Angela (Angie) C. Trudell Vasquez Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin – Performer – Activist

I am a poet.

I began seriously writing when I was seven years old. I remember making my first few lines in the diary. I convinced my paternal grandmother to buy it when we went uptown one day. This was during summer break when we, my sister and I, would stay with her for our annual visit. Beans and tortillas were all we ate, running in and out of the kitchen all day long and back outside, gulping a spoonful each time we passed the stove.
Wanting to write was a conscious choice for me at a young age. The book, Frederick the Mouse by Leo Leonni, was my early inspiration. I learned the power of words to make one whole, feel well-fed, and warm through that acclaimed children’s book. Frederick being a mouse poet, helped his family get through the coldest part of winter with his poems when their stores ran out.

Today I am the City of Madison Poet Laureate and the first Latina in this role. I served one-year as of January 2021. I have published three of my own collections of poetry and have a new one coming out soon. I have edited and co-edited books, journals, and zines, including the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. I went back in 2015, in my late forties, to get my MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I graduated in May 2017.

I also serve as the vice-chair on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and help pick the state’s poet laureate biennially. I consider myself a literary ambassador in my role as poet laureate. Balancing my volunteerism, writing, appearances, and readings with my full-time job takes some organizing. It helps to have a partner who is an artist as well. We recently made Sundays full art days in our house.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do write in other genres, earning two Pushcart nominations, one for an essay and another for a poem. I write short stories, sci-fi and am working on a memoir right now. I took a class with IAIA alum David Tromblay in Fall 2019 and got a good start on my memoir. Poems are my favorite, though.

Tell us about your writing process: Everything for me starts in longhand. I edit on my computer. When I get stuck, I move it back to the page and write it out in longhand to figure out what went wrong in the editing process. I write in my body: hand to wrist to arm to core to heart to brain and back. I write fast on the page and have long practiced automatic writing. My pen always ahead of my brain, my conscious self. I am often surprised by what comes out on the page. The pen admits what I have been avoiding. That’s when writing gets exciting when you are a conduit of sorts and along for the ride. Sometimes lines come to me at night when I am dreaming. I do edit my poems voraciously and enjoy the rigorous process. I think this is where the real writing is now, in the editing. I find inspiration easy, but then I need to work with what I have created and sculpt it on the page until I am satisfied with form, white space, and sound. Poems take you where they want to go and are not done until you have read them in public. I read my poems aloud as I edit, but they sound different in my study than they do at a venue with actual people present. I do not consider a poem done until it has been shared orally with others. When I was a younger poet, I tried out poems at open mics to test them. Now I can record them and listen back, but it is still worthwhile to share them with others for final edits, in my opinion. Poems sound different when you read them to a live audience that one word makes a difference.I also think it is important to read other poets’ work, old and new. I like the idea of poets in conversation with each other across time and space and genre. Some of my poems are in direct response to another poet’s poem I heard them perform or something I read in print or online. I learned in graduate school that I love theory and continue to study. Listening to poets and writers read their work is a real pleasure for me. How you hear the words in your head versus when it is a public performance is enlightening. I listen to poetry readings, lectures, or conversations with writers when I cook these days or travel to visit my family in Chicago or Milwaukee.

What are you currently working on? I just received my contract from Finishing Line Press for my newest collection, My People Redux. This is the 2nd half of my master’s thesis. In Light, Always Light, also published by FLP in May 2019, was the first half. I graduated in May 2017 and spent a long year re-working my poems. In Light, Always Light, accepted in August 2018, was a finalist for their New Women’s Voices Award.

Concurrently, I am working on another collection of poetry that focuses on the history of us humans. This involves research. I am enjoying the process and taking my time. Some of these poems are published, and some are still being edited. I need to continue to push them out into the world. I was also working on my memoir in fits and starts.

In my role as the poet laureate for the City of Madison, I will be judging the annual Bus Line Poetry contest soon. I have many upcoming scheduled readings for a book I just published under my small press Art Night Books in November 2019 called, Through This Door – Wisconsin in Poems. This is a collaboration with the most recent state poet laureate, Margaret Rozga. The book took us over a year to put out and is the second time we have published a collection together. I served as co-editor for this collection in addition to being the publisher, and we have had a good response. Twice we have been on the radio, NPR stations, and I have logged many hours at the post office mailing books out across the state and country. We had to go back to the printer three times now.

I consider myself a literary ambassador as a poet laureate and this has opened up many doors for me. I want to continue to do that for other writers. We need community and support. I would not be where I am today without the networks I found all along the way. Nor, without people sharing opportunities with me and freely offering up what they know, and being generous. I believe in the power of art to heal, connect and create community. It is a record of our lives and our history. I am so happy to be on this journey at this moment in time.

Here are comments about my work by two poets I admire:

The poems of In Light, Always Light afford space for the lyric to clarify and delineate the self “… through the ravine to the seam / the V peak of the hills / where dappled light spills / between rocks and discarded beer cans.” Here Angela Vasquez presents poems that struggle to contend with family history, a history of diaspora and relation, of assertion and insistence that the reader and the poet must bring to bear the imperative of “yes, yes fight back.” The poems travel, as we do, to observe the poet in the eternal dimension where one must write, and read — “Let me sit in sadness for a spell. / I need to write this out.”

–Joan Naviyuk Kane, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow

The poems in Angie Trudell Vasquez’s In Light, Always Light honor the illuminating power of poetry, but they also speak eloquently of racial injustice and the dark “inherited grief” that is its offspring. These are poems of history, endurance, and remembrance. They vividly story the strength and survival of migrant ancestors “who built railroads / with broken backs” or shared “mole recipes on parchment.” In those relatives “passed. . .to vases of bone and ash,” Vasquez recognizes the fleeting quality of human reality. Like our forebears, we are mere “half blinks of history,” “we are magic dying.” But in this volume, Vasquez offers her ancestors colorful and enduring literary lives. “Poets,” she writes, “resist the death of a people” and “beyond death, art speaks.”

Kimberly Blaeser, author of Apprenticed to Justice, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2015-2016

If people want to connect with me, the best way is email: angiectvasquez@gmail.com
My website is www.angietrudellvasquez.com, and my small press website is http://www.artnightbooks.com

 

 

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Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn at Boarding School

I’m a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I’m taking a continuing education course entitled Indigenous Literature. In our last assignment, I read Linda Legarde Grover’s poem “Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn in Boarding school.”  It hit me like a sledgehammer driving a spike into a railroad tie. After my comments, I’ve included Ms. Grover’s work in its original format and full length.

For most of my life, I knew little of my heritage other than there was German on my mother and father’s sides of the family. The little I knew of my indigenous heritage came from my father. He was born and raised in Siskiyou County before his father died. Twelve years old, he had to quit school and get a job. Dad was Indian on his mother’s side—he looked it—a member of the Karuk Tribe of California.

Applying for a job, the supervisor said, “Kid, you look like an Indian. Are you one? I don’t hire no Indians.” He responded that he was white. He got the job. He remained white and assimilated for several decades. If you think that’s bad, sad, whatever, his story was nothing compared to the U.S. and Canadian governments’ programs that forcibly removed indigenous children from their families and placed them in boarding schools.

The children’s hair was cut to white-man standards. They were beaten if they spoke their native language; English was the only language allowed. The boys were taught farming and the girls how to be domestic helpers. These schools were in existence from the 1880s through the 1930s—some vestige remained until 1978. An 1893 court ruling kept Indian children in boarding schools until 1978. With the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act, parents gained the right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools. The photos are of three indigenous boys before and after arrival at a boarding school.

These boarding schools—reeducation camps—were worse than the internment camps of World War II in the treatment of the confined.

Here’s what Army officer Richard Pratt, founder of the first federal Indian boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, said in a speech in 1892 when he summarized the government’s philosophy as “kill the Indian…save the man.”
The United States’ official policy was to eradicate Indigenous culture by forcibly separating Native children from their parents and making them white on the inside and easier to eliminate.

Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn at Boarding School

Speak English. Forget the language of your grandparents. It is
dead. Forget their teachings. They are ignorant and unGodly.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Indians are not clean. We will
teach you to be clean. You will never amount to anything. Stand in
line. You will practice proper hygiene. This is a toothbrush.
Hang it on the hook next to the others. Do not allow the bristles
to touch. This spreads the disease that you bring to school
from your families. Make your bed with mitered corners. A
bed not properly made will be torn apart. Start over. The boarding
school feeds and clothes you. Remember and be grateful.
Say grace before meals. In English. Don’t cry. Crying never
solved anything. Write home once every month. In English.
Tell your mother that you are doing very well. You’ll never
amount to anything. Answer when the teacher addresses you.
In English. We do not recommend visits to your family. If you
visit your family in the summer, report to the matron’s office
immediately upon your return. You will be allowed into the
dormitory after you have been sanitized and de-loused. Busy
hands are happy hands. Keep yourself occupied. You’ll never
amount to anything. Books are our friends. Reading is your key
to the world. In English. Forget the language of your grandparents.
It is dead. We forbid you to speak it. If you are heard
speaking it you will kneel on a navy bean for one hour. Don’t
cry. Crying never solved anything. We will ask if you have
learned your lesson. You will answer. In English. Spare the
rod and spoil the child. We will not spare the rod. We will
cut your hair. We will shame you. We will lock you in the
basement. Learn from that. Remember and be grateful.
Speak English. You’ll never amount to anything.

Linda LeGarde Grover is an Anishinaabe novelist and short story writer. An enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, she is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

For more information on the government death of a race by forced assimilation visit these URLs and watch the film Where the Spirit Lives

 

https://www.pbsutah.org/whatson/pbs-utah-productions/unspoken-americas-native-american-boarding-schools

https://imprintnews.org/child-welfare-2/truth-commission-proposed-on-indian-boarding-school-policy/48022?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9ZfIsNXY7wIVrR-tBh07bApUEAAYASAAEgJom_D_BwE

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Jim Hasse

    Oh, my. How sad. I had only heard bits and pieces about Indian boarding schools. Thanks for the brief but moving information. I was doing some research about Jim Thorpe recently. It was apparent he was an exceptional athlete, but every effort was made to make him look and seem as Anglo as possible. In the 1951 movie, Jim Thorpe – All American, he was played by Burt Lancaster.
    I once mentioned to you that I was a distant relative of Daniel Boone. Boone attributed his hunting, shooting, and path-finding skills to the Indians in Pennsylvania, where he lived until his teenage years. In his early years, he dressed like an Indian and was occasionally mistaken for one by Whites.

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  2. Michael A. Black

    Very informative My late friend, David Walks-As-Bear, was an Indian and one of the smartest guys I ever met. He used to advise me on all sorts of stuff and was an expert on American Indian languages and culture. I miss his wise counsel. I’ve fashioned characters on him in several of my books.

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