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Poet Feature: April Hernandez

Poetry can be a broad categorization but also an incredibly limiting one, and no one knows that better than April Hernandez. Genre-bending and experimental style challenges the conventions of the form, and that has become her specialty and her goal as a poet and creative.

While she has completed professional literary work before, such as a personal essay in The Wire’s Dream Magazine, Hernandez’s first published piece of poetry appeared in Lucky Jefferson’s Introspection issue this fall.

“Dementia” explores the intersection between form and image while hypothesizing over this fear of losing one’s identity. The mental disintegration, the fading of memories and lives, is visually represented — as the poem progresses, the words lose potency, becoming lighter and lighter until they almost disappear. But the word “forget” is highlighted black — the only word that visually pervades the poem.

For Hernandez, “Dementia” has personal and layered meaning. Many of the specific anecdotes and detailed descriptions she shares are ones between her and her grandmother, who has dementia. Other reflections in the work are memories between her and her mother as well, which continues this cyclical questioning about forgetting and eventually losing more loved ones on a generational scale.

By depicting these serious scenes of reflection, Hernandez said tackling dementia is important given the illness’s absence from much of the writing community.

“Part of it was to pay homage to my grandma, but in a larger setting, I guess just bringing more attention to dementia,” Hernandez said. “It’s something we all hear about, but it isn’t something that I feel like is really reflected as much in literature or even just writing in general.”

The Introspection issue, Lucky Jefferson’s fourth edition, whose theme is authenticity and the often difficult search for meaning and understanding.

While scrolling through Submittable, Hernandez found LJ’s open call for poetry entries and decided to try poetry again. In high school, she had written for literary magazines, but ventured into other writing territories once she entered Portland State University, where she majored in Creative Writing — Nonfiction.

From there, her works became more “hybrid,” branching out from the conventions that poetry  — or even nonfiction — can place on writers. But by using personal memories and cultural significance, Hernandez finds her comfort zone.

While “Dementia” deals with her relationship with her grandma, Hernadez’s piece for The Wire’s Dream Magazine, titled “Speaking Spanish,” involves unboxing her late uncle’s belongings and the psychological connection she has to him without ever meeting him.

Her writing inspiration also stems from other authors and writers and timeliness of their stories — Hernandez recently read Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X” for Hispanic Heritage Month.

When she does seek out poetry, Hernandez said she gravitates towards local Portland authors, such as her former college professors Emily Kendal Frey and Justin Hocking.

But like everything she writes, Hernandez loves reading works that blend genre and play with the medium.

“What’s important to me is having an open mind when it comes to writing and reading,” Hernandez said. “Not everything has to fit in a specific definition or a specific genre, and I know for me personally, letting my mind expand and see poetry can be nonfiction, nonfiction can be poetry, poetry and fiction. There’s some really great examples out there and I just want to see more.”

Hernandez, in another exploration of genre and style, has also been collaborating on her boyfriend Greg’s screenplay for a film, which he said is a “psycho-anti-comea-dramaler.” In every aspect of Hernandez’s writing career, defying tradition is key.

She said she is easing back into writing, during a tumultuous year that has not given her “reprieve enough” to launch back into creating. Once she does, Hernandez said her foray into poetry in her adult life is far from over, and she hopes other publications prioritize “inclusivity” and are receptive and responsive to her work by offering “more opportunities for feedback.”

“Giving opportunities to newer writers, as well as people from different backgrounds,” Hernandez said in reference to Lucky Jefferson, “and I was like, ‘I mean, I’ve never published a poem before, so maybe I might have a chance.’”

Cameron Morsberger
Cameron Morsberger

Cameron Morsberger is a junior at Boston University studying journalism. She is currently the managing editor at the independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, and is also a local politics writer at the Boston Political Review. Besides writing, Cameron likes to collect records, explore Boston, and start arguments for fun.

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The ethics of advocacy journalism and disenfranchising the voice of the voiceless

Since the turn of the century, over 7,000 migrants have died on their journey from Mexico to the United States, and thousands more have attempted the crossing with varied success. As immigration becomes increasingly politicized and border control increases across the Southern states, by the president’s orders, many immigrants have stories to tell and lives worth documenting.

At the beginning of this year, novelist Jeanine Cummins published “American Dirt” — a fictional story surrounding a Mexican family who flees north to the United States to avoid the wrath of a drug cartel. But what intended to be a commentary on very real current political issues became an immense controversy. With a plethora of real life experiences, from countless people, past and present, crossing into the country, the novel was deemed untimely, inappropriate, and unrepresentative.

Journalism is about people, it is always human-driven and human-minded. Thinking about politics and human rights — the many lives at risk because of geographic border policies — it’s only right for journalists to share immigrants’ stories, conveying a real truth. Cummins sought to fictionalize an experience without lending readers the power of authenticity that a migrant could share.

Let’s discuss trauma porn and its implications in journalism and advocacy. “American Dirt” reviews accused Cummins of exploiting immigration and inaccurately portraying what illegal immigration looks like — what began as a quest to further her narrative and support Mexican migrants became a breeding ground for misinformation, a disenfranchisement of those she was attempting to uplift.

In terms of social injustice, journalism has a long-standing tradition of advocating for equality. Look at Ida Wells, Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Nellie Bly, and the “muckrakers” who were emboldened by harsh, glaring societal ills, motivated to write and lead audiences to truth. Their work patched holes in the cracks of the political United States, and gave voice to the voiceless.

Journalism, in this case, is always advocacy, because there is always a spotlight on the victim and an unending connection with truth, and that’s powerful. Wells informed readers of rampanent lynchings in the South during Reconstruction. Riis photographed New York City tenement dwellers and their deplorable conditions. Sinclair published a gruesome account of the meat-packing industry in cities across the country and its dangerous policies. And Bly courageously institutionalized herself in a mental hospital to unearth the painful, questionable treatment of patients there.

First-hand accounts are sincere, and many journalists seek to experience these events themselves and live to tell the talel. But what would a journalist do in Cummins’ place? What could change when the subject of the story is in the hands of a stranger, a journalist with the authority to pillage for personal accounts and steal them for a byline? Could that happen?

Cummins committed an act of trauma porn — a phrase becoming more common in the last decade. People become encapsulated by scenes of violence or brutality, and the news media pushes those stories on viewers constantly. This consumption is harmful and addictive. We seek out videos of protests and insurrection, with photos displayed on our social media feed now more than ever.
“American Dirt” proves to us that journalism requires commitment and vigor, and that the world itself requires journalists — why fictionalize a traumatic experience when there are thousands who lived it, thousands who will live and die with their stories without a platform to pass it to. Journalists are responsible for propping up survivors and sharing their stories exactly how those individuals want to be heard. It’s a conversation about honesty and life, not about the violence itself. It’s about people, not trauma.

Cameron Morsberger
Cameron Morsberger

Cameron Morsberger is a junior at Boston University studying journalism. She is currently the managing editor at the independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, and is also a local politics writer at the Boston Political Review. Besides writing, Cameron likes to collect records, explore Boston, and start arguments for fun.