By Will McClure
When one wishes to share their thoughts and experiences, they have different ways in which they can do so from talking about them with others, writing in a journal, or even putting it into verse by way of poetry. For Stamford's Carlos "Charlie" Cantu, he would choose the latter, as his collection of poetry, compiled over many years with some originally written on napkins, was recently published by Clear Fork Publishing in Stamford. The collection, entitled Mesquites, is made up of different poems written about the many different experiences in Cantu's life and features verse in both English and Spanish. Although writing was merely something he did on the side while he pursued an eventual career in social work, Cantu began to write poems based on things in his life and what he had seen, writing his first poems in his 20s while working in restaurants and originally attending culinary school. Despite not writing as much as he did when he was younger, stating that the most recent poem in the collection was written in 1987 before he began the process of gathering all of his poetry together, Cantu has been able to see his work shared with the people of Stamford. With a lifetime of stories and thoughts now in the printed word, Cantu took some time to discuss his book and his life leading up to its publication.
Cantu said that he chose the name of the collection, Mesquites, as a reflection of his life and how the book is structured. He stated that the mesquite tree grows in its own path and can do anything that it wishes, going in different directions as it grows. As such, Cantu stated that the tree was a representation of his life as he moved around the state and gathered many different life experiences. Before writing his first poems on napkins, Cantu grew up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, graduating from San Benito before moving on to study in four different colleges starting in the Brownsville Junior College before moving on to Texas A&M, Stephen F. Austin and finally University of Texas in Panhandle. It was also during this time in which Cantu traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to work as a cook and a waiter where he would also begin writing his poetry. He would then teach English as a Second Language for three years before accepting a position with the Texas Department of Human Services in 1973.
Over the next 15 years, Cantu would work with Child Protective Services all around Texas working as a hearing officer, personnel officer, and later daycare services. His work would eventually lead him to Abilene where he would work to recruit Hispanics to work in the Abilene area. He would move back to Austin to work in the cheese and butter program, earning the nickname "Carlos Queso" or "Charlie Cheese" before returning to Abilene as a personnel officer. After going to San Angelo and then back to Abilene in 1990, Cantu retired from the state in 1998 and began working in Stamford at Stamford Residence and Rehab, then known as Teakwood, as a contract social worker. There, he would meet his future wife of now 17 years, Caron, who worked as a nurse at the time.
When discussing the collection, Cantu said that the structure represents the mesquite tree and the poems are placed in no real order or groups, allowing the reader to focus on each poem as its own entity in contrast to it falling into a certain category. Many of his inspirations for the poems came from his life experiences, such as the poem entitled "Return to A.C." which reflects on his time in Atlantic City and how much it had changed since his time there to a simple interpretation of looking at a neon light on a foggy night in "Foggy Nights." The poems range from thought-provoking, sorrowful verse to humorous tones that would appeal to any reader. In choosing to write in both English and Spanish within the same poem, Cantu said that he did this in order to appeal to the English and Spanish readers while at the same time leaving enough context within the lines to be able to translate the words.
After amassing a large collection of poetry by 1987, Cantu decided that he wanted to print the book by taking his work to a printing company to print the book himself without a formal publisher. It was not until he met Clear Fork Publishing owner Callie Metler-Smith, who was giving a speech about publishing during an Abilene seminar, that he was able to get the book formally published. Although changes were made from the original printed book, Mesquites still represents who Carlos Cantu is as he sees his work spread to a wider audience. Cantu said that while he did not know if there would be any interest in his work, he is happy to see his poetry published where it can connect with the reader. Ultimately, Cantu said that it is not about the money, but rather getting that connection with the reader on a deeper level, stating that if just one person reads and relates to the printed verses, then the collection would be a success.
Congratulations to Mr. Carlos Cantu on the publication of Mesquites! Copies of this collection of thought-provoking poetry are available at Noteworthy bookstore in Stamford as well as online at clearforkpublishing.com