An Interview with Marina Carreira

By on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 at 9:03 am

Marina Carreira is a Luso-American writer from Newark, NJ. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University; is the curator and co-host of Brick City Speaks, a monthly reading series in Newark; and is a poet in the Dodge Poetry Visiting Poets in Schools program. Her work has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, The Acentos Review, Writes of the Portuguese Diaspora: An Anthology, among others. Her first chapbook I Sing to that Bird Knowing He Won’t Sing Back: Fado Poems has just been released by Finishing Line Press. Follow Carreira on Twitter @maketheunknown


Melissa Adamo: Congratulations on the publication of your first chapbook! I Sing to that Bird Knowing He Won’t Sing Back: Fado Poems is a stunning and stark collection of fados for people, objects, places, and even for a sardine. Can you describe Fado and its tradition for our readers?

Marina Carreira: So, in essence, fado is a genre of Portuguese music traditionally performed in taverns and pubs that is celebrated for its dramatically profound melancholic character. The majority of Portuguese or Luso-Americans will tell you fado is an exclusively Portuguese sentiment/expression/music. However, the more I diversify my cultural understanding of the world, the more I find fado existing in other cultures outside mine.

Erika L. Sanchez‘s poem Saudade speaks about the very sentiment fado is based on (an unnamable yearning or longing), and she’s Latinx. So I’m going to describe fado the way I have come to inherit it—and the way I wrote about it in my poem Fado Saudade: “…futile desire for the absent, this…brooding which moors itself at the harbor of every unfinished dream.”

Adamo: Did you set out to use Fado as a thread for this collection?

Carreira: No, in fact, it was purely accidental.

I was trying to write poems outside of the manuscript I was working on at the time while listening to lots of fado in the background. To make this collection a “project” actually came to me while I was hosting Brick City Speaks one night, where four Luso-American poets were performing. Their work reminded me how deeply bound our roots are to our parents’ culture as first-generation Americans, in a very unescapable way. “Fado” poems then just started rolling out after that.

Adamo: Could you speak to the process of shaping this chapbook after they first started rolling?

Well, I knew that I wanted to speak to a variety of stories—historical women, immigrant families, foods and villages, sexuality and coming of age. It was never forced though.

I never sat down and said, “Now I’m going to write about sardines, and tomorrow I’ll work on a fado poem about my father.” The fado I listened to in the background during writing became the vehicle, driving me to reverie, sentiment and tone. With that, the subjects of the poems kind of manifested themselves between the music and the page.

Adamo: The poems of “Fados Do Ironbound” create intimate, scenic snapshots of Newark, NJ. Can you tell us about your past and present connections to Newark?

Carreira: I was born and raised in the Ironbound. I received my MFA at Rutgers-Newark. I hold my reading series in an art space in Newark. To say it is part of my genetic makeup is no exaggeration or metaphor. When I think of “home,” two places come to mind: my grandmother’s house in a quiet village in Portugal and the Ironbound.

Most of these micro-fados, or “snapshots” as you call them, are indeed just word-selfies of the characters who inhabited the IB while I was growing up— from the immigrant commuters on the Path train, to the first-generation neighbor kids sharing a backyard, to the very pot-holed streets I played on. And every character is extraordinarily human, and familiar, and hungry.

Maybe I’m romanticizing this great city, but Ironbound was the first place I fell in love with. I’m still in love with it. If spaces could be soulmates, the Ironbound is mine.

Adamo: I think we all romanticize our hometowns to some extent. What are some of your favorite places in Newark you’d recommend to someone visiting?

Carreira: I’m just going to list them without too much explanation besides they are either “childhood landmarks” or favorite spaces of mine: Riverbank Park, Independence Park, Ferry Street (which is a no brainer for any visit to the ironbound), Our Lady of Fatima Church, Popular Fish market, Teixeira’s Bakery, 7 Tattoo Gallery (if they’re looking for some ink), and Casa D’Paco (for thee most amazing Spanish tapas in the tri-state, hands down).

Adamo: In “Fado for the Marias,” the poem depicts scenes of women who share this name, Marias in your family or Marias running the bodega on the block; in it, you also write of Marias as “witches and saints,/ whores and queens/ raped and ruined/ by holy men who renamed/ the goddesses.” What does the concept of naming and renaming represent for this poem or collection as a whole?

Carreira: I think my intention with that poem, and the collection as a whole, was to use fado as a lens to re-look at the characters/places/objects that are part of my cultural and social fabric, and to pay respect to them.

Most of these are people from my childhood or adolescence, with troubled pasts, sad stories, and solemn ends. Fado was my way to enter into conversation with these things that shaped my identity, to look down the rabbit hole of them, and honor the very “estranha forma de vida” each and every one of them incurred, in turn, making my life “estranha” in the process.

More importantly, I wanted to say their names. Out loud against the heartbreak of a “viola.” Highlight the beauty and resilience in these tragic figures. Honor what they sustained and overcome, let go of and clung to with grit teeth. I guess I just wanted to celebrate survival, in the way that felt most natural to me as a Luso-American woman.

Adamo: Some of my favorite Fados in the collection are in the first section: “Estranha Forma de Vida” and honor objects: one as a black dress, another for a sardine. How do you see these fados working alongside the other more specific characters?

Carreira: I’m very odd in the way that I feel like everything has a “life”—animate or otherwise.

The black dress remains the traditional attire for female fado singers, or fadistas, to darn while they perform. The dress in my poem refers to this specific clothing missing its owner, who in my mind, was Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal’s most famous fadista.

So really, the dress, the sardine, my great-grandmother’s house—they cannot speak their stories in the way the other characters in the book did, but it’s a story transmitted to me all the same— by a feeling, a “possible” memory, a fantastical rumination. Every subject in “Estranha Forma de Vida” did indeed lead a “strange life”— to me anyhow.

Adamo: Some of your poems also discuss mental health, and “Fado for Sylvia” specifically references Sylvia Plath—someone’s whose poetry is often upstaged by her suicide. Because we live in a culture that often glorifies “mad” artists, was writing about such a topic a challenge?

Carreira: I have a special relationship with that word “mad.” Because I am someone recovering from trauma and who lives with mental health issues, it has taken me a long time to write about depression, anxiety, and suicide.

However, when I realized that part of my recovery and overall ability to live with OCD-anxiety was when I started writing about it and my own experience and the experiences of other women and writers like Plath and Woolf (both mothers).

Mothering is such a triggering act that I felt compelled to really study my mental state. I wanted to write poems about madness in a way that was honest and brutal but also beautiful and honoring without fetishizing the “mad” or madness.

I mentioned honor again! I think honoring the subjects in my chapbook was really at the crux of the work.

Adamo: The collection references (or maybe honors!) the Babysitter’s Club series in “Fado as Mint.” What were some other books that stuck with you through childhood?

Carreira: Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Matilda, A Wrinkle in Time, the Goosebumps series. I was also obsessed with Brazilian comic books “Turma da Monica.”

Junior year of high school, I read “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, and my life was never the same. It’s my favorite book EVER.

Adamo: That book moved me when I first read it freshman year of college too! What about Zora Neale Hurston’s work altered your life or how did it help shape you as a writer today?

Carreira: Even though we couldn’t be more different cultural or socio-economically, there was something about Hurston’s characters that felt very familiar to me.

Hurston was also the first writer I read where I consistently put the book down to say “what a fucking badass.” This novel became my first introduction to [intersectional] feminism. Hurston’s Janie was the woman I wanted to be when I grew up—fuckless and fulfilled.

I remained stunned, excited, and enamored with Hurston’s writing style, particularly her language—bewilderingly vivid, poetically rich, her unapologetic use of vernacular. I continued this fascination with “Every Tongue Got to Confess”, “Mules and Men”, and “Tell My Horse”; as a lover of folklore, superstition, and cultural mythologies, I was immediately drawn into these works.

Sigh. Hurston’s just everything, lol. If I get to write my own “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” I will die a happy woman.

Adamo: You mentioned previously, that you began writing these poems while working on another manuscript. Could you tell us about that other project or what we can expect to see from you next?

Carreira: The manuscript I was working on before I dived into “I Sing to that Bird…” centers around mental health and motherhood. To be more specific, the collection is an exploration of a woman’s journey through pregnancy whilst dealing with depression, anxiety, and OCD, or as its dubbed now, “pre-partum OCD.” It was a scary, “mad” part of my life that I’m still very much coming to grips with. So it remains unready, mostly because I am still in the process of “processing” that experience.

I am, however, putting together a manuscript about Luso-American queer love tentatively titled “Tanto Tanto.” This is one I’m extremely excited about and hope to have out in the world very, very soon, fingers crossed.

Adamo: That sounds lovely. I look forward to reading more from you! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and EKR!

Carreira: Thank you so much, Melissa, and EKR. Always my pleasure.

English Kills Review is an online magazine covering books, authors, and writing with an emphasis on New York City. Founded in 2012, English Kills Review engages the literary community while highlighting noteworthy books and authors