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Just a quick note to share my latest review for The Volta Blog. This time around, I had the honor of reviewing fellow CantoMundo poet, Yesenia Montilla. It’s an inspiring book, one that adds to the conversation of the aesthetics and cultural understanding that come from engaging with one’s family history and traditions as well as one’s poetic traditions.

Also, two of Montilla’s poems – “Ode to a Dominican Breakfast” & “The Day I Realized We Were Black” – can be read at The Wide Shore.

See you Friday!

José

As I work out of the echo of last week’s exams, I continue to have thoughts along the lines of fragmented narratives and ways of making use of what’s called in media res, which translates roughly as “into the middle of things.” It’s a phrase I picked up while reading Shakespeare: we first meet Romeo as he is in between relationships (I always forget that some serious moping opens up that famous play about love: kind of foreshadowing, no?).

I also see the term in media res as summing up how we understand ourselves. We are born into the middle of our parents’ lives; we read poems in the middle of different stages of our life; we eat, uhm, sandwiches in the middle of the day – and from these moments begin to cobble together the narrative pieces that make up who we are.

One of the ways this concept is worked with in lyric poetry is the sequence, and one of the great practitioners of which was Galway Kinnell, whose lines do the careful and exacting work of establishing moments and threading them together towards a greater whole.

Coming back to this week’s poem, there’s some sonic repetition (flop; feathers; flames) throughout the piece I hadn’t noticed before, and it’s telling how those sounds are absent from section 5. The difference, while subtle, does much to make the feeling of that section stand out against the rest. Each stanza, ultimately, plays image and moment against each other powerfully through such distinctions.

flames_of_faces_2nd_version_by_serge1965-d3i7xer

Another Night in the Ruins – Galway Kinnell

1
In the evening
haze darkening on the hills,
purple of the eternal,
a last bird crosses over,
‘flop flop,’ adoring
only the instant.

2
Nine years ago,
in a plane that rumbled all night
above the Atlantic,
I could see, lit up
by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
a thunderhead formed like the face
of my brother, looking down
on blue,
lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.

3
He used to tell me,
“What good is the day?
On some hill of despair
the bonfire
you kindle can light the great sky—
though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
you have to throw yourself in …”

4
Wind tears itself hollow
in the eaves of these ruins, ghost-flute
of snowdrifts
that build out there in the dark:
upside-down ravines
into which night sweeps
our cast wings, our ink-spattered feathers.

5
I listen.
I hear nothing. Only
the cow, the cow of such
hollowness, mooing
down the bones.

6
Is that a
rooster? He
thrashes in the snow
for a grain. Finds
it. Rips
it into
flames. Flaps. Crows.
Flames
bursting out of his brow.

7
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
is
to open ourselves, to be
the flames?

***

Happy flames!

José

The X in My Name – Francisco X. Alarcón

the poor
signature
of my illiterate
and peasant
self
giving away
all rights
in a deceiving
contract for life

alarcón4The death of Francisco X. Alarcón earlier this month has been on my mind as I wrap up my 3rd year reading and work through exams this week. Reviewing his book, Canto Hondo/Deep Song was a revelatory experience for me. Through following and engaging with Alarcón’s singular minimalist poetics, I learned a lot about precision with the line as well as how much weight can be carried via emphasis. But it was his commitment to representing and singing for those who suffered that moved me the most.

His death remains a constant source of conversation in the Latin@ literary community, mourning and celebration following each other in a complex cycle that would’ve pleased el maestro. As shown in the poem above, Alarcón was well aware of the contradictions to be worked with in being a Chicano; even an X in a name can be a metaphor for the multifaceted tension of identity and self.

I write this post the night before my final 3rd year exam. Diving into my own sense of tradition and identity in Latin@ poetics has been an emotional journey. I have had great community throughout – from my CantoMundistas, to readers of my poems and books, as well as those of you who stop and read these Influences. Thank you. Thank you as well to the great teachers I’ve had, in the classroom and on the page.

“Mexican” Is Not a Noun – Francisco X. Alarcón

  to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
   seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
   showing solidarity with two thousand
   striking cannery workers who were mostly
   Mexican women, October 27, 1985

“Mexican”
is not
a noun
or an
adjective

“Mexican”
is a life
long
low-paying
job

a check
mark on
a welfare
police
form

more than
a word
a nail in
the soul
but

it hurts
it points
it dreams
it offends
it cries

it moves
it strikes
it burns
just like
a verb

*

Happy verbing!

José

p.s. Here is Rigoberto González’s tribute to Alarcón.

In celebration of the release of my digital chapbook, The Book of Flight (Essay Press), this week’s Influence will be focused on work that I feel is in spirit with the project.

Hyakuninisshu_062First up is Sei Shonagon, who I wrote about in October. I had reason to return to her lists in The Pillow Book recently, and continue to marvel at the surprise-charged prose:

16. Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster

Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.

It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

The cumulative effect of sensory details is at turns charming and striking. It becomes a matter of where the writer leaves you: When the “wind blows against the shutters” it takes one’s breath as well as the narrative away.

signpostsAnother writer whose work has meant more and more to me in the past few months is Yahia Lababidi. Here’s a sample from his collection, Signposts to Elsewhere: aphorisms & other tailored thoughts:

The personal made universal is art’s truth.

Impulses we attempt to strangle only develop stronger muscles.

The irony of the writer is that of a private person in a public profession.

Venom poisons most the people who carry it.

What I see as the “tailoring” of the aphorisms and thoughts in this collection is something akin to a fingerprint. Throughout, Lababidi does a great job of tempering the didactic and distant nature of the aphorism with a bit of down to earth humor and wisdom.

Here’s another sample:

Dreams: what get us through the night, and oftentimes the day.

Tattoo: graffiti on a masterpiece.

Disgust can be constructive as a spark igniting transformation.

It is not lovers who compose poetry, but Love.

This last line especially speaks to me about the nature of what it means to be a writer, that there is a purpose beyond ink on page at practice through us.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with kind words about The Book of Flight (available for free online)! Thank you also to everyone who has shared their thoughts about Everything We Think We HearIt’s been a big couple of months for me. Thank you for reading, y’all!

Happy tailoring!

José

“In the book of flight, plastic bags are brought in to do the work of clouds.

Dead leaves rest in the margins.

Grass clippings, eyelashes, fingernails: errata in the book of flight.”

(José Angel Araguz from The Book of Flight)

book of flight cover

Happy to announce the release of my latest online chapbook The Book of Flight published by Essay Press! Read it free online or download the chap in PDF here.

The Book of Flight is one of twelve winners in Essay Press’s first Digital Chapbook Contest. For this contest, Essay Press asked 12 recent Essay authors each to select and introduce a manuscript extending and/or challenging the formal possibilities of prose. I am honored to have my manuscript selected and eloquently introduced by the innovative author Misha Pam Dick.

Here is a brief description of the chapbook:

“José Angel Araguz’s The Book of Flight is a chapbook of aphoristic, fragmentary writings in the style of Ramon Gomez de la Serna’s greguerías and Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Described by Misha Pam Dick as “a four-part microtreatise-poem. Like aphorisms that don’t preen, or fragments that don’t mourn,” The Book of Flight lives somewhere between the insight of haiku, the personal heat of tanka, and the everyday tone of a poet’s notebook.”

This project is especially meaningful to me as it represents the culmination of many of the ideas and insights I have followed and exercised throughout various notebooks and other projects over the past ten years. “Clock Ode” in Reasons (not) to Dance as well as “Zoot Suit Riot” and “Moth Season” in Everything We Think We Hear are good examples of precursors to the sensibility that is in full force in this project.

Please read and share this free chapbook and stay tuned for the other eleven selections from Essay Press!

Thanks to Andy Fitch, Maria Anderson, and Aimee Harrison for all the hard work in putting together the chapbook. Thanks toAndrea Schreiber for the cover art and Courtney Mandryk for the cover design. And an extra special thanks to Misha Pam Dick for selecting the manuscript and writing the introduction!

See you Friday!

José

Once upon a time, I was a young poet reading through an anthology of Latin American poetry when I came across a poem by João Cabral de Melo Neto that just blew me away. I wrote the poem down in a notebook – it was in Spanish, translated from the original Portuguese – to translate into English later, which I did, happy to be in conversation with the poem.

The thing is when I discovered this poem years ago, I had it in my head that it was made up of only one part, and so for me, the poem was only one section long. And this one section is lovely. See for yourself:

Weaving the Morning – João Cabral de Melo Neto*
translated into English by José Angel Araguz

 1
One rooster alone does not weave the morning:
he will always be working with other roosters.
One to pick up the cry that he
and throw it to another; another rooster
to pick up the cry of the previous rooster
and throw it to another; and other roosters
with many other roosters crossing
the sun-threads of their rooster cries,
so that the morning, made of a soft fabric,
goes on being woven among all roosters.

20160113_182730-1

* gallo remembered *

Later, I rediscovered the poem and learned that the poet had written it with two sections, not just one. And what’s worse, that second, new (to me) section was kinda clunky (again, to me). Again, see for yourself:

2
And taking shape in this fabric, gathered,
stored and waiting where everyone will enter,
entertaining itself in the awning
(morning) sets down its frameless plans.
Morning, a canopy woven of such airy material
it rises by itself: a globe of light.

So there I was, mistaken and shaken. Was the poem I ran into in the anthology misprinted? Or had it been printed at the bottom of a page, and had younger me – floored and amazed by that first section – not turned the page when I copied it down? What else but poetry can have us slipping past ourselves like this?

There were also the questions of translation: Was the poem in its entirety a finer product in the original Portuguese? Should I consult other Spanish translations? What is a translation but a reaching into the material of memory, other’s and one’s own?

Now, my goal in sharing this story – well, not really story, more snapshots of poetic fumbling – is not to make a case against the second section, but to share the poem (it’s charm can withstand my fumbling). I also wanted to engage a bit with ideas of memory and enchantment (charmenchantmenttrès magique) and how both work in specific ways in poetry. The way the roosters build off each other’s cries is much like the way one poem is answered by another, and how one memory is blurred and built upon by another. One reads and writes, in order to read and write some more.

In a recent postcard exchange with Edward Vidaurre, I held onto my earlier enchantment as I wrote the first section of the poem out. I figured, hey, the first section’s the best part and there’s only so much room on a postcard for a poem plus my own meandering explanation at how I failed to remember the second section initially.

So, really, this is a tale of failure. Speaking of: As I prepared to write this blog post, I flipped through my sketchbook, remembering distinctly that I had sketched a rooster sometime in the past, had the image of it vividly in mind (see above).

Alas, when I found the image, it was no rooster:

20160113_182741

* mis-galloed *

 

Happy roostering!

Jose

*p.s. Here is the poem in the original Portuguese as well as the Spanish translation I worked from:

Tecendo a Manhã – João Cabral de Melo Neto (original)

Um galo sozinho não tece uma manhã:
ele precisará sempre de outros galos.
De um que apanhe esse grito que ele
e o lance a outro; de um outro galo
que apanhe o grito de um galo antes
e o lance a outro; e de outros galos
que com muitos outros galos se cruzem
os fios de sol de seus gritos de galo,
para que a manhã, desde uma teia tênue,
se vá tecendo, entre todos os galos.

E se encorpando em tela, entre todos,
se erguendo tenda, onde entrem todos,
se entretendendo para todos, no toldo
(a manhã) que plana livre de armação.
A manhã, toldo de um tecido tão aéreo
que, tecido, se eleva por si: luz balão.

*

Tejiendo la mañana – João Cabral de Melo Neto
translated into Spanish by José Antonio Montano

1
Un gallo solo no teje una mañana:
precisará siempre de otros gallos.
De uno que recoja el grito que él
y lo lance a otro; de otro gallo
que recoja el grito del gallo anterior
y lo lance a otro; y de otros gallos
que con otros muchos gallos se crucen
los hilos de sol de sus gritos de gallo,
para que la mañana, con una tela tenue,
vaya siendo tejida, entre todos los gallos.

2
Y tomando cuerpo en tela, entre todos,
erigiéndose en tienda, donde entren todos,
entretendiéndose para todos, en el toldo
(la mañana) que planea libre de armazón.
La mañana, toldo de un tejido tan aéreo
que, tejido, se eleva de por sí: luz globo.

claire-falkenberg

“Evening” by Claire Falkenberg, cover art on Qu: a literary magazine Issue 3

Just a quick note to announce the release of Qu: a literary magazine Issue 3 which includes my poems “Engrossed” and “Tourist.”

This issue also includes some fine work, including knockout poems by Jacqueline Balderrama and Amy Marengo. Check out the issue here.

*

Also, I’m happy to share that I have three poems up in the latest Thedoate: “Longing,” “Gods and Goddesses,” & “Widow.” Including in the issue are Billy Collins, Kim Bridgford, and John Gribble among others. Check out the issue here.

See you Friday!

Jose

 

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