Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta is a queer Latinx Jewish artist raised in Los Angeles, California by a family of single women. They grew up traveling and living across the western United States and Mexico with their mother, a cultural anthropologist.
Luboviski-Acosta now lives in a rent controlled apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco, where they work as a barista at a video rental store and as a peer sexual health educator at CCSF’s Project SURVIVE. They have also worked as a doula and full-spectrum birth worker.
Their written work often deals with themes such as love, intimacy, the body, protest, migration, home, solidarity, and revolution. Luboviski-Acosta’s first book, The Easy Body, was published by Timeless, Infinite Light in 2017. Their second collection, La Movida, was published in July of this year by Nightboat Books.
I originally met Luboviski-Acosta in the Bay Area around 2016, when both of us were writing for the now bygone Oakland bookstore EM Wolfman’s literature magazine, New Life Quarterly. It was a pleasure to get to speak with them via video call about the origins of each of their poetry collections, intimate and radical love, Shakira, accents, protest, and the many threads and topics in-between.
Claire Mullen: I wanted to start out asking about your first poetry collection, The Easy Body, and the transitions you’ve made in La Movida, because it seems that both touch on many similar topics. Manuel Arturo Abreu wrote of The Easy Body that your writing was, “exploring a vision of freedom that looks like apocalypse dismantled states, destroyed selves and dismayed gods,” and when I went back and read that after reading La Movida, I thought that something similar could be said about this book. I was wondering if you could speak to where The Easy Body came from, what were its inspirations, and where is La Movida coming from? How are they connected?
Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta: So, The Easy Body, I’m looking at it right now, and honestly, it’s so weird when I look at this book, I don’t recognize the person. I think, “I couldn’t have possibly written this book.” Even though it’s something that just completely devoured my life, and I look at it and it really is 100% me. It took me forever to write, and I hadn’t gone into this with the idea that I was writing a book. If ten years ago somebody had told me, “You’re going to write a book and you’re going to be known more for being a poet,” I would have been very confused and had no idea what they were talking about.
I had an abortion in 2014. I had also been very sick at the time, and had attributed the sickness to being pregnant. Later, I found out that that wasn’t actually the case.
But another thing also happened, and this was a really big part of me becoming a doula. I was 5150’d in May of 2016. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a psychiatric emergency room, but they’re really horrible places. And the other thing, too, is when you get 5150’d you’re taken to the hospital in handcuffs. At San Francisco General in particular, we have a sheriff’s station inside of the hospital. They put me in a very, very small room with a two-way mirror. And I was still handcuffed in there. And I found myself thinking, “Oh, no one actually knows where I am right now.”
My partner knew that I had been 5150’d, but no one knew where I really was. I hadn’t been entered into the hospital system, and I’m in this small room. No one saw us come in. I never heard the sheriff’s deputy radio that he was bringing me anywhere. I thought, “Wow, I could die here. Like, I could have actually disappeared. I’ve literally disappeared.” And I thought that I was in there for maybe fifteen minutes, and I later realized that I had been in there for two and a half hours.
The only person who was legally able to call me was my mother because she is next of kin. I kept asking my mother to help get me out, because I had actually misunderstood a question and that’s how I ended up being there. I had gone to a local clinic to get therapy and the next thing I know I’m handcuffed in the back of a sheriff’s deputy squad car. My mom kept asking me, “Well, what do you want to do? What is it that you want to do?”
I kept thinking, this is exactly like what my decision making around having an abortion was, which was people kept asking me what I wanted to do when I really had no choice. I had nothing. There was no choice, really, to make. I had no agency whatsoever. It had nothing to do with what I wanted to do. We were past that point. I told her, I said, “You need to advocate for me. I can’t. It has nothing to do with what I want. This isn’t about what I want. I’m not here because I decided to be here, I’m here involuntarily. And I’ve been stripped, essentially, of my agency.”
Finally I just had to ask the desk to ask her to stop calling, or to not tell me that she was calling, because she would call me and then ask me how I was doing, what was going on, and what did I want to do? I had to keep telling her, you need to advocate for me. I need you to come here and do that for me. And she just wasn’t able to do it.
When I was in emergency services, a book cart came around, and it had a coverless New Yorker and Gioconda Belli’s memoir The Country Under My Skin. I am pretty sure that book (which I was unable to finish reading before I was discharged) kept me going. I was released, but for the next few months was completely destroyed. I don’t know how to quite put it. . . I had become absolutely claustrophobic. It was very difficult for me to speak in full sentences. I felt like there had been some irreversible damage done, but I ended up writing about it in The Easy Body. I was also trying to channel what Belli was talking about in The Country Under My Skin.
That all sounds incredibly stressful. Are these experiences also what inspired La Movida, or something else entirely?
La Movida is a book of love poems. In La Movida, there are no dreams. It is a historical document. Not really, but it describes things that have happened.
The Easy Body is one long poem, and I joke that it’s a love poem, but it’s not quite romantic love. I would say The Easy Body is more agape; a lust for love, of your fellow man. La Movida is more eros. . . puro sex, I feel.
All of my poems are love poems, though. All of the poems in La Movida are love poems, I guess I just do a good job of disguising it.
What do you mean by love poems? Are they written to a specific person?
Are all of the poems in La Movida written to the same person?
I would say . . . the first few poems are written to or about my parents. After that, it gets pretty much into me as a sexual being.
That is interesting, because I wanted to ask you specifically about revolution or rebellion in these poems, which seems deeply connected to care, and perhaps also to sexuality, and love. The last stanzas of the final poem, also titled La Movida, draw on these connections:
When we get to
the inevitable cir
cular firing squad,
please braid my hair before the blade brushes the nape of my
neck—but right now, let’s
just submerge ourselves into
the bass and suck each
other’s lipstick off and go
ahead and sweat on me, I’ll
bring those books I told
you about over to your
job at the end of
your shift, we can talk about them on the dance floor, OK?
There’s so much there that is bringing violence, or struggle, together with an attempt to change things. Solidarity in the face of violence. It’s a love that opens up into something much bigger than a relationship between two people. Or, bringing the care that is in a relationship between two people towards something bigger. I guess my question here is: What do you mean by a love poem? How are you connecting love to these other external ideas of politics and physical violence?
I have to say, there’s one poem in the book that is not a love poem to a person. It’s “My Friends, the Leftists.” I wrote this particular poem after being in the streets for weeks at the end of 2014, and it was sort of a love poem to the streets. To being in the streets, to being a part of this living and breathing and dynamic body, but also having autonomy within that body. Also, there being bodies within that body.
I’ve always romanticized couples who have been able to organize together and be in the movement together. I’ve always idealized and romanticized “movement love.” Because quite honestly, I have never had that. I know, it’s a little disappointing. And something about this particular book is that I realized while writing it that I do tend to think of myself as a very practical person, a very pragmatic one. But if there’s one thing I am a sucker for, it is romantic love. I have never lived with a partner, though. For a long time, I’ve identified as polyamorous, and so I’ve always kind of lived on my own.
In La Movida there’s these three little plays, the Three Bisexual Tales. I wrote those after essentially a period of time of playing house with this person. It was the first time that I felt like, “Oh, I actually could do this. I could collaborate with another person to build a new life.”
I became really fascinated by that, because I have always thought about finding new ways to live, but I’d thought of this as a very communal thing that I did with comrades or other folks, of communal living. Of living and loving outside of these patriarchal systems. Then, here I was in this space thinking, wait . . . but I could also do that with one other person. World-building is possible in an intimate relationship. Which I think a lot of people would be like, “yeah, duh Tatiana.”
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot right now, too. I’d always thought about living with a partner as very, I don’t know, “playing house” like you said. Not radical at all. Even an attempt at containing myself or limiting myself in a way. I’ve also been living with a partner for the first time, and it’s been important to me to think about how we can do so in a way that still feels radical, or communal. But can it truly be radical?
Well, our interpersonal relationships are the root of everything. I am somebody who puts a lot of value on my relationships. I used to think that there was something “not cool” or radical about me for doing that, for valuing or prioritizing my romantic relationships. I am someone who struggles a lot with letting people in, and I can typically really only do that with a few people at a time. With a romantic partner, that’s probably the relationship that had the most space to do that. There is space to be radical there, but also to experiment.
I used to think that in order to do that, I had to be polyamorous. And I realized, like, actually, I don’t even have to do that. I guess while I was writing this book, I didn’t have a desire for a romantic partner necessarily, or even an accomplice. I don’t know if you have ever heard the line “accomplices, not boyfriends”?
I was like, actually, I don’t even want that. I want a collaborator. I want to collaborate with someone to build something. I think that’s kind of what I was describing in La Movida. It’s written from very different vantage points, like in the throes of happiness.
I don’t say ecstasy, I say happiness, because I feel ecstasy is blinding in a tight corporeal sense, whereas happiness. . . I always think of happiness as a little acrid. You’re almost too aware of what’s happening, but you can’t help but feel some sort of joy within. You know?
Yes. Whereas ecstasy is beyond comprehension.
Yes, and beyond self-reflection. With ecstasy everything else disappears, fades into the background. With happiness everything is in stark relief.
Anyway, I realized later that I had been acting like I had been abandoned, that I had been the one broken up with, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that actually wasn’t the case. I had been the person who, through my lack of concrete decision making, had effectively abandoned this person and broken their heart. And I’m kind of coming to terms with that. I’m not saying I positioned myself as a victim, but I did position myself as the person whose heart was broken when I had been the person who had done it to myself, effectively, because I live in this land of ambiguity, and I couldn’t make a commitment to this thing.
So I ended up doing what I think a lot of people in my position have done, which is I listened to a lot of music. A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. The stuff that I found a lot of solace in was Rock en Español. That’s in there for sure.
I associate the music so heavily with this person, because we had a love for the same kind of music. Music that I knew how to dance to, and I really loved.
There is a lot of music in La Movida. It is a very musical book. In the poem Cerca de ti are the lines:
My gender watch
es with the heavily-lined black
eyes of a child sing
er, under a crown of puffy
dark hair. A song emerges
somehow, from the pain
ful pastel bows, lace, and ruff
les of her body;
yet hides behind the me
tal screen door, veiled by a mesh
of domestic bore
dom, wet trapo under foot.
I don’t know if you’re a Shakira fan?
I would say so, but there are so many people who are such diehard fans of hers that I don’t know that I can truly claim that.
Yeah, I don’t know if I could claim it at this point either. She is somebody who. . . her songs are quite literary, you know? They’re pretty heavy and dense. They’re amazing! They don’t translate well at all into English.
No, they don’t.
And she’s tried! I’ve always in my head begged her not to do that. But anyway, there are videos of her online as like a nine-year-old in Colombia on Colombian Star Search, including one of her singing “Su nombre.” And they’re hauntingly beautiful. Anyway, that video is just incredible, and that poem has a lot of that in it.
When you read La Movida, did you think that these were love poems?
No, that didn’t come through to me. I saw a lot of overlap between personal relationships that toe the line between romance, friends, or comrades. I think perhaps I didn’t read love into it due to certain ideas that I encounter a lot in the Bay Area, of care and community in relationship with organizing. I think of the now-closed Wolfman Books, or so many other projects in the Bay where talk about care, community, and solidarity within interpersonal relationships is always centered. Which comes back to this idea of living with a partner and building new worlds. How can our interpersonal relationships imagine new possibilities for living? That’s what I read in La Movida, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they were love poems.
You’re not wrong at all. I do feel like that is at the root of how I was looking at romantic love.
I think that this proves that it bent into a circle. That was the root, and then the stem or the flow of it was these very focused romantic love poems that got turned into this call for new life, which is a phrase that keeps repeating throughout the text. I didn’t even realize that until later, this call to action.
That is something that we have seen rise up after 2016, and even during the pandemic. I think people are realizing that no state is ever going to love you. No law enforcement agency is going to put food in your mouth or tuck you in at night. I think a lot of people are realizing that, but people also take that and they isolate themselves, instead of allowing themselves to fall in love with the people around them. That is something. . . I feel like I can say pretty strongly about myself that I am a little bit in love with all of the people that I’m around. This goes for people that I’m in community with, people that I’m friends with, and people that I have romantic relationships with.
I’m expressing what my politics ultimately are, which is a politics of love, which is essentially like anarchism. Anarchism is a politics that is fundamentally rooted in love and agape, or a love for humanity, and for, by extension, your neighbors and your community.
Yes, exactly. I am from the Bay and lived in the Mission in the early 2010’s, and I just felt a resonance with what you’ve written and the feeling of being part of various movements in the Bay Area, and I wanted to ask you about how, or if, the Bay and protest is showing up in La Movida?
Well, I grew up in the streets, I’m a movement kid. La Movida is not exactly about the Bay, but about the streets more generally. My mother is a community organizer and I grew up in social movements. And I wouldn’t say that I’ve necessarily dedicated my life to them, but they’ve always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve been going to demonstrations, meetings, general assemblies, all of that for years.
In the years since the pandemic started, I think largely due to shelter in place, I have found myself a little separated from the poets in the Bay Area that I had been hanging out with before. I have found myself being way more involved with other Latinx poets, both here in San Francisco, but also in my hometown in Los Angeles. I think for both of those scenes, an involvement in social justice and the streets has always been a part of it.
With Chicanos, especially, I’ve had to deal with people not liking the term Latinx and taking issue with younger queer Latinx people and feeling threatened by Central Americans. I think a lot of people struggle with this idea that Latinx people in the United States are a monolith. We really are not, and I say that as somebody who grew up in a part of LA that was 90-something percent Mexican, and I am not Mexican. I speak with a Central American accent. I use Central American vocabulary and had to learn from a really young age to not do that and to mask it because of Mexican bias against Central Americans.
Most of the poems in La Movida are in English. Do you tend to write more in one language or the other?
I’m not a poet in Spanish. I’m a very different person in Spanish. I think a lot of that comes from it being more of a private language for me, and especially living away from my family. Although, I will say over the past few years I’ve been using it more and more publicly, but for a long time it was really just the language that I used at home.
I’ll sometimes use the syntax a little bit but I never translate, if I do write in Spanish. I never put anything in italics. You know, it’s kind of funny, I don’t know why, but that just made me very, very sad.
It’s okay. It’s just, of course there are friends of mine that do speak Spanish, but it’s not necessarily their first language, or it’s their simultaneous first language. And the person that a lot of these poems are addressed to was someone that I would speak to in Spanish. And somebody who really liked my Nicaraguan accent.
You know, I almost felt like, especially in western Nicaragua, it’s kind of a stoner accent. It sounds like the person is, like, stoned. It’s lower, and like, a little slower. A little gravelly.
And there is a thing, especially in western Nicaragua called Nahuañol, which is like the Náhuatl influence on Spanish in western Nicaragua.
Oh, like Spanglish but the mix being Náhuatl and Español?
Yeah, exactly! That was the form of Spanish that my grandmother spoke, and which I later realized that I knew, which can also be isolating because there are not too many people walking around speaking like that. That’s the history of many accents in Latin America too; it’s the influence of whichever indigenous group was being subjugated and conquered and fucked with, and the presence of enslaved Africans.
This was a person who really affirmed my speaking like that.
You do use Spanish words or phrases within your poems though, and there’s a playfulness in the way you engage with Spanish, or a way that you use it to comment on the constraints of English.
Right, exactly. I read Año Desnudo out loud one time and only the Spanish speakers in the audience laughed.
That was actually the one I was thinking of, which starts:
It’s funny how the
lack of an accent makes it
Which at first I didn’t read as a comment on the title, but then I looked back and laughed.
Yes! That is a mistake that I constantly witness and think it’s just very, very funny. People who don’t speak Spanish often don’t recognize the importance of the “ñ” or how it’s a completely separate letter, it has its own section in the dictionary.
If you’re from the outside looking into that, such as if you don’t speak Spanish, you probably don’t understand the complexities of that joke. Like language, culture is also learned and easily misunderstood. If you don’t understand the complexities of the Latinx population in the US, for example, you might just blanket it over and won’t recognize the subtlety of difference between certain things simply because you don’t have a reference point for them.
Yes! You just don’t understand that, and so therefore it’s all the same. Or, “I don’t understand that, so this person is doing something weird.” Or even, “This is something that I don’t understand and I’m not going to engage with it, or I’m not going to try to understand.” Also, on a certain level, “it doesn’t matter enough to me to understand it.”
Right, exactly. Somewhat relatedly, I wanted to ask you about other books of poetry that have come out recently that seem to be in conversation, in some ways, with this tension in La Movida. Two that come to mind are Copy by Dolores Dorantes, translated by Robin Myers, and Customs by Solmaz Sharif.
For example, on page 3 of Copy, Dorantes writes:
We’ve all had the same experience, pleasure and pain distorted under social pressure, the pleasure and pain of others under social pressure that opens its mouth. It searches in every sense, the force of nature under social pressure, searching what with its mouth, the immediacy of the senses to communicate, to communicate, to communicate the focal point with itself. The pleasure and pain of others, the true meaning of the world under laborious construction since childhood. We’ve all had this experience.
There is language like this throughout Dorantes’s book—ideas surrounding bodies, social pressure, pleasure and pain. In Customs, one of Sharif’s major themes is confrontation with the state and immigration apparatus, and rebellion against it in both small and big ways.
There seems to be a movement within poetry being published in the United States right now that is pushing back more blatantly against the status quo, and specifically using poetry to speak to language and communication, bodies, and protest. I was wondering if you have any thoughts about that?
You know, it’s funny because I remember after publishing The Easy Body, noticing that in the past few years I have seen a lot of these themes coming up in other poets’ works as well.
I do think The Easy Body was an indictment of our current mode of existing. That was a sort of beginning, for me, of an indictment of the world and how the way that we’re living is like effectively killing us, killing each other. It’s a condemnation of necropolitics, really. Since the beginning of the pandemic, and since we are living in what is essentially now a failed state, or through state failure, it is interesting to see this become more mainstream. To see people stating that “the state will never love you”.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who love you. That doesn’t mean that love is dead. The state has never loved you in the first place; the state is the antithesis of love and care.
So it is really beautiful to see this blossoming over the past decade or so. These kinds of statements have become. . . I don’t want to say “popular” because I feel that can come off as derisive and that is not what I want to say at all. But to see that becoming something that artists and writers have been thinking about for a while and are incorporating into their work, is beautiful.
Claire Mullen is a writer and audio producer who has lived in Mexico City since 2017. She is a previous fellow with the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in magazines including The Nation, The Believer, LARB, and Lit Hub, among others.
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