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We’ve had some steady days of clouds making their way over us. The early mornings have been looking something like this:

* greyer days *

* greyer days *

In my work, I’ve been working with repetition in some recent poems of mine, trying to incorporate repeating words and images conceptually. The poem below by Tomas Tranströmer is a good model for what I mean. Each time a word or image is repeated, it is reembodied and adds to the overall effect. It’s almost as if the first “blow” in the beginning of the poem sets the details of the poem in motion.

A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer

The storm put its mouth to the house
and blows to get a tone.
I toss and turn, my closed eyes
reading the storm’s text.

The child’s eyes grow wide in the dark
and the storm howls for him.
Both love the swinging lamps;
both are halfway towards speech.

The storm has the hands and wings of a child.
Far away, travellers run for cover.
The house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm in our rooms,
where the echoes of all footsteps rest
like sunken leaves in a pond,
but the night outside is wild.

A darker storm stands over the world.
It puts its mouth to our soul
and blows to get a tone. We are afraid
the storm will blow us empty.

***

Happy emptying!

Jose

The Dinosaur – Augusto Monterroso

When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

*

* what hitting snooze can get you *

* what hitting snooze can get you *

The above, by the Honduran writer Augusto Monterroso, is credited as being one of the world’s shortest stories. Monterroso is one of my favorite writers in the Latin American microcuento tradition.

When I first read him, I was amazed at how much spookiness can happen in a short amount of prose. The form – which in English goes by various names: flash fiction, prose poetry, short shorts, microfiction, etc. – allows for a certain kind of sensibility to play.

Myself, I find a complicated humor in the form at times, as can bee seen in two new pieces published in Star 82 Review’s Issue 2.4.

Check out “Wisp” and “Brown” here.

Happy wisping!

Jose

Just a quick post to announce the release of Blue Mesa Review’s Issue no. 30 which includes my poem “Don’t Look Now I Might Be Mexican” which placed 3rd in BMR’s Poetry Contest.

Check out the poem (with audio!) here.

This particular piece has been 10 years in the making. A lot of living and learning – both via books as well as cultural and emotional understanding – was undergone to get to the final draft. I am grateful to have it out in the world in such a fine forum.

Thank you to judge Carmen Gimenez Smith and the good folks at Blue Mesa Review! And congratulations to the other winners!

See you Friday!

Jose

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… —Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998

* mark strand *

* mark strand 1934 – 2014 *

What moves me most about the above quote is how clearly it states the power of a poem to color one’s view of the world. You can’t step in the same river twice, Heraclitus said (and Borges quoted religiously :) ). Poetry, then, is a way to document what the second steps into the river – and the third, fourth, etc. – feel like. You leave a good poem different, not for any act of manipulation, but simply an act of listening and attention, words that apply to reading and prayer.

I was happy to share the following poem with my students this week. I told them one of the things I love about it is how Strand gets away with repeating “someone” and “something,” big no-no’s that I look for when I revise my own work. Usually “something” is not pointing to an ethereal wonderment, but at a lack of specificity. In Strand’s poem, the words become the very air of a party, and then the air of the universe.

From the Long Sad Party – Mark Strand

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the stars,
how small they were, how far away.

***

Happy planeting!

Jose

My translation of Borges two weeks ago received a great response on here – thank you all for your kind words!

This week’s poem, “Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary” by Rita Dove, evokes some of the fascination and thrill of working out a poem from one language to another, how there is a “shyness” but also a “stepping/out” of one’s body in the task.

* Holderlin to your hats *

* Holderlin to your hats *

Reading Holderlin on the Patio with the Aid of a Dictionary – Rita Dove

One by one, the words
give themselves
up, white flags dispatched
from a silent camp.

When had my shyness returned?

This evening, the sky refused
to lie down.  The sun crouched
behind leaves, but the trees
had long since walked away.
The meaning that surfaces

comes to me aslant and
I go to meet it, stepping
out of my body
word for word, until I am

everything at once: the perfume
of the world in which
I go under,
a skindiver
remembering air.

***

Happy airing!

Jose

p.s. I wrote about Holderlin a ways back – check it out here.

* manos *

* manos *

This week’s post is a meditation on form via sharing some new publications.

First, the good folks over at Rattle have recently shared the content of their Summer 2014 issue online which includes my own poem “Abandoned Church.” Rattle is unique in that they ask for some insight into the work via the contributor’s bio, which allowed me to share a bit of my thinking behind the form of this and other kin poems:

“These poems come from working at times in a five-line form, which I call ‘hands,’ maybe because each could be written on the palm of a hand. I consider them the poetic, unkempt nephews to Yasunari Kawabata’s ‘palm of the hand’ stories. These pieces are surprising me, pushing me to be concise and spooky, narrative and imagistic within a limited frame.”

Read the poem “Abandoned Church” here.

I’m also happy to announce the release of the new issue of Inflectionist Review which includes my poems “First Night” and “Blue in the Rain” – the latter of which is also in the “hands” form. Check out the issue here.

My two guides into the form have been the short lyrics of Yannis Ritsos as well as my reading and writing in the Japanese tanka form. Here’s some of that Ritsos mojo:

A Door – Yannis Ritsos

The carpentry shop,
the ironmonger,
the grocery store,
the farmer’s rubber boots
on the porch,
the low, cloudy sky,
soapsuds,
and, so unexpectedly,
a blue door
fallen flat among the ruins
with the key
still in place.

***

Working in and out of various forms, I’m always curious if people take note or not. Ultimately, what matters is writing a solid poem worth rereading, which is the ongoing good fight.

Of course, all this talk of “hands” has me thinking about these guys:

* the hands of fate *

* the hands of fate *

Happy fating!

Jose

Found myself recently turning back to a sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges for an epigraph for a new poem. Below is the original poem in Spanish, followed by my own modest translation.

Two things stood out to me in translating. First, the word clepsydra which, after much maneuvering and reading through information, turns out to refer to a long history of water clocks. The clepsydra of the poem is both clock and music box, and so the gotas/drops work both on a physical level as well as on an aural one (music notes as water drops). So fascinating and strange a word it is, I decided to keep it in the poem, if only to have folks go and do some searching themselves. If you do, you’ll see stuff like this:

* water clock tower *

* water clock tower *

The other thing that stood out to me revisiting this sonnet is the long question in the second half of the poem. It is traditional for sonnets to have a turn, and here Borges takes up six lines for an epic, wide turn of argument, amping up the rhetoric and emotional power as he goes.

Caja de Música – Jorge Luis Borges

Música del Japón. Avaramente
De la clepsidra se desprenden gotas
De lenta miel o de invisible oro
Que en el tiempo repiten una trama
Eterna y frágil, misteriosa y clara.
Temo que cada una sea la última.
Son un ayer que vuelve. ¿De qué templo,
De qué leve jardín en la montaña,
De qué vigilias ante un mar que ignoro,
De qué pudor de la melancolía,
De qué perdida y rescatada tarde,
Llegan a mí, su porvenir remoto?
No lo sabré. No importa. En esa música
Yo soy. Yo quiero ser. Yo me desangro.

 ***

Music Box – Jorge Luis Borges

Music from Japan. Reluctantly,
the drops from the clepsydra fall
in a slow honey, made of an invisible gold
whose pattern over time repeats
eternal, fragile, mysterious and clear.
I fear that each drop will be the last.
They are a yesterday returning. From what temple,
from what meager garden on the mountain,
from what vigils before a sea I’ve never seen,
from what modest melancholy, from what lost
and recollected afternoon do they come to me,
their remote future? I do not know.
It does not matter. In that music
I am. I want to be. I bleed away.

***

Happy desangrandose!

Jose

p.s. Check out a far more competent and eloquent translation by Tony Barnstone here.

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