The unexpected can often lead to the biggest inspirations.
It isn’t every day that you hear about a poet making a change in Wisconsin, so when the opportunity to interview Madison’s first-ever Latino Poet Laureate, Oscar Mireles, presented itself, I was more than, well, ecstatic.
After talking on the phone and discussing the places, people, and platforms that inspire and continue to inspire us today, I found the sincerity and modesty of a poet, writer, father, and man who enjoys the simplicity of life and the words that help put his thoughts and emotions into perspective.
With a few questions and highly anticipated answers, the man behind works that include, “I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 20 Poets(1989)” and “I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: Vol II(1999),” we got down to some of the most genuine aspects of a family oriented and loving man.
It’s safe to say that Mireles, the first Latino Poet Laureate of Madison and the executive director of the Omega School for adults seeking to complete their GED/HSED, has done a great job in proving the importance of hard work and dedication to surpass racial boundaries. His activism, self-love, and humility has truly inspired not only myself, but other members of the community and continues to inspire and open up new opportunities for future generations to come.
The Madison Arts Commission will be hosting a Poet Laureate’s Reception for Mireles this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2-4 p.m. at Centro Hispano of Dane County, 810 W. Badger Rd. The formal program begins at 3 p.m., but all are encouraged to arrive at 2 p.m. to enjoy food and music and celebrate the importance of poetry in our community.
In the meantime, here are a few questions I fired at Mireles and here are his answers:
Madison365: Let’s take it back in time, to the “King of Rock and Roll.” Tell us about the first piece you ever wrote.
Oscar Mireles: The poem “Elvis Presley was a Chicano” was the first poem I had ever conceived of. I clearly remember seeing Elvis Presley on the black and white television and thinking he was what I thought a “Latino” should look like. Elvis had the good looks, strut dance moves and charisma … he had to be a Chicano.
Madison365: Where do you get most of your ideas/inspiration?
Oscar Mireles: Most of my poems focus on identity and self-reflection. I have written pieces about my family, community issues, societal problems, and social change. I both try to get a better understanding of myself and my role in making a difference in my neighborhood, the community and the world. The GED students at Omega School are always inspiring primarily because of some of the obstacles they have overcome. The Omega School GED instructors inspire me on a daily basis with their dedication and commitment to offer all their hearts and minds to our students as they struggle to earn a GED/HSED credential.
Madison365:Do you have a favorite room or atmosphere that you like to write in?
Oscar Mireles: I like to write in the early morning where there is little distraction or interruptions. In the past, I used to handwrite everything. Then, a couple of decades ago, I went to typing things on a computer. Now, I compose poetry on my smartphone, one letter at a time while I am lying in bed.
Madison365: What is your favorite place for thinking?
Oscar Mireles: I spend lots of time driving in the car. I usually have the local public radio station on and generally listen to classical music in the background. This relaxed atmosphere gives me time to think and ponder about life, its complexity, simplicity and nuances.
Madison365:Who/what inspires you?
Oscar Mireles: My four children: Diego Jesus, Sergio Andres, Lorena Del Pilar and Javier Oscar are the primary focus of many of my poems for the past 25 years. As a former high school wrestler, I have dozens of poems written about the world’s greatest sport. Being a Latino male, community activist, poet and Zumba dancer are all very different roles. All of these activities provide very unexpected inspiration and ideas.
Madison365:How old were you when you first started writing?
Oscar Mireles: I first remember writing in college around age 20. It was a letter to the editor in the college newspaper about a multicultural conference I was helping to organize and my letter was designed to encourage non-whites to attend this important diversity event.
Madison365:Do you have a favorite piece(s) that you’ve written?
Oscar Mireles: “Lost and Found Language” is one of my signature poems. It talks about the challenges of being a Latino activist and not speaking Spanish. The poem details the hurt and struggle of not knowing the language of your ancestors and how this situation can cause lots of heartache, but that there is a point of redemption.
Madison365:What is your favorite theme or element in writing?
Oscar Mireles: I believe the theme of “love” is inextricably mixed into all of my poetry. Learning to love and accept myself. Romantic love. Finding a love of language and culture. Love is a four-letter word.
Madison365:What do you think makes good writing?
Oscar Mireles: The search for the truth. Life is a lot more interesting and stranger than fiction.
Madison365:How long have you been writing?
Oscar Mireles: Since I was 15 years old … in many situations I am a great listener, even though many of my close friends would argue this point.
Madison365:What made you fall in love with writing?
Oscar Mireles: It wasn’t until college that I fully began to understand the power of words. It became like wildfire. Harder and harder to control and no longer easy to avoid having to share my thoughts and emotions.
Madison365:Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Oscar Mireles: Writer’s block is a daily reminder that you have not written anything today and what you have already written is useless. Once you can get past that reality, the rest is fairly easy.
Madison365:As the first Latino Poet Laureate, how do you hope to impact the Latino community?
Oscar Mireles: I think each of the previous Poet Laureates had a different motivation for serving our beloved city in this capacity. Some of the Poet Laureates wanted to bring poetry to the masses, speak to a specific community or gender, or introduce the community to great writers and poets. As the first Latino Poet Laureate, I want to inspire others (including and especially Latinos) to become writers and share their stories and family history.
Madison365:How aware do you believe other races are of the importance of the Latino community?
Oscar Mireles: I think there is a general awareness that Latinos are here, and they are here to stay and not going anywhere, anytime soon. But there is also a sense that we are an invisible community, due to our immigration status and hiding in the shadows and willingness to stay quiet and not attract unwanted attention. Latinos need to build bridges with the African-American community based on mutual interest and trust and a long-term focus and not get caught up in minor squabbles, but instead keep focusing on the big-picture issues.