Casper poet Cara Rodriguez finds inspiration in the small moments: a memory of a childhood friend, pulling out the family’s knotted scarves for winter or the quiet before the kids wake up.
Rodriguez, who is also a Casper College English instructor, is one of three 2018 Creative Writing Fellowship recipients recently announced by the Wyoming Arts Council. Rodriguez grew up in Laurel, Montana, and earned her master’s degree in poetry from the University of Wyoming.
The recipients receive a $3,000 award and will share work publicly through readings and workshops over the next year. She plans to work with students at an orphanage in Belize this December, which may be part of her service over the next year as one of the fellowship recipients, she said.
Through the recollection of small moments, Rodriguez’s poetry often delves into themes of forgiveness, shame and identity, she said. She’s always been drawn to writing poetry.
“I think that moments can say so much, so I really want to focus on that,” she said. “When I see something in someone that needs to be spoken out I guess, or just moments that mean more than they might seem at first — moments that give a bigger truth.”
Rodriguez does most of her writing in her softly lamp-lit office decorated with pictures of her family and a few inspiring words and mementos.
Teaching, grading papers and being a parent doesn’t leave much time for writing. Stealing half an hour here or there isn’t enough. But she tries to set aside a few hours a week to focus on poetry.
“I have to have time to get in and be there for a little bit,” she said. “It is tricky.”
But she also draws inspiration for much of her poetry from her daily life and family.
One poem submitted for the Creative Writing Fellowship is titled “For my son,” and begins:
“When you laugh the sound moves like an earthquake/and all my doubt falls into your caverns.”
Another discusses her relationship with poetry since becoming a mother:
“Poetry, you were so persistent, back then,/birthing yourself at the most inopportune times – hollering, hollering, hollering …/waking me before sun up, demanding/coffee and a cold dark window and a Name”.
Another is about a moment at age 7 with the only African-American kid at school and watching the way he interacted with the world around him, she said. The poem describes him weeping and:
“I could not stand to look/and so I stared at my knees,/at my white picket fence, at the witness clouds/and saw/White, white, white”.
Her poetry also expands into the visual realm, blending words with mixed media and erasure. Erasure is created from an existing text with words removed or covered to create something new.
Most recently, her work has been published in the collection Zetetic, Clerestory and The Found Poetry Review. Next fall, she’ll teach a poetry class at Casper College.
She always advises her students to be concrete, and not abstract, in their writing, she said. She’s had some teachers influence her learning and writing, as do many of her numerous favorite writers, including Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Pablo Neruda and e.e. Cummings.
“But I think, like any writer, most teaching comes from just the writers that you read,” she said.
She agreed she’s always been a watcher and observer the world around her.
“I think you have to be if you’re a poet,” Rodriguez said.