Words On A Wire

Sundays at 12 noon

Words on a Wire is a show about fiction, poetry, the writing community, the publishing world and whatever other issues concern literary writers and readers of books. Hosted by two active writers, each show will include an interview with an established or emerging writer who has a new book, from famous award-winning veterans to hot young writers with books to watch out for.

On “Poem of the Week” we will read a poem from a collection we love or talk about a new book we have just discovered, or sometimes re-discovered. We also have a segment called “Poetic License” which is our way of giving writers their say. We hand over to writers we admire a few minutes to talk about whatever they want.



  Daniel talks with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Tracy K. Smith.  She has written her first memoir, Ordinary Light, and she talks about why she waited many years to write about the death of her mother.  She also explains why the memoir allowed her to explore the subject of race and to reflect on how her parents lived & coped in the segregated South.  And in this online-only extended interview, Tracy reflects on the conflicts she encountered between religion and reason in her upbringing.

Tracy K. Smith also reads today's Poem of the Week: "In Brazil" from the collection Duende.

Aired June 28, 2015

  Daniel & Tim talk with Ben Holden, co-author with his father Anthony Holden of the collection "Poems that Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words that Move Them."  Filmmakers, artists, and actors such as Stephen Fry, Nick Cave, Daniel Radcliffe, and Christopher Hitchens are among the 100 men who shared their stories behind the poems that offer up a wellspring of emotions.  https://www.facebook.com/makemencry

Daniel & Tim also talk about the poems that make them emotional.  Tim reads an excerpt from Jimmy Santiago Baca's "Crying Poem," and Daniel shares audio of Corinne Clegg Hales reading her poem "Bigger."

Aired June 21, 2015.


   Daniel & Tim talk with Natalie Scenters-Zapico, a poet who grew up on the El Paso/Cd. Juarez border.  Her debut collection is called "The Verging Cities," and she tells us about the long process it took to write and the satisfaction she felt upon its completion.  The collection focuses on the personal and political dynamic along the US/Mexico border, and she explains how growing up and studying in El Paso (including taking an Intro to Creative Writing class with host Daniel Chacón)  influenced her work.  http://nataliescenterszapico.com/

Natalie Scenters-Zapico reads the Poem of the Week: "Mouth in My Kitchen" from her collection "The Verging Cities."

Plus...Daniel & Tim reflect on why so many writers likes to write about the El Paso/Cd. Juarez border.

Aired June 14, 2015

  Daniel & Tim talk with Dominican-American author, Junot Díaz, whose books include "Drown," "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," and "This is How You Lose Her."  Díaz talks about how he confronts the lack of diversity in writing programs at educational institutions,  why he is not a writer other writers should emulate, and why his mother was not impressed by his Pulitzer Prize.  http://www.junotdiaz.com/

Aired June 7, 2015.

  Daniel welcomes humorist Andy Selsberg, former staff writer for The Onion, author of "The Jottery: Thought Experiments for Everyday Philosophers and Part-Time Geniuses."  This book goes above & beyond the "Mad Libs" of our childhood by asking us to engage our creativity by presenting questions & suggestions such as "You create something called Soul Lotion. What are the best places to rub it? (Don’t limit your answer to human body parts.)"  Or "List twelve things you can have instead of “it all.”  Selsberg, who teaches English at John Jay College, explains how these exercises can also spark the creativity of writing students.

Follow Andy on Twitter https://twitter.com/andyselsberg

Aired May 31, 2015

  Kerouac supposedly wrote "On the Road" on one continuous roll of paper in a period of 3 weeks. The improvisatory nature of the book is legendary. But is there anything truly special about improvisation in prose, poetry, or music? Daniel talks with writer Randy Fertel, who examines the nature of literary improvisation in his book A TASTE FOR CHAOS: The Art of Literary Improvisation.  https://www.facebook.com/randyfertel

Aired May 24, 2015

  Daniel & Tim talk with Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, whose collection of stories "Blue Talk & Love," has drawn critical praise.  She talks about the true stories that inspired the collection, and about her use of multiple perspectives within individual stories.  Music also plays a big role in these stories, and the title of the collection is drawn from Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" (heard in the closing of the show).  http://www.meccajamilahsullivan.com/

Aired May 17, 2015.

  Tim & Daniel talk with Janaka Stucky, author of the poetry collection "The Truth is We are Perfect."  The book was published by Third Man Books, a division of Third Man Records (http://thirdmanrecords.com/), which was founded by White Stripes band member, Jack White.  He explains the influence music has on his writing, and has even created a playlist of songs that he recommends accompany his poems: http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2015/04/book_notes_jana.html (Songs from the playlist - Aéroport Évolution by Ô Paon and a selection from Earth's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull - are heard in between segments and closing out the program)  http://janakastucky.com/

Janaka reads 2 poems from his collection: "Recreating a Miraculous Object" (more insight at http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/crossroads/own_words/Janaka_Stucky/) and "The Art of Loss is a Lost Art."

Aired May 10, 2015

La Bloga

  Daniel talks with one of the pioneers of Chicano Literature, Felipe de Ortego y Gasca.  Felipe taught the first Mexican-American/Chicano Literature course at the University of New Mexico in 1969, and he talks about the changes he's seen in the genre since that time.  He also talks about his little known appearances on film, including 1998's "Dancer, Texas Pop. 81," and the time he spent teaching French at El Paso's own Jefferson High School.

Plus...Daniel shares his Top 10 List of Books To Read Before You Die (or "...While You're Still Alive," as Daniel prefers!  Read the list here: http://borderzine.com/2014/11/chacons10-books-to-read-before-you-die/.  Some of his picks may surprise you!

Aired May 3, 2015.

  Tim & Daniel talk with Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, author of "One Day I'll Tell You the Things I've Seen," a collection of stories that take the reader to the US/Mexico border, to Iowa cornfields, to Madrid, and even to Turkey.  This is Santiago's 1st book to be published in English, and he explains why he made the decision to not italicize the Spanish words in the book.  Santiago is a professor in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at the University of New Mexico.  http://spanport.unm.edu/people/directory/santiago-vaquera-vasquez.html

Aired April 26, 2015.

  Daniel and Tim talk with poet Laurie Ann Guerrero and artist Maceo Montoya.  Laurie Ann is the author of "A Crown for Gumecindo," a heroic crown of sonnets written in memory of her late grandfather.  Maceo provided the illustrations for the collection.  Laurie Ann talks about why she chose to write her collection in sonnet form, and Maceo explains how his illustrations were influenced by Laurie Ann's words.  http://laurieannguerrero.com/http://maceomontoya.com/

The Poem of the Day is read by Laurie Ann Guerrero:  Sonnets 10, 11, and 12 from "A Crown for Gumecindo."

Aired April 19, 2015.

  Tim talks with Elijah Burrell, author of the poetry collection, "The Skin of the River."  This is Eli's first collection, and water and landscape play an important role in the poems, which have a narrative link.  Eli's mother was very ill when he was writing these poems, and he explains how the theme of spirituality erupts in the collection's "Plague Songs," which depict Old Testament plagues such as frogs, fire, and lice set in modern times.

Today's Poetic License comes to us from Quetzani Montaño Sevilla, who sings us an original composition, accompanied by her guitar.

And as we celebrate National Poetry Month, host Tim Hernandez shares a touching story of how poetry touched one young teen's life.

Some of the music in today's show is performed by today's guest, Elijah Burrell: "Behind That Locked Door" and "Mansion on the Hill."

Aired April 12, 2015.

  Tim talks with writer Benjamin Whitmer about his latest novel, "Cry Father," which has been compared to the works of Cormac McCarthy.  He talks about how this book grew out of a failed historical novel project, and of the importance of landscape in his writing.  Music also plays a critical role in Whitmer's life. He co-wrote a book about the great country duo, The Louvin Brothers, with Charlie Louvin.  (The music of The Louvin Brothers is heard at the end of the show - "Kentucky").  http://benjaminwhitmer.com/

In today's Poetic License, Carolynn Meuhsam-Ayoub shares a creative non-fiction peace about a wildlife project she took part in while serving in the Peace Corps in Panama.

Aired April 5, 2015.

  Daniel & Tim talk with poet David Campos, whose latest collection "Furious Dusk" won the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize.  David is the first poet out of Fresno (the home of Andrés Montoya) to win the prize, and he explains how Andrés Montoya greatly influenced his style of writing.  David is also a screenwriter, and he talks about how that experience helps him organize his poems by "building a whole movie through poems."

For the Poem of the Week, David Campos reads "A Wage-Claim Conference in Fresno," from his collection "Furious Dusk."

Aired March 29, 2015.

Daniel Chacon

  Daniel talks with Philip Connors, whose latest memoir, "All The Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found," tackles the aftermath of the 1996 suicide of Philip's brother.  As is evident by the notebooks in the picture, Philip wrote his way through the experience.  He explains how, as a suicide survivor, he felt like an "other," and actively sought to put himself in situations in which he was an outsider...all the wrong places, so to speak.  He finally found the right place in the Gila Wilderness, where he is a fire lookout.  http://www.philipconnors.com/

Aired March 22, 2015

  Daniel talks with humor writer Mike Sacks, whose latest book is "Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers."  Sacks explains why the title of the book refers to over-analyzing comedy, which is not always a good thing.  He also explains the connections between poetry & comedy - both benefit from not being overwritten.   And Sacks talks about the freedom the writers of The Simpsons were given, which explains why every episode of the show still feels fresh, despite the fact that it's a quarter-century old!  Follow Mike Sacks on Twitter https://twitter.com/michaelbsacks

In the introduction to the show, Daniel puts forth his Theory of Puns.  Why does he consider them "half a joke"?

Aired March 15, 2015.

  Daniel & Tim talk with writer & poet Brian Turner, who served seven years in the US Army. He served in Iraq and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Brian's new book, "My Life as a Foreign Country," is a memoir, and in this conversation, he explains the visions & dreams in the book and how he was able to channel the lives of soldiers of past conflicts.  http://www.brianturner.org/

Brian Turner reads the poem of the week, "Insignia," which touches upon the topic of sexual assault of women in the military.  It comes from his 2010 collection, "Phantom Noise."  

Plus, Daniel & Tim reflect on their travels, and how they often feel like foreigners in a country as familiar as Mexico.

Aired March 8, 2015.


  Daniel talks with Carlos Aceves, author of "Diadema," his first published novel.  The book was inspired by a true event.  In 2001, a spiritualist told Carlos of a vision she had of a special place in Hueco Tanks that he had to find.  Carlos discovered a symbol in a cave that signified an astronomical alignment.  Carlos also talks about his self-help book "Nine Seasons: Beyond 2012," which is a manual of ancient Aztec & Maya wisdom that we can apply to our lives today.  

In today's Poetic License, we air poems read by the late poet & activist Phil Goldvarg, who, though not Hispanic, was considered a Chicano by his fellow poets.

Aired March 1, 2015.

    In remembrance of the passing of Philip Levine, we'll hear a March 5, 2012, interview Daniel & Ben held with the then-Poet Laureate of the United States. Levine talks about his love of New York City, why he always wanted to be a poet, his life as the U.S. Poet Laureate, and how the Diego Rivera murals in Detroit influenced him as a young man. Levine also contributes this week’s Poem of the Week, reading his own poem, “Llanto” (for Ernesto Trejo).

Philip Levine died Feb. 14, 2015 at age 87.  

Aired Feb 22, 2015.

  Daniel talks with José de Piérola, a Peruvian writer and faculty member at UTEP's Bilingual MFA in Creating Writing.  He talks about the Peruvian legend that inspired his most recent book, "Pishtaco Slayer," and about his Spanish-language translations of the works of Henry James and Albert Camus.


Plus, Daniel reflects on the point in his career when he discovered he needed to write one book at a time.

Aired Feb. 15, 2015.

  Daniel talks with Martha Serpas, author of the poetry collection "The Diener."  A diener is a person who works in a morgue, handling and cleaning the corpse.  Martha, who is also a  trauma hospital chaplain at Tampa General Hospital, talks about her conversations with the hospital's diener, and how their respective jobs influenced the works in this collection.  The book not only touches on death, but on the destruction of the Gulf Coast wetlands.  http://www.marthaserpas.com/index.html

For the Poem of the week, Martha Serpas reads "Pearl Snap."

Today's Poetic License features Dayanna Sevilla singing 2 poems by Federico Garcia Lorca: "Canción del Naranjo Seco" and "Despedida," set to the music of Marta Gomez.  Sevilla accompanies herself on her Peruvian percussion instrument, the cajón. (The music you hear after Dayanna's Poetic License is Marta Gomez's rendition of "Canción del Naranjo Seco")

Plus...Daniel reflects on why he can't stand genre fiction...vampire books in particular.  He began to question his stance, however, when he experienced a sort of interaction with the dead in Buenos Aires.

Aired Feb. 8, 2014.

  Daniel talks with Martha Serpas, author of the poetry collection "The Diener."  A diener is a person who works in a morgue, handling and cleaning the corpse.  Martha, who is also a  trauma hospital chaplain at Tampa General Hospital, talks about her conversations with the hospital's diener, and how their respective jobs influenced the works in this collection.  The book not only touches on death, but on the destruction of the Gulf Coast wetlands.  

In this extended online-only interview, Martha discusses the parallels between death and the erosion of the wetlands.  She also explains why a chaplain's job isn't necessarily there to comfort one's suffering, but to help them be present to what's happening around them.


Aired Feb. 8, 2015.

  Daniel talks with Kyle Minor, author of "Praying Drunk," a collection of stories which won the Story Prize Spotlight Award (http://thestoryprize.blogspot.com/2015/01/praying-drunk-by-kyle-minorthis-years.html).  The book places little distinction between fiction and memory, and explores many of Minor's obsessions.   http://kyleminor.com/

In today's Poetic License, writer Joseph Rios reflects on the loss of his friend Michele Serros, the Chicano writer & poet who died January 4, 2015.

Plus, Daniel explains why metaphors are best used to understand reality...and why it's "turtles all the way down."

Aired Feb. 1, 2015.

  Daniel talks with Kyle Minor, author of "Praying Drunk," a collection of stories which won the Story Prize Spotlight Award (http://thestoryprize.blogspot.com/2015/01/praying-drunk-by-kyle-minorthis-years.html).  The book places little distinction between fiction and memory, and explores many of Minor's obsessions.   http://kyleminor.com/  (This is an online, extended edition of the interview which aired on KTEP).

Aired Feb. 1, 2015.

  Daniel & Tim talk with Maria Miranda Maloney, founder of Mouthfeel Press (http://www.mouthfeelpress.com/) and author of the collection of poems, "The Lost Letters of Mileva."  Mileva Maric was Albert Einstein's first wife, and was herself a physicist who gave up a life in science to dedicate to her husband and family.  Maloney explains how her husband's deployment to Iraq as well as a debilitating illness influenced the writings in the collection.   Maloney also explains why, even though she is the founder of an indie press, she refuses to publish her own works.

For today's Poetic License, Dayanna Sevilla sings the Cesar Vallejo poem "Heces."  The program concludes with Susana Baca's original musical interpretation of the poem.

Aired Jan 11, 2015.

  Daniel talks with former U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, who at age 86 has released a collection of essays called "Essays After Eighty."  Hall talks about why old age is "a ceremony of losses," and why old age can make one feel like an extraterrestrial.  He also talks about his crazy beard and explains why poetry is a "bodily art" that is lost with testosterone upon aging.  This interview was recorded by phone in Donald Hall's great-grandmother's rural farmhouse in New Hampshire, and the phone lines sound about as old as the house!  We hope you'll take the time to listen to this interview in a quiet environment...

Our poem of the week is read by Quetzani Montaño-Sevilla.  It's "A Beard for a Blue Pantry" by today's guest, Donald Hall.

Aired Jan. 4, 2015.

    We welcome new co-host Tim Hernandez, a past guest on the program and a new member of the UTEP faculty in the Creative Writing Program.  Daniel &  Tim will talk to poet Natalie Diaz about her book "When My Brother was an Aztec."  Natalie explains how the Arizona landscape inspires her writing, and why her poetry is so image-driven.   She also shares a great story about the book's cover.

Natalie Diaz reads one of her poems for the Poem of the Week: "The Gospel of Guy No-Horse" from the collection "When My Brother was an Aztec."

Aired Dec. 28, 2014.



  We proudly re-air Words on a Wire's 2013 Christmas show, which originally aired Dec. 22, 2013!  Ben & Daniel celebrate the Christmas season with reflections on their favorite memories.  Ben remembers making tamales with his mom when he was young, a tradition he continues to this day.  Daniel remembers proudly writing a Christmas poem about Santa driving a Cadillac...only to find out that his teacher doubted his authorship.  And Ben & Daniel also talk about their favorite Christmas songs and the memories they conjure.  Ben's favorite is "I'll be Home for Christmas," which he says idealizes the often-unattainable concept of "home."  Daniel tears up every time he hears "The Little Drummer Boy."  Ben will also read T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi."

Aired Dec. 21, 2014.

Poet Mark Strand died at the age of 80 on November 29th.  

Originally broadcast on Nov. 11, 2012, this is an online exclusive extended interview with former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, Mark Strand.  Strand talks about why he grew weary of writing poetry, a process which he considers difficult.  He also talks about the challenges of overcoming the fame of his 2 most famous works, “Eating Poetry” and “Keeping Things Whole.”  Strand also reflects on why computers have changed the face and sound of poetry, and why the search for nothing, a common theme in “Almost Invisible,” eventually becomes about something.For this week’s Poem of the Week, Mark Strand reads “The Poem of the Spanish Poet” from his latest collection of prose poetry, “Almost Invisible.”

Aired July 14, 2013.

  Daniel & Ben talk with Kseniya Melnik, author of the short story collection "Snow in May."  The stories are set during the Soviet Union in the far eastern Russian town of Magadan, where Kseniya spent her youth before coming to America.  Kseniya shares some of her early memories of Magadan, and why the town served her stories so well.  One of her stories is a fictional account about the true-life tale of Russian singer Vadim Kozin, who was sentenced by the Stalinist regime to the labor camps of Magadan for mysterious reasons.  (The song heard immediately after the interview is Kozin's "Druzhba.")  http://www.kseniyamelnik.com/

Our poem of the week is Dylan Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," read by UTEP MFA student, Sam Calvin Brown.  (Today's guest, Kseniya Melnik, was recently short-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize for her book, "Snow in May.")

Today's Poetic License comes from writer and retired teacher, Azucena Dominguez.  She shares an early childhood memory of her brother - "My Brother, My Hero."

And...Daniel reflects on how those books sitting on your shelves that you've never read are waiting for the right time for you to read them.