Diana Saenz is the author of 15 plays, and at least 3 books of poetry. Her plays have been performed across the country and abroad. A former resident of Somerville, Mass., she founded the literary journal “The Boston Poet,” from her home on Putnam Street. Later Saenz went on toCreate the online journal:” BostonPoet.com,” and most recently the “The Boston Poet Journal” which can be purchased on http://www.lulu.com/. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV Program: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: In an essay you wrote about a fictitious argument you had with your cat; your cat argued that he gets unmitigated joy from his art, while you countered all art comes with a certain amount of suffering. So do you feel there is more pain than joy in your writing?
Diana Saenz: That’s a big question. Let’s face it if there was no pain or sorrow then we would be relegated to writing Hallmark Card verse. I don’t think everything we write about is about suffering. Somehow it’s around even when one writes about joy. Everything I write is about a celebration of being alive. But without suffering how would you measure absolute happiness?
If we were to reach a utopian society Poet’s might go out of business. You can only listen to wonderful things so long. There are always going to be things to complain about. Poetry is an art that doesn’t bring in a lot of money, so poets more than any other artists remain honest.
Doug Holder: You are a poet and a playwright. Do the mediums of poetry and theatre compliment each other? Which one do you identify with more?
Diana Saenz: They both compliment each other because they are both oral arts. There is so much poetry in plays. I’ve been a poet since I was fifteen. I am above all a poet. For many years I wrote plays, and for a long period of time I wasn’t able to write poetry. I wrote a play about Lorca, and I had Lorca write a poem in it... But both are definitely connected because they are oral arts.
Doug Holder: Are your plays a vehicle for your poetry?
Diana Saenz: I wouldn’t say that. They are very different mediums. I think being a playwright makes me a much better writer. You are subject to criticism. It’s one thing people saying that they don’t like your poetry, it’s another to read it in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Doug Holder: Were you reviewed in the Chronicle?
Diana Saenz. Yes. Not favorably. But that was one play. I did other plays that got standing ovations and big audiences.
Doug Holder: Did you study Theatre with anyone, or attend a certain school?
Diana Saenz: No. I read a book that was probably written in the 1930’s. I still see that book for sale. I can’t remember the title but it was all about designing a play. I was very involved with the San Francisco theatre scene.
Doug Holder: Why did you leave San Francisco?
Diana Saenz: I had to get out of town. It’s a tiny town. It is a very different town than Boston. San Francisco is a town you can walk from one end to the other.
You run into the same people all the time. It’s a very small pool and I got tired of it. In California people see me as Mexican, and they want me to write Mexican things. Sometimes I do but I am really am an American. I really want to talk about the big questions. Here, in the Boston-area you don’t have a huge Mexican-American presence. People just take you at face value. I like the level of writing—people are a lot more educated here. In San Francisco the “Beat” poetry scene is pervasive. There is a lot of writing about drinking and really being on the outside.
Doug Holder: What is your take on the “Beat” writers like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac? They were known to mistreat their women—relegate them to second class citizens—props for the men.
Diana Saenz: One day I decided that I was going to learn everything I could about the “Beats.” I think they drove their women crazy. That’s what I got in my early readings. That women were there to support the male geniuses.
As for their writing I liked “On the Road,” like everyone else. But some of the works I read I wound up throwing them against the wall because I was so irritated about it.
Doug Holder: Somerville has a rich history of small presses. Describe the milieu you were in when you cut your literary teeth in Somerville?
Diana Saenz: I came from San Francisco in 1994, and I was shocked that there were no magazines that listed all the events and venues that were in the area. So I founded my own, “The Boston Poet.”
Doug Holder: What venues did you frequent?
Diana Saenz: I am proud of being part of the open mike scene. I would go to Jack Power’s Stone Soup Poets at T.T the Bear’s. I went to the Cantab Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge.
Doug Holder: Why did you give up “The Boston Poet”
Diana Saenz: It was just so much work. I wound up losing my day job. Bit it was so much fun to do. At the same time I met my husband. He wrote the scholarly articles for the magazine. I wanted to bring the open mike and the academic together.
Doug Holder: Do you think Latina poets are getting more attention now as opposed to when you cut your teeth?
Diana Saenz: There is a tremendously vibrant community of Latin playwrights out there. There is a huge community of Cuban writers from the East Coast. In California there are numerous Latin-American theatres.
Doug Holder: Your play “Dream of Canaries” takes place in an oppressive, fictional Latin American country. Why fictional?
Diana Saenz: I wanted to make the analogy to the United States. I used a Latin American country because of the pressure to write Latin American stuff. The play was commissioned by Teatro de Esperanza in San Francisco. I’ve seen that play produced in Argentina, Guatemala, and yes, even in Poland.
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ March 2007/ Somerville, Mass.