It’s not surprising that Fine Arts Work Center poetry fellow Francisco Márquez has a background in film. There’s something of the filmmaker’s eye in his work, especially in his experiments with point of view. Sometimes, he turns our attention to a single object or exchange, as if cutting to a tight closeup. At other times, his poems pan out to establish a world and its rules, only to find dramatic ways of subverting those expectations.
Márquez was born in Miami, Fla., and raised in Venezuela, and says he found his way to poetry almost by accident. In college, he took a class with poet Barbara Hamby to fulfill an elective requirement and credits the experience with changing his life.
“Film people tended to be very technical,” Márquez says. “They weren’t playful in the conversations they were having. Poetry made me feel the way movies felt. It felt like a language I’d been trying to speak my whole life.”
After completing his B.A. at Florida State, Márquez moved to New York for the M.F.A. poetry program at N.Y.U., and later worked at the Academy of American Poets. He will give a reading of his poems at the Fine Arts Work Center next Thursday, March 12, along with fiction fellow Nora Corrigan.
In his work, Márquez says he’s interested in “the gag moment,” where “you’re suddenly thrust into an emotional situation only to find out you’ve been there all along.” Márquez cites poets like Ellen Bryant Voigt, Rita Dove, and Carl Phillips as inspirations for the way they control what is revealed and how. “I’m interested in poems that start with one subject and take off in a new direction,” he says.
One of Márquez’s most compelling poems, “Citizen,” does just that. Explicit sexual negotiations become a jumping-off point for reflections on belonging, exile, and ancestry. A man dressed as a cop promises both a thrilling encounter and a stark rejoinder to the question, “You legal?” The poem asks: is sex what brings us together? Or does it remind us that our bodies are ever politicized and policed?
In other poems by Márquez, a shifting point of view suggests transformation, myth, and magic. In “The Moth,” an insect beating its wings against a windowpane evokes both helplessness and desire. The speaker begins as an onlooker with “nothing to offer.” He isn’t like “the others/ who stand like statues at the helm/ of their quiet, don’t/ wreck their wings,/ or tear the wall that is/ home or their coffin.” In a sudden shift, the speaker identifies with the moth, now an expectant lover trembling in anticipation, waiting for “my pretty man,” who is “the night engulfing/ the image, moths/ breed like bluebells in his belly.” Márquez’s speaker can be both subject and object, often in the same breath.
“Film has been asking these kinds of questions for a long time,” says Márquez. “Poetry can be like a camera,” says Márquez. “It’s in your mind — it’s private. Yet you have to find a way to situate the poem so that someone who hasn’t had that experience can have access to it.”
That flexibility is something he has developed over time. “I had a period where my poems were very confessional, almost through a documentary lens,” he says. “I had to iron out some ethical issues around telling other people’s stories. Sharon Olds taught me to imagine myself as a fly on the wall, writing down what I saw. That really helped me to slow down and trust the silence in the poem. You think about what they’re wearing — maybe a sweater. So then, you focus in on the cuff. You focus in on just a thread.”
In addition to finalizing his first full-length collection while he’s here at the work center, Márquez is interested in playwriting and performance, especially plays about exile, memory, and family. He’s working on a series of poems based on ancestor stories and experimenting with writing in Spanish and translating the work to English.
“I’m thinking about playing with translation through performance. I want to find a way to connect to it that’s more spiritual,” he says. “What happens if we treat poetry as something that can unlock a portal?”
Márquez says his fellowship in Provincetown is the first time he’s gotten a chance to be a full-time poet, and he’s enjoying the challenge of organizing his days around making art.
“If there’s anything I’ve gotten out of poetry, it’s the community — people sharing food, taking care of each other’s children, helping live life,” he says. “I’ve experienced some of that with the other fellows here. It’s a reminder of what poetry should be.”
The event: Reading by poetry fellow Francisco Márquez (and fiction fellow Nora Corrigan)
The time: Thursday, March 12, 6 p.m.
The place: Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown
The cost: Free