A Conversation with Craig Santos Perez, Judge for the 2023 Roots & Roads Prize
Frontier had the honor of chatting over email with Craig Santos Perez, guest judge of the 2023 Roots & Roads Prize about his work and insights into poetry.
Please enjoy his thoughtful responses, and be sure to check out our Roots & Roads Prize and Craig Santos Perez’s note to submitters here!
MEGAN KIM: Thank you so much for joining us for this contest! I’m excited to give our readers a little insight into your work as a poet. To start us off, could you please tell us a little bit about a current project and some of the recurring themes you find yourself returning to in your poetry and/or scholarship?
CRAIG SANTOS PEREZ: Thanks for the invitation to be part of this exciting contest! Currently, I am finishing up my seventh book of poetry, titled Mutiny, which is a volume that collects together work that I’ve written between 2008-2023. The major themes include native cultural identity, decolonial history and politics, food, migration and diaspora, and environmental justice.
MK: Could you very briefly discuss your from unincorporated territory series to those readers who may be unfamiliar?
CSP: For the past twenty years, I’ve been working on an interconnected series of poetry books entitled, from unincorporated territory. This series focuses on the history, culture, politics, and ecologies of my homeland of Guåhan (Guam) and the experiences of my people, the indigenous Chamorus. Five volumes have been published thus far, totally around 500 pages. Certain narratives and stories continue (and change) across the books, creating various connective threads. The forms of the poems are influenced by avant-garde, documentary, visual, and ecological poetics.
MK: What is a recurring trend, formally, thematically, etc, you see in contemporary poetry that you are excited about? Alternatively or additionally, what is an element of contemporary poetry that you are interested in critiquing?
TR: I am excited about the contemporary trend of “eco-poetry,” both within the United States and internationally. It brings me hope that so many writers are addressing issues of environmental justice, climate change, and sustainability. To me, these are urgent issues for our times, and we need our poets to articulate the fears and anxieties of our moment, as well as to offer inspiration and hope for a sustainable future. In terms of critique, I see the capitalist commodification and commercialization of contemporary poetry (and poets) as a serious problem and negative influence.
MK: What would you consider some of your major influences to be? This doesn’t need to be strictly limited to writers!
CSP: I have been mainly influenced by indigenous writers, including Native American authors Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz, and Allison Hedge Coke, as well as Pacific Islander authors Albert Wendt, Robert Sullivan, and Haunani-Kay Trask. My book series has been influenced by writers who have explored the multi-book poem, such as Charles Olson, Nathaniel Mackey, and Robert Duncan.
MK: What would you want to tell the version of yourself who was just beginning to write?
CSP: Read as diversely and deeply as possible. Travel more. Create a daily writing practice. Attend more literary events and open mics. Cultivate a poetry community. Don’t be afraid to submit your work to literary journals and contests. Be patient with yourself and your craft. Celebrate the small moments of success and achievement. Rest.
Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru poet from Guam. He is the author of six books of poetry and the co-editor of seven anthologies. He is a professor in the English department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature, eco-poetry, and food writing.