raining with Martorell & Pizarnik

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to do a small reading at Linfield College’s Miller Fine Arts Center. The Linfield Gallery is in its last week of hosting Antonio Martorell’s solo exhibit “Rain/Lluvia.” In talking about the origins of the exhibit, Martorell told Linfield Gallery: “When the opportunity came my way to bring an exhibition to Oregon, a place that I had never visited before, I candidly asked: ‘¿Qué pasa en Oregon?’ (What happens in Oregon?) I received an equally candid answer: ‘It rains every day.’”

Antonio-Martorell-Linfield-06_webIn this spirit, I selected poems from my own work that dealt with rain in one way or another, in Oregon and rains elsewhere as well. Along with “Thinking About the Poet Larry Levis One Afternoon in Late May” by Charles Wright, I read two poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, both in the original Spanish and in English translations I did specifically for this reading. I share both poems and translations below as well as a clip of my reading of “L’obscurité des eaux.” Pizarnik’s work felt appropriate for the space as it interrogates the ways meaning is made, engaging with the ephemeral nature of words.

Rain works with a similar ephemerality. There is only something we can call rain when water is in motion between sky and earth; similarly, poetry lives in the space between set words and the motion of reading.

Special thanks to Brian Winkenweder for the invitation to read and to all those who attended!

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Despedida – Alejandra Pizarnik

Mata su luz un fuego abandonado.
Sube su canto un pájaro enamorado.
Tantas criaturas ávidas en mi silencio
y esta pequeña lluvia que me acompaña.

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Farewell
— translated by José Angel Araguz

An abandoned fire kills its light.
A bird in love raises its song.
So many avid creatures in my silence
and this little rain that accompanies me.

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L’obscurité des eaux – Alejandra Pizarnik

Escucho resonar el agua que cae en mi sueño.
Las palabras caen como el agua yo caigo. Dibujo
en mis ojos la forma de mis ojos, nado en mis
aguas, me digo mis silencios. Toda la noche
espero que mi lenguaje logre configurarme. Y
pienso en el viento que viene a mí, permanece
en mí. Toda la noche he caminado bajo la lluvia
desconocida. A mí me han dado un silencio
pleno de formas y visiones (dices). Y corres desolada
como el único pájaro en el viento.

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The darkness of the waters
— translated by José Angel Araguz

I hear the water that falls in my dream resound.
The words fall like water I fall. I draw
in my eyes the shape of my eyes, I swim in my
waters, I tell myself my silences. All night
I hope my language manages to configure me. And
I think about the wind that comes to me, remains
in me. All night I walked in the unknown rain.
I have been given a silence
full of forms and visions (you say). And you run desolate
as the only bird in the wind.

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photo credit: Linfield Gallery

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poetryamano project: february 2017

This week I’m sharing the second installment archiving my Instagram poetry project entitled @poetryamano (poetry by hand). This account focuses on sharing poems written by hand, either in longhand or more experimental forms such as erasures/blackout poems and found poems.

I’d like to give a quick thank you to Kenyatta JP García for giving @poetryamano a shout out here.

Below are the highlights from February 2017. Be sure to check out the first installment.

Stay tuned next week for more of the usual Influence happenings. For now, enjoy these forays into variations on the short lyric!

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In February, I had been coming back to rain and mirrors in my free writes. I always worry about retreading, but then some words and images are like worry stones, no?

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Translation: Alejandra Pizarnik’s poems are full of a tense intimacy, like each word could say everything, so we gotta be careful with them. The hardest line to translate here was the first, specifically the phrasing of “sin para qué, sin para quién,” which translates as “without a reason, and for no one,” sense-wise. But I like the whimsy of “what/whom” and feel it’s in keeping with Pizarnik’s overall punk vibe.

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True story. I was working on a poem when I came across a draft that had the quoted text above in the middle of some rough writing. The quote stuck with me for a few hours, yet I couldn’t remember the source. So I decided to go the haibun-like route of including this story of the quote while letting the quote shine in its own space. I like the result, despite the poem showing how flawed my own memory is – and again, that could be the point, no, that words last?

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Those fragments on the side are from a hematite ring that broke a month ago. Found out recently that these rings break for two reasons, the brittleness of the metal, and when they have absorbed too much negativity. Words work in the same way, able to hold what they can, until they can’t.

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Talismans: The absence of my father growing up comes in and out of my poems. It’s an influence like weather, which changes. He died when I was six, but left my life earlier. In response to my worries about writing too many poems about this absence, someone called it a talisman of sorts, something I carry in the presence of these words.

poetryamano feb 2017 8

Throwback to the original version of a line that made its way into my book, Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press). It got revised into: “Stay with me, love, the world is ours for the aching” which is recalled by the speaker of the newer poem as lines he used to say trying to be slick. True story.

poetryamano feb 2017 9

When you write poems in more than one language, you realize quickly how what you are really doing when you write is translating something yet spoken inside you into a shape and expression. Here, I like how the filter places a bit of light in the space between the two versions of the poem, light like a fingerprint itself.

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February brought my first attempts at erasures/blackout poems for the poetryamano project. My first attempts, like here, were done on my phone, using photo studio to mark out words. This one reads: “the real world / dwells in the / absorption of passion, / And / mirrors it” – From The English Renaissance of Art by Oscar Wilde.

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This last one of the month comes from a time when I’d walk around all poet-lonely, then go home and write poems about walking around being poet-lonely. We all went through that, right?

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Happy amano-ing!

José

 

poetry feature: Oka Bernard Osahon

This week’s poem is the first poetry feature drawn from submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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Often when I read a love poem, I find myself most invested in what the poem evokes in terms of connection and disconnection. Love poems aren’t love, but are expressions of the world around a love relationship, a world made up of inside jokes, shared intimacies and understanding. The reader of a love poem is privy to something akin to gossip and confession, and involved in an engaged listening.

pexels-photo-69004This week’s poem, “When We Are Too Tired to Fall in Love” by Oka Bernard Osahon, is a great example of a poem that makes the world around a relationship come alive for the reader. Line by line, the speaker of this poem engages the narrative of their relationship through imagery. Lines like “I felt the cold retraction / Beneath the glare of tossed hair as you carried the pages of your face away,” which moves from the visual “glare” to the tactile “pages” in its efforts to render a passing moment, run on an engine of imagery. Yet, the use of “pages” also implies change, and creates a sense of urgency.

The poem continues in lines that reach for similar turns of understanding. The use of imagery gives a sense of control in a poem that digs into the feeling of a relationship slipping out of one’s control, from connection to disconnection. Similar to “pages,” the use of the word “show” in the final line rings out beyond itself, reflecting on the relationship and the moment, as well as the fact of the poem itself.

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When We Are Too Tired to Fall in Love – Oka Bernard Osahon

We laughed without moving our lips –
Our eyes – signs of joy fading – crowfeet wrinkled gaze.
We taped our selves together within the ineffective hug of weathered arms
And our thoughts shivered between us like a ghost trying to stay alive.
Our feet carried us away from our shadows – excuses and regrets limping behind
And when you stumbled into me on the steps, I felt the cold retraction
Beneath the glare of tossed hair as you carried the pages of your face away.
We lost a moment, when we could have found a tiny piece of what was lost.

We are unraveling even as I speak,
Like a single thread off the warp and weft of the table cloth
That hold the old china your mother gave you.
We are bartering words for points and we have lost so much in this match.
There was meaning in our trading once – with loud voices and broken fragile things
But now the words are bland and though we have not grown carapaces,
We are too worn out to fight the hurt. So we sit on the couch – two distant halves
Watching a show that used to make us laugh.

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Oka Benard Osahon is creative writer, poet and fantasy novel addict from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. He attained his B.A in English and Literary Studies at Delta State University, Abraka. His poetry can be found on Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine Online, Spillwords and Visual Verse. He was one of the winners of the Praxis Magazine Online 2016 Anthology Contest as well as the winner of the June 2017 Edition of the Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest. He lives and works in Abuja where he writes at night after work. He can be reached at Twitter: @serveaze

artificing with denise levertov

Poems have a way of changing the things around us, allowing us to reconcile with and reimagine them at the same time. In this week’s poem, “The Wedding Ring” by Denise Levertov, a wedding ring goes from being listed among forgotten things in a basket to being seen for what else it could become. Along the way, the speaker goes into what the ring has meant up to this point.

metal-ring-1152237_960_720What occurs in this mix of looking backward and forward is an evocation of the personal meaning of the wedding ring; this evocation isolates the ring, and allows for an imaginative distance. The “artificer” imagined towards the end who is able to re-work the ring strikes me as a metaphor for the poet. In poems, we work “simple gifts” out of the materials of a fleeting existence.

The Wedding Ring – Denise Levertov
My wedding-ring lies in a basket
as if at the bottom of a well.
Nothing will come to fish it back up
and onto my finger again.
                                      It lies
among keys to abandoned houses,
nails waiting to be needed and hammered
into some wall,
telephone numbers with no names attached,
idle paperclips.
                      It can’t be given away
for fear of bringing ill-luck
                      It can’t be sold
for the marriage was good in its own
time, though that time is gone.
                      Could some artificer
beat into it bright stones, transform it
into a dazzling circlet no one could take
for solemn betrothal or to make promises
living will not let them keep? Change it
into a simple gift I could give in friendship?

inspired by richard wilbur

The Beautiful Changes – Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

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I remember first reading this poem by Richard Wilbur and just holding my breath: those last lines speaking sundering “things and things’ selves for a second finding,” speak to what I see as the crucial gift of lyric poetry. How, for example, even the word beautiful, a word poets in general are wary of, is reclaimed, refreshed in this poem, made a thing in motion. This is what Wilbur means.

Richard Wilbur’s recent passing has me thinking again on his work, on the poems that mattered to me as I read his books. A great formal sensibility and nuance. He, alongisde WH Auden, Donald Justice, and Rhina P. Espaillat, inspired me to go inside forms and find a pulse. Moving a person to go and write, that is one of the greatest compliments to a poet, and one of the greatest gifts the reading of poetry has to offer.

Below is my own poem inspired after my first reading of Wilbur’s poem years ago. I don’t know if I give anything back or refresh the word beautiful. This poem came in one of my seasonal sprees of bad sonnets. I do know that I wrote it at a time where the friendship invoked was one of the few things keeping me going. Which is another way friendship works, even at a distance. Engaging in the creative space of poetry writing brings one in communion with others who have taken the time to catch something of how the world “changes.”
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The Beautiful Poems – José Angel Araguz
My friend set down to write the beautiful poems,
Set himself against lightning storms,
Against crowded rooms and bars where men belong
To each other and hold in an almost fist
Small shots of pain. In such a room, I lost him,
And he went on and became one among faces to remember.
The years have gone and I have yet to write
Much of anything myself; still, each night
I chase ghosts until the sky is an ember
And cracks, until I find myself thinking of him,
What he might be writing for the lovers who kissed
His eyes to visions. Tell me, is there no drink strong
Enough to unbolt proud hearts where only silence roams?
Tell me, are these the beautiful poems?

seeing with jennifer met

One of the great pleasures of writing reviews is catching onto things that poems do when they live together in a book. By “things” I mean, of course, the standard fare of themes, symbols, imagery, etc., but also something for which I am learning/discovering the technical terms for. In teaching, I often use the words engine or guiding principle, words that imply the mechanical and structural. Yet, what these words point to in my own use is more in tune with intuition.

galleryIn my recent microreview & interview of Jennifer Met’s compelling chapbook Gallery Withheld (Glass Poetry Press), I center my discussion around two visual poems whose layout on the page become another aspect to explored by reading. Through the visual poem form, one is able to guide text in the same way a spoken word or slam poet is able to command attention via vocal tone and gesture. Because of the presence of visual poems in Met’s collection, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the other poems that were more traditionally lineated. As a reader, these other poems became charged with importance, evoking a number of new questions: How is the vision of the collection different in these non-visual poems versus the visual poems? Where is the line drawn between what is on the surface a visual poem and what is, in my imperfect terms, a more traditionally lineated poem?

In answer to this last question, I present the poem “Collaboration” below whose presence on the page could be said to have a foot in both visual and lineated ideas of poetry. The poem is a complex ekphrastic that sneaks up on you; that is, the speaker goes from contemplating a photograph of the aftermath of an earthquake to the cover of an issue of The New Yorker. This move comes naturally, and what develops in the speaker’s meditation are images of a crack in the ground. These images are evoked, in part, by the visual layout of the lines of the poem. But beyond this, the meditation advances in such a deft manner, that what the reader is left with is not only an image but a way of imaging and imagining. This poem, for me, is at the conceptual heart of the collection because of the way it creates an engine out of seeing with which the reader is invited to see “the flowers float seemingly at random” at the end. These flowers are both an image and a motion. While there is so much seeing done in Gallery Withheld, it is done via poems which invite the reader to “collaborate” in the seeing, an interaction that is its own distinct poetic accomplishment.

Collaboration – Jennifer Met

for Christoph Niemann and Françoise Mouly

When I was young I saw a photograph
of a fence after an earthquake
where its man-made border was interrupted
as one half was heaved forward and
one half was pulled back leaving a large gap
like a warped spring—a latch
that can’t quite be forced close or like someone
painting a line down the right
side of a large and invisible street fell
asleep and when they woke up
they accidentally resumed their drawing
on the left side instead—the width
of a street—a common ground—a public right
of way owned and maintained
by the city—now left unconnected and you
couldn’t see where the earth ground
against itself sliding or where it rippled
like a blanket being shaken
because there wasn’t a mark and wasn’t a rift–
wasn’t a scar in the grass—and I
always associated this image with earthquakes so much
so that now the New Yorker’s cover
illustration reminds me of an earthquake fissure
the leafless cherry branch like lightning
slightly off-centre and striking upon the left-hand
side of the page where trefoils blossom pink
and loose petals drift back and up and I think
how the artist’s editor was right
to change the background color of this dark
crack canyoning up the beautifully clean
white—too obvious—to a new version of a branch
drawn black against black—unseen–

and the flowers float seemingly at random…

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Happy seeing!

José