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* 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.

Been talking a lot with my students about expectations, of ways of subverting them and surprising the reader, especially through titles. The poem below is a good example.

When I first read Jeremy Schmidt’s “Stafford Loan” earlier this year, I read the title and expected a strident commentary on the plight of being young and going through the (oft times burdened) motions of getting an education. And the poem delivers just that – only not how you expect. Through the image of a deer in an unexpected place, the poem goes on to take the connotations of the title to an unexpected place, becoming an allegory for a societal circumstance.

* expects interest *

* expects interest *

Stafford Loan – Jeremy Schmidt

Approaching through the mist I spot a deer;
unstartled, at the border of Schoodic Park
and the nearest private lot.
Normally I’d challenge her to a contest

or snap a picture with my phone,
but it’s been an awfully tough day and she
appears in good spirits, full-bodied,
of sound mind, etc. So I think it best to roll

over and stiffen: to wait, lying down,
for her to approach slowly, curiously, ever less
cautiously until she’s feet away, lured
by the smell of cashews in my palm,

until she’s practically astride me, until
she’s walking then prancing atop,
then stomping my body, prone in the grass,
crushing me out, step by hoofed step.

*from the Boston Review

***

Happy hoofing!

Jose

P.S. Schmidt was one of Boston Review’s “Discovery” Poetry Contest Winners this year. Check out the rest of the good folk here.

Given this week’s news of Galway Kinnell’s passing, I find myself heading into Dia de los Muertos this weekend with him on my mind.

I had the pleasure of attending a reading he gave alongside Phil Levine in NYC. The two great poets chatted at their table before the reading. When the time came to start, Galway walked up to the mic and in his booming, majestic baritone gave a stellar reading of Phil’s poem “They Feed They Lion.” The room was collectively knocked out. Phil then walked up and replaced Galway at the podium, and said: “Gee, that was pretty good.”

They then proceeded to take turns, poem by poem, reading each other’s work. I remember how well the two voices complimented each other’s work, Phil adding some lyric subtlety to his reading of Galway’s “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of the Christ into the New World,” and Galway delivering the grit and grace behind Phil’s poems.

Grit and grace are two solid words to remember Galway Kinnell by, words exemplified in the meditation in the poem below.

* el maestro *

* el maestro *

The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak – Galway Kinnell

The man splitting wood in the daybreak
looks strong, as though, if one weakened,
one could turn to him and he would help.
Gus Newland was strong. When he split wood
he struck hard, flashing the bright steel
through the air so hard the hard maple
leapt apart, as it’s feared marriages will do
in countries reluctant to permit divorce,
and even willow, which, though stacked
to dry a full year, on being split
actually weeps—totem wood, therefore,
to the married-until-death—sunders
with many little lip-wetting gasp-noises.
But Gus is dead. We could turn to our fathers,
but they help us only by the unperplexed
looking-back of the numerals cut into headstones.
Or to our mothers, whose love, so devastated,
can’t, even in spring, break through the hard earth.
Our spouses weaken at the same rate we do.
We have to hold our children up to lean on them.
Everyone who could help goes or hasn’t arrived.
What about the man splitting wood in the daybreak,
who looked strong? That was years ago. That was me.

***

Happy stronging!

Jose

First off, I want to announce the release of the latest issue of Foothill, which includes my poem “The Accordion Heart” here. Check out the rest of the great work in this issue here.

Next, I’d like to share the news that my poem “Don’t Look Now I Might Be Mexican” has placed 3rd in Blue Mesa Review’s 2014 Poetry Contest, judged by Carmen Gimenez Smith.

To celebrate, I went out and bought this guy:

* calavera, yo *

* calavera, yo *

As Dia de los Muertos comes around again (next week), I find myself aware of the honoring one does on a daily basis, whether directly or indirectly, of those who have passed. Even in the words one writes, the dead mix with the living and make up a whole other life. This week’s poem by Czeslaw Milosz lives in that in between space.

Secretaries – Czeslaw Milosz

I am no more than a secretary of the invisible thing
that is dictated to me and a few others.
Secretaries, mutually unknown, we walk the earth
without much comprehension. Beginning a phrase in the middle
or ending it with a comma. And how it all looks when completed
is not up to us to inquire, we won’t read it anyway.

***

Happy secretaring!

Jose

* taking another Paz at it *

* mas Paz *

I recently received my contributor’s copy of the anthology desde Hong Kong and have been enjoying dipping into the collection of great tributes. One in particular stood out in my reading. I share it below to further celebrate this anthology’s publication.

In “Going Home,” British-Canadian poet Phoebe Tsang delves deep into an image (a la Paz) and has the subject matter, and the reader, come out different on the other side.

Going Home – Phoebe Tsang

At dawn, the carts glistened with wet scales
as if the fish were still alive,
not drowning for lack of water.
They slept just like the rest of us,
breathed city air.
As the sun rose, the glitter faded from their gills.
By noon, the last dregs were fins and bones
kicked to the gutter,
entrails slick under fishermen’s boots.
The fishermen gone home,
back to the sea.

***

Happy homing!

Jose

p.s. Information on ordering a copy of the anthology can be found here.

I revisited this week’s poem – Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” – this summer reading through Mary Ruefle’s “Madness, Rack, & Honey.” In the book, she points to the sentimentality of the poem, how it makes the campy humor of Chaplin and the image of a kitten and raises them to their proper place, which is simply a place of consideration. That each of us here simply to be seen and heard.

On the technical side, Crane’s always up to something metrically. Here, I like how he sneaks in a six beat line into every stanza except for the first and last, the mix of rhythms evoking Chaplin’s signature walk a bit.

(Spooky and coincidentally: Ruefle and Chaplin share the same birthday).

Later in the same essay, she states that if someone says your poem is sentimental, it probably means it isn’t sentimental enough. Committing to that impulse and seeing sentimentality through to what’s at stake is the challenge. And the only way to see and hear one’s self.

* liked the poem til I pointed out the thing about the meter *

* liked the poem til I pointed out the thing about the meter *

Chaplinesque – Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,
contented with such random consolations
as the wind deposits
in slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
a famished kitten on the step, and know
recesses for it from the fury of the street,
or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
that slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
facing the dull squint with what innocence
and what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
more than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
what blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
the moon in lonely alleys make
a grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
and through all sound of gaiety and quest
have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

***

Happy sentimenting!

Jose

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