Imagine sitting in your Spanish class where the teacher questions your racial identity by the sound of your name. The teacher pronounces each word slowly, you can tell her tongue is uncomfortable by the time she hears the cadence of your last name escape her mouth, and in hesitation utters, “Holtry…Señorita are you sure you’re supposed to be in here?”
Poet Mercedez Holtry has experienced those moments, the ones where the world questions your blood and belonging. “I was considered a gringa even though my blood was just as Latino as theirs, my skin wasn’t exactly brown and my Spanish needed fluency,” says Holtry.
In March of 2015, Mercedez took her stories to the Women of the World Poetry Slam, promoting awareness of the hardships she and the Chicano community around her have faced regarding issues of identity, poverty, and racism. Mercedez placed third (a shared tie with Desiree Dallagiacomo) out of seventy-two fierce women competitors in the nation.
Mercedez will be representing team Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the 2015 National Poetry Slam this August in Oakland. We had the wonderful pleasure to ask Mercedez a few questions about her work as poet, woman, and Chicana.
Spit Journal: Can you tell us in your own words what it means to be both woman and poet.
Mercedez Holtry: To be both woman and poet is to be Goddess of creation, it’s to be
mother of some sort even when we are not trying to be. I say goddess because to be woman and poet is a divine gift that allows us to create both literally and metaphorically. As women we are born with the ability to create through our own bodies. We birth life into this world. We are physically capable of creating something inside of us only to later push that something out into the world. Being a poet is the exact same thing in my eyes. As women who write and speak, we metaphorically create poetry inside of us only to push poetry out through writing and spoken word and sometimes this poetry, this life story we are struggling to give birth to, evolves into something important. Like Goddess, we speak life into motion and that’s a beautiful thing.
SJ: Congratulations again for making final stage at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam. You were absolutely amazing! What would you say was your most memorial moment at WOWPS?
Mercedez: My favorite experience at WOWPS 2015 would have to be open ceremonies. To have Mexica and Dineè healers come and bless every poet in the room before the event was to start, is super important in my eyes because not only are we, the poets, coming from different lands, mindsets and backgrounds, but we’re coming to create community on sacred land that does not belong to us. The land of New Mexico is the land of indigenous people who have been colonized, who have been oppressed and who have risen time and time again to claim the land back and to be blessed by the people who truly own this land is to become co-creators of community rather than fall into centuries of colonization. It is to honor the water, soil, and air we are speaking in. When we are spiritually cleansed before co-creating with one another, we allow no room for the creation of negativity that can then be channeled through one another. This way we are grounded in our own truth and open and blessed to share that truth with others around us.
SJ: While streaming WOWPS live from my 13 inch laptop screen, you spoke with such power about the struggles and misinterpretations about your identity as a Chicana. Can you talk a little bit about how the term “Chicana” has influenced your poetry?
Mercedez: The term Chicana has influenced my poetry by allowing me to identify with a story of intersectionality. It has not only made me conscious of my roots as a mestizo, but it has opened up my eyes to the beauty of being a woman who embraces that identity and the ramifications that come with it. To be both woman and Mexican American is not always the easiest thing to be, but it’s a beautiful process in my eyes and writing about it is gratifying in so many ways.
SJ: Can you share who has inspired you to create and produce the work you perform.
Mercedez: My poetic influences are the many intelligent and selfless mentors I have had in the past. When I think of the word influence, I think of the people that were actually there to edit my writing, to critique my performance and who have always been a strong role model in the Albuquerque poetry scene for the youth. I am very grateful for those people and their contributions to the poetry community. I’m grateful for their poems, which have touched my heart and inspired me to write at one point or another.
SJ: Ok, so if you had to create the ultimate metaphor for your relationship between you and writing, what would it be and why? Go!
Mercedez: The best metaphor I can give for my relationship between writing and I is the metaphor of an actual relationship with a lover. Writing poetry is being in a relationship with your craft. Being in a relationship with writing is being in love with the person who drives your heart crazy but brings peace to your heart at the same time. This relationship takes dedication, patience, passion and faith. More than anything, this relationship takes love.
SJ: Now that we know a little more about your “Lover” can you describe what your process is to conceive and give birth to such dynamic poems?
Mercedez: My writing process is never the same process. It changes every time I put the pen to the paper. Inspiration always likes to smack me in the face at 2 AM when I’m in desperate need of sleep, or in the middle of a lecture class. Writing is probably the hardest part for me depending on the subject. If I’m angry about something, the writing feels effortless. If I’m nostalgic, the writing is free flowing and fun. It’s when I’m emotionally suffering from something that the writing becomes challenging. For me personally, being in that headspace is the hardest place to write in. Vulnerability is something I am still learning to master in my craft. On the performance end, the process comes naturally. I love being on the MIC, I love speaking up and I love engaging an audience. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Mercedez Holtry is a slam poet, writer, student, mentor, and Chicana feminist who focuses on bringing out her roots, experiences and lessons learned through her poetry in hopes that they embrace her people and other artists around her. Mercedez is passionate about spoken word and aspires to continually learn all she can about her art through working and slamming for her community.