I have a new book out! Flutter and Hum, Aleteo y Zumbido.I am not a poet and I my Spanish is awkward, but somehow I wrote a book of poems in Spanish and English. Here’s how it came about.
In 2009 I illustrated a biography of Neruda written by Monica Brown. In order to understand and illustrate Neruda I needed to learn Spanish, so I started classes right away. I loved learning Spanish. I loved the structure of the language and the sound of the words. I illustrated Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People using pictures and words. The words, which are integrated into the art, are in Spanish and English and were influenced by the words of his poems.While I worked on this book I swam in the Spanish language and in the poems of Neruda. That experience changed my life.Since then I have taken many more Spanish classes including immersion classes in Guatemala and in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I have visited Chile, Guatemala, Oaxaca, Morelia, Cuernavaca, Mexico City and Spain. I would like to return to all of those places! I continue to study and read and write. My vocabulary is large and I understand the grammatical structures, but my speech is slow and simple. But in a strange way, my awkwardness with Spanish is what allowed me to write these poems.
When I hear a word in English my mind leaps right to the meaning of the word, bypassing the sound. I am ABLE to hear the sound but I have to make myself listen.When I hear a word in Spanish I notice the sound and feel of the word first, and then my mind gropes for the meaning.
For example the word PALABRA (which means word), sounds like a shape to me. I hear the beauty of the word before the meaning. I see a shape like this:The poems in this book often started with me rolling a word around in my mouth. The word for moth is polilla – such a soft word. And the word for lightbulb is bombilla. Bombastic! I put together words and ideas in Spanish until I had the beginning of a poem. That is how I began all of the poems. I always started in Spanish. Then I would work back and forth in Spanish and in English until I had a poem that I liked in both languages. I threw myself at the light – sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.When I painted the illustrations for the book I had another chance to play with words in both languages – to pick words in Spanish and English that bounced off of each other and added shades of meaning and emotion.
I submitted the poems to Noa Wheeler who was then an editor at Henry Holt. She liked them, and Holt offered to publish them. It was a leap of faith on her part and I am grateful.
We eliminated some poems and I wrote some new ones. We tried to keep them juicy.I showed the poems to Marta Seymour, my first Spanish teacher (who is from Costa Rica) and to my friend Fernando Larios (who is originally from Mexico and is married to Julie Larios). They read the poems and pointed out my most egregious errors. Ingrid Paredes also proofread the poems for Henry Holt and offered specific and helpful criticism. The book is dedicated to Marta, for igniting my love of Spanish and for her generosity in reviewing the poems.
My joy in creating this book was playing with language in Spanish and English, and in painting with words and images. My hope is that the poems and paintings will encourage others to approach both languages playfully and with pleasure, whatever their native tongue.In Spanish you would say that I am a principiante. A princess? No – a beginner.
P.S. If you are in Seattle please come to a signing for the book at the Seattle Art Museum book store (SAM Books) on September 26th from 1-3. Some of the original art from the book will on display at the SAM Gallery Shop, along with paintings by my husband Joe Max Emminger and some drawings that we did together. There will be a reception for the show from 3-5. And the museum is free that day! The show will be up until October 16th.