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The People Who Write Questionnaire: Maritza Rivera

Maritza Rivera_peoplewhowrite

Maritza Rivera is the author of A Mother’s War, and founder of Casa Mariposa Press and the Mariposa Poetry Retreat.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
A certain theme would run through my title selections: The Adventures of Butterfly Woman; The Butterfly Diaries; Mariposa Metamorphosis.

What is the greatest story ever told?
This is a very difficult question for me as a poet. Regardless its length, a poem can potentially be the greatest story ever told. I love “Parsley” by Rita Dove; “Alabanza” by Martin Espada; “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams; “Killing Mark” by Richard Blanco. I can think of so many poetry collections that tell stories: Pinecrest Rest Haven by Grace Cavalieri tells you about Mrs. and Mrs. P, who live in a nursing home and no longer remember that they are married. I heard Grace at a reading and the poems made me laugh and cry; Saudades by the late Jose “Joe” Gouveia is a great example of a life’s story; Hachiko Waits and October Mourning: Songs for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman, also life stories.

Since we all have stories to tell, I’m sure our greatest ones are yet to be told.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Hmm? I grew up in Puerto Rico so there are literary characters that most people have never heard of. I love the character of Juan Bobo (literally, Stupid John). He is a male version of Amelia Bedelia who takes everything very literal but politically pokes fun at the Jibaro (country bumpkin) in Puerto Rico. The stories are touching, bittersweet, and have a moral at the end. When I had young children, Madeline and Babar were my favorite characters and go to books for them. I loved their adventures.

But for me the greatest literary character is Don Quixote. I think there’s a connection among my favorite characters and poetry. Life is such an amazing and magical adventure!

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Definitely, Pablo Neruda! He would have dinner parties with other artists of the time and I love the idea of potlucks and salons. I’d have a long list of living writers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers I would invite.

What is your favorite word right now?
Phenomenal: I find the sound, its positivity, and spelling fun!

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Hispanic is used to refer to Spanish speaking people but the letter “h” is silent in Spanish. It sounds strange to hear the “h” pronounced. Latino, which includes more countries and languages, makes better sense to me. I have a poem about this.

How many words have you written today?
Well, if you include emails, texts, Facebook, responding to your questions, probably over a thousand by now and counting. ☺

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing writing experiences. First was the 2012 BID International Writers Fellowship in Bahia, Brazil where we met and then the 2013 Breadloaf Writers Conference in Sicily, Italy. Both of these exposed me to other writers and new environments, and the fact that I speak Spanish has come in handy in both places. I’m looking forward to writing in Paris some day.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Obsessing, I once spent a year trying to get the last line of a poem to work.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I love the magic. When you get an idea that you can’t wait to write about then lose all track of time while doing it. Then you create something that never existed before and others enjoy or relate to it. Garcia Lorca called it “duende”, I call it magic.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Writing is a difficult profession, especially writing poetry. Many authors who make it, and are able to earn a living at it sometimes forget how difficult it is to get your work recognized and published. One of the reasons I started a poetry series, a poetry retreat, and now a small press was to make the process less painful and help other poets get a good start, build confidence and create community.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I think people make the assumption that writers are unapproachable, self-absorbed, and that writing is a lonely art.

Writing is about connecting with people: on the page, on the stage, in person, and mostly across the table. Creating community among writers and across the arts is phenomenal.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
Most people don’t know that I’m the grandmother of two beautiful girls: Carmen and Sofia and have another grandchild due in November and that my children Maria Teresa and Antonio Roberto have been my biggest inspiration and motivation.

I also read tarot cards, used to own a ball python; and that besides poetry, I’m passionate about dancing.

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