Ringing in a New Year: An Interview with Rhina P. Espaillat

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“But who can divide the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from any child?”

-from “Bilingual/Bilingüe” by Rhina Espaillat

As a new year ushers in, many of us think of resolutions. We may think of how we can be kinder in a country that still rings of political discord and bipartisanship. In this quarter’s featured interview, P2G contributor Rhina Espaillat responds to a question regarding her poem “Bilingual/Bilingüe” and its reflection of her immigrant father trying to maintain and honor their native Spanish while living in a new country. I ask her what she would say to the new generation of Hispanic poets amidst such challenges.

I tell them that those of us with two languages, two nationalities, two cultures and two identities are not divided but multiplied, and lucky to inhabit more than one “home” to which we are loyal and attempt to be useful.”

Her answer resonated with me as to how rich a timbre of sound we’d hear if our country’s leadership embraced its diversity and understood the importance of feeling “multiplied” rather than divided. This left me with a sense of fullness, not depletion.

After almost eight decades of living within poetry’s landscape, Rhina says, “It still feels like music that I want to dance to, but now what’s under it is often nothing to dance about.”

Except that despite ourselves, poetry continues to give us something to listen for, to hope with, and yes, to dance to.

Sarah and I have been honored to present these interviews that have given us opportunities to learn more about the spirited, driven, and humble nature of poets such as Rhina.

With many blessings for a “mulitplied” year of kindness, gratitude, and dancing.




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