Sunday, January 1, 2023


The 'process notes' pieces were originally solicited by Maw Shein Win as addendum to her teaching particular poems and poetry collections for various workshops and classes. These poems and process note by Susana Praver-Pérez was part of her curriculum for her Poetry Workshop at University of San Francisco in their MFA Program ( for Fall semester of 2022.


My muse seems to live among the containers of aromatic shampoos and conditioners in my shower — some of my best inspirations surface while washing my hair. That was the setting when the concept for my first full-length book of poetry flashed into my mind.

It was 2019, and I was feeling the anguish of recent socio-political events, relationship dynamics, and most acutely, the devastation Puerto Rico experienced when Hurricane María hit the island in 2017, leaving millions without water and electricity and claiming the lives of 4,645 people, including Sara Morales, my beloved aunt-by-marriage.

As I stood in the shower, tears mixing with the warm water running down my face, I lamented that my life had become consumed by hurricanes, love affairs, and other disasters. At that moment, my muse appeared from behind a bottle of coconut-scented conditioner and turned my lament into a title and a frame within which to weave the many dozens of poems I had written in the preceding years into a cohesive book.

Once I had a scaffold on which to organize the poems, their sequencing fell into place and a narrative formed. I value my writing community greatly and shared my manuscript with several poet friends for feedback. Naomi Quiñonez suggested breaking the book into three sections, one for each of the subjects named in the title.  But I found making that division difficult because some of the poems overlap categories like a Venn diagram. “Commentary on the $72 Billion Debt” for example addresses the disaster of colonialism in Puerto Rico through the metaphor of an abused and trafficked woman. As I stated in my introduction to the book, “Power imbalances between nations are often mirrored in interpersonal relationships. When … domination is at work, its tools are similar whether the setting is an island nation floating in the Caribbean or one’s own kitchen table.”

But Naomi’s suggestion opened my thinking and I decided to divide the book into two parts:  Borinquen, covering seminal events in Puerto Rico from 2016-2022 (from default on the debt in 2016, through a two-year-long series of earthquakes that started in December 2019) and Afuera, which literally translates as “outside,” but is used in Puerto Rico to mean abroad. This second section covers “everything else” —issues outside of the island (although some of the poems in that section have connections to Puerto Rico as well).

Another writer who influenced my process was Patricia Smith. I had the good fortune of attending a talk she gave at Mills College in Oakland where I was introduced to her brilliant book, Blood Dazzler. The collection documents the eerie pre-storm period, the storm itself, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans from various viewpoints. I was awed to find someone as seemingly obsessed with a hurricane as I was—who, like me, wrote about hurricanes as though they were a genre.  After the presentation, I waited among her admirers to speak to my new hero. I told her I was writing about Hurricane María. She asked: What is your entry into the poems?   Houses, I replied, the story of particular houses and their inhabitants. When she replied: Alright—you’ve got it, this (paraphrased) stamp of approval from a famed storm chaser gave me confidence that I was on a good trajectory.

Even after my book had been accepted for publication by Nomadic Press and my manuscript was in the hands of my editor Michaela Mullins, poems kept pouring out of me and into the book; even poems I had not originally intended to include, most notably “Dazzled,” which I wrote in response to Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler. “Dazzled” is a highly personal poem written for my own inner exploration and catharsis. I only shared it with Michaela because Iowa (where she lives), plays a role in the narrative. She immediately replied that it should go into the book, and I ended up placing it as a preface of sorts.

This was one of several instances where I found myself pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. There are many resources to teach an emerging poet about the nuts and bolts of writing, editing, sequencing, and publishing poems. But I had not heard anybody address the emotional nakedness one might feel as their intimate thoughts are indelibly inked on the page for anyone to read. But I was buoyed by something Patricia Smith had said in her Mills College lecture, which I share in “Dazzled” in the following excerpt:

Once, I heard Patricia Smith speak

          of writing deep into painful themes.

One must, she said—

someone in your audience needs it,

        is waiting for it,

for reasons you may never know.


I didn’t know I was waiting for it

‘til Ms. Smith’s book broke me

        like a levee.

It was the idea that “one must” (write deep…) that impacted me, made me think of the poet as public servant. We serve as witness, as mirror, as interpreter of that which we see around us.

When the DACA youth’s legal rights were under attack, I penned “Song of Refuge” to appeal for their protection. When COVID hit, I wrote a series of poems dealing with the pandemic from my vantage point as a front-line health worker in a community clinic. When George Floyd was killed at the hands of police on May 25, 2020, I responded with the poem, “All We Need is Love (and a New Anti-Racist Praxis).”

I wrote Hurricanes, Love Affairs, and Other Disasters to document and educate, but most of all, to increase empathy and understanding of the world as I see it, looking for tender buds of fresh beginnings even amid the rubble of disasters. 



Never has there been

a wind like this. Its throaty

howl has memorized

my name…

~Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler

(a collection of poems about hurricane Katrina)


 I am 37,000 feet above Des Moines,

midway between New York City and San Francisco.

I am 1200 miles north of New Orleans,

          midway through Blood Dazzler.


I turn off the overhead light so my travel companions cannot see

the flood down my cheeks

soaking cocktail napkins.


Once, I heard Patricia Smith speak

of writing deep into painful themes.

One must, she said—

someone in your audience needs it,

is waiting for it,

for reasons you may never know.


I didn’t know I was waiting for it

‘til Ms. Smith’s book broke me

like a levee.




I am 1200 miles north of New Orleans

          where María’s cousin Katrina stomped her feet,

yelled obscenities

of water and wind

‘til rooftops became life rafts.


I saw Katrina in photos,

but I smelled María’s fetid breath,

saw how she left Borinquen

black in the night sky,

a massif of wreck,

muted as a boneyard.


Weeks of dead dial tones

and error beeps before voices

emerged from the miasma. 

Tití’s voice — soaked by storm,

a garbled cry for help

           too late.


I write into the ache María left behind.




I am 37,000 feet above Des Moines

remembering when

my son left home for Iowa,

running from our fractured lives.


The wounds left by what bruised us                    

still ache.


I lean into that ache,

craving healing,

waiting to celebrate

wide aloud.


Maybe I’m too loud,

the way I talk in dancehall tones —


He speaks softly, defies

my fading ears.

He is home again,

but sometimes silence

drapes like gossamer

between us.


I write into the silence,

lift that moist gauze,

clean air soothing wounds.





I am 37,000 feet above Des Moines,

          1200 miles north of New Orleans.

I am open wide

as the centerspread, spine

pressed against leatherette, hurtling 

through the air faster

than a hurricane.


Someone once said of my dizzying speed,

What you are running from

must have fearsome teeth.


I claimed to be running

not from, but to,

didn’t see the damage

          denial can do

‘til I saw the slash

my eye-tooth left —–

razor in an armored smile.





I sit solemn in a straight-back chair,

bare feet dusting earth.

There is nowhere else to run.

The quiet in the air is no longer silence,

but listening.


I write in that stillness,

tears turned to blue ink,

          salvaged seeds of new beginnings

moist and mine

                     in my palms.                                                                                 



On a Mission— When I first started writing and reading my poetry aloud, I would faithfully trudge off to La Lunada Literary Lounge held at La Galería de la Raza on 24th St. in SF’s Mission District held each month under the full moon.  It was there that I cut my teeth as a poet.  I am forever grateful to Sandra García Rivera (my poetic madrina who first christened me “Poet”), who curated the wonderful space where so many of us emerged as writers and congealed as a community.




Post-script: Hurricanes, Love Affairs, and Other Disasters earned the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2022.






Susana Praver-Pérez is a Pushcart-nominated poet and a winner of the San Francisco/Nomadic Press Literary Award (2021). Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including The Acentos Review, About Place, Toho, Dovetales: Writing for Peace, and Poets Reading the News, among others. Susana’s first full-length collection of poetry titled Hurricanes, Love Affairs, and Other Disasters was published by Nomadic Press in June 2021 and earned the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award in 2022.





Maw Shein Win’s most recent poetry book is Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Omnidawn) nominated for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN America Open Book Award, and shortlisted for CALIBA's Golden Poppy Award for Poetry. Win's previous collections include Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press) and chapbooks Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). She is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito and often collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and other writers.

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