KEARNEY — As a poet, Ángel Garcia looks at his own specific experiences for inspiration.
“What starts a poem for me is something I’ve seen or paid close attention to — or something that I’ve heard,” he said in an interview from Lincoln where the writer lives and works. “I look for a sense of wordplay or rhythm that interests me.”
Garcia also explores how the words feel in his mouth, on his tongue and with his lips.
“And then I get started,” he said. “In writing the poem or formulating it, all of that is manipulated or kept inside of the poem. Sometimes they are dropped, but typically, that’s something I strive for; musicality is really important to me along with strong imagery. That’s just basically my training, looking for strong details, something that people can relate to. The more specificity I can provide from my own experience, I think that has the potential for reaching the audience.”
Garcia will explore those techniques during a 7 p.m. reading Tuesday as part of the Front Porch Poetry Series presented by the Prairie Art Brothers at the G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture. Admission to the event is free.
As a writer, Garcia feels a compulsion that transcends the mere act of describing an event or a feeling.
“The responsibility of a writer is to be accurate in telling their truth, whatever that truth is,” he said. “I don’t mean that with a capital ‘T.’ I mean in expressing our experience and our perspectives. Along with that, some other messages are conveyed along with culture and things that help shape one’s identity.”
Based in Lincoln, Garcia, 38, studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a Ph.D. student where he also teaches undergraduate classes. He was born in Texas but moved to California at an early age. The poet grew up in and around Los Angeles County. He moved to Nebraska to enroll in the postgraduate writing program at the university.
“The faculty is great here,” he said. “We have a lot of freedom to teach in the way we want that still engages students. In terms of my own work, I’ve been fairly productive here. There’s not a lot of distractions and that bodes well for my work.”
In 2018 the University of Arkansas Press published Garcia’s collection of poems, “Teeth Never Sleep,” winning the 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize.
UNL faculty member Kwame Dawes said of the book, “‘Teeth Never Sleep’ is an auspicious and daring debut by a poet whose attention to the line and the possibilities of well-crafted metaphors is remarkably accomplished. These are poems that appreciate that risk in poetry demands vulnerability, and the quest for truth requires a willingness to excavate the complexities of human emotion and thought. Garcia’s poems about masculinity, displacement, language and desire are powerful and deeply affecting.”
As for success, the poet finds small situations that reveal the impact his words make.
“My greatest indicator is having people coming up after readings and saying, ‘This poem really meant something to me,’” he said. “Even better yet, young writers sometimes come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I enjoyed this poem so much and I read it to my mother and shared what this meant with me and we had a conversation about it.’ We invest so much in words and in that kind of messaging and that’s a level of success that can’t be gauged.”
As an artist, Garcia trusts those moments and experiences with his readers.
“The good fortune I have is that people communicate those with me,” he said. “That’s always been ideally what I wanted as a poet.”