2016, Archives, August 2016, The MFA Years

Raquel Gutiérrez Introduction (University of Arizona ’18)

Desire as Salve: Healing and the Institution

I visit the institution today for the first time. Today I make and receive my first impressions.

I meet the other members of my genre cohort. I then meet the fiction and non-fiction writers. We are all orienting to the culture where we will be teaching and receiving opportunities to deepen our relationships to our genre’s craft. They are lovely, my future colleagues, my present collaborators. You have no idea.

So many relationships are constituted through the institution and it’s important for me to do my part in practicing a mindful desire for kindness and vulnerability. This whole experience is predicated on my ability to produce exhibitions of vulnerability that will carry my work forward as well as inform my receptivity as a reader of my colleagues’ work. It is important to me to set these intentions and to assimilate them as a working mission statement to return to whenever I feel demoralized.

For I have often been demoralized by the institutional context I have placed myself in and this time I want it to be different. And this time I get to step into my own power to determine that experience.

But, I am weary. It’s that weariness that has often signaled my desire to survive.

I have been held by the institution, I have been groomed by the institution and I have been wounded by the institution. I am here to heal my relationship to the institution. I will of course embrace the resources and privileges that being here afford me. All of this is a means towards obtaining the life I have let myself dream about and let myself pursue. A life tethered to reading, writing, teaching and traveling.

I am finally in Tucson. And on this day of this writing I remember that it’s the birthday of my former graduate advisor who passed away suddenly three years ago. I think about the ways our field—performance studies—has grown exponentially in his absence but so thoroughly anchored by his influence. I also think about my last experience in graduate school and how not ready I was to navigate those waters, how not savvy I was in the literacies of critical theory and literatures in English. I think about the ways that I found myself creating oedipal relationships between myself and the faculty and the ways anecdotal registers get weaponized amongst my cohort as a way to differentiate from one another in the name of getting ahead. I think of the failures and of the generative tensions. I think of the relationships that emerged organically there and that continue to animate my critical inquiries as I put each foot in front of the other on my path to become a capital-P poet.

I am returning to academia to be both disciplined by capital-P Poetry and to innovate against and within that disciplining. In this return I recognize the persistent pull of desire and my surrendering to this ontological space in hopes of harnessing it as my creative motor for life. I want to create critical work that situates Spanish alongside English in an expression that reflects a desire for integrity as a writer rather than the compulsory code-switching that burdens writers of color. University of Arizona’s proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border offers an ideal politics of location for the production of knowledge about the structural inequities in language.

I have maintained a muscular artistic practice as a performance artist but am shifting and committing my focus towards unraveling the mastery of a contemporary and experimental poetry—making it, talking about it, teaching it and publishing it. This shift has been a move that is reflective of the vastly different spaces I’ve been privileged to navigate in recent years as an artist, convener and as a chapbook publisher. As its title suggests, my press—Econo Textual Objects (ETO)—gives me the satisfaction of making economically viable textual objects. Thus far, I have published five poetry chapbooks: three of my own and two featuring poets of color whose work speaks to ETO’s mission of facilitating experimentation within economic means for writers pursuing aesthetic adventures grounded in working-class realities. And as soon as my financial aid clears up there will be two more coming this October.

I want to be in workshop with other writers who have aesthetic and political commitments that respond to a publishing landscape contoured by a hegemonic literary establishment. I long for critical engagement with my future peers’ own relationships to language, brown ontologies, queer identity, memory, and place.

Here in the expansive space of the desert—where the physical terrain feels comparable to its skies—desire is at the heart in producing a cartography of capaciousness. Mapping a desire and its tentacled charms that disarm the rusty piping that undergirds the obsolete machinations of the institution.

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