Yesenia Montilla
Featured Writer

My process changed a lot once I found community. The art of writing is so solitary; when you find a group of folks that have similar writing stamina to you, that you can share your work with and that give you honest feedback, the world seems less lonely. I’ve been so lucky to be friends with the incomparable Cheryl Boyce Taylor, poet, mama of Phife Dawg from a Tribe Called Quest. Cheryl’s beautiful relationship with her mother Elma moved her to form a writing group called Elma’s Heart Circle. I am a part of this group and it has altered everything.

I am normally a morning person, I wake up at 5 a.m. to read or write. Since becoming a part of Elma’s, I mostly wake up early to read, as we write together throughout the year. We always do a 30/30: 30 poems in 30 days on any month that has 30 days in it, but particularly in April for National Poetry Month. Some years we write more than others, one year we did three 30/30s, which exhausted and delighted me.

I write with these womxn and then later in the year, I print out every poem and start asking questions of each. Ross Gay was my teacher at Drew University, and he had a set of questions to ask of your poems, I’ve added to this list and subtracted too. Some of these questions: what does the poem really want to say? Does the poem lend itself to a form? Do I feel free writing this or imprisoned? Did I learn something about myself or the world?

After the initial interrogation . . . well maybe interrogation is the wrong word—it’s more like a first date between the poem and I. After that initial time, I then start revising. I have poems that are done in one session and I have some that are years and years old that are still waiting to ask for the check . . . I love both types of poem-making, each means so much to me, even the ones that don’t make it in a book, yet. . . .

I also write a ton of poems based on dreams. But I dream in Spanish—my dream language is the language of my mother and father—so when I do decide to write my dreams, there is a lot of language and word play because I am going back and forth between the language that inhabits me at night and the one I use in the waking world.

I will say this to close: writing is wonderful when the poems are coming, when they are flourishing, what a time to be alive. However, I am not afraid of not writing and I don’t panic when the poems do not come; I am never afraid they won’t return, and I treasure the quiet times as much as those times when my mind and heart are a frenzy of activity. The times when I am not writing, I am living, and living is what gets you your material. This time should be treasured, the living, I mean.