TRP Q&A: An Interview with Jose Hernandez Diaz

Marilyn Comer interviews Texas Review Press author Jose Hernandez Diaz

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of California at Berkeley and Antioch University Los Angeles. 

What books are you reading now?
Body of Render by Felicia Zamora. After by Francisco Aragon. Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death by Christopher Kennedy. These are books that I’m reading/currently working on reviewing/or have already reviewed.

How are you keeping yourself busy during social distancing?
I’m working on a confidential project, freelancing, just finished up poetry month where I was writing everyday as part of a writer’s group. Ended up writing like 45-50 poems. Very stoked.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
I have been reading very little, lately, compared to usually, when I’m reading about three books at a time. But I don’t always go into reading to learn lessons. I often dislike work that preaches. I did enjoy, however, the dual aesthetics at work in the work of Felicia Zamora. At once is the work avant-garde, while maintaining a critical, socio-political perspective.

What are some of your ‘comfort food’ books, the books you keep coming back to when you need encouragement or escape?
Anything by Charles Simic, James Tate, Richard Garcia, Marosa di Giorgio, Heather Christle, Octavio Paz, Ray Gonzalez, Felicia Zamora, and many others.

What do you want to be remembered for?
I’d like to be remembered as both a surreal prose poet in the lineage of Tate, Edson, Simic, etc.… But I’d also like to be remembered as a poet who wrote about family, Southern California, and Latinx identity (in all of her diversity).

Did you like to read as a child? Were there any childhood books and authors that were your favorites?
My mother read to me often. So did my older sisters, Cynthia and Letty. English is my parents second language, so mom read to me in both English and Spanish. As a boy, I remember running into the school library to get a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. Later, Goosebumps. The first book that spoke to me as a teenager was The Catcher in the Rye. Before that, I didn’t really care for literature and found it outdated or boring.

What book did you expect to like, but didn’t? Why?
I rarely dislike books, even if I don’t finish reading them. Dislike is too strong a word. As an author, I know what it takes to write a book and the amount of vulnerability involved that I would never say I don’t like a book. To each his own. We all have different writing aesthetics/styles. My poems, of course, are not for everyone. As other folks’ poems are not for everyone. With that said, usually what turns me off is ornate/baroque style writing where it seems to have taken the author three centuries to finish a single poem. But even then, I know it’s just a matter of my taste. I’d never say such work is bad.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I don’t really think about those type of things. I just enjoy poetry in all her diversity. It could be written by a homeless person on acid or a tenured professor at Harvard. If it makes me cry, great. If it makes me want to wear a beret and paint all day, fine. I’m interested in good work that resonates for various emotional, intellectual, absurd, surreal, visceral reasons.

What books are on your nightstand?
Far too many. I need a bookshelf. I’m not in a reading phase right now, but when I am, my bed and nightstand is usually flooded with books by Merwin, Castellanos, Tate, Edson, Paz, José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Diana Marie Delgado, etc.

What’s your all-time favorite book?
Not a fair question, but if a gun was to my head, The Collected Works of Octavio Paz.

When reading for pleasure, what do you read?
I only read for pleasure. If I don’t vibe with something, I stop reading it. That said, I’m applying to PhD programs soon, so I suspect I’ll be reading for relatively academic reasons soon.

If you could have a conversation with any writer living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would ask Tate if he thinks he wrote sad/beautiful/tragic/surreal poems mostly because of what happened to his hero father, not returning from WWII as a fighter pilot? Actually, that question would be too personal. Maybe I’d ask Tate if I could borrow a thousand dollars?

Do you watch television? What is the last thing you binge watched?
I don’t watch television, except sports, but that has been canceled for now due to COVID-19. However, when I visit my niece, she makes me watch the show with the English chef, Gordon Ramsey? It’s very good. Also, she makes me watch cake cooking shows/competitions? She’s a great kid/student/writer, my niece. We call her The Goat and Goober, but she hates that now that she’s growing up. Recently she asked me to buy her a longboard, like the one I used to have, so I’m stoked about that.

What book should you wait until the age of 40 to read?
Not sure. But I do remember reading Jean Paul Sartre in high school and loving the flow of language and the cigarette smoke, but thinking, I’m too young for this.

Which writers do you admire most, of those working today?
Felicia Zamora (for her work & kindness), Eduardo C. Corral, Rodney Gomez, Alan Chazaro, Charles Simic, Richard Garcia, Michael Torres, Carol Potter, Sara Eliza Johnson, Aria Aber, Jihyun Yun, many others.

What books should be added to the literary canon? Is there still value in reading the old, dead, white guys?
I don’t know. I read what I like unless they were awful people or something. There is value in reading anyone, but voices of color must be amplified with respect and dignity as well.

Does anyone give you books as a gift? Do you have a favorite?
My younger sister has given me books by Allen Ginsburg, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Justin Torres, and many Gift certificates to Barnes and Noble/Amazon/etc. She herself is an English major, Harvard Grad, and former poet.

Where is your favorite place to read? To write?
At home early in the morning, before dawn, or at the library.

What’s your favorite obscure book?
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?
Whatever their unique interests are. I don’t believe there’s one book, one size fits all. I’m big on different books for different folks, because not everyone reads the mainstream.

Are there any classic books you feel like you should read but just can’t?
I don’t know about the word “can’t.” But some books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t yet are: more Borges, A Clockwork Orange, The Koran, and more books of/about Buddhism.

You are organizing a literary dinner party. Who do you invite?
Everyone. We’re on the roof of some tyrannical, bougie hotel. We’re smoking cigarettes like the plane is going down. Drinks are on someone else. The night is young.

Connect with Jose Hernandez Diaz

Marilyn Comer is an MFA candidate at Sam Houston State University. Her work has been published in the Beacon and the Inkling and forthcoming in the Texas Review. Currently, she works as Assistant to the Director at Texas Review Press.

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