Interview with Sergio Ortiz

In what way are your cultural identities most present in your work? Has there ever been a time in which you attempt to conceal those identities, or have you always embraced them in a literary context?

I’ve always been open about my sexual identity—my Hispanic identity as well, though as a child living and going to school in Chicago, I did change my name to Steve. A friendwe were hot for each other and he was of German descenta friend came over to my house and asked my mother if Steve was in. I just happened to walk by the door when my mother was telling him that no one by that name lived in her home. He quickly responded that yes there was and pointed at me. My mother asked him to forgive her, she needed to solve something quickly, and proceeded to close the door and give me a whipping. I wasn’t comfortable with being Hispanic as a child. Later in life I became very proud of who I was and all my cultural identities, and there are many.

I’ve received word that you’re currently working on a full-length poetry collection; what inspired this choice? Can you discuss the name “Elephant Graveyard” a bit?

“Elephant Graveyard” is my baby. I wrote many of those poems thinking about literature and how it related to my 3 lovers and to other poets like Rilke, Neruda, Garcia-Lorca and many others, like Plath, and gay and lesbian poets from all over the world.

Is there a single author you consider to be most important/influential for your work?

Not right now. It depended a lot on who I was reading in the beginning. The first poems I published were influenced by who I was reading. But with “Elephant Graveyard” that changed, and I found my own voice.

How do the people closest to you feel about your work?

My mother and father hated my poetry. But my mother was always supportive; she just didn’t like any references to my sexual preference. My father hated every poem I ever wrote, and I started writing at age 13. He saw himself in my poems, plus he was afraid I would someday be a prominent poet, one that could be labeled as gay, queer, or whatever. But I was always one step ahead of him, and just as stubborn. I hid my poems as best I could, and as soon as I got a computer, I got a blog, and that’s where I keep my published poems. He has dementia and I forgave him long, long ago.

How do you feel translation affects your work? Do you ever have linguistic ideas from another language while writing in English? How do you communicate those literary ideas from one language into another?

I’m completely bilingual, plus I know enough French, Italian, and Portuguese, to read in those languages, and I read a lot of poetry in those languages. Many of my poems have Spanish phrases and names. This is part of who I am. I would not say I’m New York Rican. I grew up in Chicago and live most of my life in El Paso, Texas. Some of my poems have French, Italian, and Portuguese phrases, or titles.

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