Dariel Suarez

Dariel Suarez

Dariel Suarez was born in Havana, Cuba, where he lived until 1997. He now resides in South Florida with his wife. He holds a B.A. in English from Florida International University, where he was the recipient of five literary awards. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in over twenty publications, including SmokeLong Quarterly, The Coachella Review, JMWW, Sliver of Stone, Blue Lake Review, The Florida Book Review, and The Acentos Review. Dariel is currently at work on a poetry chapbook and a collection of stories set in his native country.

Interview

1. How do you go about finding publishers for your work? Do you use Poet’s Market, online databases etc?

When I first decided I was ready to send out my work, I did a lot of general searches in websites that offer lists of literary journals and magazines. There are a few databases out there that I find to be very helpful. Some even help writers keep track of their submissions. But, in my opinion, the best way to find the right fit for one’s work is reading journals and magazines. I subscribe to as many journals as I can afford. I also spend a lot of time reading work online and browsing through the material available at bookstores and university libraries. I do this primarily because I enjoy reading contemporary literature, but it is definitely useful in the submission process.

2.  Why did you leave Cuba? Were you able to publish your poetry in Cuba?

Well, I was only fourteen years old when I left, so writing and publishing were not something I personally did at the time. However, my father was a writer, so I grew up in an environment where literature and writing in general were things to be admired. My father published short stories, poetry, and articles regularly, and I remember feeling very proud of him. As for leaving Cuba, my family, like a lot of others in Cuba, was having severe financial difficulty, aside from all the social and political oppression that exists there. We knew that life wasn’t going to get better any time soon, and rebelling against the regime only landed you in jail, or worst. So we decided to come to the United States for all of us to build a better life.

3.  How has your heritage and experiences in Cuba influenced your work?
My heritage and experiences are currently the main influence on my work, perhaps even the backbone of what I write. I’m working on a poetry chapbook that contains mostly poems about my childhood or what it’s like to live in Cuba, and a collection of stories whose premises are taken, for the most part, from the real life experiences of people I or my parents knew. Cuba is an interesting place; it’s a tropical island, and its music, food, and geography embrace this energy, but there’s also the communist component, influenced by countries like the old Soviet Union and China, which give it an entirely different makeup. This complex mixture is something that fascinates me and I like to explore.

4.  Can you tell more about you new chapbook? What are the major themes or ideas?

As I mentioned, the chapbook is largely composed of poems that attempt to capture what it’s like growing up in Cuba. Whether it is memories, images, ideas, or particular situations, each poem delves into an aspect of Cuban life that, hopefully, will be intriguing or enlightening to the reader. Some of the pieces are not so overtly about Cuba, but I’m hoping that when all is said and done there will be a cohesive story or progression that invites the reader to go on a journey, though not always the most uplifting one.
5.  Have you studied writing formally? Taken part in writer’s workshops?
I have, as a matter of fact. I finished my undergraduate work in English about a year ago, and as a student I took several creative writing courses in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The workshops gave me the chance to look at my work from someone else’s point of view, to see what they had to say about my characters, images, etc. Some of my professors have also been extremely helpful in challenging me to always want to improve and encouraging me to trust my voice. Though there are some aspects of creative writing workshops that I don’t necessarily like or agree with, I think in the end it’s constructive for a writer to study and discuss writing as a craft and have peers critique their material.
6.  Why do you write? Was there a particular poem or poet in your childhood who inspired your interest in poetry?

I write because I love it. There’s just something about crafting pieces of writing that I find enthralling. It’s very similar to the feeling I get when I read great literature, except I feel even closer to the work. Now, there are other elements at play, such as the fact that writing allows us to explore the human condition and offer a voice to cultures that otherwise would be silent, but at the core of it all writers write because there’s nothing they rather be doing. In regards to poetry, I must admit that it wasn’t until later in life that I began to read and write poetry. “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats was the first piece of poetry I came across that lingered in my mind days and weeks after I’d read it. I remember wondering how such a short piece of writing could stir up so many emotions and thoughts within me.

7.  What is the biggest struggle you have with your writing? Is it harder for you to write poetry than prose?

The biggest struggle I have is definitely with language. Although my English vocabulary has expanded throughout the years, there are still some moments when I struggle to find the right word or phrase. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t notice this in my work, but that’s probably because of the hours I spend revising and sharpening my writing. And yes, it is harder for me to write poetry than prose. Due to its brevity, poetry demands a level of precision that sometimes can be intimidating and taxing, plus I’ve always felt that my natural writing voice is more narrative. Nonetheless, I value and am thankful for both genres equally.

Poetry

After the Grapes

When I was a child, a grapevine grew
at the back of my family’s apartment,
a curious display of marble-shaped purple
dangling in unbridled temptation,
the leaves dancing to their own rain-like
melody when grazed by the wind.

This aromatic wonder thrived in a neighborhood
of toppled bricks and battered paint jobs
in central Havana, a place where even nature
had modeled itself to the city’s decay,
where the once-graceful green and yellow of trees
had resigned to shades of melancholy gray.

The vine belonged to our neighbors,
who never cared for the succulent
grapes that fell like delicate gifts
into our hands every year, fruits that provided
a touch of distinction amid the monotony of our lives.

Then, without warning, we awoke one morning
to find the grapevine gone, leaving in its place
a fractured, unbearably slanted stone wall
covered with dark blots and the pungent scent of moss.

After all these years, the wall has yet to crumble.

On Watching Field Workers

A regiment of men with bodies
like weathered stones enters the fields.
Their faces gleam in misleading sunshine
like that of my grandfather, who back on the island
worked on borrowed ground, scrounging with dignity
because his country owed him that much, that leniency.

He was a proud man, a kind of entrepreneur
who hid dreams of exodus and treated the land
with just enough vehemence. Secretly he talked
of the North as if it were a healing paradise,
a divine cure to our communist ailment,
a place where a man could own and keep and sell.

Here the grunting men feed their crates with ripe tomatoes,
carry them with short steps, dried-up mud clinging to their soles.
I see Grandpa’s face play in the hunched crowd
like a restless child, appearing and disappearing
with every stretch of a back, every rise of a head,
closer to his paradise than he’d ever imagine.

Island Fields, Memories of a Cuban Youth Labor Camp

I remember the fields, the red and brown earth
heaving beyond barbwire fences, rising in mounds
like deep-ocean waves, the furrows acting as crests
resilient against the autumn wind.
I watched, from the tired road, good men, defeated men,
work the land without fervor, without the rage it deserved.
Malnourished oxen and wheezing tractors
scarred the ground without purpose, its earth
capable of the finest fruits, of crops so hearty and plentiful
they could lift a country’s spirits.

Copious earth, I remember when I first held you,
vigorous in texture, fertile to the touch, the lumps graining
inside my curious fists, your form cool and damp in the morning dew.
I remember my first steps, soil clinging to my boots
as if trying to overtake my body.
On your fields I learned to question,
that forgotten custom of our people,
and on my bed, enclosed by mosquito nets,
experienced my first loneliness.

Decades later, I’m still possessed by the smell
of your gardens: grass and ripe tomatoes,
beets and slimy cloves of garlic,
each clove planted two fingers apart in long furrows
hurting my back, the burlap sack loyally following
less stubborn each passing hour.
I see my hands rough and blistered,
proud in their accomplishments, ritual of manhood,
forging character by replenishing and weeding,
no gloves and no tools, just a vicious battle
between roots and feeble muscles, between survival
and newfound will.

I can still hear, behind closed eyes, my comrades’ laughter
as we pressed forward like little soldiers,
thinking of quotas, longing for oily bread and a cold shower,
eating cucumbers right from the vine, drinking
warm water in dented aluminum glasses, gulped
in a frenzy during short breaks.
I can hear us cursing the ruthless sun
as it whipped and scorched our necks,
ruthless as the demanding voice of a teacher,
or the unattainable norms, or the inexplicable absence
of parents, who wept hidden in their dark city kitchens
and came to visit us once a week.

Though stern orders bruised our bodies
and tarnished our tender ages, you, undying earth,
bestowed upon us the gift of maturity and remembrance,
of never forgetting or wanting to forget.
And after all, we were baptized
in the heart of island fields, where we swam in utter bliss,
with ragged clothes and heavy limbs,
defying for a single moment something more
than just a set of rules, engulfed in the soothing waters
of some shallow and unnamed river
on the last day.
After the Grapes

When I was a child, a grapevine grew
at the back of my family’s apartment,
a curious display of marble-shaped purple
dangling in unbridled temptation,
the leaves dancing to their own rain-like
melody when grazed by the wind.

This aromatic wonder thrived in a neighborhood
of toppled bricks and battered paint jobs
in central Havana, a place where even nature
had modeled itself to the city’s decay,
where the once-graceful green and yellow of trees
had resigned to shades of melancholy gray.

The vine belonged to our neighbors,
who never cared for the succulent
grapes that fell like delicate gifts
into our hands every year, fruits that provided
a touch of distinction amid the monotony of our lives.

Then, without warning, we awoke one morning
to find the grapevine gone, leaving in its place
a fractured, unbearably slanted stone wall
covered with dark blots and the pungent scent of moss.

After all these years, the wall has yet to crumble.
On Watching Field Workers

A regiment of men with bodies
like weathered stones enters the fields.
Their faces gleam in misleading sunshine
like that of my grandfather, who back on the island
worked on borrowed ground, scrounging with dignity
because his country owed him that much, that leniency.

He was a proud man, a kind of entrepreneur
who hid dreams of exodus and treated the land
with just enough vehemence. Secretly he talked
of the North as if it were a healing paradise,
a divine cure to our communist ailment,
a place where a man could own and keep and sell.

Here the grunting men feed their crates with ripe tomatoes,
carry them with short steps, dried-up mud clinging to their soles.
I see Grandpa’s face play in the hunched crowd
like a restless child, appearing and disappearing
with every stretch of a back, every rise of a head,
closer to his paradise than he’d ever imagine.

Island Fields, Memories of a Cuban Youth Labor Camp

I remember the fields, the red and brown earth
heaving beyond barbwire fences, rising in mounds
like deep-ocean waves, the furrows acting as crests
resilient against the autumn wind.
I watched, from the tired road, good men, defeated men,
work the land without fervor, without the rage it deserved.
Malnourished oxen and wheezing tractors
scarred the ground without purpose, its earth
capable of the finest fruits, of crops so hearty and plentiful
they could lift a country’s spirits.

Copious earth, I remember when I first held you,
vigorous in texture, fertile to the touch, the lumps graining
inside my curious fists, your form cool and damp in the morning dew.
I remember my first steps, soil clinging to my boots
as if trying to overtake my body.
On your fields I learned to question,
that forgotten custom of our people,
and on my bed, enclosed by mosquito nets,
experienced my first loneliness.

Decades later, I’m still possessed by the smell
of your gardens: grass and ripe tomatoes,
beets and slimy cloves of garlic,
each clove planted two fingers apart in long furrows
hurting my back, the burlap sack loyally following
less stubborn each passing hour.
I see my hands rough and blistered,
proud in their accomplishments, ritual of manhood,
forging character by replenishing and weeding,
no gloves and no tools, just a vicious battle
between roots and feeble muscles, between survival
and newfound will.

I can still hear, behind closed eyes, my comrades’ laughter
as we pressed forward like little soldiers,
thinking of quotas, longing for oily bread and a cold shower,
eating cucumbers right from the vine, drinking
warm water in dented aluminum glasses, gulped
in a frenzy during short breaks.
I can hear us cursing the ruthless sun
as it whipped and scorched our necks,
ruthless as the demanding voice of a teacher,
or the unattainable norms, or the inexplicable absence
of parents, who wept hidden in their dark city kitchens
and came to visit us once a week.

Though stern orders bruised our bodies
and tarnished our tender ages, you, undying earth,
bestowed upon us the gift of maturity and remembrance,
of never forgetting or wanting to forget.
And after all, we were baptized
in the heart of island fields, where we swam in utter bliss,
with ragged clothes and heavy limbs,
defying for a single moment something more
than just a set of rules, engulfed in the soothing waters
of some shallow and unnamed river
on the last day.
Reposted from NMJ 2011

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