I first heard Xánath Caraza read her work last year in Milwaukee at "Cantos Latinos! A Mosaic of Latino Poetry," a poetry and panel of quite diverse Latino poets assembled at the city's library. Xánath sort of blew me away with her reading. I recall her dark hair and a red shawl that, on her, resembled a queenly sort of cape, but what I remember most was the forceful passion she put into the poems she read, the wake-up punch of each word, how, the longer she read, the less her Spanish sounded like language and more like raw sound. I kept thinking of Shangó, the Yoruba deity (or orisha) of lightning and thunder and one whose presence is often associated with music, specifically the percussive power of drums. Her voice had that kind of command to it. I could not imagine a better title for her collection Conjuro, which is the Spanish word for a spell or incantation. She recently spoke to me from her home in Kansas City, and I learned as much about her consideration of culture and history in her work as I did about the sway color holds over it. "Poetry is a feeling of orange," she writes in "Linguistic Filigree." I wanted to know more.
ET: I saw you hold a crowd rapt when you read in Milwaukee last year, particular with "Yanga," which felt like one of the central poems of this book, both in its homage to how Africa has helped shape Latin American history *and* because oral tradition has a powerful claim in your work. Let's talk about Yanga first. Tell us who he was.