Inspired and Delighted by South Florida's Persistent Greenness
By Stephanie Krulik
As a child growing up in south Florida, Emma Trelles wanted to be a photographer − someone who looks at the world and records the view. As an adult, this award-winning poet, essayist and journalist uses the lens of her eye to capture her world and writes for the sound on the page. Her eye-camera is her words.
"I write because the words bring order to my life and the world around me," she says. "It is about creation; it is about how to make art and how to preserve humanity."
With an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University, Trelles writes about art and culture. She is a writing consultant at Nova Southeastern University's Office of Academic Studies and gives one-on-one instruction to undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. An art critic for three years for the Sun-Sentinel, Trelles was nominated for a Green Eyeshade award for excellence in journalism and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes (an American literary award). She is a featured reader at the Miami Book Fair International and is a regular contributor for the Best American Poetry Blog.
Trelles was awarded the prestigious Andres Montoya Poetry Prize in 2010 for Tropicalia, published this February by the University of Notre Dame Press. It is a book of vibrant, energetic, unconventional poems that meld music, color, politics and the visual art of Florida's artistic greenery in this land of the tropics. The prize is named after the late author and is given every other year for the publication of a first book by a Latina poet.
Trelles admits she was "thrilled and stunned when I received the phone call (from the final judge, Florida poet Silvia Curbelo). It was a rewarding experience; it validated that I had achieved a certain level of craft and artistry."
Indeed. Her craft takes the reader to a new level of consciousness. Her artistry takes place as Trelles paints her words into a new being, a new shape. On assignment for Street Weekly − the Miami Herald publication − this Cuban-American writer was privy to a “peaceful” protest at a concert in Miami's Bayside. "I was standing in the street and the police were throwing tear gas at a crowd of peaceful protesters; I saw an office worker bleeding. All of a sudden, Billy Bragg [British musician and political activist] appeared and guided us into a nearby hotel and out of harm's way." She writes in the poem, Billy Bragg Rescues Us at the FTAA Protest (Free Trade Area of the Americas): "he raised his magic hand/his fret-stitching hand/each fingertip buffed and set with opals/bright enough to block the blood-shine of people beaten to the ground/but not so bright we forgot where we were."
Exactly. From Lorca Is Green, "Lorca died in summer, four months before the olive harvest, when the trees' silvered branches were likely heavy with petals and fruit." Trelles likened the Spanish poet to colors, to become something else. Her words take the reader through a path of unconventional patterns of music and art from the Latino culture.
Like the music she enjoys − punk rock, jazz, salsa and classical − the words flow on a computer or in a notebook she carries, but Trelles always writes in silence. She and her husband, Mark Zolezzi, a musician, songwriter and bookseller, live not far from the Atlantic Ocean in Broward County. Like the ocean's rhythms, the music rhythms just appear. "I'm writing for myself first, but once the work is done, I don't want to force my intent or the seeds of my intent on the reader. After it is finished, it becomes a collaborative art when the reader comes to the page."
Listen to the words from her poem, How to Write a Poem: Theory #62, first printed in her chapbook, Little Spells (GOSS183 Press, 2008). It opens with: "The beginning should eat the eyes...you step into line at the bodega with Our Lady of the Sponge Curlers/she's buying toilet paper and Mahatma rice" and ends with "a woman before the stove stirring rice and wishing death." Trelles implies this scene could happen anywhere. She says, "It is how the opening line of a poem is a place to swallow the reader into a poem and it has to be enough to pull him toward the heart of the poem."
The beating heart of her poetry and the quiet in which she writes keep her words alive. Trelles offers: "I write poems when that stillness happens, when ideas I've had for a while arise. Sometimes the poem is finished quickly; other times I revise the whole thing."
Sometimes making art can happen in other places and ideas flow from those external moments. Trelles talks of her interest in the paintings of Whistler and Frida Kahlo or the photographs of Diane Arbus. The sculpture and brightly painted canvasses of the Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carre influences her own. She says, "His work is inspiring and sorrowful but so original."
For Trelles, originality is everywhere. Trelles is a self-taught musician; she played bass and sang in a band called Secret PE (physical education) Club, made up of three girls who worked at the Herald. Then they asked Zolezzi to play with them. The band may start up again.
For now, she has the freedom to make art and look through that eye-camera. The next project may be a book of poems or creative non-fiction or essays. Trelles says, "I want to be surprised."