Congratulations to Alejandro Pérez-Cortés, who teaches Spanish at North Creek High School and was named the winner of this year’s Paz Poetry Prize. Pérez-Cortés submitted an original manuscript of poetry in Spanish to the contest, which is named in honor of the late Nobel Prize-winning poet, Octavio Paz. Pérez-Cortés’ award-winning manuscript, “Ima and Coli: The Tree that was never a Seed / Ima y Coli: El Árbol que nunca fue Semilla,” is his own genesis and chronology of his home state, Colima, Mexico. The manuscript, now book, will be translated and published in both English and Spanish.
“For poetry and literature lovers like me, Octavio Paz is fundamental to read in order to understand Mexican contemporary poetry and Mexican history,” said Pérez-Cortés. “I am honored to be awarded with a prize that has his last name.”
Pérez-Cortés has taught Spanish 100 and 200 at North Creek, as well as Bothell High, and while poetry can be challenging for beginner and intermediate classes, he has brought other forms of expressive art into the classroom. His students have created Alebrijes, which are mythological creatures from southern Mexico, altars for Day of the Dead and social issue piñatas to display at the school. Without students knowing, he has also adapted one of his poems for his students’ Spanish levels and then had them identify Spanish/English cognates and translate some of the metaphors. Students have also written different endings for the poem.
“This allowed students to do some creative writing by destroying my poem, in a good way of course,” said Pérez-Cortés. “It was fun to see how they played with my poem without knowing that the author was right in front of them.”
While Pérez-Cortés is now an award-winning poet, he attributes his writing ability to his reading skills.
“I believe that reading is what promotes writing and creative writing,” he said. “My very personal belief is that writing is made up of 5% inspiration and 95% reading. I consider myself a good reader. When it comes to writing, I like to think of myself as a person who is still learning.”
He identifies as a learner and says he has been honing his skill for many years. Pérez-Cortés has numerous stories that were published in Mexican newspapers and magazines in Colima. Two years ago he was invited to collaborate in an English poetry anthology because of his membership in an ongoing poetry workshop that meets monthly. Pérez-Cortés has 12 poems included in the anthology, which is titled “Soundings from the Salish Sea - a Pacific Northwest Poetry Anthology.”
Humbled by this award, Pérez-Cortés said, “It brings me contentment that my manuscript has been recognized in the U.S.,” said Pérez-Cortés. “As a Spanish speaker and an immigrant, it deepens my love for this country, because it shows that cultural diversity is appreciated and foreign languages are valued.”