Oliver de la Paz is the author of five collections of poetry, including his latest book, The Boy in the Labyrinth (University of Akron Press, 2019). His work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tin House, The Common, The Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest. He is a founding member of Kundiman and now serves as co-chair of Kundiman’s advisory board. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at Pacific Lutheran University.
Cameron Finch spoke with Oliver about mythic metaphors, the problem with story problems, empathy in the digital era, and the role of poetry in the endless exploration of ourselves.
Poetry-Making as Empathy Play: An Interview with Oliver de la Paz
The Common brings you a special two-part series as a preview to Tesserae: Poetry of Community – A Reading & Celebration of Immigrants & New Americans, coming up on Sunday, April 22 3:30–5pm at The Parlor Room in Northampton, MA; free admission. You can view Part One of the series here.
The boy in the labyrinth bends to the darkness. Closes his eyes. Imagines that it lies to him. Because it is full of lies. Because at the center of the darkness is a man who is also a bull. And he is curled up at the hub of it all. The boy thinks about the man-bull padding his way along the slick corridors, rubbing his sides against the hewn edges of basalt. Here and there a tuft of fur snags, yanked out in patches. The minotaur nudges along the way the sightless fishes swim up with the waters of the underworld, pulled by the current, the waters sucked their mouths and on through their gills. To the fish, it’s as if the current were a thing with a mind. It enters the mouth and leaves it according to its will. And in the labyrinth the will is forever wishing to be let in.
The boy in the labyrinth leans into the dark’s sweet kiss. Cave-ins from somewhere in the tunnels send gusts of wind into the boy’s face. The boy imagines a wheel spins in his brain that makes the cavern shake. The rhythm of it turns in the spirals of the boy’s ear. Sound made thicker in the dark. Sound, absolute—and pitch heightened by the boy’s hunger. The fury of his mind honed from the underground, he thinks he hears wind through the pinnate wings of gulls far above the tunnels. Imagines a cart above, heavy with fruit for the afternoon bazaars. His dreams his teeth piercing a plucked grape’s skin. Incisors splitting in half, the soft brown seed. His mind stretches beyond its elastic point. Bends to what the dark gives.