Angelica Esquivel is the winner of the 10th annual Zócalo Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from publications including Crab Orchard Review, Chestnut Review, and Lunch Ticket. Before reading her award-winning poem “La Mujer” at Zócalo’s 11th annual Book Prize lecture, Esquivel called into the green room to talk about the pictures on her fridge, swinging from the branches of a willow tree, and building a community of fellow writers.
What's your hidden talent?
Embroidery. Embroidery [has historically been] looked down upon as a woman's craft, and I like reclaiming that, and making something politically jarring and beautiful.
What is your favorite TV show at the moment?
I just watched Rutherford Falls. It's on Peacock, and it's about this community of Indigenous people living next to this town of settlers. It's set in the present day, and it's basically about how they clash, and how some of the settlers are trying to reconcile their history with the way that the history has been whitewashed. What I really liked about it is that it's written by Indigenous people, and it stars a lot of Indigenous people, so it I feel like it's very authentic representation.
Your winning poem ‘La Mujer’ references your grandparents’ kitchen. What's your favorite thing in your kitchen today?
The pictures I have on the fridge. You know when you go to the movies, and sometimes they have those photo booths? So I went with my sisters, and we got pictures, so I have those. I also used to teach preschool, and we took a field trip to Chuck E. Cheese, so I have a picture with one of my students at Chuck E. Cheese. I have some Frida Kahlo magnets, as well.
What would you say is the most unexpected thing about being a poet?
Meeting other poets. For a long time, poetry was something I did secretively in my journal. And so now, putting myself out there and meeting other poets and building a community of writers has been the most unexpected—and the most rewarding—thing.
You start your MFA at Bowling Green State University this fall. What's the thing you're going to miss the most about Ann Arbor?
All the trees. The city has so many parks. It’s not necessarily a big city but [Ann Arbor] has over 100 parks. So I think I'll miss that the most.
Do you have a favorite tree?
I like willow trees. There was a willow tree in my backyard growing up, and we used to bundle all the branches together and swing on it like Tarzan.
Did you have any formative poems or books growing up?
I always liked Shel Silverstein. I thought that he was really funny and clever and creative. But I wasn't really into poetry as a kid; to be honest, I was more into fiction. I really liked Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. I read it when I was 11 or 12...
I would read books about things that were way beyond my age group because I was trying to figure stuff out. And it was kind of a sneaky, rebellious act for me to learn about things that I really shouldn't have been knowing about at that age.
What is the last thing that inspired you?
I was taking my dog for a walk this morning around my apartment complex. They’ve filled the pool with water, but the gate is still locked, so people can’t go in there. But there are these ducks that have kind of taken it over—they go swimming in the pool, and then fly away.
I'm jealous of birds, because they can just come and go. In the winter, they just pick up and head south, and I really wish I could do that.