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Jose Hernandez Diaz: California Poets Part 6, Four Poems

Jose Hernandez Diaz

October 18th, 2023

Californian Poets: Part VI

Jose Hernandez Diaz

Four Poems

Ode to Pan Dulce con Café

I don’t get to eat you as much as I want for health reasons. But when I do, I savor each bite like a religious ritual. Subtly sweet; tender. The nostalgia of youth

when mom would come home from Gonzalez Market with many grocery bags. “Traje pan dulce,” she’d say. I’d rush to the table, coffee on the stove,

pick up the puerquito and a pink concha. The pan like fine artisan work. Reminders of youth, but also, of the motherland: México, where I’ve

only been on vacation, but always felt like a second home.

Ode to the Public Library

I’m stuck inside of a library, downtown. Then again, it’s perfect here. I’ll live here, forever. I’ll hide among the maze of main stacks at closing. I won’t make a noise, like a regular. They’ll let me live here, won’t they? There is good in the world, right? I’ll celebrate the holidays in the Art History section. Toasting with Giotto di Bondone. I’ll spend Sundays in the poetry section, like a monk or a humanities professor on Sabbatical. I’ll use the Wi-Fi on the desktop computers as opposed to head down on a cell phone, in order to improve posture. What’s that? I have to go now? You’re closing soon? But, I love it here. Let me stay, please. Forever.

Bilingual Jingle

I speak two languages, one of them, fluently. The other, I’m improving, daily, if I remember to study. I practice by singing along to epic Rancheras about lost romance and decaying rosas. Also, sometimes I’ll read modernist Spanish poetry about fractured skies and Pablo Picasso’s crooked eyes. I love the Spanish language when a beautiful woman tells me, querido te quiero mucho muchisimo queridisimo, I could hear that all day. If I were a Spanish Baroque painter, like Diego Velázquez, I’d paint better than I sing in Spanish which would be pretty damn good because I’m a celebrated singer. Sunday night karaoke nights at the local mariscos cantina are always lit.

Movies Hit Differently as a Kid

“The Mighty Ducks” movie came out when I was a kid. It starred Emilio Estevez and a group of misfit kids. I grew up in Anaheim, so the movie hit home even more so. I remember rollerblading around the living room of our cramped two-bedroom apartment pretending to be Paul Kariya or Teemu Selanne. I even remember praying to God that if I was well-behaved and worked hard at it he would make me a professional NHL player one day. Even though I’ve never been in snow growing up in southern California and never ice-skated. The power of Disney. Eventually, as I got older and the memory of the movie wore off, I drifted away from roller blading and hockey and focused on the traditional three American sports: basketball, football, baseball.


September 8th, 2023

California Poets Interview Series:

Jose Hernandez Diaz, Poet, Educator

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: Your newest project, Bad Mexican, Bad American, is set to be released next year. It’s a fascinating exploration of your background as a first-generation Mexican American. The title is both direct and yet full of subtleties. Without giving too much away, can you talk about why you felt this was the best name for the collection?

JHD: It is something I deal with a lot as a Mexican American author and as a Mexican American more generally as well. Feelings of pride in cultural background but also isolation at times. There are mixed feelings of not being from here nor there, but also feelings of feeling completely from here and/or the homeland. I think this title captures the contradictions of dual cultural identity while also celebrating it.

DG: You write in both traditional form and also prose poetry. Does form influence the content you produce, or does the content drive form?

JHD: Most of the time the content drives the form. For example, most of my autobiographical work is written in linear verse while my surreal or absurdist work tends to be prose poetry sometimes in third person. However, I have written a few autobiographical prose poems and surreal linear verse as well.

DG: Surrealism, Mexican motifs/personalities, along with absurdism mix effortlessly with the earthly realities of everyday life in your work. Is this a conscious decision?

JHD: Sometimes the surrealism has a Mexican American edge or aesthetic. For example, I will mix in Mexican imagery into some of my surreal prose poems like a jaguar moon or a poem about a Tecolote.

DG: Teaching and editing are as central to your work as writing. Are there some pieces from your generative workshops, for example, you’re especially proud to have encouraged?

JHD: Yes, certainly! I’m proud of all the work writers produce from my workshops regardless of publication but we have had some luck in that regard as well. A few times I was even published alongside some writers from my workshop in various journals. So, that was a blast!

DG: In your view, who today are the writers that are showing the type of promise which will make their work relevant in the years to come?

JHD: I’m not too focused on who will have longevity or not, but some of my favorite poets are Alberto Ríos, Ada Limón, Terrance Hayes, Harryette Mullen, Diane Seuss, Eduardo C. Corral, James Tate, Ray Gonzalez, Sabrina Orah Mark, Charles Simic, W.S. Merwin, Homero Aridjis.

DG: You’re one of the more active poets on social media. Twitter and Instagram are seen as anathemas by many of the older generation of poets. What are the benefits and drawbacks of using platforms that are considered non-intellectual by many to promote intellectual material?

JHD: For me I grew up with social media, so I don’t necessarily just view it as a platform to promote or a capitalist endeavor, it is just a way of life. A way of documenting my day. I think it is a generational thing if someone has a problem with social media. As far as it is non-intellectual, we can benefit from not always being so intellectual as well and just letting loose. I grew up in a working-class background, so I didn’t grow up around intellectual types anyway. Never cared if I impressed them or not. I don’t think I live the traditional life of an academic or intellectual. I view myself more as an artist. I can take pleasure in reading Camus or Sartre but also in watching a football game and just taking the edge off.

DG: Except for the time you studied at UC Berkeley, Southern California has been the place where you produced much of your work. Do you start with the environment and write with the mood that it gives you, or would you say that your mood, in a sense, shapes the environment?

JHD: Southern California is prominent in my work. My environment has shaped who I am, so I’d say in many ways I begin with the environment and unravel how it has shaped me.

DG: Mexico has an incredible culture going back thousands of years. The US is a new country currently at the forefront of culture. And yet, the US can aspire to this only because marginalized groups like African Americans and Latin Americans have enriched the landscape with their unique traditions. What are some of the things you cherish most about Mexican culture?

JHD: I cherish the family-centered nature of Mexican culture. The music, beautiful women, food, boxing, soccer, comradery, humbleness, pride, all of it, it isn’t perfect, but it is our backbone.

DG: Many of your poems contain Spanish words and phrases. It seems like translation is the next logical step. Have you thought along these lines, both in terms of your own work, and Mexican poets?

JHD: I have a few poems translated into Spanish published in Circulo de Poesia from Mexico City, earlier this year. Down the line, I’ve thought of translations once I get all my books out.

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

JHD: I have Bad Mexican, Bad American coming in February 2024. Then, The Parachutist is coming in 2025. Besides that, I have two full complete manuscripts. Other than that, have been busy teaching.

Author Bio:

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020) Bad Mexican, Bad American (Acre Books, 2024) and The Parachutist (Sundress Publications, 2025). He teaches generative workshops for Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshops, The Writer’s Center, and elsewhere. Additionally, he serves as a Poetry Mentor in The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program.


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