Janel Pineda’s debut poetry chapbook Lineage of Rain (2021) is striking in all the right ways. From its playful experiments with form and structure to its moving descriptions of the female figures in her life (“perhaps this why all my poems / are about the sun, about coming from / women who have survived / by chasing it…women who leave / the second they suspect / a flood”), Janel always leaves the reader spellbound and wanting more.
Even today, poetry is overwhelmingly white both as a genre and a community, often silencing poets of color. In embracing her Salvadoran heritage, Janel refuses to stay quiet.
In pieces like “When the Death Squad Comes,” she engages in questions of migration, war, and pain that endures despite generational and geographical bounds. She witnesses her family’s life-long struggle with Spanish and English and parallels that journey with her own in “How English Came to Me.”
But Lineage of Rain is also a celebration. Recounting the day Janel was accepted into University of London and giving thanks to her older sister for her sacrifices to get there in “To the Eldest Daughter,” the collection carries the pain of the past in its pages without forgetting the moments of joy, both experienced and yet to come.
Janel Pineda and Sofía Aguilar caught up to discuss the process of publishing her first chapbook, how she prepares for performances, and her hopes for her career and the Salvadoran diaspora. Her answers have been lightly edited for length.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Describe yourself in one sentence.
JANEL PINEDA: I am a Los Angeles-born Salvadoran poet and educator invested in the power of poetry as a tool for healing, movement building, and intergenerational dialogue.
I wanted to share how I have carried the stories of my people with me – whether that be memories of war and migration or folklore and mythology or even the mundane moments of my childhood or daily life.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did you discover your love of writing?
JANEL PINEDA: I fell in love with the craft of storytelling through the cuentos my grandmother told me as a kid. Some of this is depicted in my poem “Rain” – I used to beg my grandmother to tell me stories again and again because I was so captivated by how she used language to bring new worlds to life. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer and I naturally gravitated to reading often.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Tell us about your debut chapbook Lineage of Rain!
JANEL PINEDA: My chapbook, Lineage of Rain, is a collection of poems that celebrates family and community, that reflects on the legacies of Salvadoran history, and that explores my journey in navigating through elite spaces and academia. I wanted to craft a collection that honors the lineages I come from and how they inform my life as a diasporic person. I wanted to share how I have carried the stories of my people with me – whether that be memories of war and migration or folklore and mythology or even the mundane moments of my childhood or daily life.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: The arrangement of words on the page in poetry can tell a story of their own. In Lineage of Rain, what story were you trying to tell?
JANEL PINEDA: I love playing with different forms and how they can help shape the narrative in a poem. The first poem in the book, “In Another Life” is written in couplets because I find the couplet to be such a world-making form, one that builds story primarily through powerful images. It also evokes the dialectic between the “other life” being created in the poems, that stands in contrast to the life that is. I also love the sonnet form – my poem “When the Men Come Looking,” for example, is a sonnet about the Siguanaba figure, which appears across various Central American mythologies. There was something really special to me about writing my version of the Siguanaba into a European form, to push back against the idea of what can be “worthy” of a sonnet. Politics of form aside, I also love the sonnet’s effectiveness in packing a succinct punch with a clear volta toward the end of the poem.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Much of the chapbook touches upon migration, war, flight, and liberation. In doing so, poems like “In Another Life” imagine a world without that violence. For you, how does imagining a different version of the Salvadoran experience begin to heal that generational trauma?
JANEL PINEDA: I wanted to tell a story about my people, my diaspora, without hurt, without pain. I wanted to imagine us without the violences of war, migration, US imperialism, colonization. It has been healing to share this poem with other Salvadorans, Central Americans, and diasporas beyond these specific contexts, to see how much this poem resonates with people. There’s a beauty in being able to build out this world, to let it exist, even within the lines of this poem.
I am moved by the ways Salvadoran women have taken care of one another, sacrificed for one another, uplifted one another even in the face of so much hardship. And yet, I want a world where we don’t have to sacrifice for anyone or anything, not for our families, not even for each other.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Lineage of Rain is also a love letter to women, including your grandmother, mother, and sisters. What are your hopes for Salvadoran women in the face of patriarchal violence and for the Salvadoran diaspora overall?
JANEL PINEDA: I am moved by the ways Salvadoran women have taken care of one another, sacrificed for one another, uplifted one another even in the face of so much hardship. And yet, I want a world where we don’t have to sacrifice for anyone or anything, not for our families, not even for each other. I am invested in honoring sacrifice, but I don’t ever want to fall into the mistake of romanticizing it. Salvadoran women carry so much responsibility and expectations for how we should live and how we should care for all those around us. I want a world where we are free not only to dream but to actively pursue those dreams without guilt or shame, and to do so with the trust that our community shares in our responsibilities and commitment to care.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice do you have for those hoping to pursue a career in writing or who have never tried?
JANEL PINEDA: Find poets whose work moves you. Follow your instincts, your taste, your inclinations to search for the work that speaks to you the most and that really resonates with you. Let your own tastes teach you – if you’re drawn to a particular poem or poet, why? Pay attention to how they captivate you and let those lessons serve you in your own poetry journey. You got this. We need your unique voice, your stories, your vision.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: With Lineage of Rain now released, what plans do you have for upcoming projects or pieces?
JANEL PINEDA: Now that Lineage of Rain is out in the world, I wonder how I might approach new work with more permission to explore other topics and build on the ones I’ve already immersed myself in. I’m excited to be working toward developing a full-length collection of poetry.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Where online can readers find you and purchase a copy of Lineage of Rain?
JANEL PINEDA: You can order a signed copy directly from me at my website janelpineda.com. The book is available for sale from Haymarket Books, Bookshop, and can be ordered from your local independent bookstore as well! You can follow me on Twitter.