Chatting With Angela Acosta
Angela investigates academia vs. creative pursuits, Latinx sci-fi poetry, and writing while obtaining a PhD.
Angela Acosta is a bilingual Latina poet and scholar with a passion for the distant future and possible now. She won the 2015 Rhina P. Espaillat Award from West Chester University, and her work has or will appear in On Spec, Penumbric, MacroMicroCosm, and Eye to the Telescope. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University. See her at chillsubs.com/user/a314acosta and @aaperiquito.
Angela is also the author of the poems “Jumping Through Spacetime” and “Regarding the Memory of Earth” from Radon Issue 1.
Do you find connections between your creative works and academic pursuits? Has academia influenced your writing style?
Absolutely, I’m researching early twentieth century Spanish women writers like Carmen Conde, Victorina Durán, and María Teresa León who were active across many genres (poetry, novels, plays, radio programs, you name it). I would be remiss if I didn’t develop my own creative work while working on my dissertation. In my dissertation project I study the creation of tributes and their role in establishing the literary canon of the group of male writers known as the “Generation of 1927” and the women who formed what is now called “las Sinsombrero” (the hatless ones). My poetic tributes to women writers are interspersed throughout my dissertation chapters and I even recently published an article in Persona Studies titled “Persona Recovery through Homage: Poetic Tributes to Spain’s Generation of 1927” that includes a critical exegesis alongside my own poetic tributes.
I don’t think that my academic work has affected me as much stylistically when it comes to writing speculative poetry and fiction. That said, my research has inspired me to create a space for myself in writing to think about possible, livable futures and also express myself through writing as a young adult just as the women writers I research did all those years ago.
How does your study of Iberian literature inform twenty-first century speculative writing?
My dream job would bring these two worlds together. I hope to one day be a cultural consultant who provides her expertise for how to maintain Earth’s diverse cultures and languages off world. Until then, I’m working towards becoming a Spanish professor. My study of Iberian literature and culture takes me to archives where I learn how archival documentation is preserved and catalogued and I read about how women writers described their work in autobiographies. In the same vein, my speculative writing examines how people will practice their languages and cultures in the future while removed from Earth. The writers I research lived during periods of great strife, including the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and nearly four decades of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975). They looked to creative writing for the type of liberation they couldn’t experience while living in Spain. Through writing they could envision an anarchist or socialist Spain that existed as a possibility during the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) or meditate on female liberation. Even now, what freedoms and possibilities are not afforded in our twenty-first century societies can be imagined in speculative writing.
You note that Latinx sci-fi poetry is not yet common. Have you felt any resistance to Latinx poems in this space?
Sure, I’ve gotten some pushback when I write about Latinx topics or incorporate Spanish in my writing because I’m told my work is inaccessible culturally or linguistically. I should note that I’m Mexican American, but I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish and I continue to learn more about Iberian, Latinx, and indigenous languages and cultures. In fact, the question of one’s lost ancestry and heritage inspired me to write “May We Be Named,” which will soon be published by Somos en escrito Magazine as an Extra-Fiction contest honorable mention.
I love speculative and sci-fi poetry because it lets me do my own thing without feeling pressured to only draw from “relatable” moments in my life. What will it be like for Latinx communities to go to the stars? How will we follow cultural and linguistic traditions and make new ones? I get excited every time I see a speculative magazine post submissions call that allows for multiple languages. I love being welcomed into a writing space where I can write in whatever mix of English, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese I choose. We need more Latinx stories told in the many languages and dialects Latinx folks speak. I have a poem near and dear to my heart titled “Andromeda’s First Quinceañera” coming out in the December issue of Space and Time Magazine and also “Tamales on Mars” and “Gift of the Ancestors” are available to read in the first issue of The Sprawl Mag.
Did you begin your writing career with poetry or enter through a different format?
Back in high school in Florida I was involved in the Writers Club alongside the Poetry Club and alternated between writing poetry and little flash fiction pieces. I did and still primarily consider myself a poet. I wrote contemporary poetry during high school and college, but never really found my footing in the publication scene and eventually ended up writing little between 2015 and 2021. In 2021 I got back into writing poetry and learned about speculative poetry for the first time after spending those intervening years reading novels by Alastair Reynolds and Becky Chambers. I joined the SFPA and got on board with making regular poetry submissions to speculative magazines and that’s where I feel my poetry career has really taken shape.
How do you approach structure and rhythm in your poetic works?
When it comes to my own poetry, I’m laid back about structure and rhythm since that’s what I study for a living. I’ve always been a visual person and what I see impacts me more than what I hear, which means I lean into imagery and descriptions. I’ll ask myself what the gravity is like, how bright the nearest star is, and what objects surround the subjects of the poem. I still can’t answer the all-important question of why spaceships depicted in television shows and movies are so dark on the inside. I build up images in my stanzas and I think the juxtapositions, comparisons, and alliteration build up the rhythm and sound of the poem.
It is said a poem is never finished, only abandoned. How do you know when to walk away?
Run, don’t walk away! Go outside, charge your laptop. I rarely go through a lengthy revision process because I sink most of my editing time into my dissertation and academic articles. That’s where my energy goes right now and that’s what works for me at this stage of my career. I’ve gotten in the habit of writing poems that hover around 28 lines (about a page) and am comforted by the fact that I tend to write poems in relation to one another so that when one is done, I can begin another. That said, I have a Word document with a bunch of poem and story ideas, some of which I abandoned years ago that are patiently waiting for the right genre and prompt to be written.
How do you navigate the differing expectations between free verse and traditional poetry?
As a Spanish instructor, I teach traditional poetry and we discuss rhyme and meter and how to count syllables, which is helpful for remembering where to place the accent marks. We read sixteenth century sonnets by Sor Juana and I analyze and translate of cool surrealist and ultraist (very metaphor driven) poetry in my day-to-day research too. As a poet, I tend to separate my job from my creative time and gravitate towards free verse. Free verse is always where I’ve always been most comfortable and lets me play around with the voices and techniques I work with professionally, without feeling the need to always follow the “rules.”
When starting a poem do you first sit down with the emotion you want to convey, or is the 'cool speculative idea' in your head what you build your poem around?
The longer I write speculative poetry, the more narrative-driven my work has become (I blame having the flash fiction bug). For a lot of my poetry writing this past year, I focused on the situation and emotion to guide the poem, often answering the question “How will we feel under these circumstances in space or on Earth in the future?” The most extraordinary things can happen in the most human of circumstances. My speculative poetry lies somewhere in a recognizable future inhabited by people of different genders, cultures, and abilities.
When do you take time to write, in-between PhD work, teaching, and everything else in life?
I live within the in-between! I’m definitely a night owl, so the bulk of my dissertation work and creative writing happen at night. I like to mix things up and my creative work keeps me writing during times I might not be doing as much academic writing or need to spend the weekend grading. Sometimes I’ll work on a section of a dissertation chapter for a week then spend some time on my lunch break or at night writing a poem that speaks to the topics I’m engaging with in my research. After spending some time mulling over Ernesto Giménez Caballero’s drawing of the “Universe of contemporary Spanish literature” (a solar system and constellations) for my dissertation, it was nice to compose a poem about the drawing and imagine what the universe of women writers would look like.
What creative projects are you working on now?
I’m gearing up to publish my very first full-length speculative poetry manuscript, Summoning Space Travelers, with Hiraeth Books. As we take to the stars, how will we maintain our collective humanity? How will space travelers honor our collective past and diverse ancestry from twenty light-years away? The book includes my two poems published in the first issue of Radon Journal, “Regarding the Memory of Earth” and “Jumping Through Spacetime” and I can’t wait to debut my work.
My chapbook, Fourth Generation Chicana Unicorn, about my experiences as a fourth-generation Mexican American, is going to be published in late 2023 with Dancing Girl Press.