Sheryl Luna’s first collection, Pity the Drowned Horses, won the inaugural Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize for emerging Latino/a poets (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005). Her second book of poetry, Seven, was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Now in her new collection, Magnificent Errors, she adds to her list of accolades, earning the Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry. Notre Dame Press recently spoke to her about her most recent work.
When did you first get the idea to write the poems in Magnificent Errors?
Around 2015 or 2016. I had written individual poems for some time, and then I began to realize some common themes.
How does this book relate to the issues brought to light in our world today?
The book deals with mental health issues, and with the pandemic, political polarization and economic uncertainty, mental health is central to these conditions. We are a country that needs to take better care of mentally ill people with compassion, education, and funding. People want to feel safe, and mental health treatment and recovery helps all people feel safe.
What inspired these poems?
The book stems from my experiences in transitional housing after being temporarily homeless. It describes and explores themes of mental health struggles which often lead to economic insecurity and homelessness.
What did you learn while writing these poems?
I learned that recovery is a process. People heal, relapse, heal and it is an ongoing process. I learned that people who suffer from mental illness are often beautiful, interesting, and engaging. They often can teach us about ourselves and our society.
In what way is the book you wrote different from your other works?
I usually write individual poems as they come to me. I seldom have an idea for a collection of poems early on. Usually, I write poems as individual pieces and see a theme emerge. This book was written during the six years I received mental health treatment, including residential housing. It developed as I began to write poems about myself and the people around me.
What writers provide the greatest influence on you and your work?
Wow. What a difficult question. So many poets have influenced me. People like W.B. Yeats, John Keats, and William Blake were studied in school. Later, I was strongly influenced by Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Joy Harjo, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. Some of my favorite poets are Stephen Dunn, Ocean Vuong, Tony Hoagland and Franz Wright.
What does your writing schedule look like?
I do not write daily. I often have long, fallow periods such as the one during this pandemic. Suddenly, I am inspired and write a great deal, and then another fallow period follows.
What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?
I think it is important to stay engaged with the world. Do not rely solely on other poets to help you learn. Read widely and do not just focus on poetry, but yes, read a lot of poetry too. View it as a process, one line at a time, one poem at a time.
Who would you like to read Magnificent Errors and why?
I would like people concerned about the mentally ill, poverty, and homelessness to read this collection. I would like people with no familiarity with mental illness, poverty, and homelessness to read it.
What book are you currently reading?
Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh