On Feb. 21, Washington, D.C. poet, teacher and visual artist Sami Miranda visited St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) as a featured speaker in the VOICES Reading Series, directed by Associate Professor of English Karen Leona Anderson.
Associate Professor of Spanish Jose Ballesteros introduced Miranda at the beginning of the event. Ballesteros and Miranda know each other very well, as Ballesteros serves as Miranda’s editor and publisher. In his introduction, Ballesteros remarked, “Sometimes it is best to just shush and get out of the way when I am standing next to Sami at a podium,” which foreshadowed the great presence which the audience was about to witness once Miranda made his way to the front of the crowd.
Ballesteros explained that his publishing company, Zozobra Publishing, makes an effort to publish artists whose careers were only beginning, hinting at the way Miranda himself was discovered. Although he may have started small, Miranda made it extremely clear that he has created a name for himself in the poetry world.
Born into a family of Puerto Rican heritage, Miranda’s parents moved to New York before his birth. Miranda lived his entire life in New York, where he grew up in an extremely racially diverse area. His experiences with the various cultures and people with whom he grew up inspired the title of one of his most recent poems, “We Is,” which he explained was a homage to the Black vernacular of his hometown.
Miranda explained that he started writing poetry at the age of 26 while working as a ninth-grade teacher. He explained that his students refused to write poetry in class unless Miranda did so with them, and it is for this reason that Miranda picked up the pen and found his own love for writing poetry. Despite having written for a vast number of years, Miranda claimed he continues to lack confidence in his poetry. He stated that writing poetry is “a constant process of making yourself better.”
The first poem Miranda read was a part of his collection of “Self-Portraits.” These are not the typical self-portraits which one would expect to find in an art gallery, but rather self-portraits comprised of words. Miranda has written “Self-Portraits” to encapsulate various parts of his life. The first poem was a recollection of Miranda’s humble beginnings, as he remembered only being able to afford Skippies, “the cheap version of Converse,” and the ridicule he received from his classmates for his family’s lack of money.
Other “Self-Portrait” poems included “Self-Portrait with Mullet at 120 lbs Soaking Wet,” which captured Miranda’s arrival at college and his road to finding his place in his new environment. The first lines stated, “This is an unfamiliar place / Where I am the unfamiliar.” Throughout his life Miranda experienced many obstacles, but ultimately rose above all of the struggles to establish a name for himself in the poetry world.
The last “Self-Portrait” Miranda shared with the audience was from his current point in life, titled “Self-Portrait with a Goatee and a Fedora,” which he read in front of SMCM students while he sported both a goatee and a fedora. Just as a self-portrait painting is intended to do, Miranda reflected not only his image, but also his thoughts, feelings and personality in each of his “Self-Portrait” poems.
After sharing his “Self-Portraits”, Miranda read his series of poems inspired by items which were found in the desert between the Mexican and American borders. The first item was a child’s shoe. Miranda read, “Do the numbers of holes in the sole match the number of holes in you?” He also wrote poems inspired by items such as a Spanish-English Dictionary, a pack of cigarettes and a water bottle with a crucifix.
As a second-generation Puerto Rican-American, Miranda addresses topics of race and refugees, especially in regards to the destruction caused in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria in 2017. His chapbook published in 2017 titled “Departure” is comprised of poems which all revolve around the theme of having to leave home. He references the devastation inflicted upon Puerto Rico in these poems, as many Puerto Ricans continue to be forced from their homes in order to seek refuge somewhere else. When discussing the loss and pain in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Miranda stated, “We carry our flag everywhere, probably because we do not belong anywhereー even though we are owned by the United States.” Miranda is extremely prideful of his heritage and reflects so in his poetry.
Miranda explained each poem is different when it comes to the amount of time it requires to be written. He mentioned that he never submits the first draft, stating that “a lot of people fall in love with their first drafts, and that is not good, because it is never the best. It is criminal to fall in love with your first draft.” He also described his different modes of visual art— such as photography, painting and his current mode, embroidery.
The next installment of Anderson’s VOICES Reading Series will be on Thursday, March 28 in Daugherty-Palmer Commons at 8:15 p.m., and will feature SMCM alumni Mary Adelle (‘11) and Clare Hogan (‘16).