. I truly believe a writer’s voice is honed by reading as many poets as possible, including poetry from outside their own culture. I tell students to read poetry in translation, Chinese, Italian, French, and Arabic—but really any other poets will offer that surprise of finding a common language through poetry.
What poets are you teaching this semester?
I’m not teaching right now but I always start with Aztec poet Macuilxochitzin then teach Chicana poets Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Carmen Tafolla, and some younger poets like Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Ire’ne Lara Silva.
As you probably deduced I teach Chicana literature and my creative writing classes are in all three languages: English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
What book of craft/poetry would you recommend to students?
“Naming the World” is often a go-to text. Also, “Writing Poems” by Michelle Boisseau and Robert Wallace. Although I usually develop my own reader and prompts for classes.
What is your favorite part about teaching creative writing?
The best thing is reading my students’ work and guiding them through the revision process to discover what they’re really trying to say. The poem leads them to truths. I also write along with my students and find the prompts that work for me will also work for them.
Norma Elia Cantú is a Chicana postmodernist writer and the Murchison Professor in the Humanities at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Her latest collection is Meditación Fronteriza (University of Arizona Press, 2019).
Jose Hernandez Diaz
Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Currently, he is an Associate Editor at Frontier and Guest Editor at Palette Poetry.