Pemcast: Poetry with Andres Guzman

[Interviewer (I)] I’m here with Andres Guzman who is studying English at the University of Southern California and is in Pembroke because he is studying on the Pembroke-Kings Programme Andres, hello [Andres (A)] Hello, how you doing? [I] So you’re majoring in English can you talk a little bit more about which areas of English particularly interest you? [A] Right now I’m really interested in American literature and poetry I originally wasn’t interested in English in general I was, well, I wanted to major in English because it was my weakness throughout high school so I wanted to change that But, right now American literature is definitely my interest. [I] Why is it that you’re interested in American literature particularly? [A] Well the American literature I’m interested in is stuff like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston so for me I’m really interested in the African-American experience from roughly about the 1920s and after cause I feel like it gives an alternative explanation of what the American experience is like. [I] So which is the first poem you’ve chosen today? [A] The first poem I chose is Still I Rise by Maya Angelou and in this poem it talks a lot about what she’s been through and I can relate to a lot because she talks about her pain One of the lines that points it out is “Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise” So I feel like a lot of a lot of people in general go through their own sort of pain and even though we all have different sorts of pain and we have our own personal experience of what we’ve been through Maya Angelou I feel like she does a good job of summarising it, and she says “Still I rise” so it’s like taking those past experiences and struggles and still making something good out of it. [I] Thank you. What is it that you think makes poetry meaningful? Hmm. For me it’s being able to capture episodes through life being able to capture different bits and pieces of your life and then just examining one certain piece and like opening that up and writing a poem about it If somebody’s been through that certain experience they’ll be able to relate to it and I guess people could talk about the poem But definitely capturing episodes of your life that you usually just take for granted, and you just go through life, you don’t really examine it And then when you do examine it you realise that made you who you are today [I] And on that note, which is the second poem you’ve chosen? [A] For the second poem I chose The Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur it’s from his poetry book that he, well, that was published for him after his death and the whole poem deals with him being – like a rose being a metaphor for him someone that grew out of concrete So for me the concrete represents like the concrete jungle . Tupac came from – he was raised in Oakland he dealt with like, poverty, crime, in his neighbourhood So for him – for me – the poem talks about just being able to be a rose and grow out of concrete despite not having…resources that a normal rose would. And then the line that stood out to me was “by keeping its dreams/ It, learned to breathe fresh air” To me that’s talking about Tupac’s ambition in making it out of the ghetto, or making it out of his neighbourhood and making something good out of a bad environment that he was given. [I] How do you feel that your personal experiences influence your engagement with poetry and literature? [A] I just feel like personal experience it helps interpret poems definitely helps interpret Because I think poetry itself is subjective If someone writes a poem, people interpret it differently according to their own experiences So for the Maya Angelou poem when she says “Still I rise” people can look at that poem from different perspectives from their own personal pain of what they’ve been through and then they can still relate – they can still have like a common agreement That’s definitely one way experience plays a role in poetry it helps interpret a poem, easier if you’ve been through certain things that the author might’ve been through. [I] Ok. And then your third poem you’ve chosen? The third poem I chose is I too by Langston Hughes In this poem he basically talks about the American experience how he also sings America And it kind of goes back to that idea of… back to the African-American literature of African Americans having that alternative explanation He basically ties into that, but he also says he still embraces America, even though America doesn’t accept him he still embraces it and he still considers it himself and that’s why he too sings, he is American And for the line that stood out to me, is “They’ll see how beautiful I am, and be ashamed” “I too am America” So he’s basically talking about the white America not accepting him but he still embraces that, he still embraces his nationality [I] Thank you So coming back to the reasons you’re studying English do you think it’s given you what you expected, or have you found other pathways, through it? Hmm, definitely it opened up my interest a lot Because I didn’t come with a lot of expectations when I started into English I just wanted to at least improve my writing skills, but I think English definitely helped me interpret things a lot made me think a lot more creatively Definitely built a huge interest in poetry I’m really interested in African-American poetry I think it definitely thought me to think a lot more conceptually especially with, like, my own life and just being able to capture certain episodes and turn that into poetry

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