Unleashing the Power of Words: An Inspiring Journey with Ancestral Poetisa Ysabel Y. González
In the vast tapestry of the literary world, some voices rise above the rest, weaving stories that resonate with the deepest parts of our souls. Ysabel Y. González, known to many as Ancestral Poetisa, is one such luminary. Born in the Bronx, raised in Newark, New Jersey, and now a resident of Warren County, Ysabel's poetic journey has been marked by an exploration of lineage, family, and her Latinx roots. Her evocative work can be found gracing the pages of renowned publications like Tinderbox Journal, Anomaly, and Waxwing Literary Journal.
Ysabel's trajectory as a poet has been nothing short of remarkable, garnering accolades and recognition from the literary community. As a CantoMundo Fellow, she has been allowed to immerse herself in workshops and gatherings where she connects with fellow artists, exchanging ideas and nurturing her craft. Invitations to esteemed programs such as VONA, Ashbery Home School, Tin House, and BOAAT Press workshops have further enriched her creative journey, expanding her artistic horizons and sharpening her poetic prowess.
Her collection of poems, "Wild Invocations," published by Get Fresh Books in 2019, stands as a testament to Ysabel's ability to transport readers to a realm where emotions run deep and words hold immense power. Through vivid imagery and profound introspection, she invites us to explore the intricacies of our existence, celebrating the beauty and complexity of our shared human experience.
Educated at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where she received her BA, and later attaining her MFA in Poetry from Drew University in Madison, NJ, Ysabel's intellectual foundation is as formidable as her artistic brilliance. Her academic pursuits have provided her with a solid grounding in the craft, equipping her with the tools to craft her words with precision and grace.
Beyond her creative endeavors, Ysabel serves as the Assistant Director for the Poetry Program and Festival at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a role that allows her to champion the work of other poets, nurture emerging talent, and contribute to the rich cultural tapestry of the literary world. Her passion for poetry and her dedication to fostering an inclusive and vibrant artistic community is evident in the way she approaches her work, inspiring countless aspiring writers along the way.
While Ysabel's achievements and accolades are undeniably impressive, it is her words that truly captivate and resonate with readers. Her poetry delves into the very essence of what it means to be human, effortlessly bridging the gap between diverse cultures and experiences. Through her exploration of lineage and family, she sheds light on the intricate threads that connect us all, reminding us of the beauty and resilience that lies within our collective heritage.
At home, Ysabel finds solace in the presence of her loving husband, Chris, and their two cherished fur babies, Elliott and Bandit. Surrounded by love and support, she continues to pour her heart and soul into her craft, channeling her experiences, both personal and universal, into profound works of art that touch the lives of others.
As we bear witness to Ysabel Y. González's extraordinary journey as Ancestral Poetisa, we are reminded of the power of storytelling and the profound impact words can have on our lives. Through her exceptional talent, unyielding dedication, and unwavering authenticity, Ysabel is not only shaping the literary landscape but also inspiring countless individuals to embrace their narratives and celebrate the beauty of their roots. Her journey serves as a powerful testament, reinforcing the idea that our voices hold tremendous significance, transcending the boundaries of our origins.
This spring, I had the privilege of engaging in an insightful conversation with the remarkable Ysabel Y. González, delving into the depths of her illustrious career in the literary world. Our interview provided a window into the mind of a gifted poet whose words have the power to move hearts and ignite imaginations.
OLM: Can you tell us about your background and how you became a writer and poet?
Ysabel: I’ve always loved reading and writing as a child but it took me up until my 20s to understand and realize my power in storytelling. I’ve always been a quiet and reflective individual and honed my voice through poetry.
When I was young, I knew the work of Maya Angelou but not many other poets of color in the classroom; I found (and still find) the poetry they traditionally teach in the classroom to be inaccessible and unrelatable. I was always writing but it wasn’t until college that I realized that there were contemporary poets of color writing on relatable and relevant, important topics and it gave me the agency to tell my own stories.
As a Boricua, I’ve always felt our culture has a rich migrant history that should be shared and documented in the literature. Two defining moments that validated my voice were when I worked with Professor Evie Shockley just before graduating from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in 2010 and she introduced me to great work by poets of color like Douglas Kearney and Cathy Park Hong where I saw myself reflected; and shortly after when I took a writing workshop at VONA with Willie Perdomo who was encouraging and confirmed for me what I knew all along: I wanted to be a writer, document my story, and participate in the community conversation around poetics, race, and culture.
OLM: How do you approach the writing process? Do you have a specific routine or method that you follow?
Ysabel: I know some writers that hold sacred routines however I am not one of them. But I create space and time to write and read regularly. Reading fuels me. The writing usually comes in response to what I’m reading or the experiences I’m engaging in. What has been paramount in my approach has been to write with and in the community. Writing in a silo does not breed work that is authentic or accessible to me. So belonging to collectives and groups, particularly that of women, which encourage and nurture me is crucial to my writing process and development as a writer.
The Write On! Poetry Babes saved my life and my writing during the pandemic, pushing me to flesh out on paper moments for me that felt so vulnerable and scary. Because of them, I survived quarantine and also developed my second collection of poetry, “Sing This Body Out” which I’m currently searching to house and publish. Without community, there would be no me.
The other thing I’ll share about my process is that I’m a big believer that just because you are not writing, does not mean you are not writing. Humans are natural storytellers and as we move through the world we are constantly creating in our bodies through experiences and relationships. Sometimes it takes a while for it all to find its way and travel from the body to your pen. If you’re not writing it doesn’t mean you’re not a writer—take some time to smell the roses, feel all the feels, and then process it on paper when you’re ready. You can’t rush a good thing.
OLM: What inspires you're writing? Are there certain themes or subjects that you find yourself returning to too often?
Ysabel: All poets have obsessions that find their way into the work, particularly through the images we construct in our poems. My obsessions inspire me and so does this idea of being vulnerable and authentic in the poem. Duende, or this idea of holding out my heart on the page is my lifeline; however, it doesn’t mean that I don’t revise the heck out of my poems.
I return to themes of colonization, womanhood, legacy, ancestry, and our human connection to the land. I’m also inspired by connecting with my communities, storytelling, and my attempts at getting the story authentically right and telling my truth.
OLM: How do you balance the need for creativity and originality with the need to appeal to readers and publishers?
Ysabel: My job is to tell my version of things and speak truth to power. The way the story gets out there is usually credited to the craft techniques that hold up the poem. I do not appeal to publishers; instead, I work on my poems and then search for homes that seem like good fits. I prioritize original storytelling and creating accessible work over publication credits, that’s for sure. And I prioritize telling stories that I feel need to live in a world that will resonate with voices from vulnerable communities, particularly that of women of color and differently-abled communities, both communities in which I have roots.
OLM: How do you deal with writer's block or creative slumps?
Ysabel: I go out and live life! The good, the bad, and the ugly. Then, usually, a poem eventually finds its way to my pen. And also, being in the community truly helps me generate new work—I love when my poet-friends challenge me with writing prompts or simply give me a title that I write into. When I’m feeling my most blocked, I step away from writing and step more deeply into my body trusting that words will find me again.
OLM: How important are editing and revision to your writing process? Can you walk us through your editing process?
Ysabel: Editing and revision are paramount to the poem’s success. I have learned that it is not important to have a large writing circle of people look at your work; what has worked for me is finding a few folks that believe in my work, understand my intentions with my poems, and challenge the work to be at its best.
I have different processes depending on the poem. Sometimes I write it all out on paper in a block of words, and then when I type the poem up I lineate it and revise it as I type. I’ll look at it many times in the next few days, editing & revising. Then, I put the poem away for a few weeks (or months) and return to it with fresh eyes and often catch glaring edits that need to be made because I’ve been away from that space and place in my life from which I wrote it.
This helps because when I’m too close to the poem, it’s too precious. But the further I step away, the more ruthless I can be with edits and making changes that empower the poem and also help let readers in (accessibility).
OLM: Can you discuss any challenges or obstacles you have faced in your writing career, and how you overcame them?
Ysabel: It has been a constant struggle to find spaces in which my work is invited. The po-biz is a difficult world—when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not. Especially as a woman of color who works administratively in the field of poetry, I completely grasp that the selection process for poems is finicky and any one factor can address why a poet is not invited into a space.
I wish I had an answer to it all. Readers can get overwhelmed by the amount of submissions, or not get a great sense of the breadth of a poet’s work from just one reading. Or maybe they didn’t have lunch yet before reading someone’s poems or they hold a bias. There are so many reasons! But what I take issue with is journals that are still publishing the same writers over and over—there are so many great writers out there, please create space for them! And I also take issue with journals that fetishize a narrative based on race, gender, orientation, etc.
I am a Latinx woman but does my poetry always have to address race or hardship? I want to write about joy, too, and love, gardening and time travel, and dogs with wet notes. It feels like white male authors get to write about whatever they want and get published and praised for it—but writers of color only get noticed when we are exploring trauma. I don’t think I’ve overcome getting caught in this system but I wish we could find a way to normalize BIPOC writers writing on any subject matter we want.
OLM: How do you see the role of literature and poetry in today's society? Especially for the Latinx community?
Ysabel: Poetry can be a space where you’re reflected. Poetry can be a space in which you are invited. Poetry can be a tether to advocacy and activism, and also where you find pleasure and joy. Poetry can be relatable and accessible. Poetry doesn’t have to be boring or scary. I’d love to see more contemporary BIPOC writers taught in schools so that young people learn early on that poetry can be interesting and a great tool for self-expression and an opportunity to engage communities.
It is also a tool to challenge white supremacist capitalist culture and advocate for the most vulnerable communities, including those from BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently-abled communities. It is an opportunity for Latinx storytellers to document and exchange experiences and ideas.
OLM: Can you recommend any books or authors that have been influential or inspiring to you?
Ysabel: Some poets my work is in conversation with and/or who inspire me: Grisel Y. Acosta, Marina Carreira, Claudia Cortese, Eduardo Corral, Natalie Diaz, Naomi Extra, Roberto Carlos Garcia, Aracelis Girmay, Marwa Helal, Douglas Kearney, Kathy Kremins, Ada Limón, Audre Lorde, Shara McCallum, Lynne McEniry, John Murillo, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Willie Perdomo, Dimitri Reyes, Evie Shockley, Vincent Toro, Rachel Wiley, Tamara Zbrizher.
OLM: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets who are just starting?
Ysabel: Read, read, read! You never know who you will find that will inspire you. I would also suggest writing your truths down completely before self-editing even if you never show it to anyone—don’t keep yourself from yourself. Your story may be the opening for another individual so keep writing what’s hard.