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One Night – C. P. Cavafy

The room was cheap and sordid,
hidden above the suspect taverna.
From the window you could see the alley,
dirty and narrow. From below
came the voices of workmen
playing cards, enjoying themselves.

And there on that common, humble bed
I had love’s body, had those intoxicating lips,
red and sensual,
red lips of such intoxication
that now as I write, after so many years,
in my lonely house, I’m drunk with passion again.

translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Paul_Klee_My_Room_1896Continuing in the short lyric vein of last week’s post, the poem above handles several worlds in twelve quick lines. I’m moved by the pace of the poem. The first stanza sets the tone of the outside world, a world dark, “dirty and narrow.” Then the second stanza opens up the world of tryst and memory. If, as Jürgen Becker says, “The memory does not exist, you have to create them,” then Cavafy creates a memory of “intoxication” and “passion” that is as alive in the speaker’s present as it was in his past. This turning over of thought and confession makes of memory a talisman against a “lonely house.”

Thinking up possible poems to share this week I was suprised to find that I hadn’t shared any poems by Cavafy. To make up for that, I also share “Ithaca” below. Its incorporation of Homer’s Odyssey into an allegory for living with awareness (or, in another light, a reflection of the adage: Life is a journey, not a destination) ranks highly with me on a personal level. I read the poem first in my early twenties, at a time when I was headstrong on purpose. Poems like this one guided me toward slowing down.

Sangarius_Bridge._Drawing_01Cavafy’s poem also brings to mind Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” another poem incorporating the story of the Odyssey. The following lines from “Ulysses” compliment the spirit of the above short lyric in their human/emotional momentum:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

Leaving Texas, and then learning to leave other places after that, I worried I carried little along with me inside. Poems like these showed me otherwise.

Ithaca – C. P. Cavafy

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

*

Happy Ithaca-ing!

José

 

Just a quick post to share that my poem “El Rio” can be read on Crab Creek Review’s blog!

Along with the poem (which is featured in CCR’s latest issue alongside my poem “Kiss”) are some notes on the background of the piece.

Special thanks to Jenifer Browne Lawrence, Martha Silano, & the whole CCR crew for their continued support and community!

See you Friday!

José

Hazy_blue_hour_in_Grand_Canyon

Hell, Sartre Said, Is Other People – Jürgen Becker

L’heure bleu, it could be, but it’s
the do-it-yourself handyman who makes the mood
for his and my evening. Powerless this entire building –
seventh, eleventh, fourteenth floor; the man
drills into the walls, yet no one
sees him. In case I see him, I’ll, I’ll
do nothing. Like always, complaints go
in the poem, which makes a large staying noise.

translated by Okla Elliott

*

One of my goals in starting this blog four years ago was to celebrate the short lyric, which I see as personal and brief expressions whose tradition extends back to the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s love poems. The way whole worlds, worlds within moments, can be evoked and experienced in a handful of lines is powerful.

Elliott-Cover-250x386I recently did a microreview/interview of Blackbirds in September, a book of German poet Jürgen Becker’s shorter poems. Time and again I was moved by the personal insight and wisdom found in lines about everyday life. If there are slice of life stories, then I believe the best short lyrics present slices of moments. A short lyric can, indeed, create “a large staying noise” by highlighting what one chooses to recall and archive in a poem as well as giving the reader the artifact of the poem with which to investigate life, the speaker’s and their own.

The following poem struck me as ingenious not simply for the formal structure but for the inventiveness with which the title’s set up is followed through.

Here, the short lyric serves as an insight to sensibility as much as theme and focus.

*

Possibilities for Paintings – Jürgen Becker

Dark Tree in front of a Bright House.
Wishbodies.
Sad Eyes at the Shutting of Doors.
Wood and Milk; a Lamp.
The Wind, which Extends the Hand (in quotes).
Balloons, Dripping from the Mouth.
Peace in the Valley.
The Patience of Landmines.
Now the Meadow Grows through the House.
Leaping, over a Mark in the Air.
The Coasts of Exile (since 1957).
Winter Branches in Summer.
Triumph of Waiting.
Falling Pears. Lying Pears.
Bicycle on the Horizon.
Soldiers and Bicycle.
The Night of the 7th of November.
The Misery of the Liberated.
Glass, between Figures.
Groups of People before the Horizon.
Fog; the Fossilization of Fog.

translated by Okla Elliott

Check out my microreview/interview on this book and its translator on the Cincinnati Review blog! Thank you to translator Okla Elliott for making these poems available in English!

Happy noising!

José

Reading through Kelli Russell Agodon’s collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, I was moved again and again by the kinship evoked between speaker and the poets addressed throughout the poems, but also between poet and craft, and poet to poet. In this week’s poem, “Yakima Ferry at Sunset,” this idea of kinship is there for me from the first line’s declaration:

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read . . .

This line brings to mind a line from Pablo Neruda:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche . . .
(Tonight I can write the saddest lines . . .)

This kind of lyric echo speaks to the poet in me, or, rather the poets in me. At times I am the poet of Neruda’s line, lost in reverie and sorrow; at other times, I am the poet of Agodon’s line, possessed by writing, the sheer event of it inspired by the immediacy of a given moment and place.

I often go with my wife to look at fabric or yarn for the projects she’s working on. Walking through the aisles of material, I imagine the possibilities closed to me, but open to anyone who knows how to sew or knit. I can only compare it to the surge of feeling I get when I walk around the woods or body of water in just the right mood, or sit by a window at a café that happens to be in the right light, a feeling of: Today I could write . . . 

There’s no guarantee, only a glimpse. One can’t recreate this feeling, one can only acknowledge it for the call to words that it is, and get down what one can, “skimming the edges like every poet.”

sunset_mount1

Yakima Ferry at Sunset – Kelli Russell Agodon

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read.

All around me are hippie grandmothers
and grey-haired men with dreamcatchers

hanging from the rearview mirrors of their
Hondas. Everyone is irresistable tonight:

the man in his NRA t-shirt, the child
on the upper deck screaming about licorice,

the woman who cut in front of me to buy a latte.
I am skimming the edges like every poet

on this boat, starting my sentences
with the easiest words – I love, I love, I love

to travel home by ferry, the women
who smile at the men they don’t know,

how my tongue feels in my mouth,
a sort of heaviness that never leaves.

*

Happy ferrying!

José

the wall pic

Happy to announce that the latest reprint of my first chapbook, The Wall, has arrived! This reprint is the fourth for my little book that came out in 2012.

If you are interested in a copy, email me at: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com Copies can be purchased via PayPal or check.

There are only forty-four copies, so act fast!

Here’s what poet Naomi Shihab Nye was kind enough to say about The Wall:

“Jose Angel Araguz is a stunning writer.  His deep listening – despite walls and silences among them – and his willingness to carry voices of longing and connection even when facts of the world proclaim endless disconnection – help make him a poet of great essential honor and hope.  Please welcome him.”

Special thanks to Colette and JoAn at Tiger’s Eye Press for their continued support and belief in the project!

See you Friday!

José

This week marks the four year anniversary of The Friday Influence. So, as is customary:

Yay!

Sharing poems here continues to be a source of delight and honesty. I say honesty because putting into words some of the journey in understanding a poem, of considering and living with a poem, requires reflection and persistence. Poems are as alive as the poets that write them; this implies change. What I feel one week about a lyric will change given a week, a month, a year away from it. Reaching one week’s point of sharing, finding a particular articulation and current insight, is the happy work I put myself to Friday to Friday. Thanks to all of you who come and share in this work!

This week’s poem – Gary Soto’s “Oranges” – is a poem I have come back to often over the years. Over ten years ago, during a summer in which I carried Soto’s selected poems around with me always, I read and reread those poems, followed his early work’s short lines and vivid imagery. Reading it now, I am still impressed with the ease with which narrative and lyric imagery are combined. There’s one moment in particular that remains captivating:

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.

I’m moved by the way these lines come midway, the image helping to transition between the scenes of the poem, but also by the way the lines could be a poem on their own. The implication is there of things being hard to see, as they are for the speaker in the poem, but there’s also the persistence to see life through moment by glimpsed moment.

blood-orange-257902_960_720

Oranges – Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

*

Happy making!

José

Just a quick post to announce my review of fellow CantoMundo poet Juan J. Morales’s powerful book, The Siren World!

Thanks to Sally & Housten at The Volta Blog for their continued support! Thanks also to Juan for writing such an engaging and heartfelt book!

To read a poem from The Siren World, check out this previous post on the Influence!

See you Friday!

José

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