''WRITING IS A VULNERABLE ACT": IN CONVERSATION WITH ELIDA SILVEY
Elida Silvey is a Mexican-American poet and writer living in London. Her self-published books HOME IN LIMBO and NOTHINGS explore cinematic poetry centred around those closest to her as an exploration of the effects love and longing have on identity. FETCH London journalist Nastia Svarevska sits down with the author and poet to discuss connecting through language, the vulnerability of writing, and the influence of Joy Division.
Nothings (2023). Available for purchase here.
Elida, let's start from the beginning. What are the roots of your relationship with writing?
I always loved to write. I mean, that's what every writer always says, isn't it? I think mostly it comes from my mother, who writes in her little journal; she has stacks of them. And she said once that when she dies, I can have them, but I can't read them before. And so writing always felt sacred because of her. But also sharing writing is important to me because I don't want it to dust in the way her writing does. Even though I know, because of the way she speaks, that it's good. I can just feel it, but I haven't read any of it.
Do you know what kind of writing it is?
She writes poetry and letters to herself. And just musings.
Is that what you started with then, poetry?
I didn't get into poetry until I was around 17. You know, the Joy Division phase of my life [laughs]. I was listening to them a lot. And also Radiohead. I'm such a massive Radiohead fan. I think their lyrics made me want to write, which was around the time I started being in bands and thinking that I wanted to make music. So my introduction to poetry was really through music.
Did your parents encourage it?
They've both been encouraging, but it's a double-edged sword because, on one hand, I felt that they were supportive of me being creative. And I think they always knew I was a little bit crazy. In a very traditional family, creativity was different. But at the same time, because my parents are immigrants, and because I was the oldest sister, I did have this pressure of having to do something else because this wasn’t going to sustain me or my family or make my family name proud in the way that a lot of Latinas feel, especially if you're the oldest. So they never pressured me to do anything other than what I wanted, but I always felt the pressure to do more than that.
That makes sense, and it ties into my next question. In your poetry, you often explore the effects that language has on our identity. Spanish is your native language, but you consider English to be the one that you're most expressive in, which resonates with my own experiences living and in writing in-between cultures. I wonder if that’s because of the properties of these two languages or because of your relationship with them.
I think it's a bit of both. I grew up in the US, in Utah, which does not have a lot of minorities. Many of my friends were next door Americans and the culture I engaged with was produced in English, so I gained a lot of those aspects of my identity through that. But there's still so much of me that exists in Spanish. And so often when I'm writing a piece, especially about identity, I enjoy mixing the two. The aspects that are in Spanish, I always relate to the memories that I have created in Spanish, which are my family, growing up, or young childhood memories. And I feel like I would almost be lying if I were to write it in English.
Would a reader still recognise your voice though?
I think it's still the same voice but it's disconnected. If you only understand English, and not the Spanish sections, you're only getting a part of me, and the other way around. Also, if you know me, and you only know me in English, you only know half of me. And that's okay. Because a human being is so complex that you can't encompass them all in one thing. And I think it's important to be comfortable with the fact that people are so different. We're all so different. And our experiences are also different. And there are parts of other people that we may not agree with, or we may not understand. And that's okay, that's actually beautiful. That way, there are so many ways of connecting and communicating with other people that allow us as a global society to be able to grow and learn from each other. So I think, for me, expressing myself in the two languages is kind of my way of saying that we don't understand everyone and we don't agree with everyone. And memory is also something I like to play with, which is where a lot of the imagery comes in. I like to imagine or remember memories and then pick out bits and pieces that make up a scene, like when you watch a scene in a film, and no one's saying anything, there's absolutely no dialogue, but you understand the emotion. That's what I want to do.
That’s also what you're trying to achieve when you're writing about love and longing, right? At least that’s the impression I got from your recently published second poetry collection, Nothings, which is about a long-distance relationship. What was your process behind writing it?
It's all based on a real relationship between me and my partner. We were long-distance for two years. Oh, God [laughs]. Essentially, I was first writing poems to woo. And it worked [laughs]. I grew up with this idea of love as something that you always communicate. My parents genuinely love each other, and I feel really lucky to be able to say that because I know that's not the reality for everyone. Love has always been really important to me. And it came easy. What didn't come easy was the longing and the pain that came with the distance. After a while, I felt like I needed to write it as a way to release all of the negativity that I was feeling, the frustration and the confusion. But also to revel in the beauty of loving someone this much and having them love you back, which is a miracle.
I think that’s what writing does. It helps you process all those different feelings, emotions and thoughts, but also access them in the first place. I was wondering whether you see writing as an act of bravery and vulnerability, specifically in the context of spoken word.
I think writing, and making art in general, is a very vulnerable act. And you have to be vulnerable to be brave, but you have to be brave to allow yourself to be vulnerable as well. Because in my mind, bravery isn't like, Oh, I'm big and strong. It's looking at yourself, seeing your flaws and seeing yourself as human as you are, and then being able to express that. And so I think you do get that in writing, but you also get that in any art form. I think it's really brave and beautiful when anyone creates anything. Because you are putting so much of yourself out into the world, which, don't get me wrong, scares me at times. I'm like, What am I doing? [laughs]. Because it's so tied to you, especially with spoken word. It’s an exchange of energy and emotion because that's really what art is; we're trying to communicate something that maybe we don't have the words for, or maybe we do have the words for but it isn't enough to just say, I feel this; you are trying to communicate it in such a deep way that you want other people to feel it as well. So there's this empathetic connection with other people.
That’s why poetry nights, or spoken word nights, are so special. Because as you mentioned before, we’re all so different, but during those, we're trying to understand each other a bit better. Do you have any advice for someone at the beginning of their spoken word and poetry journey?
I think, first, read the things you like because that's the first step: falling in love with poetry. And then to just write your feelings out like. I love morning pages [a stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning] so much. And what's so good about them, especially as a poet, is that they make you just get stuff out without thinking about what's the syllable number, where to put the stanza, and so on. Feel your feelings first, put them down on paper, and then eventually, you'll be able to be like, Okay, there's this big pool of stuff here. Let me start cutting it down and shaping it into, like, a Michelangelo. Oh, words are marbles. So just feel it and enjoy it. If you are writing poetry to be judged, then you're doing it wrong.
Nastia Svarevska is a London-based curator, editor and writer from Latvia. She holds an MA in Curating Art and Public Programmes from Whitechapel Gallery and London South Bank University and writes for an artist-run magazine, Doris Press. Her poetry has been featured in Ink Sweat & Tears, the Crank and MONO Fiction. You can find her on Instagram @ana11sva and her website anasva.com.