Kissing the world

Peruvian-born poet Roy Chávez has been writing poetry since he was 14

Photo By David Robert

Roy Chávez lives up to both of his names. His mother, a fan of singing cowboy Roy Rogers, gave him his first name, and he got his more typical Hispanic surname from his father. Chávez has the black hair, dark skin and brown eyes of his Andean ancestors and the voice of a poet.

Born and raised in Lima, Peru, he attended Our Lady of the Rosary Elementary School, where he first encountered poetry. “In the library, I learned about the beauty of poetry when I read a collection by [world-famous Peruvian poet] César Vallejo,” says Chávez. “One of his poems, ‘Los Heraldos Negros,’ ‘The Black Messengers,’ really hit my senses. It was as if he described my own reality for me.”

Through his school years, Chávez read the work of many other poets, Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz and Arthur Rimbaud among them. “Reading their work has shown me how poetry developed and changed over time. These and other poets also molded the ways I express myself. My inheritance from them helps me to create images from my own world.”

Chávez began composing poems at age 14 out of what he feels was necessity.

“I wrote because I needed to communicate, but the adults around me didn’t really listen to kids,” he says. “It was hard for me to express myself verbally. It still is. But on paper, I feel naked and free. I lose my inhibitions.”

Writing, Chávez says, is his way of having a sensual relationship with the world. Most people have a platonic relationship with language, which comes from merely reading it. Chávez has something more.

“The poet takes it a step further,” he says. “Once the poet kisses the world, then poetry comes alive. To wake up to poetry, I have to kiss the world, and to do so, I have to write.”

Chávez had little formal poetry training until the age of 17, when he attended a poetry workshop sponsored by Peru’s National Association of Writers and Artists. There, he met his mentor, San Marcos University professor Carmen Bejarano. He enjoyed the workshop and made lifelong friends at the conference.

However, when Chávez had to choose a career path, he did not pursue the formal study of language and writing. Instead, he opted to study mechanical drafting and dye design at Senati, a technical school in Peru. In 1982, because he wasn’t happy with the wages in Peru, Chávez wanted to immigrate to Australia.

“But they didn’t give me a visa,” Chávez says. “They said I was young and single, and that means party time. In other words, I was trouble. So, I went to the American embassy, and two days later I was in Los Angeles.”

Now Chávez works for Ebara International Corporation in Sparks as a mechanical designer involved in building cryogenic pumps. He lives in Carson City, where he continues to write poetry in Spanish and English.

Chávez belongs to Ash Canyon Poets, a critique group in Carson City. From his contacts there, he learned about the Nevada Arts Council Artist Fellowship and decided to apply in 2001.

“I knew I presented a good selection of poems in my application but never dreamed I would win,” he says. “I got busy at work and didn’t think much about it.”

Then on the morning of June 24, 2001, he got a phone call at his office.

“A woman’s voice said, ‘Congratulations, Mr. Chávez,’ and my first thought was, ‘Oh, no. It’s a telemarketer.’ I was about to interrupt, and then she told me I had won the fellowship.”

Chávez was thrilled to win the award and says he started to feel a little proud; he has tried not to become too inflated, he adds. “I’ve done everything to keep myself on the ground and accept the prize as encouragement to create better works,” he says.

Winning the fellowship has given Chávez the chance to share his work with a wider audience in different venues. He reads at cafés and libraries, and he visits writing classes as a guest speaker. As the 2001 fellowship recipient, Chávez gave a talk titled “Why I Write” at the Las Vegas Art Always conference, a gathering of artists from all around the United States in October 2002. On January 14, 2004, Chávez read at a Carson City Library event celebrating Peruvian music, dance and art.

Roy Chvez says that poets are the messengers of life.

Photo By David Robert

“Roy’s poetry is provocative and sensuous,” says Andrea Moore, the Carson City Library’s community relations coordinator. “He speaks lovingly of his home country. I was enchanted by his words. I found the reading very moving.”

Chávez has published poems in several local periodicals, including the Reno Gazette-Journal, the Nevada Appeal, Ahora and Neon. His work has also appeared in periodicals and anthologies from New York to Georgia to Spain. He hopes to publish a collection someday.

Chávez’s poems explore a variety of subjects, from child abuse to erotic love to political strife in Peru. He continues to write about these topics and “about whatever I’m experiencing at the moment.”

“Writing a poem is a way to capture a moment I might otherwise lose,” Chávez says. “Life has many challenges, and we must face those challenges and tell about our struggles. We, the poets, are the messengers of life.”

Es hora del recreo
by Roy Chávez

de quitarme los zapatos y esta cobertura
indecente, de tirarme sobre el pasto,
desnudo como un rayo de sol.
Gritar en las esquinas la verdad:
el paraíso está aquí, y la muerte
es el infierno.

Es hora de perderse en el humo
de cualquier cantina y besar
los labios tristes de las meseras.
Hora de cantar, loco de vida,
de nostalgia y bailar; bailar
borracho en la erótica palabra.

Es hora de vagar como gato
inquisitivo, abriendo puertas, liberando
las cosas guardadas en la vidriera.
De ronronear entre las faldas
el fuego oculto detrás de la cruz.
y bendecir a la última estrella.

Es hora de pintarme un cuadro, un fresco
con mis colores, para mostrarle
al mundo lo que me han robado y con el
dedo en alto saludar a la hipocresía.
Al verme mi madre dirá:
Mi hijito, tan bueno que es ¿Verdad?

Time for a break
by Roy Chávez

to take off my shoes and this indecent
cover, time to lie down on the grass,
naked, like a sun’s ray.
Time to yell the truth on every street corner:
paradise is here, and death
is the inferno.

It’s time to get lost in the smoke
of a lousy bar and kiss
the sad lips of the waitresses.
Time for singing, crazy for life
and nostalgia, to dance
drunk with erotic words.

It’s time to wander like an inquisitive
cat, opening doors, letting things
kept on the stained glass come out.
To purr among skirts, the fire
concealed behind the cross
and bless the morning star.

Its time to paint my self-portrait, a fresco
with my colors and show to the world
what has been stolen from me, and with my finger
high in the air I will salute hypocrisy.
If my mother can see me, she will say:
My little son, he is so kind, isn’t he?

Actors, musicians, sculptors, painters, photographers, dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, videographers—the list is nearly infinite—are eligible to apply for the Nevada Arts Council’s $5,000 artist fellowship. NAC awards six annually, two each in literary, visual and performing arts.

To qualify, an applicant must be a Nevada resident, have U.S. citizenship or legal residency, be at least 21 years old, and not be a degree-seeking student. The fellowship award is designed for the practicing professional artist, which NAC defines as one who has a commitment to one’s art form and who maintains an ongoing level of productivity.

The application deadline is April 19, 2004. In June 2004, out-of-state judges meet to discuss and evaluate the work of all applicants and select fellowship recipients. These panel hearings are open to the public.

Each fellowship recipient, in addition to remaining a Nevada resident for at least six months of the fellowship year, must give a free public presentation relevant to the awarded discipline.

For more information or an application for the Artist Fellowship, call the Nevada Arts Council at 687-6680 or visit