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An Interview with Juan Manuel Perez, the Texas Chupacabra Poet

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Finding Your Inner Chupacabra

An Interview with Juan Manuel Perez, the Texas Chupacabra Poet

By

David E. Cowen. Author of The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press 2014) and The Seven Yards of Sorrow (Weasel Press September 2016); Editor HWA Horror Poetry Showcase Volumes III (2016) and IV (2017)

 

Juan Manuel Perez, a Mexican-American/Texas poet of indigenous descent (Purapecha/Otomi), is the author of Another Menudo Sunday (2007), O’ Dark Heaven: A Response To Suzette Haden Elgin’s Definition Of Horror (2009), WUI: Written Under The Influence Of Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (2011), Live From La Pryor: The Poetry Of Juan Manuel Perez: A Zavala County Native Son, Volume 1 (2014), and Sex, Lies, And Chupacabras (2015), plus six poetry chapbooks.  In Texas, he is known as El Chupacabra Poet. He is a fixture at numerous reading venues in South Texas and was named the San Antonio Poets Association’s Poet Laureate in 2011-12. Juan is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Marine Medic with combat experience in the First Gulf War (1990-1991: Desert Storm with the 2nd Marine Division/2nd FFSG) and part of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, United States Marine Corps Relief After Hurricane Andrew during the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Operation in Homestead, Florida. Currently, Juan serves his Creator, teaches high school history, writes poetry, and chases chupacabras by the Texas Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi, Texas. His poetry centers on speculative themes of horror and science fiction.

Q: What is a Chupacabra and how do you come to associate yourself with such a creature? Is this creature a symbol for something larger than just a myth?

Juan:  El Chupacabras, as I said in the first book by The House Of The Fighting Chupacabras Press, “Unleash Your Inner Chupacabra: A Poetry Anthology By The Members Of The San Angelo Writers’ Club (2012),” is a blood-sucking creature first recognized by the public media in Puerto Rico in the 1990’s in a report by a man with the same last name of Perez no less (Silverio Perez). Nonetheless, it is quite possibly that “it” may have been around Texas and the American Southwest all the way down into South America and the Caribbean much longer than many may realize (not directly related but of note is the 1950’s poem by Sylvia Plath entitled “Goat-Sucker” of all things). Its description has been said to be anywhere between a creature “bearing vampire teeth, long spikes or horns from the top of his head down its spine, with either green or grey, scaly skin with glowing, red eyes,” or just a “cross between a coyote with mange and some other canine with grey skin.” (p.7-8) Other reports have added bat-like wings to el chupacabras giving close resemblance to its’ possible northern cousin, the Jersey Devil. It’s Spanish name literally means “goat-sucker.” Since the 90’s, this creature has moved up the ranks of Hispanic folklore, especially Mexican/Mexican-American, and in my eyes is a mysterious creature that shares a human-rights plight with the modern immigrant coming across the Mexican/American border (or the Tortilla Curtain as the late Chicano poet and mentor, Trinidad Sanchez, Jr, once said… and I keep repeating). In all reports, the creature is either seen then disappears, or is pursued, captured, and even killed. In my very own opinion and because of this general similarity, el chupacabra has been a new and yet more (elusive) symbol for those coming across the Texas/Mexican border replacing an archaic symbol which was formally the brown and vastly multiplying cockroach. I have used this chupacabra metaphor in both my speculative and protest poetry so many times. It is because of my own ties with the plight of my ancestors on both the modern Mexicans (paternal line), as well as, First Nation people (both in Central America; Purapecha/Otomi, a proven maternal line; and the Southern & Southwest United States, Apache and Seminole according to some stories from the same maternal line of descendants which remain genetically unproven at this time). Furthermore, as other poets appear to complain, like el chupacabras, I have personally become just as if not yet more elusive of where I will appear again (to read poetry that is). The chupacabras, with its coyote-like similarities, is also the replacement of the trickster, Kokopelli, in my poetry as well. Simply put, I am el chupacabra (and it is I) in so many ways that I can’t remove myself from its character.

Q: In your chapbook, Sex, Lies and Chupacabras (The House of the Fighting Chupacabras Press (2015) your epic poem “Open Letter From El Chupacabra” begins with the lines “On the run, always/Like a cockroach from the last ice age…” The poem goes on to describe the plight of this creature, always hunted, always scavenging to survive. The parallels to the flight and plight of immigrants into this country seem apparent. Later you write “Like some innocent immigrant/Wanting to be free of any pursuit/Wanting to understand this foreign madness…” This eloquent poem strikes me as a testament to the current anger and hostility faced by the immigrant population. While the poem also covers the lore behind the Chupacabra this other meaning has to be part of what you were striving for. If I’m overreaching please correct me, but I’d like us to know about the craft of creating this poem. What inspired you to start it and how did you derive this wonderful parallel of this mythical creature with such real struggles.

Juan: Yes! You are absolutely right! You have nailed the issue straight onto that multibillion dollar wall even if some of my colleagues don’t want to hear it. I will not hide what it is: A metaphor to the real problem of immigration as it is also a secondary problem with some in the speculative poetry world when accepting the creature as part of our American melting-pot pantheon of urban and legendary myths. For example, as much as Cthulhu appears to be real, there has yet to be a report of a sighting (as far as I know) of the Lovecraftian creature.  Yet on the other hand there have been plenty of sightings of el chupacabras (real or imagined) yet not many poets want to use it. It seemed there for a while that only a handful of speculative poets wherever even taking this “muse” seriously. After a while, I lost count or maybe I just stop caring what others were thinking and I immersed myself into the myth (or beautiful lie). I became el chupacabras for all intense and purposes and I didn’t care how anyone felt about it (still don’t). In a way, I eventually realized that el chupacabras stood for everything I partially was and am today: son of a mysterious and cosmic race, grandson of immigrant and indigenous people who learned English only in the second grade in an American public school while still very poor, working alongside fresh immigrants in the hot fields of South Texas just trying to make a go at life in general. Always struggling just to be. The writing of this poem begins in the past.  It was as a junior high school student that I wrote my first poems for a seemingly lost cause: a human love that betrayed me within a few years. From that I reveled in my original first love: comic books (how I learned English: first English word spoken was “Batman!”), horror, and science fiction. From that, my speculative writing began and as I reached young adulthood this writing began to ring metaphors for social and political issues while still under the cloak of the speculative. After so many years, “Open Letter” was that eventual and intentional thesis of formal poetry (a sonnet crown) that encompassed both a real and imagined picture of immigration as felt by freedom seeking people as well as defenseless creatures (real or imagined). Both are subjected to the so called “laws of man” that ignore the laws of a higher power (GOD). In it, I attempt to tell you what it is like to be on the run from “the man” and his weapons of destruction (his gun and his mind) since the beginning of human history and of the promise of never to fall into his hands. A cautionary tale as well as a declaration of a life of freedom and free of fear. The quandary is simple. The immigrant and el chupacabras are the same. Besides, if I used pretty unicorns who would ever want to read about them being blasted to death just for wanting to roam free? This poem has meaning because both the real and the unreal are so terribly realistic. With that said as a poet and a person, like el chupacabras, I also accept that I will eventually die being label as a troublemaker and highly controversial. But who needs labels, right?

Q:  A few years ago you published another book O’ DARK HEAVEN A Response To Suzette Haden Elgin’s Definition Of Horror (The House of the Fighting Chupacabras Press 2015 with illustrations from the wonderful Marge Simon. The book is by its title a direct response to a 2006 article written by the late Suzette Haden Elgin where she attempted to define the term “Horror.” What is the backstory of how you came to put this collection together and your partnering with multiple HWA Bram Stoker winner and Grand Master of the Science Fiction Poetry and Fantasy Association Marge Simon?

Juan: Actually, the book “O’Dark Heaven” is in the second reprint version (2015) with The House Of The Fighting Chupacabras Press. The book was originally published by the San Antonio based independent press, Onda Press, in 2009 which eventually went under and returned the printing rights back to me. The book actually began to take form around 2006 after a few emails back and forth with then Star*Line editor, the awesome master poet Marge Simon. She was creating art pieces from some of the poems I was writing and submitting for publication. She kept encouraging me and I kept on writing. After all, she was also a former teacher as I was at the early start of my second career as a teacher. This was about the time that my poet mentor (Trinidad Sanchez, Jr.) had passed away. There was a lot of real hurt to go around in my life at that time. The health and condition of my parent’s household as well as the long drought in Zavala County were making for some real true horror. My dad and my brother, as well as a student (gunshot to the head), will pass on about a year later as my special needs sister (in her thirties then) will be in and out of hospitals and soon my mother as well. It was also around that time that I happen on Suzette Haden Elgin’s article about “real life horror” (I did attempt to correspond with her but to no avail). Most of the chapters of “FEAR!” and “DEATH!” where written under the tutelage and encouragement of Marge. Only the first chapter, “WAR!,” was written during and soon after my service as a combat and peace-time medic prior to our “electronic” meeting. Essentially, the book was a self-imposed assignment on writing as I tried to explain this particular time of my life. I am delighted that Marge came along for the ride when she did. She was a God-sent blessing to my writing and quiet possible to my life at the time. That’s what HE does in the rough times of our lives. I am honored for Marge’s direction in my writing. I will never forget it.

Q: Several of your poems were featured in Jeanie Rector’s The Horror Zine in 2011. Again you reach to your inner Chupacabra with the poem “Save the Chupacabras.” In that piece I also see parallels with the suppression of a people, perhaps immigrants, perhaps native peoples, by an American tyrant “Holdfast” to borrow a theme from Joseph Campbell – the tyrant that doesn’t just “keep the past” but rather “he keeps” as Campbell explained. The first line begins “They say I don’t exist…” Do you see the Chupacabra, this mythical icon of southwestern horror as a rebel against a system trying to deny culture and personhood of an entire people? If so, how do you see the Chupacabra surviving and even overcoming this system?

Juan: Surprisingly, I am essentially a mirror image of el chupacabras mysticism and strange appearance among other things including rebellion. Despite, the struggle/immigration/political issues so much in common, a constant question about me usually is: What exactly are you? As in are you Hispanic/Chicano/Indian or human at all? I am at 6ft 4inches and nearly 300lbs with exotic, olive skin, deep, dark eyes and long, black, First-nation hair with a relaxed and somewhat angry smile (I promise I am happy inside… it’s just how my face relaxes).  Coming around a dark or dimly lit corner, I am usually greeted with ready-mix fear and even a little yelp from well-built men at that. Like el chupacabras, I don’t mean to strike fear in men (but it works remarkably well in most high school and college classrooms). This poem comes from many poetic attempts to define “me,” “our struggle,” and of explanations offered by fellow humans. Like el chupacabras that is not supposed to exist so is the metaphor of me portrayed as something more or maybe less than human or not quite real. By the way, the explanations get even stranger after I read or sing “my poetry.” The poem is an attempt to take all that the el chupacabras represents, including me, and its’s struggle (the minorities struggle) and plead for whatever humanity is left in all of us before we really find out who GOD is and what HIS intentions were! Through it all, el chupacabras like the people it represents, will continue on. Perhaps even to the point of silencing “the man” forever and stifling his many weapons of war and deception, metaphorical or otherwise. In all the versions in my head, el chupacabras wins in the end! Positive change is always good even if it hurts (for a little while). By the way if I can take a moment, I would like to thank Jeanie Rector and The Horrorzine for supporting my work all these years. I was The Horrorzine’s first featured horror poet back in the great summer of 2009 thanks to her! Many Blessings to her and her own writing!

Q: Have you used your experiences in the military and seeing war from the front lines in your work?

Juan: Yes. Funny you ask. I am currently working on a writing project that includes older and current poems based on my military experiences both in peace and in war, from my time in the Navy and with my Marines, to my times as a young man on a psych ward full of former Vietnam Veterans in Chicago, Illinois in the late 80’s while in basic medical training, to the First Persian Gulf War in 1991, to the position of minor surgery technician as well as a Spanish translator for victims of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in Homestead, Florida, to a treatment room supervisor in the mid to late 90s in Millington, Tennessee, and so much more including multiple visits to the CS Gas chambers and gun ranges (to include grenade throwing and .50 machine gun training… which I was technically not supposed to be doing as a medic) with the Marines in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and different field facets of Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare training events. As a precursor to this project, the first chapter of “O’Dark Heaven” (the chapter on “WAR!”) and a few poems in the book “Live From La Pryor” (2014) include such like-minded militaristic poems.

Q: On a lighter note, I once heard you read a very funny poem about lusting after the robot character, Rosie the Robot, from the old cartoon show The Jetsons. There is a lot of humor in your works as well, even one about the Chupacabra in Sex, Lies and Chupacabras that reads like a child’s “Dick and Jane” reader (“See Spot run/See Spot run fast/Why Spot running so fast/See Chupacabra run/ Chupacabra runs fast too/ That’s why Spot runs faster…”). Give us some insights on how you see humor as a tool in speculative poetry and reactions you have received from your readers and audiences who hear you read these types of works.

Juan: I have always seen political and social issues as well as general life easier to swallow when we are making fun of it, ourselves, or each other. Life is funny because of our shared experiences as humans on this little, blue rock called Earth. How much greater is the possibility of life outside this planet (or after we die) and how far away from that eventually are our insignificant problems? Many poets express the same social-political and life issues as I do but they are sometimes too damn serious to be taken seriously. At times, we disconnect (or at least I do) because of the character of the reader rather than the issue of the poem itself. Laughter truly is the best medicine when we are seeking a cure for the illness to our humanity or inhumanity to others. I guess my attempt is to leave you thinking twice (or more): Did I want to make you laugh at yourself; and is this really a real problem that I should do something about? As for the poems you mentioned, I really did learn to read in English from pre-recorded follow along Superman, Batman, and Star Trek comic books. They were a great introduction to the English language. I recommend that to all ESL students in America, as well as any reader. Read Comic Books! My teachers also tried to incorporate the yellow “See Spot Run” chapbooks which I did not find entertaining at all. Nope, not a single one. “The Chupacabra Reader” was my attempt to improve on it while using the most basic form of a sonnet or sonnet crown.  By the way I learned to read and write Castilian Spanish by reading bible verses at church or for my dad before I learned English. The poem about Rosie is actually part of a response to the following bothersome idea and somewhat funny inclination if the world really became that of “The Jetsons”: Did you ever stop and wonder what happened to all the “brown people” in what appears to be a white-only future according to the cartoon? Is Rosie the new, shiny, and constant “Mexican” servant of the future? Some real smorgasbord to ponder, huh? (insert sinister futuristic laugh hear)

Q: What upcoming projects do you have coming up you can share with us?

Juan: Well, like any poet, there are too many projects underway. So as far as the very near future there is still the multi-poet anthology, “The Call Of The Chupacabra” to get out into the hands of waiting readers. The book is just waiting on some funding. Also, a reissue of the 2012 chapbook, “Unleash Your Inner Chupacabra,” as well as a volume of Christian Haiku volume. Both which are near completion. Then there are other poetry projects nowhere near completion to include the military experience I spoke of earlier, as well as a personal Chupacabra poetry anthology among so much more. As a matter of fact, there is work for yet many years to come. That is what will keep me going. That and submitting my poems to other publications.

Why don’t you share some of your works for us: [add three to five poems?]

The following are some poems never seen by normal human eyes, ever. I promise… I think?

 


 

Goat-killer

 

old

death

refreshed

where goats fear

the red-eyed terror

the reign of el chupacabras

 


 

Lights

 

Lights… yellow light, yellow light, yellow light…

 

Those traffic lights. Remember their purpose?

To control masses of humans in cars

Those miracles of steel and fiberglass

That now sit quietly in odd stages

In some sort of exodus from itself

Those were great times in human history

 

Red light, red light, red light, red light, red light…

 

Now and then breaking the barren landscape

A vehicular carcass far from sway

Calling them to control with their straight lanes

In conventional progress to all sides

Now silent, gathering glances at best

From the mindless dead who pay them no mind

 

Green light, green light, green light, green light, green light…

 


 

Translation: A Zombie Zonnet

 

Ooo grR ara rAaa ORrr ggGRRRR Rrrrrr araa!!

I was a poet once beloved by some

 

arraaaa Ooo RoO Aahh ara RaA oRR gGgggRR OrR!!

That I can hold no pen now matters not

 

GRR Ooo GrRRR orR ara MrRrr uUuuRr Rrrrrr RRaa!!

For I crave not the sweet verses of life

 

sRrr ara RRaa UuUrrR Rrrrrr orRr RAaA UrrrRrRr!!

But the sour juices of your deep thoughts

 

MMrrr GGrRRr araa rrRRAAA Rrrrrr ORrR Rraa!!

Caged within the cranium of your soul

 

rrAA nuurg Ooooo ahHh sRRr Ooo rOoo aHH Orr MRrR!!

Come to me dear and I will set you free

 

Ooo grR ara rAaa ORrr ggGRRRR Rrrrrr araa!!

I was a poet once beloved by some


 

A Sonnet For Elvira, No. 9

 

Remember me by two simple words, she says

So I was thinking: Simply Obvious or Big Boobs

Nice Legs or Great Rack, Hot Mama or Pretty Special

Good God or Sweet Thing, Sugar Spice or Everything Nice

 

Remember me by two simple words, she says

So, I was thinking: Great Hair or Great Pumpkins

Classy Trash or Gothic Chick, Scream Queen or Sexy Starlet

Goofy Gal or Morally Unfit, Man Killer or Campy Tramp

 

Remember me by two simple words, she says

So I was thinking: That’s Entertainment or Boredom Savior

Substitute Girlfriend or Kind Person, Great Listener or Great Smile

Great Conversationalist or Caring Heart, Soothing Memory or Nice Lady

 

Remember me by two simple words, she says

But she doesn’t care which two… as long as they’re simple


 

Classic Vampirella

 

An ekphrastic poem based on the classic 6 foot door poster (1972)

by Spanish Artist, José “Pepe” Gonzalez (1939-2009)

 

 

Standing, motionless

Starring into my eyes

Murcielago en mano

Waiting for the attack

Even if dimly lit

Her scarlet regalia stands out

Indulging my lust, my fear

 

Her skin, inviting

Preparing my final seduction

My life flashing, fast, finally

My cares lifted so far away

From this waiting embrace

Thus my last moments of life

To die for her, in her arms


Bio:  Juan Manuel Perez, a Mexican-American/Texas poet of indigenous descent (Purapecha/Otomi), is the author of Another Menudo Sunday (2007), O’ Dark Heaven: A Response To Suzette Haden Elgin’s Definition Of Horror (2009), WUI: Written Under The Influence Of Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (2011), Live From La Pryor: The Poetry Of Juan Manuel Perez: A Zavala County Native Son, Volume 1 (2014), and Sex, Lies, And Chupacabras (2015), plus six poetry chapbooks.  In Texas, he is known as El Chupacabra Poet, is a fixture at numerous reading venues in South Texas and was named the San Antonio Poets Association’s Poet Laureate in 2011-12. Juan is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Marine Medic with combat experience in the First Gulf War (1990-1991: Desert Storm with the 2nd Marine Division/2nd FFSG) and part of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, United States Marine Corps Relief After Hurricane Andrew during the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Operation in Homestead, Florida. Currently, Juan serves his Creator, teaches high school history, writes poetry, and chases chupacabras by the Texas Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi, Texas. His poetry centers on speculative themes of horror and science fiction.

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