I felt so many emotions when I pressed send–my edits were off to my editor at Unsolicited Press. The last round of revisions of my first book of poetry will be heading to the publishers. It has been a long strange trip for me, literally. Ten years ago, I was nowhere near getting any poem and not even the thought of having a poetry book published.
How did I get here? It goes back to that Paul Westerberg song, “Runaway Wind” when the former lead singer of The Replacements sang: “I see what you`ve become and try to hide it/You need someone who sees/What you were born to be.” For years, it has been a coterie of women who have nurtured, inspired and helped me become the poet I was always destined and dreamed of becoming.
Right now, it feels bittersweet. I have made it this far, about to step into the world of having a poetry collection published because of so many. These include my Mother, mentors, teachers and inspirational writers that have led me to this place of publication success. The first being the most important, my Mami. She is the one who gave me the gift of la poesía. She has always been my number one champion. When I was working as a retail servant, at every bookstore and record shop, you could imagine, she believed in something in me. I would send her poemas for her cumpleaños and navidad. She called them gifts from my Corazon. Some of her favorite poems that I wrote her were memories of her cooking en la cocina. Because of those amazing recetas, I cook Colombian inspired comedias, in honor of my Mami. She passed away this past November. It still hurts. I want to call her and tell her about my book. I remember flying back, being there for the last moments of her life. Poems were written in that hospital room when I felt the light of her vida blink away. Soon after, my Papi handed me this large manila envelope. He didn’t have to say anything, I knew what was in there. All the poems I ever wrote for my Mami. It took me months to open it up and look inside. It was too hard. When I finally did, it felt like I was sharing a moment, reading those poemas with her spirit. I miss her and her inspiration the most. After I read the poems in the envelope, I got the word that my first book was being published. Although I should’ve been on cloud nine, something was missing. I wanted to call my Mami and celebrate with her. She was gone. Soon after, I chatted with one of my writer friends Amy Lewanksi and I told her about wanting to speak with my Mami about my book, Amy said it best: She knows.
She wasn’t the only one. I met my wife at a bookstore in Pasadena, that was the one event that changed the course of my existence and directly led me to the path that I am on now. Michelle is the smartest woman I’ve ever dated. When we met, she was a graduate from UCLA and was acquiring a Master’s Degree from Cal State Fullerton. Michelle also saw potential in me. I wrote her poems. Writing my poetry is how I reveal myself to the woman who mean the most to me in my life. For years, writing poetry became my way of not speaking, professing love, without opening my mouth and stutter. My safe space was in the stanza of these poems. Although I was vulnerable, I am the most naked when I write, it was through my own poetry that I found my true voice. My wife was the only one who embraced my poems, encouraging me with all the love poems I wrote her. To this day, she hangs every poem I wrote her for birthday and anniversary on the walls over our bed. Instead of just hiding away my words as a secret keepsake, my wife proudly displayed my words as a work of art.
The next step on my evolution of becoming a poet, started when I took a poetry class at Pasadena City College, Michelle told me that she was invited to a Creative Writing Conference at Cal State Fullerton and that I should go and read some of my poems too. I am so glad that she encouraged me because when I was there I met a poet that would change my life.
Silke Feltz became my poetry mentor. She took me under her wing and gave me feedback on my poems. We exchanged poems by email. I still remember the one poem, my favorite of hers that she read about being alone in her boyfriend’s apartment and going through all his stuff. For five years, from 2010 to 2015, I could send her anything, poems about former flames, verses on my familia, any and all poems, she never judged. She embraced all my rhymes and ramblings from a far. Silke always there for me and my latest draft, even during holidays, odes I wrote for Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. Most importantly, she encouraged my writing voice.
Dr. Kristen Odgen, poetry professor, was another mentor. Her poetry workshop at Pasadena City College was the most intensive poetry class I had ever taken in my life. I enrolled in Dr. Ogden’s class because of the promise that two mentors saw in my writing during my years as an undergrad creative writing student. Dr. Heather Sellers was the first to witness the potential in my poems, like the verses inspired by Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, as a twenty-something poet her belief meant so much to me. Dr. Wendy Barker who, based upon a poem I wrote paralleling my little hermanos struggle with hearing impairment with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s, invited me to join her exclusive poetry workshop. Because of Sellers and Barker, I had earned a BA in English from the University of Texas in San Antonio. My days at UTSA had prepared me for Ogden’s intensive workshop. One thing that Dr. Ogden taught me, that no other professor did before her, was to poetry to paper. Before taking her workshop, I would only write on my computer. Because of Ogden’s class I began to write on writing pads that I left around our apartment and in my car. Putting poems to paper, felt like I was creating art. This changed everything for me. I started calling myself a writer. This was changed everything. I started having letters and packages arrive at our house to Adrian Ernesto Cepeda: The Poet. It was more than just writing, but acknowledging that I am writing was life-changing. It became more than a hobby, I had found my calling and was ready for my next step on my journey as a poet.
Soon after Odgen’s workshop, I was waitlisted for the MFA graduate school program at Cal State Long Beach. Although I never made it to Long Beach, fate would lead me to the Westside of Los Angeles.
A year later I attended an information session at Antioch University in Los Angeles. Their campus located in Culver City was one that instantly spoke to me. Everything changed after the moment I was accepted to Antioch University Los Angeles. My life as a poet would never be the same. My experience at Antioch Los Angeles prepared me for my career as a poet. Some of the most influential writers that guided me during my greatest MFA grad school adventure were my most influential mentors, Carol Potter who taught me to expand my horizons, use only concrete images and helped me with my final poetry manuscript. I wrote my piece de resistance, my critical paper on the evolution of the erotic love poem. She not only helped, Carol encouraged me to embrace my themes and find poets like Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Forugh Farrokhzad who sparked my love of erotic poetry.
Although she wasn’t my mentor, Gayle Brandeis, and her advice changed my life. During my first MFA residency here at Antioch LA, Gayle made a difference and changed my life. The amazing thing is that Gayle Brandeis was not my mentor. In fact, one of the best things about my time at the MFA program at AULA was that the faculty encouraged students to go out of their literary genres and attend seminars in other fields. Gayle taught a seminar called True Inspiration: Breath & Writing. After her seminar, as a new shy MFA student, I went up to ask Gayle for advice. You see I was a poet and have spent years struggling with a speech impediment, my stutter, that came up whenever I spoke in public or would worsen when I would recite my poems at poetry readings. So, I went up to Gayle and said; “Gayle, I’m a poet and have to read some poems at a brown bag reading. I get nervous and stutter. Do you have some advice for me?” Gayle shared the six words that made a difference and immediately changed my life, “Adrian, it’s okay if you stutter.” Being a stutterer, this is something that I never really thought of and was advice that I was waiting my whole life to hear. Even since then, I have embraced my stuttering and I can stand up on any stage and read my poetry. Her words of wisdom helped me embrace my stutter.
And then there’s Alma Luz Villanueva. Her seminars always inspired the best poems. Speaking of my speech impediment, I wrote one of my best poems from a writing exercise in one of my seminars. She gave us the prompt, I Give Myself Permission and I wrote about living with my stutter. Because Alma was such an inspiration, I was lucky to have her mentorship as she helped me prepare my poetry manuscript for publication. The best thing about Alma, she always listens to my words and believes in my gift of the eros, Gracias, Alma.
Looking back, I realize now because of these remarkable women, I’ve been reborn as a poet. These women nurtured me, and because of my Mami, my wife Michelle, Feltz, Sellers, Barker, Ogden, Potter, Brandeis, Luz Villanueva and I am ready for the next step evolution of a poet. I am coming out of the womb, this cocoon and my wings of a poet who’s publishing their first full-length poetry collection, Flashes & Verses Becoming Attractions is finally coming to life. This is my baby and it wouldn’t have happened with these awe-inspiring women.