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i might know how to use my hands: An Interview with India Lena González

 India Lena González is a poet, editor, and artist. She graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University (BA) and received her MFA from NYU’s Creative Writing program. While at NYU she served as a writing instructor for undergraduates and received a Writers in the Public Schools fellowship enabling her to teach literature to middle school students via Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Her work is published in American ChordataThe Brooklyn ReviewLampblack, PANKPigeon Pages, and Poets & Writers Magazine, among others. A three-time National Poetry Series finalist, India is also a professionally trained dancer, choreographer, and actor. fox woman get out! is her debut poetry collection. She lives in Harlem. 
In the following self-interview with India Lena González, learn more about the author's thoughts around language, movement, and the importance of giving voices to all one's identities! 
What is your definition of poetry? 

I see poetry as action, a constant verb, an infinite reverberation. Coming from a performance background, I crave words on the page as enactments of the body; each line a limb that can twist, turn, reach, or fall flat. At the same time, I understand the genre of poetry to be about tracking the movement of spirit (one’s internal self) through the tool of the mind. Poetry is prayer, of course; it can be modest and true. It can be a trumpet solo, brassy and clamorous. Poetry is one type of expression of selfhood, and therefore an expression of humanity, that which is totally divine. It is a term that is complete and slippery, as it can change at any moment depending on the writer and their work. I can never really grasp this artistic form, but there’s always the feeling that with each new poem there will be a revelation that blows the wor(l)d open for me and offers clarity of vision, that if I think about the world enough, and my place in it (who am I really?), I can arrive at a true philosophy that widens me, that makes me full. Poetry is a loose promise that I will arrive at the mountain top with a complete view of creation.   

What is your relationship to language throughout the book? 

I am fascinated by how language fails us, by how limited written and spoken communication is, by how we struggle to express ourselves so that others might understand us to some extent, so that we might feel seen and heard, so that we can relate to one another. That is why dance exists, instrumental music (how often has an audience member been moved to tears or laughter or deep rumination without any words to get them there?). I am always searching for a language that can get outside of itself to offer a more physical, emotional, and ultimately spiritual landscape for the reader, and myself, to come to terms with life and its counterpart, death, to come to terms with being.  

Our realities are formed by the formal system of signs and symbols we engage with. I want to use language, a full orchestra of voices throughout the collection, to expand this system of symbols as far as I can, and then I want to break this form of expression down to the barest of minimums. No matter the artistic mode, whether one creates sculptures, paintings, plays, etc., our tools can only take us so far. At a certain point there will be silence. A reset. Silence is not the absence of thought or feeling, but perhaps the height of it as there’s no intermediary in experiencing the self in silence, it enforces such a direct state of being. That is where the true living begins, as I understand it. The breaking down of language, the call to silence, the end of the book, it’s just a beginning for the reader. It’s an invitation to begin again, or, to exist truly for the first time.  

Bearing those last two sentences in mind, what journey can readers expect this collection to take them on? 

fox woman get out! is an unraveling, a letting go. Of what? Of holding on to all these aspects of who I think I am, or who I’ve been pretending to be—who I’m knowingly performing on the page even—to arrive at a purer, far realer state of being. I started writing this manuscript in graduate school and at the time I was intent on exploring every corner of myself that I could: the masculine, the feminine, the twin, the daughter, the granddaughter, the great granddaughter, the young lady, the woman, the dancer, the actor, the fox, the fox woman, the Black person, the Native person, the Spanish person, the multiracial person... I knew the overall trajectory would be one of traversing the corporeal to arrive at the cosmic. I knew I wanted that, but for a few years the end didn’t quite arrive there, if one can ever arrive at the cosmic! Maybe it still doesn’t arrive, that’s not entirely for me to say, but I grew my spirit mouth at last. I relearned sound. I exercised all my linguistic tools to stretch language, and then I did away with it all. I landed somewhere raw and runny. I landed where I am both everything and nothing. I’ve never wanted to be proper with my art, to fit neatly into expectations and categories, just sincere, and the path of sincerity is a winding one that can, I’ve experienced, deliver one to a state of peacefulness.   

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