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Interview with Class Instructor Joseph O. Legaspi

Our next free writing class, "There is Here: Place in Poetry" is February 3, 2018 at Queens Library in Jackson Heights. Executive Director Tim Fredrick talks with the class instructor, Joseph O. Legaspi.

Tim: How did you come to be a published poet?

Joseph: This’ll sound precious, but I followed my passion. I grew up in an immigrant, working-class environment. In order to survive you do something practical that would lead to a secure job. Despite the lack of support, I majored in English as an undergrad (“But you already know how to speak English,” my mother said), then to New York University where I received my master’s in creative writing. My love and pursuit for poetry lead me to where I am now.

Tim: One of the poems in your new collection, “They Say,” was first published in issue 10 of Newtown Literary, and one of the reasons I liked that poem was because it addresses the way in which the narrative about love—including who we love and why—leaves out gay people. In other poems in the collection—“The Homosexual Book of Genesis” and “Chelsea Piers”—you similarly address gay love and romance and how it differs or isn’t included in the standard definition of love. What role do you see literature and poetry having in opening up and changing dominant narratives about gay people?

Joseph: Literature plays a tremendous role in changing the dominant narrative, especially in the current atmosphere. We need alternative versions, which are simply other valid ways of living. Telling our particular stories, and telling them well, changes perspectives. We are such a multifaceted society, and I feel strongly that diversity strengthens us as a whole. Witness how diversity is a necessary, prized force in nature, keeping a species healthy and thriving. True that we’re more open as people, but the proverbial portal could be widened, and I believe it is. The written word is powerful. It is document, it is truth.

Tim: The title of your collection is “Threshold,” which is an interesting “place,” in that its relevance is that it exists between places. The title of your class for Newtown Literary is “There is Here: Place in Poetry.” Why and how should poets consider “place” in their poetry—and how and why do you?

Joseph: As an immigrant, the notions and realities of place remain fraught. What is home? Where do I belong, as a brown person not part of the majority in, at times, a hostile adopted country? What is foreign and what does foreign mean? Threshold is indeed about in-betweenness, and the othering of the self, the body. How do we stand our ground and claim our place?

Tim: What should writers expect in your class on the third of February?

Joseph: Participants in my February 3rd class at Queens Library in Jackson Heights should expect to discuss place in poetry, to read exemplar poems, to talk about what place means to them, and most importantly to write. I will lead the class in a writing exercise that’ll hopefully broaden their understanding and practice. We will then share work, our written drafts. And it’ll be fun!

Thanks, Joseph! See you at Queens Library in Jackson Heights on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

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