For ire’ne lara silva, 2023 Texas State Poet Laureate, poetry is a necessity

It is through writing that silva has found both an outlet for grief and a means of sparking conversations.

By Laura Rice & Raul AlonzoAugust 10, 2023 5:34 pm,

It was a nightmare that first provoked ire’ne lara silva to pick up a pen and seek comfort in writing.

The then-8-year-old awoke from a nap with horrific visions of her family dying in a fire, becoming orphaned and being abducted by aliens. There was no one to turn to for consolation – her older sister was locked into her soap opera time. There wasn’t any paper in the house, so she had to turn to writing on a paper grocery bag.

But she wrote, and in the lines then scribbled she found not just release from the fear and anxiety, but also the beginnings of a lifelong passion that most recently brought her the honor of 2023 Texas State Poet Laureate.

It’s a designation – one silva described to a friend as being named the “MVP of poetry” – that she had, in some ways, resigned herself to wait for.

“It was a big surprise, mostly because I had decided not to be surprised – not to wait,” silva said. “I’ve been on the shortlist for years, and so it was a surprise to be chosen because I just resigned myself to waiting for however long it was going to take.”

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The honor follows a string of successes for silva ­– her resume lined with numerous awards, grants and book publications, as well as an induction into the Texas Institute of Letters. But the new designation certainly stands out for the poet.

“It’s interesting. I hadn’t expected to feel this level of affirmation and validation,” silva said. “I talk a lot about not depending on other people to give you permission or validation or acceptance or whatever else. But this … this is another level. Definitely another level.”

Her most recent book, “FirstPoems: ani’mal, INDíGENA, and furia,” is the product of both another dream and another long wait for silva, as well as somewhat of a recall to her roots. It’s a reprint of her first book of poetry published by Mouthfeel Press in 2010, as well as her first two self-published chapbooks from 2001.

Like her upcoming book, “the eaters of flowers,” slated for January 2024, the latter poems and, in fact, much of silva’s oeuvre deal with grief. For silva, it’s an emotion that feels very fresh with the recent passing of her youngest brother, Moises.

“I was his only caregiver for the last 12 years,” silva said. “He was a diabetic amputee, but he passed away last summer. I’ve lost parents. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost other people. But I had never felt loss on that scale.”

His passing rattled silva – her brother still weaving tender memories for the poet even in the beauty of the natural world.

“He loved nature. He loved nature,” silva said. “A friend of mine once posted something on Facebook about how he didn’t know the names of trees. And I said, ‘you know, I used to be like that, too.’ Everything was ‘tree,’ ‘grass,’ ‘leaf,’ ‘flower.’ And it was my brother who taught me to name everything and taught me the names of everything. And it was because he loved them so much. And so I told that friend, ‘you build a relationship with one tree, learn that one tree, and then you’ll never not recognize that tree again.’

Poetry became the familiar outlet for silva.

“I was telling a friend, I write poetry out of necessity, and I couldn’t figure out my life,” silva said.  “I didn’t know when to eat or sleep after he passed because everything had been based around his care for so many years. And so I just had to put myself back together. And so I wrote these poems in order to do that.”

This “poetry of necessity” is one that beckons silva to write, that calls to her. But there is also a natural music to her writing, one that silva says she emphasizes as an important aspect of her poetry – the beat, the rhythm.

That doesn’t mean she follows a set style.

“I don’t believe in conventions,” silva said. “Blow them all up. There was one book, ‘Blood Sugar Canto,’ I tried to write a sestina, a ghazal and something else. And I just ended up blowing them up. Like I went into it and I found very rich language because of the way that it was – what it requires. And then at a certain point, it wasn’t satisfying anymore. So I just blew them both up and kept the interesting things that the format brought me and, you know, threw away the rest.”

Now, backdropped by that sense of rattling conventions, silva steps into the role of Texas State Poet Laureate.

After recent travels in which she was exposed to how many different parts of the country perceive Texas, she said the outside perceptions of the people of the state didn’t match with the reality she knew. And in lieu of that reality, she says it’s an interesting feeling to step into this new honor.

“You know, there’s a way that Texas is perceived outside of Texas,” silva said. “A lot of that perception does not include the people that live here. You know, it’s headlines. It doesn’t acknowledge different communities of color – of indigeneity, Native American families, Mexican-American communities. The history of these people in this state. It doesn’t acknowledge LGBT communities.

We are all here, and we are alive, and we are thriving, and we are building, and we are fighting, and we are also Texas.”

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