Lit Chat: Meet Lara Mimosa Montes
Bronx-born poet Lara Mimosa Montes’ debut book, The Somnambulist, out from Horse Less Press in late 2016, was the main topic of conversation when she and I sat down to talk about poetry. Montes’ work has appeared in Fence, BOMB, The Third Rail, and elsewhere. She is a recently defended PhD candidate in English at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She also teaches poetry at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and works as an editor for Triple Canopy and Poor Claudia magazines.
With the book itself between us like a beautiful meal (or a small Ouija board), we meandered through a discussion about influences and aesthetics.
I asked her first what kind of story would she tell about this book and what was she trying to do as an artist. She said, “I think of it as a notebook. I started writing the book when I was in this class The Practice of Everyday Life. I wanted something kind of like an art book, something that felt like it had dimensions and was visual. Every poet, I would like to think, imagines their poems being visual objects.”
The Somnambulist, a book that could be described as an autobiographical performance of intergenerational trauma (among many other things) does include images of photographs, a map, court documents, etc. One term she used that resonated with me was “encounter,” and her use of it illuminated a quality of generosity about the book and her practice, “I don’t think it’s necessary to have photographs alongside everything but to have those encounters be available, that was important.”
Montes told me that she doesn’t have a BFA or MFA in creative writing and tried to figure out her approach through reading. She talked about the importance of visual pleasure and being open to influences, which show in her book, a permeability to the forms and approaches of others such as Lorine Niedecker, and elegiac texts such as Kristin Prevallet’s I, Afterlife, Karen Green’s Bough Down, Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, and others.
The way The Somnambulist is constructed embodies Montes’ “logic of assemblage,” and her use of archive, autobiography, memories, silence/space, and form are a result of her consciously trying “to do things graphically that emphasized that these things have different relationships to reading.”
It was a delight to talk with Lara about her book and her aesthetics—I can’t recommend The Somnambulist enough, and please watch for more work by this rising star!
Sun Yung Shin is the author or editor of six books including two books in 2016: Unbearable Splendor (poetry/prose) and A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (anthology of essays). With the filmmaker and writer Xiaolu Wang she recently co-founded the Women of Color Artist Collective. She lives in Minneapolis and can be found on Facebook, twitter, sunyungshin.com, and agoodtimeforthetruth.com.