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This week, Metro Connection's Jonathan Wilson sits down with the poet Dan Vera, whose latest collection just took home the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. The Texas-raised poet is a first generation Cuban-American, and grew up in a heavily Mexican-American community, but he's spent the past 12 years in D.C., and turned his own efforts to get to know the literary history of the city into a website D.C. Writers' Homes , a joint venture with poet Kim Roberts. Jonathan met Vera at the Wydown Coffee Bar on U Street to discuss his latest work, and whether he's comfortable calling himself a D.C. writer. Following are highlights of their conversation.
On how his quest to learn about D.C. led to the D.C. Writers' Homes project:
"I was just really fascinated to discover that writing and writers had existed in D.C. before me. I live in the Brookland neighborhood, and was fascinated to find out that Sterling Brown lived a few blocks from me and wanted to know more about him — that kind of started a progression of interest in writers, playwrights and poets and novelists who called Washington home."
On the magic of connecting personal and national history in Washington:
"The example I like to give is that I live a few blocks away from Sigsbee Street. 'Sigsbee' is a name that's not remembered anymore, but Sigsbee was the captain of the U.S.S. Maine. The Maine, of course, was the ship that exploded in Havana harbor. And that ship — that explosion ‚ precipitated the Spanish-American War, which precipitated U.S. involvement in Cuba. And it's this sort of cascading line of history that sort of led in many ways to my family being here, and to me being where I am. I can't think of another city in the United States where, if you pay attention, if you connect the dots between your surroundings and yourself, you can find these amazing connections."
On exploring the intersection of Spanish and English in his poetry:
"I love the English language. And I think one of the things that I love about the English language is the permeability of English to not only accept but also struggle with the incorporation of other languages like Spanish. So when I write, I'm constantly going back and forth between these two possible ways of articulating the world around me."
[Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / "A Coming of Age" by Mark Ridout from Giant Colour]