the children turn themselves Into ice
Linda Ravenswood is a poet and performance artist. A 2022 Oxford Prize in Poetry winner, she is the founding Editor in Chief of The Los Angeles Press. Celebrated in the US and the UK for her branching perspectives on women's stories of migration and immigration in the West, her anticipated collection Cantadora -- Letters from California is due in January 2023. Ravenswood is also a founder of the Poet Laureate Program in Glendale, California.
I could imagine I could pretend
you never existed & the walk across
the desert a dream. I could imagine
your rig is an ice cream truck.
your siren the song that calls me to
Juan Felipe HErrera's Commentary
A magnificent poem, a poem of address. It speaks to a complex figure dwelling in the inscape and outscape of the text. It acknowledges its imagination. The speaker and, perhaps, the writer and/or the reader are actively involved. And, there is a "glacial child." So, we must ask: What is a "glacial child"? Is it a floating, dissolving, distant, threatening, life-making, jagged-deep destroying subject? Does it have life? It must be transparent; it transforms as it melts--into what? These are some of the existential questions and conditions that the poem carries, itself a glacier of text, broken into bodies of different shapes, densities, colors, rhythms, destinations, desires. The glacier-text-child itself moves to the right of its universe--the page, the blank space--in italics. Abruptly, it raises its last turn--its last call or face or body or breath--and is told to (and/or tells us), "turn your self into ice." This is key and code to the poem: Transcend, become, dissolve into the flow of life. Harden, apple-girl.
in conversation with
AM: Your prize-winning poem, "the children turn themselves into ice," depicts a perilous desert journey through the eyes of migrant children. Could you tell us more about the process through which this poem came into being? Where did it begin--with a particular goal, image, feeling, etc.?--and how has it evolved over time?
LR: I suppose this poem has long been brewing.
I recollect frameworks for the piece coalescing during Project 1521, a West Coast artists' group formed in 2018 to survey the upcoming 500th anniversary of the (so called) Conquest of Mexico.
I think I started working on an imagined dialogue between a border officer and a child coming across from South to North in 2019. I think some of what prompted the poem was my students sharing stories about coyotes bringing them across and other poets I know who work with the politico poetics of la frontera--especially Xochitl Julissa Bermejo, who made a map for folks who cross that indicates places of refuge and respite along the way and, of course, the frightful ICE detentions that perseverate.
AM: The form of "the children turn themselves into ice" is so visually dynamic, employing multiple columns, text sizes, and type styles. In his commentary on the text, Juan Felipe Herrera notes the way water in its various forms embodies your themes of motion, change, and potential disappearance. How do you understand the white space in this poem? How do you think about the relationship between form and meaning--does one come first for you as you write?
LR: I hope the poem will create a field for folks who read it and, perhaps, they'll lean into a feeling of borderlands, as much as a page with writing on it could be a borderland. To see stark and yet, in some ways, fluid realities, to see the negotiations, to feel the tension, and even in some ways to think into possible solutions, even imagine some mythical, magical, future time when the dreams and the very bodies of our brothers and sisters do not flow to nothing, but can flourish and live in peace, wherever they want to work and dream and dwell.
AM: Spanish features prominently in the voices that weave in and out of this poem. Could you tell us more about the role of multilingualism in your work?
LR: Multilingualism for me is a constant fluid real and sometimes tense world--it's a place where I've always dwelled, and has been, perhaps, my strongest literary trait, a way to approach culture through language and through a kinship with the agile voice.
My mother is a native English speaker and my father is a native Spanish speaker, and the negotiation between North American United States culture and North American Mexican culture, both of which embody a mix of other cultures and identities as well, makes for reckonings and re-awakenings. I wouldn't say it's a confusion or befuddlement, but a place of seemingly endless work and investigation.
AM: You are a performance artist in addition to a writer. It was a thrill to hear you read "the children turn themselves into ice" along with other poems of yours at the Reed Magazine Legacy of Poetry celebration in April at SJSU. Do you feel this poem changes in specific ways when you read it live? Do you have a preference for the medium in which your poems make their way into people's lives--via print or live reading?
LR: There's always been a joy and a particular tension between being a literary artist and a performance artist.
In some ways, my life in academia was a careful negotiation here because more formal academics have long and quietly regarded the performative as a lessening of the literary; I'll never forget this Fulbright scholar, an older white man, explaining to me that when he heard me perform my work, in some ways he felt it diminished the power of literature itself. It's exciting to be able to talk about how this might be resistance to a broadening of art forms, and class struggle, as well as aesthetic preferences. Spoken Word, performance art, visual poetics are ever expanding realms within poetry that I love working with. What happens to literature when the performative quality--the live auditory and visual voicing--happens? Is it theatre? Or is it a new poetry, a new literature!?