Ariel Francisco is the author of All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017) and Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016). Born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents, he completed his MFA at Florida International University in Miami. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2016, Gulf Coast, Washington Square, and elsewhere. He lives and teaches in South Florida.
Ariel Francisco: Definitely Chinese food. General Tso’s Chicken is perhaps humanity’s greatest accomplishment. Can’t quite bring myself to get in into a poem though (at least not yet).
CS: You talk about trains a lot in this book. How do you really feel about them?
AF: Having lived most of my life in a place where the only way to get around is by car, I love trains. They’re basically magic to me. I can just sit there and read or write for a while, and then I’ll be at the place I was going to. No honking the car horn, no traffic-induced rage, no idiots not paying attention and almost killing me every day. No morons DRIVING BELOW THE SPEED LIMIT IN THE LEFT LANE! Sorry, lost it there for a sec. Also, you see all kinds of strange and wonderful (and strange) people on the train. It’s great for people watching, finding little details you can use for a poem.
CS: The communal work that All My Heroes Are Broke does is so amazing to me. I love how many different areas, times, memories, authors, writings, and minds you take us. What do you make of the work of connecting all of these voices and areas? Would you say cities, bars, stores have as much character & voice as referenced and involved authors like Marti, or Dickinson, or Lorca?
AF: I think they do. These are all places that a lot of people pass through, spend time in. And these characters are always changing, shifting. It’s really interesting to me to be surrounded by people but not necessarily interacting with them. I’ve never been a very social person, but there’s something very comforting about the possibility of it I guess. I’m not sure how to describe it. I don’t mind being alone amongst people, even in places that are pretty well known for being unfriendly or antisocial like New York for example.
CS: One of my favorite parts of poetry is how intimately one gets to know how a mind works, what things it observes. Your poems feel very unapologetic about their witnessing and observations. Could you talk a bit about that process, and if there are any limits to your witnessing?
AF: I think it’s maybe the only real benefit of growing up as a very shy kid. When you don’t talk much, you really learn to listen and observe and perceive, I think. That’s always been very interesting to me, to just kinda watch, and then to try and make sense of things, how they may or may not pertain to me. Obviously, everything I see and think is filtered through my own brain but I don’t shy away from that, and I have no interest in doing so. I think that’s why my poems are so I-centric— even if the poem isn’t about me, it’s still something that I’m processing, trying to figure out why this particular thing or person caught my attention, what it reminds me of, etc. Also, I think the real world (that is the people, the streets, the cars, etc) are very important. There’s something about being grounded that I really value in poetry and I try to honor that. Giving people something they can recognize, something they can connect with is important. If I can place you somewhere believable, I can guide you into my brainspace and what I’m thinking more effectively (I think).
CS: Parts of your work remind me a lot of Hart Crane – I think of My Grandmother’s Love Letters. Who are the voices, if any, behind your poetry who you haven’t directly referenced or included in the book?
That’s really interesting, I just recently wrote a poem called “Reading Hart Crane in Naples” (forthcoming in The Journal…). Definitely my two mentors, Campbell McGrath and Denise Duhamel. One thing I’ve learned from them and really taken to heart in my own work is, well I’m not sure exactly what to call it but I always refer to it as “seemingly anecdotal.” An accumulation of experience, the consistency of the “I” in the poems. It’s kind of like a TV show, there’s a different (and maybe deeper) kind of investment we make in poetry when we recognize the speaker, I think. I’ve always really enjoyed that as a reader. Gerald Stern is another poet who does this admirably (and also the reason I was revisiting Crane and got that poem out of it).
CS: This one might seem weird, I have a loving relationship with numbers though. I got the idea you keep them, numbers that is, in your head too based on the structures of many of your poems. Do you have any particular years that you feel a special connection with?
AF: Numbers are weird, and stanza breaks even weirder. Also, I’m maybe a little superstitious. I heard a poet read once and, I can’t remember the context exactly, but he said something about never writing in quatrains because “4” is bad luck, I think because the word for “4” and for “death” in Japanese are the same, or very similar. And my reaction was “fuck, I guess I’ll never write in quatrains.” I don’t feel any special connections to years though. Just the usual, my birth-year, the year I graduated high school. But these are mostly just reference points, I think most people do this. I do find my birthdate interesting though, and like to look up people who died on that day for some reason (most notable deaths on my birthday: Robert Mapplethorpe, Bukowski, and Biggie).
CS: Some of my favorite moments in All My Heroes Are Broke are where judgment is allowed. I think of “as though she doesn’t want to part with them / but knows that she must, knows she carries / happiness or forgiveness for someone // she will never meet.” These judgments elevate. What are your roses—something you don’t want to part with but know that you must?
AF: Yeah, I’m forever judging people and I think everyone else is too. That’s a tough question. Probably a lot of this bitterness. The world is kinda trash though, so maybe I’ll hang onto it for a bit longer.
CS:If you could order and have a drink with anyone, who would it be and what drink would you get them?
I’m broke man, I don’t think I’ll be buying anyone drinks any time soon. That said, maybe Keats. I feel he earned it.