Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020) Bad Mexican, Bad American (Acre Books, 2024), The Parachutist (Sundress Publications, 2025) and Portrait of the Artist as a Brown Man (Red Hen Press, 2025). He has been published in The Yale Review, The London Magazine, and in The Southern Review. He teaches generative workshops for Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshops, The Writer’s Center, and elsewhere. Additionally, he serves as a Poetry Mentor in The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program.

I really fell in love with the poems in Bad Mexican, Bad American. The poems in the first section are largely in verse and the rest of the collection’s three sections have poems exclusively in prose: How do you view this book’s relationship between the poems in lineation and the poems in prose?

The first section, in linear verse, tends to be autobiographical poetry about my real life growing up first-gen Mexican American, back and forth between Northern Orange County and Southeast Los Angeles. There are a few prose poems in the first section, however, that are not entirely autobiographical.

The rest of the book is written in prose poetry, often surreal, often absurdist, often with Mexican and Mexican American imagery and/or settings. As far as why dual or varied aesthetics/forms? I like to play the blues, Ranchera, psychedelic and Mariachi. I try not to put limits, borders, or boundaries on myself.

Bad Mexican, Bad American feels very close to the poet but also, at other times, feels distant. How do you view the relationship between the poet and the speaker in this collection?

Yes, some of the poems are more confessional, personal, autobiographical. Others are more surreal, absurd, and existential. I contain multitudes as Whitman said. 

I thought about separating the books into separate collections: autobiographical linear verse and prose poetry, but then thought: no, I’ll mix it up as it is a closer representation of my complex self and my hybrid aesthetics… more representative than if I split the books into only showcasing one style or aesthetic. Plus, I hadn’t really seen such a varied voice or aesthetic in other contemporary poetry books, so I thought: why not break boundaries and be different/innovative.

You had The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press) publish in 2020 and Bad Mexican, Bad American (Acre Books) publish this year and two collections, The Parachutist (Sundress Publications) and Portrait of the Artist as a Brown Man (Red Hen Press), forthcoming in 2025: How has this success and exposure impacted your writing?

I have been more calm lately in terms of not feeling as much pressure to write. Trying to balance my life out more, not just as focused on the writing. Teaching more. Going to more readings. Early on I felt more pressure to have a book published and out in the world. Now, I want to enjoy being an author with various books out and on the way and no pressure to produce. Can take a deep breath and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 

The first poem of yours I ever read was “The Jaguar and the Mango” from the January 2020 issue of Poetry Magazine which is a prose poem. Why is the prose poem the perfect form for this sort of personified exploration in the poem?

I think it is the perfect form for condensed writing and you can still get a scene or an angle of storytelling in. Sometimes we just need a window into a scene not the whole backstory and inner monologues. We sometimes want to fill in the blanks on our own. Minimalism, haiku, short stories, have always been fascinating to me for their brevity and intensified mode/power of expression.

Your chapbook The Fire Eater is all prose poems and Bad Mexican, Bad American is primarily prose poems. What is it about the prose poem form that keeps you returning to it?

It hasn’t gotten old to me. I still love writing a vibrant prose poem. The discovery, spontaneity, freedom, The associative leaps. The imagination, The pace of it, musicality. The voice. The persona. The art of condensed writing.

There’s a lot of discourse surrounding the composing of poems in lineation and poems in prose. Do you feel that the form dictates how you approach writing the poem?

For me: my autobiographical work tends to be primarily in linear verse while my fictional or surreal work tends to be in prose poetry. Not always, but generally this is how it works for me.

After drafting a poem, how do you approach revision?

After getting the first draft on the page I will go back and read it to myself until I get it just right paying attention to line break and form if it’s a poem, specificity of imagery, do I need more description, or less description, musicality, titles, awkward moments which need to be blended in a seamless way, and overall wow factor, does the poem leave me wanting to read it over and over in awe..

Your publications range from first issues of magazines to well-established journals, what advice do you have for emerging writers who are submitting their poems to literary magazines/journals?

I like to have a range of submissions and publications. Would be a long and boring wait if I only submitted to the heavy hitters. It also feels good to be part of a journal’s early issues and help get them off to a good start. This is a poetry community and oftentimes you can connect more with smaller journals. With that said I like to be in fancy journals like anyone else, can’t deny it, so I always send out to dream journals as well even though they require more patience and perseverance. 

My advice: prolific writers are always prolific readers first, rejections don’t always mean bad, talent is important and worth ethic but also we must have the ability to bounce back in the face of constant rejection and knock on doors to places we might feel like are too big for us or we’re imposters for trying to get into.

Bad Mexican, Bad American is a collection that challenges its readers, but it’s also a collection that allows the reader to have some fun as well. When you’re reading a collection, what is it about the experience that makes a book spectacular for you?

I love getting pulled into the language, storyline, imagery, voice, persona, politics, struggle, humor, craft of it, passion of it, duende, Kafkaesque quality, deadpan, codeswitching, Spanglish, barrio poems, hood poems, surrealism, gritty realism, honesty, vulnerability, empowerment, love.

For writers soon to be leaving MFA programs, what is a piece of advice you wish you had coming out of your MFA program?

The book publication process is a marathon not a sprint. Time will help the process. Patience is difficult but a virtue. Time also allows for fresh eyes with revision. Enjoy the small victories along the way. Don’t compare yourself to other writers though this is hard to avoid. Treat others how you want to be treated. Call your parents, if they’re supportive, on the weekend.


––Tyler Michael Jacobs, Blog Co-Editor