Ask the Author: Greg Santos
What would you like readers to know about you?
I often tend to be mistaken for being Filipino, but I’m not. My last name is Portuguese, and I’m also of Cambodian and Spanish descent.
What is BLACKBIRDS about for those who haven’t read it?
For my first two full-length poetry books, Rabbit Punch! (DC Books, 2014) and The Emperor’s Sofa (DC Books, 2010), I wanted my poetry, not my family or background to be the focal point. My poems were deeply personal, but they weren’t necessarily coming from a speaker that was specifically me, I toyed with personas and exaggerated versions of myself. The role that imagination plays in art has also been of great interest in my poetry. As I continued to develop my writing and voice, the themes that I became more interested in exploring were my family’s mythologies, being a person of colour, an adoptee, and a parent. So Blackbirds is my attempt at mining my past and trying to sift through it to make sense of it all while trying to navigate the chaos of living in the 21st century.
What has been your inspiration for writing BLACKBIRDS?
Every family is unique, but I feel like I have a diverse background that I wanted to celebrate. Being the Canadian-born son of Cambodian refugees and adopted by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants, I’m an intriguing blend of ethnicities. I love my family and it brings me great pride to share our stories. My hope is that my experiences resonate with others and maybe someone else will be inspired to share their story. I also wanted to capture the experience of being a parent in a tumultuous post-9/11 world dominated by the rise of populism, toxic masculinity, racism, terror attacks, climate change… It can be a scary world out there. But underlying all these modern anxieties, I’d like to think that there’s hope for us all. I’ve found poetry and in particular poetry of witness to be a healing salve for the soul.
What was your favorite part of BLACKBIRDS to write?
You know, that’s a difficult question to answer because when I was first writing the poems, they were mostly stand-alone pieces, and I found satisfaction in writing them individually. I tend to write for myself first, not really knowing if others will enjoy or appreciate what I’ve written. That being said, I really enjoyed the process of piecing the manuscript together to create a coherent collection. Seeing how the poems play off one another or how certain themes accumulate and build is fascinating to me.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve been fortunate to have had many remarkable mentors along my journey to become an author. Mark Strand, Paul Violi, David Lehman, Honor Moore, Dean Young, Matthew Zapruder, Mary di Michele, among others, were inspiring teachers during my time as a graduate and undergraduate student. The authors whose books and writing I would also consider inspirations include, Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Ruefle, James Tate, Charles Simic, the writers of the New York School of Poets, David Trinidad, Carolyn Forche, Loung Ung, and Stuart Ross. I would also like to add that I am always inspired by my peers. I love reading and keeping up with what my contemporaries are doing.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Write. Just write it all down. Worry about editing later. Believe in your writing! Read extensively. Read and submit to literary magazines and journals. Join writing groups. Get others’ eyes on your writing. Take writing workshops. Participate in your local literary community, if you can. All these things, on top of writing your manuscript, will be beneficial for your apprenticeship as an author.
GREG SANTOS is a poet, editor, and educator. He is the author of Blackbirds (Eyewear, 2018), Rabbit Punch! (DC Books, 2014), and The Emperor’s Sofa (DC Books, 2010). He regularly works with at-risk communities and teaches at the Thomas More Institute. He is the poetry editor of the online literary journal, carte blanche. He lives in Montreal with his family. His newest full-length collection, Ghost Face, is forthcoming with DC Books.
Blackbirds by Greg Santos can be ordered online at some of the following venues:
Small Press Distribution: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781912477449/blackbirds.aspx