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An Interview with Mariella Saavedra Carquin, author of Maps You Can’t Make

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Mariella Saavedra Carquin has practiced as a licensed mental health counselor in New York City in clinical, higher education, and middle school settings and now works as a clinician in integrated pediatric primary care. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, holds an EdM and an MA in psychological counseling from Columbia University, and recently earned an MA from Middlebury’s Bread Loaf School of English. She was the first-place winner of the Robert Haiduke Poetry Prize in 2020 and the third-place winner in 2022.

Mariella’s first collection of poetry, Maps You Can’t Make, is a timely meditation on trauma, the disorientation of it, and how we carry it. This vivid exploration of grief and loss focuses on the immigrant experience, memory and identity, the fragmentation of relationships, and the power of dreams. In addition to writing poetry, she has published in various academic journals on the psychological impact of microaggressions experienced by undocumented immigrant youth. Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Miami, Florida, she currently lives in Colorado.

You can buy Maps You Can’t Make here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I always wrote as a way to process the world. My mother encouraged this. She told me that I’d be a writer or journalist when I grew up. My namesake, Mariella Balbi, is a famous Peruvian journalist—my mother often reminded me of this. As I got older and attended college, I was inspired by other Peruvian writers, such as Mario Vargas Llosa and José Maria Arguedas. I’ve lately looked to poets such as Ocean Vuong, Joy Harjo, Martín Espada, Ada Limón, and Raymond Antrobus for inspiration. I like how raw and honest they are—they don’t seem scared to voice their truths, and they motivate me to do the same.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I am a licensed mental health counselor (in NY) and a licensed professional counselor (in Colorado). I have been a practicing clinician in the mental health field for almost 10 years. I have focused lately on working with children, adolescents, and families, and currently work in integrated pediatric primary care at a children’s hospital. I have worked at farmer’s markets in different cities for many years. When I moved to Colorado a few years ago, I worked with a food hub at various farmer’s markets in Denver and in grant management. I really enjoy working at farmer’s markets because I get to engage with the community and be around fruits and vegetables. I especially like mushrooms! I was an activist for undocumented immigrant rights and was featured in news programming and newspapers. I enjoyed writing about issues that impact undocumented immigrants for America’s Voice.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It took us a long time to decide on a title. I bounced around ideas with my editor. As I was re-reading and editing my poems, I came back to a line in one of my poems: “trauma lives in spaces / you’re meant to forget / down a lone road / no one knows / how to find without / an awful map / you can’t make.” My book deals with the issue of how we process trauma, how it changes us, and how change is constant. As much as we’d like to understand someone who is going through something, there are limits. Often they can’t take us there, to precisely there, because there isn’t a map you can make. The roads are distorted, memory is reimagined, and fixity eludes us.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

It took a while to decide on a book cover. I originally wanted to commission cover art from a local artist, but I was unable to secure that in time. I was happy with how bold my book cover ended up being; I like the redness against the green. I especially like the lines, which are map lines themselves. They remind me of blood vessels, which are important to this book as I wrote about my mother’s passing in later poems.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

My book actually does have a soundtrack! More like a playlist. I have a variety of songs there that remind me of my poems or what I felt when I wrote them. One song that sticks out for me is “Town on the Hill” by Chance the Rapper. The lyrics “They built a town /On top of a hill / It was yellow in hue / ‘Cause it was bursting with light / And that’s when I caught a view / What a magnificent view / ‘Cause it reminds me of You / I guess” remind me of seeing something shiny, something greater than yourself and basking in its light. I think romantic love can trigger these feelings, and so can religious love. A lot of poems in my book talk about this love that is elusive, that can’t stay. This song reminds me of that.

Another song from my playlist that means a lot to me is “Quién Como Tú” by Ana Gabriel. My mom used to listen to this song- the vocals are recognizable, and her voice is strong, throaty, and deep. When my mom was going through her hard time and eventual passing, we played this song for her.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope readers relate to the emotions I convey in my poems. My little sister, Jenny, would often tell me that she could relate to the feelings in my poems, that she was glad someone else felt this way and could capture it. I utilize a lot of vivid imagery and conversation in my work; I focus on the mundane, on intimate moments, how sensations in our bodies connect to the natural world. I don’t have a perfect reader in mind and I don’t know if I believe in having one. I imagine anyone who is looking for new and old ways of processing and connecting with the world and reimagining their lives.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

I absolutely loved my book launch at Museo de las Americas. My partner, Dennis, put it together, and my friends performed a musical set. Many friends came to support the launch of my book. I thought I would be nervous for it, but I changed my mindset about it and framed it as a party, and hyped myself up. I was present and happy, and it was a big accomplishment for me.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am eager to translate my book into Spanish. I have not begun this process, but it’s something that has been on my mind. I would need some help with the translation. As a Middlebury alum and learner of romance languages (my sister and I have both studied many romance languages), I want to make sure that I do my work justice and honor the art of translation.

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