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.’”