Just to recap a thumbnail of this remarkable writer: Tara is that rara avis who is able to dive into the canon, retrieve what she needs and resurface to the real world where the rest of us dwell. She knows her sestinas, her villanelles, her haikus, but she is not seduced by the prettiness of form over content. Her work is rigorously constructed, but framed with direct, clear, and unambiguous language. Tara Betts knows where her loyalties lie — the African American experience, femaleness, urban life, the place where class and race intersect, and as readers we are all the better for it. Take a close look at the pieces at the end of this interview, and you'll see exactly what I mean. You might also want to read part one of this interview.
You made a strong connection to Latino poets, Latino poetry and culture. Can you talk more about that?
In my youth, I studied Spanish in high school, and I hardly knew any people from Spanish-speaking cultures, but when I went to college, I finally met more than Black and white people en masse. I really tried to support all people of color, so I learned a lot and tried to understand how our experiences overlapped and differed. I also took a class with Dr. Susannah Cavallo called Afro-Hispanic Literature where we read writers like Carolina Maria de Jesus, Jose Lima, and Nascimiento's Brazil: Mixture or Massacre.
I would have to say that Pablo Neruda brought the metaphor to life for me in a way that no other poet has. After him, I was drawn to so many others like Xavier Villarrutia, Gabriela Mistral, Cesar Vallejo, Daisy Zamora, and anthologies like Martin Espada's Poetry Like Bread and Stephen Tapscott's Twentieth Century Latin American Poetry. I also read Chicago-based writers like Luis Rodriguez, Ana Castillo, and Sandra Cisneros.
While I was living in Chicago, I got to read with so many Latina women who just wrote things that moved me. Some of them included Brenda Cardenas, the late Sulima Q. Moya, Susana Sandoval, Johanny Vazquez, Beatriz Badikian-Gartler, Katherinne Bardales, and of course, Lisa Alvarado.
In 2001, I had an opportunity to exchange with writers in Cuba at the now defunct Writers of the Americas Conference where my workshop leader was Jack Agueros, and we got to talk to writers like Junot Diaz, Maria Irene Fornes, Achy Obejas, and Danny Hoch. While we were there, we met many local writers. One of them, Leo Navaro Guevara moved to the U.S., and his son Anton is my first and only godson.