Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

KRISTIN GARTH: All of the poems in We Are the Ones Possessed deal with death.  In fact, the subtitle of the book is 31 poems that end the same.  How long have you been possessed with the idea of a book about death?  

ADRIAN ERNESTO CEPEDA Honestly, the idea of death has been haunting me my whole life. Actually, your question inspired a new poem I wrote:

Feel la Muerte Reaching for Me

From the top of mi cama, 

I hear her shadow climbing 

up the wooden bunkbed 

ladder, smelling her

graveyard stench exhaling 

debajo de mi. Clutching 

my favorite teddy bear,

trying to inhale his soft 

magical fuerte smell, 

shuddering under each

layer miedo blankets me 

as every single movement

feels like a cackle, beneath 

me mi hermanito sleeps 

while I am awake, quaking 

with thoughts of freezing 

frío soil falling over 

my seven-year-old Beatles 

mop top hairdo. I close mis 

ojos, wishing these living 

nightmares to disappear, 

as I gasp for aire de vida, I lie 

despierto, imagining a coffin

is the claustrophobic ceiling 

closing in on me from above. 

wider awake, as the open window 

breezes loudly, lightening

tormenta surrounds me

like muerte, I can feel her

lurking wanting to devour

my niño spirit, not just 

tonight, no matter my age

as I keep cowering under 

these shivering covers, Death 

will be chasing me endlessly, 

reaching beyond nightmares

la muerte appearing cada 

noche, she’s always the darkness

reawaking all my fears.”

It’s that same fear that came out and took over my life during the middle of the Pandemic. I was suffering through the worst anxiety of my life. I had a physical, emotional, and mental health breakdown. I sought out help and my therapist encouraged me to write about my fears. 

One of my most popular books La Belle Ajar, a collection of cento poems inspired by Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel, also published by CLASH Books, was selected by NightWorms a horror subscription service. Although Ajar wasn’t specifically a horror book, I was honored that NightWorms chose my book for their monthly subscribers. While I was writing my poems, I decided to focus my energies on crafting a book that would make NightWorms and their readers proud. Although I appreciate the genre, writing horror is not my forte. So, while listening to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads, I wrote the manuscript that ended up being We Are the OnesPossessed was birthed out of fear, I am so proud that out of my own demons and darkness, I could create this poetry collection that will keep fans of the horror genre up at night.

KG: Your poem “You Are The One Possessed” is after Nicolas Francois Octave Tassaert’s painting La Femme Damnée (The Cursed Woman), 1859.  Can you tell me what inspired you about this image?  When, in the process of writing this manuscript, did you decide that you had your title which seems to come from this poem?

​AEC: During my BA undergrad years as an English major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I had a mentor Wendy Barker who once told me that “art museums are the church for the artist.” Ever since then, I have made it a point to visit an art museum in every city we visit on trips or vacation. I have always been inspired by paintings and photograph. Some of my favorite verses have been Ekphrastic poems. The painting spoke to me. Seeing it as an empowering image where the woman in the artwork was in control, dominating her submissive’s in this classic painting. The words come to me like magic and evoke my interpretation and image of the painting that I am experiencing inside my creatively twisted imagination.

​My poetry book has a working title of La Petite Mort, but after consulting with my publishers at CLASH Books we all agreed to use the title the book after this piece. We Are the Ones Possessed works better as title, don’t you think? And Joel Amat Güellbrilliantly terrifying cover art matches the horror deaththeme from the inside. 

3.) You have several ekphrastic poems taken from photographs and paintings.   My favorite of these is “She Eats Men ForBreakfast” about a photograph of Sylvia Plath.  I know you have dealt with Sylvia Plath and her works in your last book La Belle Ajar.  What draws you to Plath?  And what about this particular photograph of her that inspired this delicious poem?

​After mi Mami passed away in 2017, I arrived home from her memorial service with a huge whole in my life. I found myself looking for mother mentor figures in my life and Plath was the first. Her work, her poems was an inspiration not only for La Belle Ajar, but Sylvia got me through the first year and a half of my mourning. I read every one of her books, biographies, and literary critical analysis. Plath helped with my grief. 

As for the poem “She Eats Men for Breakfast” I wrote it while landing on an airplane at Burbank International Airport. It was Halloween and a poet friend of mine Leila Chatti had posted a photo where she honored the image of this famous Plath photograph below:

While I was sitting in my airplane seat, the words of this poem came floating out of me. Once again, Plath had inspired me from beyond. Thank You Leila and Sylvia for this poem.

KG: You have been very prolific in the cento form.  How did you come to be inspired to write in this form?  

AEC: I was at reading at Echo Park and a poet read poem in which he had crafted lines from Prince’s movie Purple Rain. Later during the book release for Dark Ink: a poetry anthology of Horror, a poet and friend Leanne Hunt suggested I read a book of erasure poems called Red. The author Chase Berggrun took lines from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and crafted a poetry book from this classic novel. My friend’s idea planted a seed and when I was at one of my lowest points, sick with whooping cough after my Mami’s Memorial Service, I found a copy of The Bell Jar. Remembering Berggrun’s book, I started crafting the poems using words from Plath’s book and this is how my first cento project became La Belle Ajar.

KG: Are there other writers of centos that you find admire?

AEC: My friend Jessica McHugh does a form of cento with her creatively inspiring works of art with her erasure poems. Her book A Complete Accident of Life a collection of erasure poems inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was nominated for a Stoker Award. This year, Jessica published her latest creation, Strange Nests, black out poetry inspired by The Secret Garden.I love the way McHugh goes beyond the cento poem, creating art works on the page. She is the definition of a true artist who uses the pages of these classic books as a canvas to create memorable black out poems that you will always remember and never forget the way she crafts these words into beautiful pieces of art poems. 

6.) My favorite cento that you wrote in this book is the Edgar Allen Poe inspired “Very Nervous I Had Been.”  How did you feel working with such a profoundly important writer of horror?  

Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was one story that I truly wanted to create a cento from. But cento poems are not easy, it’s like working in a minefield, where choosing one word can derail and blow up the whole intention of the cento poem. For this collection, I wanted to honor Poe, like I did with Plath in La Belle Ajar.  The whole goal for me, writing cento poems is to inspire the reader to want to seek out and read the original source. I hope the cento poems I have crafted will spark readers to want to read classic author like Plath, Poe and some of my favorite authors like Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties & In the Dreamhouse, Lindsay Lerman’s I’m from Nowhere, and Charlene Elsby’s Hexis

KG: You acknowledge so many influences you have simply by referencing them in the cento form and in the photographs and art you chose to discuss in the book.  Do you have any writers that fascinate you currently?

AEC: I am loving the following books by these inspiring poets: Briana Muñoz’s Everything is Returned to the Soil/ Todo Vuelve a la Tierra, Karo Ska new book Loving my Sun-Drenched Bones, San Francisco Poet Laurate Tongo’s Blood on the Fog. Here are some of my favorite poets from Alegría Publishing: Jean-Pierre Rueda’s Herencias, Stephanie Sorady’s Kiss from God, Diana Medina‘s Healing Out Loud, Laura Serratos’, I, Too, Bloom & Natalie Garcia’s Cósmica. I am also in awe of Lauren Eden’s Laying You to Rest, Gina Duran’s …And so the Wind Was Born, Ellen Webre’s Burning Lake of Paper Suns and Jimmy Santiago Baca’s No Enemies. Plus, two memorable memoirs from Alegría authors: Faby Ryan’s Always Carry Me with You and Karen Moreno Scott’s Ascension of a Woman.

As you can see, I read many books. Reading is one of my favorite passions. I wouldn’t have a career as a published poet/writer if wasn’t for poets writing these magnificent books. Reading these poets and authors inspire me daily.

KG: Where and when can people order your book?

AEC: We Are the Ones Possessed can be ordered from my publisher CLASH Books.

• I will be having a virtual book launch on March 21st on Instagram Live with these dazzling poets:Joanna C. Valente, Dylan Krieger, and Kim Vodicka.

• My official book launch will be on April 9th at Sims Library of Poetry in Los Angeles. The theme of my book launch is A Celebration of Darkness and Light and will feature these spectacular poets:Karo Ska, Tongo, Ellen Webre, LaVan D. Hawkins, Monique Quintana, Jean-Pierre Rueda,and Amy Shimshon-Santo

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