Words can make all the difference
By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor
Based on her experience in both careers, Luisa Caycedo-Kimura believes that attorneys and poets have one important thing in common: a love of words.
For her, both careers also offer an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Her goal as a lawyer was to work with victims of domestic abuse. Now, as a poet, she said, “I’m trying to give people a voice in a different way.”
Caycedo-Kimura, who is in residence this month at the Anderson Center at Tower View, came from Colombia to New York City with her parents as a child.
She studied law partly because pursuing a traditional career “was the acceptable thing to do at the time,” but primarily “because I wanted to do something I felt would make a difference.”
Initially she found work in Connecticut doing family law for a nonprofit, but that position ended and she instead was assigned to housing, helping people who were being evicted.
“I realized I wasn’t happy,” Caycedo-Kimura said, “but I wasn’t sure what I should be doing.” A lover of words, she enjoyed working on documents, but that offered little opportunity for creativity. She did not want to be a litigator.
She left law for a time, trying other occupations including substitute teaching, but ultimately returned to her original career and found work drafting documents for a real estate investment trust company. Again, she said, “I didn’t feel like I was doing anything that to me was significant.”
In 2009, “I came to a point where I felt it was time to move on.”
Caycedo-Kimura was drawn to literature and looked into returning to school. “I had been writing on my own — fiction,” she said. But taking that step would have a major impact not only on her but also on her husband, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, a painter and graphic artist.
“He said ‘Go for it.’ It was a bit of a crazy move, but I think it was the right move,” she said.
On a Friday she spent the day working as an attorney. The next Monday she was an undergraduate student at Southern Connecticut State University taking classes in literature and creative writing — classes she hoped would provide her with the credentials to get into a master of fine arts program.
“That’s when I started writing poetry,” Caycedo-Kimura said. The fiction classes were closed, so she signed up for a poetry class. “It was right,” she said. “It just seemed to fit.”
Two years ago she entered the accelerated MFA program at Boston University on the recommendation of BU’s Robert Pinsky, a three-time poet laureate who called her after reading her application submissions.
She found her voice there.
It’s much easier to make a living as an attorney, she admitted. However, “I’m so much happier. That to me is worth so much more than money.”
Caycedo-Kimura also has discovered that she enjoys working with students, particularly classes in creative writing that she will again teach in the fall at BU.
“It opens up students’ worlds,” she explained. “So many classes are about learning some rules. … Creative writing is about expressing yourself and finding your voice.”
There’s a therapeutic aspect to writing, too. “When you write poetry you are able to say things you wouldn’t have said otherwise,” she said.
And as a teacher, “You feel like you’re touching people’s lives deep at the core.”
One of the problems is that people are afraid of poetry, she said. “They have a lot of flawed ideas about what poetry is. … Poetry is for everybody. It’s not some elite art that is reserved for a few people.”
Now that her formal education is completed, Caycedo-Kimura has a new goal: “Being an advocate for poetry.” She will do that as a teacher, but she also plans to start contacting organizations and individuals about ways to make poetry accessible through readings and workshops.
She is at the Anderson Center as the 2014 recipient of the John K. Walsh Residency Fellowship, a collaborative effort with the University of Notre Dame’s Institute of Latino Studies.
There are few Colombian poets writing in English, she said, noting that a number of her published works reflect her heritage, including “Tale of Colombian Earth” and “1951 Dawn in the Colombian Andes,” both published last year in Louisiana Literature.
That publication also featured her poem “Assumption,” which is the working title of her first book of poems. As a word lover, she chose the title because “You can interpret it in many different ways.”
She went through her journal the other day and realized she’s making good progress.
“I’ve accomplished a lot more than I realized,” Caycedo-Kimura said, giving credit to the Tower View program for enabling her to “share space with people who are passionate about what they are doing.”
She will read some of her work at a free Meet the Artists event at 7 p.m. July 29 in the Anderson Center barn.
Meet the Artists
Who: July artists in residence
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. July 29
Where: Anderson Center historic barn
How much: Free
More info: 651-388-2009