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An Interview with heidi andrea restrepo rhodes, Author of “The Inheritance of Haunting”

heidi andrea restrepo rhodes is a queer, disabled, brown/Colombian poet, scholar, and cultural worker. Their poetry collection The Inheritance of Haunting explores intergenerational memory and postcolonial trauma. Recently, they were a spring 2021 Mellon Arts Fellow at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. Their work has been published in Poetry, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Nat. Brut, Foglifter, and Waxwing, among other places.

Their collection The Inheritance of Haunting is a cry of righteous fury for the ghosts who will not and should not stay silent. rhodes gives voice to the past and speaks to the future with unflinching and evocative imagery. Their poems cut to the core and uncover the truth there waiting to be spoken aloud. It is and remains a powerful statement all too relevant to our world today, and to the history that has brought us here. 

rhodes recently answered some of our questions about their poetry and writing processes.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The Inheritance of Haunting began less as a concrete idea than a series of archival encounters, dreams, excavations of bodily and historical memory, and unfoldings toward past and future. I had been doing human rights research and advocacy work in militarized regions and was also facing my earliest years of what is now over fourteen years of chronic illness. Through reading the works of queer and disabled feminists of color, I began to understand my bodily experience as an effect of histories of colonial, state, and social violence. I was also trying to find a way to understand haunting as both a literal encounter with ghosts and premonitory knowings that have been a part of my family’s experiences, as well as a political orientation to intergenerational trauma and mourning of individual and collective losses. The poems that emerged from these things eventually took shape as a collection.

How does this book relate to the issues brought to light in our world today?

I think the book as a whole carries an understanding that the End of the World has happened many times over for historically oppressed groups, and that nonetheless, a collective heart beats for liberation, and that to be haunted by these histories is also to be haunted by the present to which they’ve led us. It threads global histories together, collapsing the distances of space and time to show how entangled are knowledges, systems of power, economies, and also histories of resistance. As we face the fifth month of genocide in Palestine and ongoing genocides in Darfur, Congo, and elsewhere, as well as climate disaster, an ongoing pandemic, widespread anti-trans legislation, police killings and mass shootings, weaponization of borders, and rising fascism across the world, the questions carried by the poems in The Inheritance of Haunting reach into the present through their commitment to social documentation, collective memory, healing, and freedom-dreaming.

Who or what was the inspiration behind your book?

My family, their stories about our ancestors, those ancestors whom I hold close. And the people I’ve met and worked with who are facing immense violence under this system of late capitalism: Kashmiris resisting Indian occupation, Karen refugees surviving on the Thai/Myanmar border, Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation, indigenous, black, and campesino organizers resisting state violence in Colombia; a Holocaust survivor friend, undocumented migrants, black and indigenous people fighting police and carceral violence in the US, survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, US veterans and Iraqis impacted by the toxic violence of burning radioactive munitions and toxic masculinity of American militarism. . . . So many lives and stories I’ve encountered in the work and research and travels I’ve done.

What did you learn while writing it?

Among other things, I learned that being responsible for how we represent violence is difficult work in a country where the media and educational curricula are heavily sanitized and assembled to de-politicize people and diminish possibilities for dissent. While I don’t ever wish to (re)traumatize readers, I definitely took risks in this book that were uncomfortable, painful, to take, but felt nonetheless important in speaking to a mostly US-based readership. Sometimes choosing to not represent something feels like more of a risk. There is no perfect way to write about violence, and it feels like an ongoing experiment in cultivating an ethics regarding how we speak the unspeakable of the horrors of what humans do to each other in the name of progress, order, and security. Within that process of reflection and questioning, I also learned the importance of self-care and tending to potential vicarious trauma, even in poetry.

Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?

Pablo Neruda was my first poetic love from whom I learned about musicality in poetry. The essays of Aurora Levins Morales in her book “Medicine Stories” have been illuminating in my own reaching for historical-political understandings of illness and disability. I turn most often to the poetry of Aracelis Girmay when I need to root. Hannah Emerson’s poems tree me into my wildernesses. Fred Moten’s work opens so much possibility in my thought. jjjjjerome ellis’s creations are a reaching for sun and soil. And truly, there are so many abolitionist, crip, sick, disabled, neurodivergent, queer, trans, and BIPOC thinkers, artists, writers, organizers, and fam—as well as more-than-human kin—who move me and transform my thinking every day.

What is your writing schedule like?

Mornings are my most open-portal-time for writing. I wake and tea and dive in and ride that wave as long as I can, as often as I can.  

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?

If it is a poetry book: write the poems you need to write, the poems that call to you from the abyss, the poems that are begging to be written. Experiment and play. Listen for their whispers in your ear and birth them on your pages. Let them break your heart and pour forth from you. Let them breathe life into you. Let them guide you into their becoming-flesh. And when you find yourself in an abundance of poems having said what they needed to say through you, gather them up, invite them into a conversation, feel into what kind of music they might make with you together.

Who would you like to read your book and why?

Anyone curious about how we carry history in our bodies, how we become the bodies we become through our histories. I think it is only when we begin to attune to these concerns that we will understand healing and justice as not delimited by our individual lifetimes and material bodily forms, but rooted in centuries before us, and beholden to the futures unfolding after we are gone, deeply entangled with others across space and time.

What book(s) are you currently reading? What books are in your “To Be Read” stack?

I often read many books at once and have been most recently making my way slowly through Catherine Keller’s Cloud of the Impossible, Erin Manning’s Always More Than One, Devon Price’s Unmasking Autism, and Jane Wong’s Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City. My current TBR list includes Cindy Juyoung Ok’s Ward Toward, Mimi Khúc’s dear elia, and a second read of Joshua Whitehead’s Making Love to the Land.

What book or project have you been working on now?

I am working this year on a column called Wild-Wired, on neurodivergent poetics, that is hosted by Anomalous Press, featuring other neurodivergent poets as I am thinking, weaving with their words. I have a couple different books in disability studies that are in-progress, a creative non-fiction project exploring entanglement and estrangement, and I am beginning to write poems for my third full-length poetry collection.

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