An Interview with Felino A. Soriano


Felino A. Soriano is a poet whose work is inspired by the sounds of jazz. His work has appeared in over 550 print and online journals and 68 poetry collections. His most recent collections are Forms, Migrating, Of Isolated Limning, Mathematics, Espials, Watching What Invents Perception, and Of These Voices. His forthcoming collection Quintet Dialogues: translating introspection will also feature the art of David Allen Reed. He is also editor of the Poetry Journal Of/with.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What was your childhood like? Did you have a love of words early on or is that something you picked up later on?

I’ve lived my entire life on the central coast of California. I’ve one younger brother. I’ve been shy and introverted since childhood, but was much more social as a youngster than I am now. Growing up, although I enjoyed reading, and partook in the typical drawing/coloring associated with childhood, I didn’t have an interest in art or writing until my 20’s. I’ve enjoyed music, however since I was very young, and an early influence musically for me, was my dad. He sang in a band that performed covers of artists/groups such as Kool and the Gang, Al Green, The Commodores, Smokey Robinson, and others. Although Jazz is my favorite genre of music, I still often listen to soul and R&B, and my dad’s early influence is what keeps me interested in these genres as well.

When did you first know you were a poet? What is it like to realize that you have to write?

I wrote poetry sporadically in high school (early 1990’s) for then-girlfriends. It wasn’t good. On 1/1/2000, I was at home and very strong desire pushed me to sit down and write a poem. Again, it wasn’t good, however, the feeling to write became so overwhelming, it added the dimension of studying poetry to configure a realization that expressing language differently was what I wanted to do. I began reading many books of poetry, and the first two I read were gifts: Octavio Paz’s A Draft of Shadows and Other Poems, and The Selected Poems of Li Po. 15 years later, writing is still a very insatiable activity, one that occurs very naturally, and one that I’m devoted to continuing to etch into my identity.

Do you consider yourself lucky to be able to express yourself in words as you do?

Lucky? No. What I do find is responsibility in the need to express myself through poetic language. I’m often asked why I write so often, and the easiest answer is always because of the elation poetry brings me. Of course, there are nuanced and aggregated functions as to why I write so often, including the deep desire to create a dissimilar poetic language. I write to create an understanding of my environment; and, I write to uncover/unconceal angles that are unseen and create a language to describe such discoveries. The following quote from Rainer Maria Rilke hangs above my writing table, and it exhibits the responsibility so very well:

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty, and no indifferent place.”

Who are some of your favorite poets, past and present?

A truncated list includes Duane Locke, Pablo Neruda, Heller Levinson, Alan Britt, Octavio Paz, Li Po, Matina Stamatakis, Sheila E. Murphy, Emily Dickinson, Ed Pavlić, William Alexandar, Eric Baus, Michael Palmer, Langston Hughes, Silvia Scheibli, and many others.

When did you first take an interest in jazz? How do you think music and words have influenced one another throughout the ages?

Sometime in 2000 I saw an advertisement for Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz, which I found quite interesting. A short time later I asked a coworker about his interest in jazz, as he had an extensive catalogue of music in many genres. He recommended I purchase Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. A few days later I bought the CD’s and became elated with what I was hearing. Subsequent to that, I watched each episode of Burns’ documentary and then realized jazz was going to be an imperative part of my experiences.

Since 2006, an active part of my writing routine consists of listening to jazz while writing. The perceptual alterations brought forth from the music assists me in configuring my brand of poetic language, in addition to the musical components within the language.

Poetry is a musical endeavor. The poetry I most enjoy includes a paralleling paradigm of interesting images collocated with music brought forth from attributes such as alliteration.

Do you have a dream project you’d most like accomplish?

As jazz is such an imperative part of my daily life, —not only through the interactive aspect of drawing sound for my writing, but contextual to listening as often as I can, I would really enjoy collaborating with a favorite jazz musician to create a dialogue of interpretation. In 2010 I wrote several hundred poems interpreting various jazz recordings I called Approbations. If I were able to collaborate with a musician, I’d very much enjoy working with Jason Moran or Robert Glasper. Both of these pianists are with Blue Note Records and are brilliant at redefining and obscuring the slim labels and delineations given to jazz music and the musicians.

I’d also very much enjoy doing an ekphrastic project, interpreting various pieces by artist, Gerhard Richter.  His art genuinely transfers me into writing, particularly his abstract work.

Can you tell us a little more about Quintet Dialogues: translating introspection? What can your reader expect from that? Why did you decide to include the artwork of David Allen Reed?

Quintet Dialogues: translating introspection is a collection of poetry I wrote in 2013. The original premise was to catechize the traditional jazz quintet paradigm, and use an introverted and interior motivation to communicate from the perspectives of musicians playing bass, drums, piano, saxophone, and trumpet. A foundational part of my language is the belief of connectivity between objects and people, and that at a very basic level, understanding how an object functions is key to analyzing the structural aspects of what makes the interaction unique. I often use of in my poems as a way to illustrate the connectivity about which I speak. Therefore, within the collection I use Of piano, for example, to burgeon the introspection posited by the musician to bring understanding to the reader through the language of each section. There are five sections consisting of 20 poems each.

The publisher and editor of the book, Michael Annis, brought a different perspective to the book and had a brilliant idea about laying out the book completely different from my original manuscript. This includes bringing in David Allen Reed, whom is a brilliant multimedia artist; the premise here was to take the dialogical ideals of the book and continue those into the presentation (Michael), art (David) and my writings. Therefore, the book will contain several more poems than what was originally included, as well as beautiful art from David.

What led you to create Of/with?

In February, 2009 I founded Counterexample Poetics.  After having my own poetry published regularly for about three years, I wanted to try and produce my own online journal. Originally, I intended to only publish poetry, hence the journal’s name, but like many intentions, they only last until a better influence arrives, and I began to publish interviews, book reviews, and art. In 2013 I was approached by Jamez Chang, whom I published in the journal, about publishing flash fiction; he asked if he could take on the role of publishing/editing the flash fiction content, and I immediately agreed. Although I’ve taken a step back from publishing poetry, art, reviews, and interviews on the site, Jamez is still taking and publishing submissions for flash fiction.

In early 2014, I got the yen to again publish others’ artistic endeavors. I then created Of/with: journal of immanent renditions. Whereas I published work at Counterexample Poetics on a rolling basis, I’m publishing Of/with in full, electronic issues, biannually. I’ve received very positive feedback on the issues thus far, which is great.

Do you find it challenging to find the time to write your own works while being poetry editor there and working as a director of supported and independent living programs for adults with developmental disabilities?

My life purposely benefits from habitual behavior, predicated on routine, predictability, and desire to interact with people, responsibilities and passions that will bring me great joy. I attempt to balance family, work, and finding time daily to write, read submissions, and study (and of course, listen to jazz). I have a three year old daughter at home with whom I spend much time; our interactions brings such happiness. Since her birth, my writing has slowed down a bit; for many years I was writing between 700 and 1,000 poems each year, but after her birth, I write between 400 and 600. Something I’ve had to learn to do well is compartmentalize the various aspects of my life, and find a schedule that works well for me. Contextual to my writing—during the work week, I find time in the evening, while during the weekends I awaken quite early and find time then to write.

Do you personally feel that those with developmental disabilities are often underestimated in terms of their individual talents and abilities?

Absolutely. Language used to describe people with disabilities is very, very antiquated, and labels that are used create a very deliberate, but also, subconscious segregation between folks with and without disabilities. I subscribe to what is called People First Language which simply asks to look at a person with a disability as a person first, and not a person with a disability first. Societal definitions of disability are often myopic in the sense of creating a desensitized understanding of people and ability.

I’m honored to be associated with an agency that provides services and supports to children and adults with developmental disabilities. My role consists directing supported living and independent living programs for adults; I also teach several trainings to our employees. I attempt to look for ways to erase damaging labels and assist with providing the folks we support in obtaining as much positive control over their lives as possible. Autonomy over one’s life directly ties into identity and how one views their existence; I truly believe when people understand and build their value from a very personal perspective and architecture, the exterior, negative constructs of how others view them begin to lose significance.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

I’ve come into the realization that blessings, contextual to how one finds fulfillment in what is experienced, will lead to understanding in how to practice compassion for others. Caring for others leads to an interior devotion to wanting to replicate the function of how it makes a person feel.

Are there any little known things about yourself that your readers might be surprised to learn?

Some people know this already, but I studied martial arts from the ages of five to 22, and I received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 15. I realized subsequently, that martial arts started my interest in philosophy and critical thinking.

Do you have anything else you’d like to say in closing?

Tina, thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity. I really appreciate it.

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