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* new chapbook! *

* new chapbook! *

I am happy to announce that my new chapbook – Corpus Christi Octaves – is officially available from Flutter Press! Purchasing info here.

This collection is made up of two elegiac sequences and an interlude. My goal with the two sequences is to honor my friends both for what they meant to me but also for the poets they were. In discussing Donald Justice’s championing of Weldon Kees recently with a friend, I found myself saying: “We gotta keep each other alive somehow.” There’s some of that in these sequences. My model in the spirit of the poems is Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, whose eloquent series on the poet Cavafy never ceases to amaze me in its ability to pay tribute both to the poet and to the craft of poetry. The interlude delves a bit deeper both into the setting, South Texas, as well as my own role of poet/elegist. The poems here meditate on different facets of the themes brought up in the sequences.

Another thing that marks this collection is the use of syllabics. In each of the eight-line poems, I work out a syllabic pattern, the jolt and jar of which allows for surprises as well as a sense of brevity and preciousness. This project took me back to when I was in 2nd grade and someone had showed me the 5-7-5 count of haiku, which then started me on the path of sitting in silence, wagging fingers in the air, doling out each word.

Here’s a sample:

Snow

The snow today brings back the first snow,

     white like this, at turns pristine,

     then bitter like this, broken

by steps whose depths can’t be guessed like this.

 

We’ve treated one another like snow,

     watched each other fall and drift.

     You have come today like snow,

and made me pause. And like snow you leave.

***

Special thanks to Andrea Schreiber for the remarkable ink painting commissioned for the cover. She did a great job of capturing a Corpus Christi icon, the miradores which line the sea wall:

* life imitating art *

* life imitating art *

Special thanks also to John Drury, Daniel Groves, and Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for their wonderful comments on the back cover.

A very special thanks to Sandy Benitez, editor of Flutter Press, for helping me find a home for this project. Flutter Press is a micro poetry press that utilizes print on demand (POD) technology to publish modern, beautiful chapbooks, 6″ x 9″, with glossy covers. They have published collections by Howie Good and Dale Wisely. Find out more about the press here.

And thank you to everyone who has supported me along the road of doling out words!

See you Friday,

Jose

Reading Jamaal May’s Hum this week, I found much to admire – he works out not one but two solid sestinas and a pantoum as well as some versatile lyrical free verse throughout. What moved me most is his ability to move each poem beyond formal concerns and invest it with some emotional weight and insight.

The poem below is a great example of what I mean. May uses the elasticity of the word “If” to draw out as many facets of a couple of everyday objects as he can. When he leaves the reader with the image of a plastic bag at the end, he does so in such a way as to draw out something new from a familiar image.

* getting carried away *

* getting carried away *

 

If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister
in a Chinese Takeout Box 
– Jamaal May

If an urn won’t do because ceramics
are not biodegradable and you need your ashes
buried in the plot next to your estranged wife
where you can help her feed the worms,
nurture soil, and lift trees into the sky –

If your obit is scrawled on notebook paper,
ripped out and photocopied,
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
faint like soap scum collected
on a mirror above the motel sink
you were found slumped beneath –

If they hand your remains to your sister
in a Chinese takeout box, give thanks
for the giggling of your niece and give thanks
for this moment when, after tearing
a liquor-stenched wound down the middle
of this family, it for once won’t be mentioned

as they gather. Take solace that the plastic bag
carrying you to the cemetery will,
instead of joining you underground,
spend decades holding hands with a breeze
wandering around some landfill somewhere
repeating in bold red font,

THANK YOU
THANK YOU
THANK YOU
THANK YOU
THANK YOU

***

Happy thanking!

Jose

Last week I had the honor of participating in CantoMundo, a three-day retreat that develops, sustains, and supports a diverse community of Latina/o poets.

Being an introvert, I was a bit apprehensive of jumping into such a social gathering, my main concern being: What if they don’t like me? (I’m surprised by how much one remains in the sandbox no matter how old one gets).

* scared poet is scared *

* scared poet is scared *

Fortunately, the whole crew, including keynote speaker Sherwin Bitsui and Master Poets Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rafael Campo, were warm and welcoming. By the second night, this happened:

* scared poet is (a little less) scared *

* scared poet is (a little less) scared *

During Rafael Campo’s workshop, I was delighted to be introduced to the work of Rhina P. Espaillat.

The poem below belongs to the tradition of Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” a poem honoring the hard work of family. Espaillat’s masterful attention to the tension to be generated between narrative and measure really help drive home the heart of the poem.

The last two lines especially captivated me.

Both lines are five beats each, but note how much work the commas do: in the second to last line, three beats are held in place by a comma, then two more follow also held back, then the line break takes us into the next line where the first beat is reined in by another comma – all of this building tension (3-2/1-4 beat breakdown, respectively) allows the last phrase of the poem to really be sunk into while reading, the four beats driving home in rhythm what the words drive home in meaning.

**

“Find Work” – Rhina P. Espaillat

 

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl –
Life’s little duties do — precisely
As the very least
Were infinite — to me –

 

– Emily Dickinson, #443

 

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm , her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do –
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief –
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

***

Happy finding!

Jose

 

Last week’s online reading/interview had me going over the “constellation of poets” that influenced my life and writing in another life. Like the stars keep changing position, so poets move around in my head. I was driven, however, to dig up this week’s poem and reread it, surprised that I hadn’t posted it at some point.

The poem below’s meditation on language uses questions of maybe and what if to blow up and expand the possibilities of words. It creates a space that I am happy to return to ten years after first reading it.

In another poem, Gilbert says: We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars. I count this poem as one that has helped in my unlearning.

* starry night unlearned *

* starry night unlearned *

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart – Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

***

Happy ambering!

Jose

This past Tuesday night I had the pleasure of taking part in Pretty Owl Poetry’s Online Reading Series.

The reading/interview was conducted through Google+ and was a blast despite a few technical difficulties. Because of the nature of the interview – specifically the part in which I am given permission to ramble and bumble in my own awkward way – I thought I’d share the link along with some of the highlights of the reading, so folks could navigate through my loquaciousness (as can be noted in the interview, the BIG words only come out in writing).

Follow along with the reading here.

HIGHLIGHTS

 from 3:49 – 10:45 = 3 poems!

Here is the “reading” portion of the reading. The pieces read are “Stream” (published by Pretty Owl Poetry here) as well as “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” (published in the Acentos Review here) and “Naos and the Spirit Picture” (published in a digital chapbook here).

from 11:08 – 14:24 = craft talk!

Here I respond to a question from editor Rose Huber about the piece “Stream” which has gone through several mutations since first being drafted in 2006.

*

A little into the following question, I cut out both sound-wise and image-wise. Then I’m promptly replaced by this guy:

* oops *

* oops *

Despite his stern look and sudden goatee, I thank this gentleman for intervening for, because of him, folks are spared from having to deal with my teeth on camera which are HUGE.

*

from 19:19 – 26:33 = blog! reading! astrology!

This stretch includes Kelly Andrews asking me both about the thinking behind this blog as well as reading.

Then, after mentioning the astrological underpinnings of the blog, Gordon Buchan jumps in and I totally geek out about astrology and writers.

Writers astrologically discussed:

- Kafka, Neruda (Cancer)
– Jack Gilbert (Aquarius)
– Rilke (Sagittarius)
– Charles Simic (Taurus)
– Yeats, Garrett Hongo (Gemini)
– Borges, Charles Wright, myself (Virgo)

*

from 28:09 – 30:47 = mas craft talk!

Lastly, here Gordon jumps right back in and asks another question about craft which leads me to discuss ideas of lyricism and personal/generative distinctions between prose and poetry.

*

Special thanks again to Rose, Kelly, & Gordon for inviting me to participate!

Between this reading and the release of “Naos: an introduction,” it’s been an unexpectedly big week.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible!

*

Happy possibling!

Jose

I am happy to announce that my digital chapbook “Naos: an introduction” is officially out on the Right Hand Pointing site!

Here’s the “Introduction to an Introduction”:

Once again, Anne Rice is at fault. The VHS copy I had of Interview with the Vampire came with an introduction by the author in which she spoke of the character Lestat in terms of persona: how he was her devil, her dark lover, her alter ego, and possibly her conscience. The character Naos is none of these things for me. But I have gone back to the memory often over the years, and thought of Anne breaking down a persona as a fulcrum to get at other facets of self. The word naos comes from the Greek, and means sanctuary, the innermost chamber of a temple. I came across the word in a dictionary of forgotten words, read it, put it in my pocket. I reached for this word when I found myself working on poems I wasn’t sure were mine, poems that made me feel as though I had stumbled upon an innermost chamber of a thought. Which is where Naos lives. Not the brain, more like the mind, or a poem. Things that hold, only as long as we do.

Read the rest of the chapbook here.

I’m so excited, I’ve gone transparent!

* it's transparently so *

* it’s transparently so *

Special thanks to Dale Wisely for giving me this opportunity & to Laura Kaminski for editorial feedback!

Part of the fun of the project beyond persona-ing was working out some formal games. Each poem follows a pattern of 5 in one way or another: either in the poem being five lines or being in five couplets (and sometimes a combination of the two). I also noodled around a bit with syllabics, each lyric having its own measure.

*

One more update: I’ve recently revamped the Poems tab and included some more recent publications including flash fiction and book reviews as well as recent publications in Pretty Owl Poetry, Short, Fast, and Deadly and Prick of the Spindle – the latter of which includes 3 more poems in the Naos series.

*

I believe this is now officially longer than most of my regular Friday posts. Excitement = loquaciousness!

See you Friday!

Jose

* Ink brush drawing by Ani!

Towards the end of our trip this week, we stopped by Delta Ponds, a patch of wetlands near where Ani’s family lives.

The lyric sequence below, inspired by the sights and sounds of the walk, is shared as a sort of thank you to the travel gods.

* Pond-ering *

* Pond-ering *

Delta Ponds – Jose Angel Araguz

 

Dragonflies rising
from the grass, lighting on
a tall, sun-bleached reed.

*

Black snake slithers through the rocks,
mirrored by its yellow stripe.

*

The sound of heron
wings – turning the page so fast,
all words fall away.

*

The turtle sunning mid-pond:
so far, just a blot of ink.

*

Dust across my feet
and sandals, each step taken
stirs and covers me.

*

The slow step of the heron:
water still, and still again.

*

She says the heron’s
the color of my favorite
shirt as it flies off.

*

Holding my breath through a cloud
of gnats, words bat from all sides.

*

Heron’s neck – from “S”
to straight – how does one learn to
write, then stand apart?

* from heron out *

* from heron out *

Happy heroning!

Jose

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