Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Cindy Jiménez-Vera

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

What’s your name and what do you do in the arts?

Cindy Jiménez-Vera is a poet and non-fiction writer. She has published seven books in a variety of editions. Four of those books are of poetry, one consists of travel journals, another is children’s poetry, and another is a bilingual selection of her poetry. Some of her texts and books have been used in schools and universities. She is also an editor of poetry books and cross-bordering prose texts by authors of Ediciones Aguadulce, an independent Puerto Rican press which she has directed since 2012.

What got you into literature, especially poetry?

I was raised listening to poems recited by my mother and listening to them at the local radio stations from San Sebastián del Pepino, Puerto Rico. I wrote poetry since I was a little girl. I participated in poetry and creative writing competitions where I won a variety of awards. In addition, memorizing poems was a way of keeping them forever; of having them in my body. Writing them is a way to share them with the world for everybody who wants them and wants to make them theirs and part of their bodies. When I studied Comparative Literature in the  University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez (COLEGIO), I went to a free literary congress in Aguadilla where I met live poets for the first time, among them was Etnairis Ribera. One of my professors, María Teresa Bertelloni, introduced me to Ribera personally because she knew of my interest towards poetry writing. Some time later, I went to every free activity provided by the University alongside the Humanities and English Departments of my alma mater. One was dedicated to the Nuyorican movement and that’s where I met Pedro Pietri, Tato Laviera, and other poets I was starting to read in “el Colegio”. Seeing and hearing them recite was important in my development as a poet. I knew that before publishing, I should develop a voice of my own. Those experiences marked me because in school I was always taught the works of dead poets. This is how I knew that there were live poets creating and performing. On another occasion, the Department of Comparative Literature brought Puerto Rican poet Yvonne Ochart to provide a free poetry workshop in el Colegio. I took it and thanks to it, I learned about the discipline and strictness behind writing and editing. It was the end of the 1990s. I lacked the resources provided by big bookstores like those from the metropolitan area, so I wouldn’t come out of the General Library at el Colegio. I knew everyone who worked there. Borges was right; the library was my paradise.

How did you develop your style?

I have experimented with various styles. As a beginner, you start by imitating those poets you admire. When I was younger, I wrote plenty of lyrical poems. As an adult, I have wanted to experiment with prose poems more. Doing that with free verse poems has brought me many possibilities and with it I found my own voice. I wanted to work with exercises and methodologies which would provide explorations and findings of all types. I have also practiced the erasure poem, the use of math equations in the construction of poetry (which were influenced by the OULIPO movement), horizontal poems, calligrams, sonnets, free verse, amongst others. I’m not afraid of crossing borders between literary genres when I write poetry. I get nurtured by chronicles, journalism, memories, film, novels, philosophy, visual arts, conceptual art, amongst others. In 2011, I participated in a creative writing workshops provided by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and the Cuban author José Carlos Sánchez Lara. In said events, I met other writers with whom I have collaborated in a variety of projects, some of them are David Caleb Acevedo, José Raúl Ubieta and Iris Alejandra Maldonado; three writers that I admire a lot. That year I started to get published in electronic and print magazines locally and internationally. In 2012, I published my first book after taking an artisan bookbinding workshop provided by Nicole Cecilia Delgado.



How has it evolved through the years?

I feel like with each book I explore other possibilities and dimensions of poetry. I don’t want to be the same poet in each book. I work very hard to try to have a defined voice in each journey.

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

Safo, Hildegard Von Bingen, Teresa de Ávila, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Christina Rossetti, Dorothy Parker, Gloria Fuertes, Phillis Wheatly, Edwidge Danticat, Roxanne Gay, Maryse Condé, Aida Cartagena Potalatín, Olga Nolla, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Soleida Ríos, Josefina Báez, Lydia Davis, Irene Gruss, Carmen Berenguer, Stella Díaz Varín, Blanca Varela, Lilliana Ramos Collado, Yvonne Ochart, Nicole Cecilia Delgado, Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, amongst others who I admire and read with devotion.



Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

I would love to be a scriptwriter for comics because they fascinate me. I love and devour all kinds: be they DC, Marvel, local independent or alternative comics as well as internationals. It is a beautiful medium where poetry and chronicles can fuse through the panels.

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?  

The state of the arts in Puerto Rico is in a fertile moment. It is moving to see so much cultural and artistic production daily. I think it is an excellent opportunity for creation and collaboration. That is why we need more support from the government, NGOs and all sorts of public and private entities dedicated to funding the arts, especially the writing arts and editing. The  world needs to know what Puerto Rican women in the arts are doing.


What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

We carry a huge weight over our shoulders. We sustain a big part of the cultural production seen today. It requires solidarity and collaboration. That’s beautiful and it’s a model to follow. Despite that, we are not recognized or supported enough and we could give a whole lot more than we do now if we had said support.


If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

Be an artist. Do it yourself. Nobody will do it for you. Develop your style and educate yourself. Doing everything by yourself is as important as grabbing that pencil with all your might. Sorority, on the other hand, is the paper where that pencil will find a solid ground for growing as an artist and as a team. All women artists are inspiration and partners, never competition. Work hard and be able to share knowledge and help others. Also, be generous enough to let other sister artists help you.

What is your biggest goal right now?

Win grants, artistic residencies, financial incentives that allow me to grow, collaborate with artists and writers, edit books by other writers without financial insecurity and my current debts. I’m a metaphor of the country: buried in debt and still kicking.

What do you seek to achieve with work?

I want it to serve as a form of resistance against oppression; a map for a possible country.

All of the pictures in this article were provided by Cindy Jiménez-Vera