Interview by Anna-Claire McGrath
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a Mexican American poet living in Houston. She is of Mayan descent, but grew up in Houston among the bayous. She graduated Warren Wilson’s Program for Writers in 2011 and currently raises three children while teaching writing. Her recently book of poetry, Fuego, deals with the body, gender and illness.
THE FEM: You’ve written a few poems “After Lynne Cox”, the long distance swimmer and writer, and it strikes me odd that a book of poetry called “Fuego”, or fire, would have so much water imagery. Was that a conscious dichotomy you were aiming for, or more incidental? What was it about Lynne Cox that inspired you particularly?
LESLIE CONTRERAS SCHWARTZ: I was intrigued by Lynne Cox as an athlete who deliberately swam in the harshest, most challenging conditions, who challenged her body to its limits. I did not set out to have fire and water imagery oppose each other in the collection. Rather, in Lynne Cox and the speakers of other poems, I was drawn to the idea of something ignited in the body and spirit, something that waxes and wanes but can carry a person forward through incredible difficulty. We usually see images and figures of men in this manner, their sheer willpower in the use of the body, but I wanted to imagine narratives of a female athlete and her own experience in willing the body to do the unimaginable.