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Recognized as Best Literary Journal for 2005 by Public Radio's - "The Poet and the Poem's" Tenth Annual Award for Excellence in Print




Our Autumn 2016 IssueEnlarged view of image

Katherine Sánchez Espano was born in 1976 in Florida to a Cuban father and Caucasian mother. At the age of six, she moved to Michigan when her mother married a Lebanese graduate student. After her mother’s marriage ended, she and her mother moved back to Florida. She composed piano music starting at the age of nine, and while in college, choreographed dances and explored photography. She studied psychology and creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and received her BA in 1998. Returning to Florida for graduate school, she received her MFA from the University of Florida. She has taught English and creative writing classes at various colleges. Her poetry has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Green Mountains Review, The Bitter Oleander, Sycamore Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review, among others. Her work has also been included in the American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement and Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America anthologies. She was a semifinalist in the Discovery/The Nation poetry contest and has received a Florida Artist Enhancement grant. One of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2015, she published her first book of poetry, The Sky's Dustbin, the winner of the 2014 Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award. She owns a portrait photography business and lives with her Filipino-American husband and two daughters.

The following is an excerpt from her interview with TBO's editor:

The Bitter Oleander: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to sit and talk with us about your work, your life and all that falls between. What can you share with us about your early life and those influences that brought you to this point as a poet, a novelist, composer and photographer?

Katherine Sánchez Espano: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It's been a pleasure reading your magazine over the years, and I'm happy to share my personal experience. I feel much of my writing has been influenced by the cultural mixing in my family. From my mother, I heard stories of my half-Cherokee grandfather who as a child entered a store with a sign in the front window, "No dogs or Indians Allowed," knowing he would not be welcome if the owners knew his true heritage. From my father, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was ten years old, I caught glimpses of what it means to be Cuban. I visited my grandparents in the Florida Keys and learned to love black beans and the rhythm of Spanish, a language I could not understand, but still appreciated.

At the age of six, I moved with my mother to Detroit when she married my Lebanese stepfather, an engineering graduate student. While we lived there, we were poor. Mice lived inside our walls and ventured out at night, keeping me awake with their squeaking. Shortly after we moved in, one of our neighbors—who had noticed our unpreparedness for cold weather—left us a welcome basket that included thick wool socks. Another neighbor, concerned for my mother's safety in our rough neighborhood, watched each evening for my mother to return from her walk with our dog. Despite the difficulties during that time period, there was much love in my home. In many ways, living in that neighborhood was an idyllic time. Children were as plentiful as sand, and I roved with them as one. Although finances were tight for my mother who wasn't working, my father paid for me to go to private school.

Multiculturalism still shapes my current work. I'm now attempting to capture some of the Cuban-American experience, blending my childhood memories with my adult perceptions. My husband is Filipino-American, and like me, my children are "halfies" who will live on the hyphen, not belonging fully to any one culture. Much beauty and interesting perspectives are found on the hyphen, and I’m glad that they will be able to share that with me. With my newer poems, I try to explore those cultural complexities in ways that will be easily accessible for readers.

When I read poetry, I find I'm attracted to surreal imagery and the beauty of structure. I love lyrical poems that set a scene. I appreciate poems where an emotion rings clearly, simple in its specificity, but also lush with nuance. Two poets who have influenced my work and speak closest to my heart are Charles Simic and Yannis Ritsos, poets who bring a sense of culture to their work, as well as rich emotions.

Besides culture, science and nature have touched my writing in important ways. If I were better at math, I might have devoted my life to theoretical physics: I believe trying to understand the nature of the universe is one of the most important pursuits available to humanity. Fortunately, poetry also offers that deeper contemplation of life, one that connects people through a shared perception on the page. The biggest perk of aging is that sense of a broader understanding, and recognizing that old truths realized in youth, while still true, are not always quite what we thought they were: sometimes what we interpret in our younger years is merely a small part of a much larger picture, and that changes everything.

Our Autumn 2016 Issue Features Katherine Sánchez Espano
Photograph by Allan Espano



The fish arrived in my dresser drawer,
swathed in socks, its eyes calm as a desert.
At night, the fish sleeps in bed
with me and my husband.
Its tail spurs our spines
until we roll to the window
and listen to rain knock,
wanting in.
Even in the shower, I smell the fish
in my soap. The shower head blesses
the fish, but the fish has no use
for gills now.
On the coffee table, the fish is as glossy
as a National Geographic magazine.
I open its mouth and see pictures
of a lost Cuban woman
who looks like me,
a homing pigeon mapping
new highways,
a rock bending a river up
into a cloud.
Somewhere inside me
is a marsh where fish fly
above nursing cypress trees.
Their scales flash like mirrors,
but instead of a reflection,
the mirrors show what isn't there,
what might be.

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