Lantern Review: Issue 5

A Conversation with Takeo Rivera

Eventually, however, I started taking up playwriting when I was being mentored by the great queer Chicana writer Cherríe Moraga. I was taking her class, and halfway through the course she “forbade” me to write poetry, saying that she felt that I “had that down.” She insisted that I take up playwriting in order to grow as an artist. It was a terrifying but important move for me, and eventually I realized that I could develop some very strong work by writing in a playwriting voice that was informed by a spoken word aesthetic. Hence the kind of style that I’ve adopted in much of my work.

LR: What writers (poets, playwrights, or others) were important to your development as both a poet and a playwright? What writers have been influencing your creative work as of late?

TR: Well, as I mentioned, Cherríe Moraga was absolutely crucial, both as a mentor and a writing model. I also owe a lot of my earlier poetry development to the mentorship of the late Sekou Sundiata, the stunning Black Arts Movement poet. My hugest aesthetic influences, however—that is, the ones who have really influenced the direction of my work—have been Ntozake Shange, Anna Deavere Smith, and Jimmy Santiago Baca. The former two particularly through the way they aestheticize the mundane as poetry, and the latter through an aesthetic of sentiment, soul, and vulnerability. Lately, however, I’ve been reading way more critical theory than squarely “creative” work (though I’d problematize that distinction, since I’m in grad school. Yet I admire the ways in which certain scholars have been able to write performatively and conjoin the academic and the poetic. Trinh Minh-ha and Fred Moten stand out as folks who have influenced me lately in that regard. You see some of that academic/poetic hybridization in Prometheus Nguyen.

LR:Your plays are classified as “choreopoems,” a genre that blends the linguistic and lyric conventions of poetry with the elements of the stage—facial expressions, movement; literally, a type of “choreography.” Why has this unique genre been a medium of choice for you?

TR: My usage of “choreopoem” directly references Shange. Honestly, the way I understand it (and I’m no expert), the choreopoem is essentially a hybrid of a play and a poem. It’s not exactly a spoken word poem, either—spoken word pieces are by their definition short, three minutes if it’s for a slam. I’ve written conventional plays, too, but honestly most of them aren’t all that good. I’m just not that talented.