People, Places, and Playing with Words: David interviews Luisa Caycedo-Kimura


David Siew Hii, Shenandoah’s editorial fellow in poetry for issue 72.2, interviewed every poet in the issue. To showcase their voices, the questions in the interview were removed, leaving behind only the voice of the writer. In this interview, Luisa Caycedo-Kimura talks about the places she’s lived throughout her life and her passion for words. Read her poem “Queridas tías” here.


It’s kind of hoodie weather right now, which to me is perfect.


I’ve lived in Connecticut on and off for about 20 years.


I was doing my MFA in Boston for a little over a year. Then my husband and I spent a large part of a year in California. We had planned to move there permanently to be near my mother-in-law, but she ended up dying. So, we decided to move back to Connecticut.


My sister lives in Astoria [New York], which is where we lived when we were little. But Astoria has changed quite a bit. It’s very gentrified.


We moved there when I was in elementary school.


I don’t know if you’re American, but to me, living in New York was very different from living in Colombia—customs, language, everything. And then, little kids can be very mean to newcomers, throwing snowballs at you and stuff like that.


I grew up in a city in Colombia, a city in the Andes.


I knew my father had moved to the United States when I was two years old. He was a comptroller in Ibagué, the city where I was born, and he discovered this embezzlement ring. It turns out that it went much higher up than he realized, so, he ended up being fired for being a whistleblower and was blacklisted. He couldn’t get a job anywhere.


Oh, yeah. Yeah. He’s actually in a nursing home here in Connecticut now.


Actually, I was talking to my brother this past weekend, and he told me something that I didn’t know when I wrote my behind-the-poem essay. When my father first moved to the U.S., he went to Texas and Louisiana, where he had siblings, but wasn’t able to get a decent job. What I didn’t know was that he had returned to Colombia. He returned and got a job in a small town not too far from Ibagué, also as a comptroller. He was the second most important person in the town. It was just him and the mayor. Then one day someone ran to his office and told them that members of the guerrilla were on their way to kill him and the mayor. So, he had to flee. That’s when he came to live in New York, where he had a sister. Someone he knew from Ibagué told him that there were a bunch of Colombians working at a bank in New York City and they could help get him a job there. He knew English. Actually, he had taught English in Colombia, so he ended up getting a clerical job at that bank. He did clerical work the rest of his life.


He worked for several years and saved up enough money to send for us. I’m the youngest of seven, so, that’s a lot of money.


By the time I came to the United States, I was in elementary school. He got a two-bedroom apartment in low-income housing in Astoria. Coincidentally, I was able to go there this past weekend and look at the place where I used to live.


Things look different now.


Interesting. I don’t know if I have a better word for it.


There was one time this man attacked me in the stairwell. Actually, it wasn’t a man. I thought he was a man. He was just a teenager, just a large guy. But, you know, I was little. I was in elementary school.


We came to the U.S. in October, and I didn’t have a coat. October now for me is not that cold, but when you’re used to wearing short sleeves and short cotton dresses, it’s cold.


New York apartments often have roaches and mice. I think it was on a weekend that I got up, went to the kitchen barefoot, and this little mouse ran over my foot.


I think my use of gray, or lack of color, in the poem is a comparison because I was living in a tropical country. There are lots of colorful birds, colorful flowers. In fact, Colombia comes second only to Brazil in diversity in terms of flora and fauna.


We used to write to my two aunts who had lived with us and there was always one letter for both of them. It [my poem] was inspired by that.


I think that the poem wouldn’t have the same effect if I were to put it in lines and stanzas because I want it to appear like it’s a letter. A letter to my aunts.


It’s not necessarily that I’m gravitating towards this or any other form. I’m open to whatever form the poem calls for.


I’m always taking notes. One of the things I tell my students is to always carry a little notebook, whatever catches your eye, you write it down.


I keep a folder in my computer, a file that’s just called ideas.


I wish I could just sit down every single morning and write, but every single morning is different.


I love working in the mornings. But you write when you can; you write whenever you have the opportunity, that gap in your schedule. Or even if you don’t have that gap, when something says, hey, you need to write me.


My mother, ever since I was little, used to have us recite poems, just memorize poems. Poetry is really a part of me.


Even in elementary school I used to play with words. I don’t think my teachers ever realized what I was doing.


I love the fact that I can talk about immigration and other things that are important to me.


Politics—perhaps—as they are.


You know, to me, I want to teach my students when they read poetry to go, not just for the meaning, but for the experience.


If I had to choose one thing and I were completely honest, I like playing with words.


I am not a telephone person, and I am also an introvert—in the Myers Briggs sense. But this is fun. I like talking about poetry.


My favorite part about being a poet?


Ah, the money of course.

Luisa Caycedo-Kimura is a Colombian-born writer, translator, and educator. Her honors include a John K. Walsh Residency Fellowship at the Anderson Center, an Adrienne Reiner Hochstadt Fellowship at Ragdale, and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has also been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Luisa’s poems appear or are forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review, Sunken Garden Poetry 1992-2011, RHINO, Diode Poetry Journal, Mid-American Review, Nashville Review, the Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere.