Poet Analicia Sotelo took to the podium in the Cheever Room of Finn House on Oct. 25 at 4:30 p.m to a full house. Sotelo is the author of two poetry collections—one of which, Virgin, won the Jake Adam York Prize selected by renowned American poet Ross Gay. Additionally, Sotelo’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Boston Review and the Kenyon Review.
Sotelo began her reading with poems from her critically acclaimed book, Virgin. Common themes of the works involved Greek mythology and how it translates to other cultures (being Latin-American herself), family and—of course—virginism. In between introductions of each poem, Sotelo commented on various topics relevant to the works. For example, she discussed writing about experiences that are “tough” to write about, how to articulate “internal landscapes”, as well as the joy of family while simultaneously being held back by the anxiety and scars of ancestral trauma.
One poem, “Do You Speak Virgin?” described the “beautiful complexity of being a human being,” a journey of dealing with the label “virgin.” Another poem, “Family Portrait With Enchiladas And A Movie,” was concerned with heritage, family and white privilege. These difficult topics, explored and described with Sotelo’s magnetic words, left the audience snapping and humming in awe. Particularly moving was a poem entitled “Private Property,” in which Sotelo stated, “we’re all performing our bruises.”
Michelle Lin ’23, a spoken-word poet and associate for the Kenyon Review, easily found herself within Sotelo’s words, especially her poems about Greek mythology. “I really resonated with [those poems] as a person of color and as a poet,” she said. “I feel like often what we read and the myths we subscribe to throughout education are not necessarily the myths of our own culture … [Sotelo] inserting her own personal work and narratives into the dominant culture is really powerful. She can say that these myths are transcribable to us, to our own cultures.”
As a Kenyon Review associate, Lin is tasked with reading and vetting eight submissions to the literary journal each week, as well as volunteering to set up and take part in Kenyon Review-sponsored events, such as Analicia Sotelo’s reading. “My parents are immigrants,” Lin began. “I always thought creative writing wasn’t the most suitable career option for me because my parents always followed that stereotype that you need to have a stable job, be a doctor or engineer…but having authors like Analicia come in show that taking ownership of your own voice is important and that POC writers can exist and be equally successful in doing what they love.”
Before leaving Kenyon, Sotelo took questions from the audience regarding her poems and writing process. When asked what inspires her most and keeps her writing, she said, “I don’t know what the answer is, and that’s what moves me.”