The Personhood Project Episode 13: Jose Hernandez Diaz
For the first episode of season two of The Personhood Project, host Aaron Tyler Hand, sits down with poet and educator Jose Hernandez Diaz. Diaz discusses his 2020 chapbook The Fire Easter, as well as his forthcoming full-length collection Bad Mexican, Bad American. The two then discuss the accessibility of prose poetry for new writers and how far poetry has evolved since John Donne. Diaz shares the importance of sharing and uplifting the immigrant story and the ways he honors his family through his poetry. He also shares tips for using poetry to turn the lemons handed to us in life into lemonade. Oh and they talk about sneaking into HomeTown Buffet! haha
Jose Hernandez Diaz:
That' sone thing I've learned about poetry, often the little moments, or something that troubled you, you can write about it and become empowered by it
I grew up in a broken home
my mama was there but my daddy was gone
so most of this shit I had to learn on my own
you were there for me all along
from when I was a baby until I was grown
it's so hard not to cry when I hear your song
just know I’ll see you one day in heaven
with open arms. This was a letter
to my moms
ever since my T passed
they say I don't have a backbone
they said I should be dead
but I guess I’m just that strong.
Formula For Being a Parent/Dad
Having a single parent is a challenge. May not have a Dad to teach you how to be a man or father. Interaction and listening to other kids and seeing other families helped show life lessons and start a formula. Interaction may not have always been positive but it was still a formula for right from wrong. Formula for what it's like and expectations of being a parent. We may not have been the best parents but the formula for love was always there. Whether it was holidays or birthdays or when they were sick or hurt. The formula was there. The formula for good times and bad times. The formula of love guided the way. The formula you created to raise your children in your eyes with everlasting love. Whether the formula was used for discipline or gifts on holidays and birthdays. The formula for quiet evenings watching TV laughing and joking. The formula was used for nightmares and bad dreams. The formula for graduating school and being successful. The formula for sports and not giving up. The formula for raising loving honest children. The formula for success or life and work. The formula to be successful and positive. For this formula will be what our children use as an outline for their own formula to raise their children… our grandkids. The formula to be a loving, caring, educating dad.
A lifetime ago in the shadow
of my pappy
“Look out boy, I’m trying to learn you”
calloused fingers, snappy-snappy
“It’s about the M’s, our favorite letter.
Remember the M’s, ain't nothin better
moonshine, marijuana, mescaline, mushrooms, meth
I’m passing you knowledge to carry past my death
We make or grow it and it makes us money
It makes us dollars or it just don’t make sense
We reside in mountains and hills, riding motorcycles.
I’ve made a name in the game
Shit, I should be your idol.
We may be of povertous means but stash
a molehill of fortune and fame
I caused a lot of mayhem, and it begins, our last name.
From military to militia, we’ve fought for ‘merica
Mind me boy, ‘member son, don’t let the man getcha.
Take what I teach and what I preach
Escape these hills, git and stay git.”
Idlewood Cove! That’s the street that made me! Sweetbriar is the neighborhood I called home for all my formative years. 5905 was the address of the house. Inside were yellow tinted walls from all the cigarette smoke. We were poor and got hand-me-downs, but I learned early on that I can get things on my own. And my family has all done better since hanging out on the block drinking, smoking, getting fucked up, and plenty of other things I shouldn’t have been doing. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, listening to rap music, things were different then. We grew up different. Now I can appreciate what I didn’t then. Now if only I could change the habits that I started so long ago. I’m 45 now, which is also the neighborhood I grew up in, in south ATX. It still defines me to this day. Nybro, my last name, means “new bridge” in Norwegian. If only now I could build a new bridge to a better life, but still keep qualities of who I am.
If I could go back in time
I would change the things
I did wrong
I could write and write
and make a song.
If I could go back in time
I would laugh and enjoy
I would go back and make
I learned my letters from my singing with and
along to papaw's catgut strum
My grammy learned me on my fingers and my feet
how to count any sums
Pappy and mama taught their hillboy
how to speak but it wasn’t right
before I learned to sing with papaw
I was well versed in cuss-n-fight
wish I’d learned me some proper lessons
long before I migrated down south
coulda circumvented the trouble fermented
by my opossum mouth
maybe then I’d have more friends
not begging so socially inept
and less shit on my shins, knee-deep in,
maybe out of the hoosegow I’d kept
A bildungsroman is when a poet or author uses a piece of writing to explore the surroundings of one's formative years. In the case of Bildungsroman of a Disadvantage Brown Kid, we see Diaz share what it was like for him growing up in a low-income Latinx family, and how those years still affect him to this day. Take this idea and have your hand at writing your own bildungsroman. What can you share about your childhood? Which aspects of your childhood are still affecting you to this day? Which disadvantages did you grow up with that lead you down your life's path?
In Roots that Cracked the Pavement, we see Diaz paint a vivid picture of his surroundings during his adolescent years. He names the specific meals his family ate and that car he first owned. He describes in detail the apartment and neighborhood he grew up in. He goes as far as talking about the specific people and figures in his life that helped shape and give character to his home. Use this idea to write a poem about where you grew up. Like Diaz, get specific about the things you were eating, the car you drove, the school you went to, anything that helps show the unique culture that your neighborhood fostered.
Diaz uses I Never Had a Mexican American Teacher Growing Up to share what it was like for him as a Latinx boy who only had white teachers. Through advice from his therapist, he explores what it would be like if he was that Brown teacher that he always wanted. With this in mind, write a poem about what was missing from your education. If you could go back in time and teach yourself something that you wish you had learned at a young age, what would it be?