Exploring Relationships Through Poetry: Interview with Claudia Delfina Cardona on “What Remains”

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    Exploring Relationships Through Poetry: Interview with Claudia Delfina Cardona on “What Remains”

Diamond Marie Pedroza
Web Content Contributor

Poet and San Antonio native, Claudia Delfina Cardona, released “What Remains” in 2020 after graduating from Texas State with an M.F.A. in creative writing. Infused with elements of pop culture, “What Remains” is a collection of poems written over several years about topics, like love, friendship and gentrification. 

Claudia grew up surrounded by poetry, because her father, Jesse Cardona, happens to be a poet. Her love of film, TV, and music is evident throughout her work. In fact, a few months after “What Remains” was in circulation, Claudia released a playlist of songs to accompany it. You can listen to her playlist, Pinwheel of Light, before, after or during reading “What Remains.”  

I recently met with Claudia over Zoom, where she talked about her background, inspirations and current happenings, which you can read about below. 

 Image of Claudia Delfina Cardona with color background
Image of Claudia Delfina Cardona

DMP [Diamond Marie Pedroza]: What made you pick wanting to become a poet and focusing on that as opposed to other forms of creative writing?

CDC [Claudia Delfina Cardona]: I feel like throughout my life, at least in like high school, I was like anti-poetry. I still wrote poetry, but it was expected of me to like poetry, because my father’s a poet and an English teacher. It was my form of rebellion to be, like “well I’m going to go into film.” I definitely wrote poems, and they were very bad, like Bright Eyes inspired poems that were very vague and not at all interesting. Then, in college I still was interested in screen writing and in film, but I took a poetry class with Cyra Dumitru and she encouraged me greatly to pursue poetry. At first, I kind of had an ego about my poetry, like “I think this is good. I have experience.” That quickly shattered, and I realized I had a lot to learn. Then, we had one on one meetings with the professor. She was, like “you can pursue this post-grad. I can totally see you doing this.” That was something I hadn’t considered yet, so I was like “okay.” As I did research and talked to people on campus, I heard about Texas State, their program, and [that] they only have poetry and fiction. So, I tried fiction, but I wasn’t very good at it. I had more experience in poems for my portfolio. I came in liking poetry, liking to write it, but that was it as a way to express my feelings and my desires and my quasi-relationships in college. I’ve always been naturally nostalgic, so it was a great way to document that and archive those feelings. 

I got into the program. I felt very insecure, because all these poets there were like “Oh yeah this could be a Sestina,” or like talking about all these things that I had no idea what they were talking about, but I got through it. I feel like I grew so much in those three years as a poet, and poetry is like one of my main planets of creativity that I kind of circle. Poetry is so unique in its experience and something I’m always connected to. As I learned more about poetry, I started thinking about my childhood, my dad’s poetry, my access to poetry, and it all like made sense. I felt way more appreciative of all that as I got older. It’s so short too, like stories are long. I don’t have the attention span for that.

DMP: It seems like it all came full circle. You mentioned relationships, and that was a huge thing in your book, like romantic, friendship, family. Were you hesitant to include any of the relationships that you wrote about? Which ones and why?

CDC: Yes. I was very scared to the point where I didn’t want to publish because of it. Most of my poems from “What Remains” came from my thesis when I was at Texas State. I didn’t feel insecure then. I was, like “I’m going to write whatever I want,” and you know some of them were relationships with people in the program, and I just felt I needed to write it, needed to let go of that pain, and for it to be public too. Obviously, when I was working with Host Publications, I cut a lot of those poems, because they didn’t fit the arc that I wanted, but I was nervous to include the ones that I did include. Some of them were about exes. Other ones have been so old that I was, like “I don’t care about these anymore.” I care about the people, but the poems have existed for so long, so the newer ones were a little scarier. 

I included one recent poem. I think it’s titled, “Movie,” and then there’s another one. I forget the title, but they’re both about my current relationship. I felt like I wanted to include that too as like a constellation of relationships from my past, but also the future and how they circle back. Other ones were more situationships than relationships in my M.F.A., and I felt okay about those. It was really important to me to kind of tie it all together with the other themes of the book. I felt pretty confident by the end of it, but it’s still scary for sure.

DMP:  Well, I’m glad you included them. They were very interesting. So, I guess I’m going to go back to the film interests you were talking about. I believe I read that you host a film podcast on Spotify. At the end of “What Remains” you reference some of the films and TV shows included, like “Vivre Sa Vie,” “Raw,” which personally traumatized me for a week, “Twin Peaks,” and “The X-Files.” What makes film and TV shows important forms of reference for you?

CDC: As I was growing up, I watched a lot of TV through what my father watched. Our household was mostly just [a] Turner Classic Movies household. I became aware through those movies, and I just had a special connection to, like the Oscars. In high school, my dad had access to the Trinity library, which has all these Criterions, so every weekend I would just go and check out, like 6 movies, and watch them throughout the week and discovered a lot through that. 

I feel like I didn’t really have a life in high school. I just stayed in and watched a lot of movies. That kind of just like informed how I saw the world, and what I expected the world to be once I had more accessibility to the world and more freedom. So, it really shaped my interests and it led me to like new things and music. Led me to a lot of music through Wes Anderson movies and fashions I wanted to emulate. It was a big point of that for me and in my poetry. I very strongly believe that references are important. 

It’s a topic of contention a lot of times in literature, especially poetry, this idea that if you reference something it’s going to make it dated versus if you don’t reference anything it’ll make it look timeless. I really don’t buy into that, because I feel like the references are important to me. It really shapes and creates the whole world of the poem, and to leave out those things leaves out big deep tails and big gaps in what I remember, what I want to compare the poem to, or what inspires me. To get rid of that feels inauthentic to my experience. I connect strangers or people just like through music or a band or movies or TV shows. It’s like an easy point of access. That’s why putting [the] reference pages in the back was [were] important to me to kind of just show these are things I referenced and maybe it’ll lead other people to those things too.

DMP: I definitely think it also helps the readers connect even more with what you’re writing. I definitely connected more. So, growing up in SA [San Antonio, Texas] you sort of mention landmarks, like HEB, murals of the Spurs, and then obviously Mi Tierra. It was so funny reading that, because I was like “Oh my gosh, I grew up getting leche quemada from there, like every week after school.” The other landmarks and sort of what gentrification’s impact feels like, especially in Southtown that you end your book with is beautifully summarized in your last poem where you write, “what remains in Southtown is a landscape of feeling.” So, why was it important for you to talk about gentrifications impact?

CDC: I think that problem in particular, I wanted to trace the history of my grandparent’s experience and thinking about passing through a lot of the streets my parents would point out, like “oh this is where we used to live” and just kind of rapidly seeing this change overtime. Even from when I was in high school going to first Friday and what it changed to now and stuff. Many of the places that I went to or used to hang around don’t exist anymore. So, I feel like throughout all of my writing, especially in my poetry in particular, it’s just an important way to archive my own memories, but also to document them for the sake of the city and from a historical perspective. Both of those reasons are why I wanted to include that. So much changes all the time and if I’m feeling a little nihilistic then I start thinking about, like “well how much more is it going to change.” Then, “is San Antonio going to like end up like Austin someday?” Probably, most likely, and it’s kind of scary. 

I feel like it’s just another reason why it’s important to make art about what people remember about the city. There’s a really good essay that Bonnie Cisneros has about the history of Saluté, which is this bar that was next to La Botánica. It’s closed now, because they got, like bought out, but it used to be a really cool place where they would have conjuntos shows and that’s gone. I feel like her essay kind of just describes her own history with it and her experiences there. I wanted to end on referencing those things, but also like on a note of hope that you can’t erase what has been there, like it’s still going to be there no matter what despite all the new developments.

DMP: Do you have a favorite poem in your novel? If so, would you like to share it. 

CDC: Let’s see, lately a poem of mine that I have been thinking about a lot is “Moon in Leo,” which my original idea of my thesis was to name all of my poems after the placements in my birth chart. Some of them stayed there, like “Moon in Leo,” “Pisces Heart,” “Venus in Aries.” Reads Moon in Leo.

DMP: Are you working on anything else right now, like a second book collection [of poems] or something similar? 

CDC: I’m slowly kind of writing poems when I have time. I have like a few here and there, and I really want to get back into the practice of just submitting to different journals and stuff. Currently, no plans for a second collection. I think I just have to live my life a little bit more and collect those poems internally, and then I’ll see. For now, what my main focus is, is I co-run a journal/soon-to-be-nonprofit called, Infrarrealista Review. I run it with my friend. We wanted to [have a] kind of cultivated space for central Texan writers, like writers with M.F.A.’s, but also people that have no experience in the ‘literary world.’ We feel like it’s important to put those voices in conversation and also compensate writers. So many journals do not pay their writers at all. I’ve been paid like once for a poem out of like 10 submissions and places I’ve gotten published, so that just seems like a very basic thing. We believe that they [writers] need funds more than they need exposure. We sell apparel online, we have a shirt we designed and a tote bag, and we use that money towards paying our writers. We publish all sorts of things, like poetry, fiction, nonfiction, commentary pieces. We want to do workshops in the summer. We have one planned for this summer in San Marcos. It’s a youth driven workshop for I think it’s going to be about 3 weeks writing workshop/art workshop. We just wanted to do stuff like that, make sure writers are paid, eventually want to do like a chapbook [poetry] prize and stuff. 

DMP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CDC: The only thing I can think of right now is just if anyone is interested in submitting their work to Infrarrealista Review, we have a website. We pay our writers. We post the PayPal link or Venmo link under your story as well so that we encourage readers to submit tips if they enjoy the work. If people are interested in submitting, submit to us. We would love to read your work!

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

Here is my full interview with Claudia, where you can learn about Tejano writers Claudia is currently loving, and hear her read her poem, “Moon in Leo,” from “What Remains.”

You can purchase “What Remains” at Host Publications, BookWoman, BookPeople and Amazon.

Click here to find Claudia’s latest happenings.

Image courtesy of Claudia Delfina Cardona

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