“You set out into the dark fog, no moon, no star / no guide but your own caught breath, / the drum-pulse of your cold chest.”
– “Midnight in the Catalina Channel,” Fuego
Art Credit: Kriss Keller
Photo Credit: Gary Griffin
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From the bed of the hospital, to the classroom of fourth-grade refugees, or the icy waters being swum by a long-distance swimmer, Fuego is a book that explores the extraordinary in the ordinary, the body as a surreal form of existence. At the core of the book is the theme of survival and the awe at being able to survive, and the glory of being ordinary and alive. In this debut poetry collection, Fuego explores the failure and blessing of childhood, the surrealism of birth and motherhood, and the estrangement of the body from itself and others.
“Leslie Contreras Schwartz doesn’t use words to smooth over life’s edges. Instead, she writes about the jagged parts directly: the struggle of difficult pregnancies, the trials and joys of motherhood, the horrors she saw in her students’ lives when she briefly taught fourth grade. (This is) a collection of clear, crisp poems that tangle directly with the stuff of life.”
–Alyson Ward, Houston Chronicle
“Fuego is full of fire, of the passionate intensity of creation in the face of great odds—the intensity of difficult pregnancies and childbirth and all-consuming motherhood, of the immigrant student who struggles to write his first sentences in English, the child who falls from her bike and gets up again and again, the long-distance swimmer trying to swim to Antarctica, all of them stand-ins, I think, for the artist who struggles to make something meaningful from language in the midst of life, which is to say in the midst of death. This Leslie Contreras Schwartz has done in her debut collection, and hers is a distinctive and welcome new voice in American poetry.”
–Susan Wood, Gladys Louise Fox Professor Emerita of English at Rice University, author of Asunder, National Poetry Series selection 2001
“As poet and mother, Schwartz stands witness to childhood, the progressive transformation that makes as it consumes. Yet, Schwartz understands children, as poet Denise Low says, “not as nostalgia but, rather, as imagery that evokes the ongoing experience of childhood…not recall[ing] the past; they nurture its continuing presence.” Schwartz utilizes this knowledge to create poetry of intense observation. In Fuego, childhood is not merely for children. The fire of experience, of creation, is complex, continual work that collapses neat categories and delineations.”
–Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Literary Mama
“Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s Fuego is filled with the power of things: floods that bring both destructive power and promise of new life, televisions that bring awful news, a small child’s naming of clouds. Like Plath’s most tender poems, Schwartz’s debut collection uses the minutiae of everyday living to create a world where even in the darkest times, light finds a way to come “from under / the shade, / light from under / the door.”
–Amanda Auchter, author of The Wishing Tomb, winner of 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry
Leslie Contreras Schwartz teaches writing workshops in poetry and personal essay at Inprint Houston and Writespace. Her poetry has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Storyscape Literary Journal, Rust + Moth, and is forthcoming in Tinderbox Literary Journal, The Collagist and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. Her personal essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Houston Chronicle, The Toast, Ozy, and Dame Magazine.
Her first collection of poems, Fuego, was published by Saint Julian Press in March 2016. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a BA in English from Rice University, where she won the Academy of American Poets’ College & University Prize in 2001.