Behind the Scenes: Rosie Prohias Driscoll talks about Havana 1974

SPEAKERS

Rosie Prohias Driscoll, Teresa Douglas

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to Latinx lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas. On today’s  behind the scenes episode we’re going to hear from Rosie Prohias Driscoll, author of Havana 1974. Rosie is a Cuban American educator and poet. She teaches high school English in Alexandria, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, and a host of ancestral spirits who keep her rooted and grateful. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Acentos Review, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art, SWWIM Every Day, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality and the Arts, Sin Fronteras/ Writers Without Borders, and No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry. “Havana 1974” is included in her forthcoming debut poetry collection, Poised for Flight, which will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2022. Welcome, Rosie.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:11

Thank you so much, Teresa. I’m excited to be here and chat with you today.

Teresa Douglas  01:15

I am very happy to have you here too. And, I said something to you a little earlier ago about how I like these interviews to feel as if we’re sitting at the same table. We have a nice warm cup of something right there. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:29

A cafecito.

Teresa Douglas  01:30

Oh, yes! I am a tea drinker. But everybody needs a little cafecito though in their life sometimes. And if I were to offer you something comfort wise, what would be your favorite comfort food if you could have anything in the world that you wanted?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  01:45

Hands down. My favorite comfort food is my abuela’s recipe for black beans. Arroz con frijoles were served growing up at every family celebration and reminds me not only of her, but of feeling that sense of comfort and joy when family would come around the table together and celebrate and laugh and tell stories.

Teresa Douglas  02:10

That sounds heavenly. And of course, I could never give you those beans because they’re her beans and their magic. But that sounds delightful. I was talking on an episode earlier about the magic of grandmothers, and and how they make food that nobody else can make. So it’s wonderful that you have that to can carry with you in your mind.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  02:34

Yes. And my goal has always been every Sunday to try and make a pot of frijoles. It ends up being maybe once every six weeks on a Sunday, that I make it for my daughter.

Teresa Douglas  02:49

Well, the beans are a labor of love sometimes, especially if you’re cooking them on the stove, and they can take hours and when are you putting in the spices and all of that. Well, that’s lovely. I wish I could taste those beans. But this is this is an episode about you. So why don’t we talk a little less about food, and a little more about you and your writing? To start with, when did you begin writing?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  03:15

So I started writing in middle school. But I would say at that point, you know, expectedly pretty cheesy, rhymey verse. At some point, early in high school, I think I stopped. And I didn’t start again until my early 40s. So really, I’ve been writing for about 12 years.

Teresa Douglas  03:34

It is just life sometimes. But fortunately like a bicycle, you can get back to your writing and pick it up again. And with more life experience. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  03:44

Honestly, I think it was that life experience that led me to start writing because I think that for so long. I just you know like many women doubted my ability and didn’t think that I had anything to say. But I started again as a way to work through grief and memory and then that developed into a desire to preserve these family stories for my daughters in this fragmented vernacular that is poetry.

Teresa Douglas  04:08

Mm hmm. So is poetry what you focus exclusively on? Do you write other things?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  04:14

Yes, pretty much all poetry. I’ve written an occasional spiritual blog post. But really primarily my medium is poetry, which I just love.

Teresa Douglas  04:22

It’s certainly beautiful in your poem here, Havana 1974. One of the things that I really loved about this is that not only is there that feel of a memoir, but it’s very dreamlike. This idea of of something that happened and the idea of it being almost like a dream because it happened. There are photos. There are things that are there, but it’s playing with memory in such a beautiful way. These little images pop up like–if you hear me rustling listeners it’s because I have the sheets of paper here and I’m gonna look for it–Ah! “Abuela Rosina held my hand, her long index finger directing my wide eyes.” And for me that image right there of just this finger, I’m picturing that and this child who’s looking at wonder at the world. It has such a lovely, dreamlike feel for something that is rooted in a time that had, it seems wonder, and yet also the fear of how are we getting home from this place that we were called to go? So it’s lovely and I would love to have you walk us through your writing process for this. Did you start with a central memory? Did you know that there was a full story that you wanted to tell? How did you begin this piece?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  05:58

That’s a great question. So it was a full story. Because really, it’s my mother’s story. And I think that dreamlike quality, and thank you for your kind words, come from that sense of that, that repeated, it’s almost like a recurring dream. I’ve been hearing that story from my mother, since you know, late childhood, and I was always so struck by, how interesting it was that this story that I’ve carried with me that is so vivid, as if it were my own, and it was my own, I was there, but I do not remember the parts that she told. And the notion that we could be partaking of the same experience. But a child and adult have a completely different sense of what was going on in that moment. And what was important in that moment, has just always fascinated me. And so the story itself was, was intact. My impetus for trying to get it down into a poem was because I was working on this forthcoming collection, which is itself inspired by my desire to capture family stories for my daughters. That was the initial goal of the collection. And so I really wanted to tell this story of our journey to Havana in 1974, as an attempt to refract my my mother’s voice through my own. But I have to say the process was very challenging, because it was way out of my comfort zone. Most of my poems are short, they tend to be more distilled fragments of a moment, or conversation. This story, getting the story out required me to string together fragments that in my in my normal mode of functioning would have each been a single poem. And the line length is also very typically long for me. So I struggled a long time to find my rhythm, it probably took, you know, putting it away and coming back to and putting away and coming back to it about six or eight months until it took its final form.

Teresa Douglas  07:58

And it’s interesting, because as listeners who have gone to the website, and will have seen your, your poem, the transcript of it and imprint, it looks like small fragments that are strung together almost like beads on a necklace. And it feels sort of like that, too, because we have each of these sections has sort of a central, central feel to it. Like I love the idea of the peel away plastic for these photographs. And then in the next section of looking at fireworks flowering in the night sky. And then we leave the idea of this image because there’s no photograph for the point at which mommy tells Abuelo or Cesar that she’s going back to the place that they fled. So it’s a lovely feeling of these, like you said, these fragments that are sort of strung together in a very cohesive, sort of way. With that, that unspoken, I don’t remember this, but this is what happened.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  09:07

Right? And that somehow needs to be preserved and understood and yet can’t quite be understood.

Teresa Douglas  09:13

Mm hmm. And it’s an interesting thing, thinking about that, because if a parent is doing what parents do, and instinctively trying to protect their children, it would obviously make sense that if you had any experiences that you remember, at all, they would be different because I’m sure that she would not have explained to you that they you might not get home.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  09:40

Right. And what I marvel at, again, is exactly that the power of a parent to mask the deep anxiety that was actually happening because my recollection of the very few memories that I have of that trip are that they were just delightful. I got to meet my grandparents. We played with the cat, and the apartment, and we went to the pool. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember sensing at all everything that she was going through. And to me that was that in and of itself was very poignant.

Teresa Douglas  10:09

Yeah. And that moment toward the end of the poem where she decides we need to fly somewhere. And we’re going to do it without our passports, because we just we need to go somewhere. And, the way that beautifully, sort of strings, the dreamlike, and gets us back to back to the mainland. I hate to say mainland, because Barbados is not the states at all. But that waypoint, I guess, is what I would call it and  how the travel agent is asking your mother to pass on some information to her relatives. And the fact that your mother found her? The sister? That to me is amazing. I don’t know how–well, does she even do that?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  10:58

So this was part of the again, the challenge of writing the poem is the selecting which details to leave, and to include because there’s so many great parts to the story that I had to leave out because it was just not working. And so it’s actually kind of fascinating that my mom even had the presence of mind at that moment, because it was a, you know, that was a difficult moment in Cuban and American relations. And it was very unusual that she was there. And it was difficult for her to get there. But what she tells me that she did is that when the woman told her this, because the woman was also risking herself, running after my mother that way, and my mom had a book in her hand. And so my mother wrote the address down in the book, on separate pages in different places. So, you know, say the address would have been, you know, 2300 Shirota, she wrote two on one page and a three on another page. And so there were random notations throughout the book. So that nobody, when she left in the airport, where you were typically searched, nobody might open the book to find the address and get the woman in trouble.

Teresa Douglas  12:09

Mm hmm. She’s the lady James Bond. It sounds like.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:14

That’s what it felt like. And I wish I could have included that somehow. But it just didn’t work.

Teresa Douglas  12:19

Well see, that’s why it’s nice to have interviews, because now the story is out. She could have been a spy and you would never have known because she was naturally good. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:32

She was quick on her feet.

Teresa Douglas  12:35

What a strong female figure to have in your life.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  12:41

Yes. And that’s what I want my daughters know, because they know their Abbey. But that’s what I wanted to preserve for posterity.

Teresa Douglas  12:51

So that kind of leads us to the next question. And I know you said that one of your central foci? Focuses? Is to preserve the stories for your children. Are there any other impressions that you would like other readers to take from this poem? And if you want to talk about it, too, from the collection, that that will be coming out?

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  13:15

Yeah. And I have to say, I love that question. Because when, when I’m in the process of writing, I’m really not thinking about the reader. I’m just trying to work out my own stuff. And so it’s intriguing for me to go back and consider what someone else might take away once, you know, once you’ve written the poem, it’s beyond you. And it’s beautiful, because then it’s to be received by other, you know, minds and hearts. So, I think that I  hope a reader would take a sense of the grace that is always there amidst grief, that there was something beyond in that moment for my mother going through so much difficulty in that journey, that there was an immense amount of grace, which, to me is very much represented by, you know, that magical sense of Our Lady of Charity and my father’s spirit hovering over the car that, that Maria, the ticket agent’s sister said she saw, which is in and of itself marvelous. And I think, another takeaway that I guess more of an invitation to readers would be to sit with mystery. That because this, this poem, for me doesn’t have any resolution. You know, in the last stanza, I say that, when I still talk to my mother, now, there’s still not a clear sense of why that journey had to happen. And yet, there’s this feeling of certainty that it did. That’s sitting with the mystery of knowing that there are journeys in life that we must take and know to be necessary, even if in the end, we cannot articulate why that was the case. That we can somehow come to some sense of knowing without knowing. I hope that readers could take that away.

Teresa Douglas  15:04

And that’s that’s a profound point to have, I would say in any time. But here we are in this time. Pandemics and people separated and people coming together or isolated and the idea that sometimes stuff just happens. And there is that mystery that some things, some things are just not going to be solved. And it’s an experience that colors everything else. And in that, because of that, it’s worthwhile, even if there was a lot of difficulty, even if it it came at a price. So I think that’s a lovely thing to leave a reader with. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  15:49

Thank you. 

Teresa Douglas  15:50

Well, you did mention in your bio that again, that you have ‘Poised for Flight,’ your debut poetry collection coming out in 2022. 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  15:59

Yes it is. I’m very excited. 

Teresa Douglas  16:07

You should be! It’s like having another child. 

Teresa Douglas  16:08

Well, when when it comes out, I’m sure there’ll be many who would like to find out where to find that and see other things that you’re writing. If somebody wants to do that, how can they find you and your work? 

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  16:20

Sure. So I have a page on Facebook. It is Rosie Prohias Driscoll comma poet. And there I just share actually less so my own work sometimes my own work it’ll certainly be sharing when the book comes out. But just favorite poems and quotes and thoughts and you know, just moments that I find in my daily life in which poetry is healing. And then on Instagram, same purpose. It’s at Rosie P Driscoll, dot poet.

Teresa Douglas  16:53

Wonderful and listeners if you don’t have pen, a pencil, I will put the links to these in the show notes so that you can find Rosie. Rosie, this has been wonderful. It’s been lovely to have you on the show and just get a little more about this. And I can’t wait to see your upcoming book.

Rosie Prohias Driscoll  17:16

Thank you so much Teresa, and thank you for the lovely work you’re doing with this podcast. I’m really enjoying it

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