one more from tina cane

In my recent microreview & interview of Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books), I focused on the idea of place and its dual nature in the book as noun and action. I found this particular lens to the collection engaging on several levels. In a poem, place is often both what we write about and what we create in writing. This duality parallels several ideas on the interaction between content and form discussed by poets from Charles Baudelaire to Denise Levertov. There are moments in Cane’s collection when content and form interact and create a tension that feels like a living pulse.

telegramIn this week’s poem, Cane takes the conceit and form of a telegram and subverts it to create a moving statement on mortality. The repetition of the word “STOP” — a direct allusion to the telegram form which would use this word to signal the end of a phrase or sentence — is expected given the title of the piece. Once the narrative of the poem begins to build, however, the word begins to carry with it an added sense of urgency. The practice of using “STOP” in telegrams increased during WWI in an effort towards clarity. In the context of a poem, this effort becomes less about clarity of a message and more of clarity of feeling.

Telegram to My Father – Tina Cane

YOU LOOK LIKE A GOYA STOP IN THE WATERY LIGHT STOP
CHEEKBONES SHARP SKIN THIN LIKE ONION PAPER STOP
BREATHING STOP SHALLOW STOP YOUR FINGERS FRAGILE DRUMMING
ON THE BEDSHEET STOP YOU ARE MOVING YOUR LIPS STOP TRYING
TO RIDE THE TIDE OF MORPHINE DRIP STOP UNCLE MARTY IS ON THE PHONE
MANIC IN STATEN ISLAND STOP PLEADING “YOU DECIDE YOU DECIDE”
JUST BELOW A SHOUT STOP THE FLUIDS I SAY STOP “WHY NOT ME?”
YOU ONCE QUIPPED “STOP” I SAID “WHY?” YOU SAID END

*

Happy pulsing!

José

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Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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microreview & interview: Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling

cane cover 2

review by José Angel Araguz

A Minor History of the East Village – Tina Cane

Maybe you knew a kid who booked through Tompkins Square on his Schwinn     and came out
the other side without the bike and in his socks     never mind he wasn’t buying drugs     this
the price of his stupidity    or maybe you went to Gem Spa three days in a row for egg creams
to flip through Interview magazine     still a stack of color Xeroxes assembled by Andy Warhol
or to The St. Mark’s Theatre to see Oh God! starring George Burns     Enough! you’d said
crouched on the seat     knees beneath your chin     rats scuttling the aisle for popcorn dregs
but it never was
not when that guy died trying to sleep in a hammock on his fire escape
off Avenue A     not when the cops found a woman’s head in a pot on her boyfriend’s stove
on Avenue B not when you and your friends mistakenly buzzed in the guys who would beat
Faye’s elderly neighbor close to death     junkies hunting jewelry or just high     they were men
you could describe     to the cops to anyone for a long time after
and when the paramedics had you
stand by the stretcher as they unjammed the brake     it wasn’t enough to want to take the woman’s
trembling hand     and it wouldn’t have been enough to take it

*

Reading through Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books) by Tina Cane one encounters a poetic sensibility able to write from a sense of place that is both exterior as well as interior. Place works here as both noun (NYC in the poem above) but also the verb. It is the singular way in which Cane places a poem’s attention on subjects ranging from city life to parenthood that creates a space/place for the “feeling” of the title.

In “A Minor History of the East Village,” the city is evoked as a place both mysterious and indiscriminate. From the kid who loses his bike and shoes, to the rats scuttling through the movie theatre, things keep happening at the edges where no one seems to notice or pretends not to. When the speaker says “Enough!” in the same italics as brand names and a movie title (Oh God!, fittingly), the feeling of being overwhelmed is evoked. Rather than pull away, however, the speaker is further pulled into documenting this “minor history” by the words “but it never was.” These words answer the cry of “Enough!” and act as a volta, pivoting the poem into detailing three neighborhood deaths, the last of which occurs in the speaker’s own building. Suddenly, what has been happening at the edges is happening directly in the speaker’s life. The word “enough” returns in the final lines in order to be pushed against further, and convey how the speaker is caught in a moment where every action feels futile.

The collection creates and dwells upon such places/placings of complication via other “minor history” poems, a number of lyric sequences, self portraits, and nocturnes. Throughout, we find a sensibility able to reckon with the statement made in “Nocturne: Restoration,”: “My fingerprints make residence upon the earth.” This idea that fingerprints (full of connotations of individuality as well as mortality and transience) can themselves be places is at the heart of the book. What traces (places) do we leave upon each other? How much power do we give to memory? To names? These poems take turns contemplating these questions, and seeking answers beyond them.

In the aptly named “Trip to Now,” we find the admission:

I was looking for something specific and perfect
but let’s not ruin this with words
New York you and I

This idea of words being able to establish “something specific and perfect” while at the same time being a source of “ruin” reflects a seemingly conflicted idea of poetry. Cane’s poems, however, prove there is a fruitful and compelling tension in this conflict. It is what drives a poem like “Nocturne: Ludlow Street” (below). When the speaker states that “falling in love was like being on the verge of an accident,” we are left in a place that is both the search for something perfect and the need to avoid ruin. That this meditation leads to a scene between parent and son adds to the already high stakes.

In this scene, the nuanced insights happen at the level of line breaks. Reading that the future “is a parallel universe    we are driving” all on its own line, for example, has dual implications of control and lack of control. This jolt of meaning sets up the “fingerprints” imagery of the last line. This further surprising statement from the son carries a sense of gravity to it, and drives home the dual nature of place in this collection. In poems precise in their naming but open and flexible in their observations, Once More With Feeling engages with the idea that life happens between the places we consider and the places we imagine.

*

Nocturne: Ludlow Street – Tina Cane

I could have stood there all night     staring at the Torah ark in your bedroom
looking for clues to the future     a disclosure     but the relic was a relic adorned
with Christmas lights in a semi-legal living space on Ludlow Street     its wisdom
not for me   falling in love was like being on the verge of an accident     I had kept
to myself for so long     often losing     in order to     falling in love was like being
shut out of ideas     a delectable trap   disclosure also often an accident
The future says our nine-year old son
is a parallel universe    we are driving
down a tree-lined street     Did they keep wood from Jesus’s cross?
he wants to know     No I say     There were fingerprints on it, I bet     he says     Yes

*

Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Tina Cane: I always characterize poetry as an approach rather than a genre. As such, poetry is a most flexible form and, like water, can fill any space the poet carves out. My collection, Once More With Feeling, reflects poetry as my attempt to understand the world and my experiences in it. I don’t write with any specific aesthetic or intellectual agenda. I write to understand. Having written a bunch of poems, however, does not imply that I’ve understood anything at all. And I don’t mean that in a deprecating way. I mean that writing is a path. My poems are stones I lay on my path, as I move forward.

Once More With Feeling is a book about place and love and grief and family, about glancing back while pressing on. That seems to me a most human, universal situation. The collection is grounded in particulars—NYC, neighborhoods, people—but is also me reaching out to the reader. To me, poetry is about connection—in all its incarnations.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Tina Cane: This is the most explicitly autobiographical work I’ve written.  I had to work hard to balance my own sense of yearning and vulnerability with a degree of dispassion I felt was necessary to avoid lapsing into nostalgia. There’s always a risk of sentimentality when one writes about the past. While I do believe a poem should move the reader, I resent work that tries to corner me into feeling a certain way. Sometimes poems can hide their true strength behind coy and snarky humor—disguised as intellectualism. Sometimes poems over-share in a way that burdens. I was trying to negotiate between those spaces as I worked on this book. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is certainly subjective, but I wrestled for sure.

At one point, a friend and fellow poet told me he felt a presence in the collection that wasn’t on the page. It was an interesting comment–one that took on true relevance when we discussed “A Minor History of Bodega.” I came to see the “bulletproof glass” in the final line as a metaphor for something I was doing—allowing myself to be seen, but through an impenetrable veneer. Prompted by that conversation, I wrote a couple of  very spare “Self Portrait” poems in which the speaker is conflated with her mother. It was a small addition, but one that felt big to me.

Writing poems is rarely easy for me. Writing exerts itself on me.
As with life, in poetry I press on—collecting and sorting, seeing what gives.
It’s an exquisite kind of pressure to grapple with.

*

Special thanks to Tina Cane for participating! To find out more about Cane’s work, check out her siteOnce More With Feeling can be purchased from Veliz Books.

Tina Cane. Credit Mike Salerno jpgTina Cane is the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and is an instructor with the writing community, Frequency Providence. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Literary Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tupelo Quarterly, Jubliat and The Common. She also produces, with Atticus Allen, the podcast, Poetry Dose.

Cane is the author of The Fifth Thought (Other Painters Press, 2008), Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante, poems with art by Esther Solondz (Skillman Avenue Press, 2016) and Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). In 2016, Tina received the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and their three children. photo credit: Mike Salerno

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Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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in the air with iskandar haggarty

This week’s poem “Flutter” by Iskandar Haggarty comes from his online chapbook There Are No Women In Our House (Praxis Magazine) and is a great example of how a lyric sequence can range in dynamic both conceptually and structurally. In terms of concept, Haggarty keeps the imagery “in the air,” so to speak, across the three sections of the sequence, charging the poem with the flutter of “sparrows” and “fireflies” as well as the expansiveness of a sky that includes moon, planets, and constellations.

This in the air work is furthered in terms of structure by the use of three line stanzas, or tercets, throughout. The sequence goes from four tercets in the first section, to three in the second, and two in the last. This consistency varies within each section by having a single line conclude each one.

Ursa_major_-_MercatorThis structural work creates a visual shape that has the eye “flutter” along with the concept, both moving the reader through the poem’s lyric narrative. The result is a poem that surprises by what it can evoke through its turns and images. From awe to “morning sadness” to finally wonder, this lyric sequence creates its intimacy in an indirect yet vivid manner.

Flutter – Iskandar Haggarty

I.

Your mother had
sparrows
tangled in her hair

and fireflies
trapped inside
her vocal cords.

Every morning, she’d
awaken before the moon
had slumber in its eye

and lightly brush your
snoring father’s
head full of Saturn

with her lips.

II.

Your mother was made
of ashes and was married
to the stars.

Each night, she’d rain down
from Ursa Major,
sprinkling the edges

of thunderbolts
and canopies,
fertilizing the soil

with morning sadness.

III.

Your mother was
the daughter of
Jupiter.

Really? I asked,
my eyes full of
crescents.

The butterflies in Grandpa’s eyelids smiled.

*

Happy fluttering!

José

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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microreview & interview: Manuel R. Montes’ Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles

For this special microreview & interview, I share excerpts from a Spanish to English translation in progress I’m working on as well as provide insights into why I’m excited about this project and some commentary from the writer Manuel R. Montes himself.

montes cover

review by José Angel Araguz

I am currently working with Montes on a translation of his novel Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles (winner of the Premio Bellas Artes Juan Rulfo para Primera Novela 2007), which is a complex work of fragmented storytelling. In our conversations over the text, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” to describe the ambitious range of techniques exhibited throughout the text. Infinita details the brief life and sudden dying of a prematurely born child through the various voices and thoughts of the individuals involved. The nonlinear story jumps between the past and present, establishing connections and metanarrative insights that recall modernists like Virgina Woolf and James Joyce, but which are executed with a human pulse in the style of Roberto Bolaño and Jonathan Safran Foer. Through this ambitious and engaging mosaic of voices and interwoven narratives, Montes honors the human experience of a child’s death with the gravity and complexity it merits.

In the following excerpt from the second section of the book, the narrative flows from a telephone conversation with the father of the lost child to the origins of the novel/narrative itself, all from the perspective of the writer, who is uncle to the “octomesino” or “eightmonther” (a variation on “preemie” which is used to refer to premature born infants):

“this morning I went to the cemetery, ripped grass from his tomb and am planting it, this way we’ll be closer to one another, don’t you think?” I hear a tightness in his voice, panting into the receiver, “by the way, have you begun writing the book?”

–I’ve yet to even try, the process comes less readily when one faces fiction in its most extreme order, made of pure reality–

my sister-in-law mailed  me, in a yellow envelope, sealed, forty-two printed sheets and a back-up magnetic, three and a half inch disc, it is a long letter that contains “only what happened,” and besides this, another note, handwritten, in the first folio, which adds, “I hope this material will be useful, make whatever changes you think appropriate,” the font chosen is ordinary, the font size, reduced, in the document, unnumbered, almost every chapter is described, almost of a whole novel, “much is missing, I’m sending you what I have stored in the computer, according to my notes, as I remember it”

–but the novel or all the possible novels could be anywhere, and what is lost is the author, searching, attempting to write it or them, lost in the chimeric jungles of paraphrase–

the recipient of the letter is a space without image or the imposing blank page in the middle of a photo album

the recipient is, to be precise, the eightmonther

–“you should at the very least find a way to organize so many loose notes”–

A good sense of the tone and scope of the novel is given here, especially how the text moves between being a meditation on a family crisis as well as a meditation on the act of writing. Two frustrated acts of creation are paralleled. What moves the novel for me from straightforward prose into lyrical territory is how the narrative dwells on details and allows for significance and intimacy to arise out of things like the font chosen by the mother to share pieces of the story. The phrasing of that last line, that a brief life and a death can result in “so many loose notes,” is rich in poetic meaning, both for the narrator and the reader of this fragmented text.

The novel moves forward in this fashion, switching perspective and scene, in order to convey the emotional currents of the characters involved. One of the more impressive results of this fragmented narrative is the multiplicity of voices made possible through it, including that of the eightmonther. Here, in a passage a little after the one above, the narrator continues to metanarratively piece together and meditate on the task at hand, only to be interrupted by the eightmonther’s voice (in italics), creating itself amidst the “loose notes”:

another segment, from the notes of the letter

“everything was so real, that night –the first night of august– was the longest night of my life”

–is it that fiction could possibly shorten the suffering?–

it’s that your maternal love started to become more of a labyrinth, and started to darken

you have to tell them that my body, or its forgotten nostalgia, mourns itself at times, do not remember me, do not describe me, you don’t have to cure me, I am fighting to die, do not entangle me, do not bind me, I grow more distant if you tie me down, and I want to come closer, my body does not work, but I am not only my body, let me escape this body like I escaped yours, you have to tell them that it’s useless, you will see that it’s useless, when you are here, with me, that body has ceased to belong to me, leave it alone, leave me alone, that body continues to hurt me when you recall it  

“I would like to know what you are thinking, what would you say if you could speak”

–“remember, organize, organize”–

there are quotes from other characters, but they are inconsistent, imprecise, lacking continuity, my sister-in-law could not deal too much with correcting them or giving them greater emphasis, making them more legible, clearer, impossible to behave so coldly when relating an agony, the voices which burst into the letter resemble those curtains which mysteriously widen like a bellows and make us look back, on summer nights, during a drowsy instant in which the wind has stopped blowing

Here, the rich turns of phrase continue: “remember, organize, organize” reads like a mantra during this attempt to narrate a dark time. The interruption of the eightmonther’s voice can be seen as a kind of consciousness bursting in, much in the spirit of the curtain image in the last paragraph, something else moving in the room of the narrative. What does narrative embody? What does it stir up? What does it potentially exclude or replace? These questions move like electric currents throughout the text.

While these short excerpts can by no means do justice to the whole of the novel, I feel comfortable sharing them here as fragments of a work that in itself is fragmented. Before a whole story is understood, there are voices making themselves known. The story of the eightmonther moves from the mother’s “loose notes” to the narrator’s meditation and effort that is the novel, and now to the translation of that effort. It is a story of motion, which is what is at heart of lyricism.

*

IMG_5479Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing this novel and how did you work through them?

Manuel R. Montes: The difficulties were — have been ever since I wrote the book ten years ago — strictly emotional, familiar. The writing process was impressively unconscious, fluid, impersonal and intimate at the same time. It was an act of hearing and transcribing more than anything else. Of waiting for the last pain from the silence of a white pages filling at their own pace. I — the self-critical I, the form-obsessed I, the style miniaturist and neobarroque experimental I — barely intervened. The novel wrote by itself in less than two months. I kind of recollect the overnight sessions in front of the computer, the urgency to finish and the sadness, but these I won’t consider hardships. The only real challenge for me was to deal with guilt and gratefulness, having dared to expose, with all its tragic luminosity and its engulfing darkness, the death of a new born, dear nephew. I experienced true regret and also a simultaneous, joyful necessity of immortalizing, in words that didn’t seem to be mine, his four-month, relentless and unbearable life and struggle before he passed away. I have not worked through this mourning feeling completely, nor have I stopped marveling every time I remember how the novel just materialized independently from me, way beyond my control or even my will. It was as if I couldn’t touch it. I still can’t.

Influence Question: In describing this project to others, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” – Do you have any thoughts about the phrase, which for me is not a fixed term but something I continue define as I continue to translate your book?

Manuel R. Montes: I am not against the phrase, not at all, which would offend by the way many of the novelists of my generation or even older authors if someone considered their works as examples of that category. Nevertheless, when I think of «lyric», it’s the expressive predominance of the «I» as the main voice of a work what comes to my mind, and because of that resemblance to a certain kind of poetry I would disagree with the term, since the narrator in my novel is a hidden shadow, a silent, invisible and anonymous figure, some sort of scared and hypersensitive witness who listens those around him or her crying. A nobody who is mute but has to translate to prose the horror and the wonder of a short and fragile existence, feeling impotence and fear and compassion, but also admiration. It’s not «I» who speaks or try to speak here, but «Them», «Us».

*

Special thanks to Manuel R. Montes for participating! To find out more about his ideas on writing, go here.

photo credit: Diana Cárdenas

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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Small Fires excerpt & Goodreads giveaway announcement!

This week I am excited to announce a Goodreads giveaway for my latest poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). I’ll be giving away ten signed copies of the book. Deadline is August 10th, 2017. Check out the details here:

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

To help celebrate this announcement, I am presenting an excerpt from Small Fires in the form of both a poem and some commentary. The poem is entitled “Hail from Corpus Christi” and as I mention in a Q&A conducted by Carve Magazine, working on this poem was key into finding the themes of the collection.

Hails from Corpus Christi – José Angel Araguz

I would be belted after dinner,
my food eaten with the moon,
the night a table where a place
is set, and a place diminishes –
hardened, chucked out of the sky,
milk-glow, but a rap like a stone,
the kind in movies thrown at windows
to get someone’s attention – I was all
attention as my mother’s boyfriend
turned to rain and thunder,
clouds broke into fists and cries
broke the sky of my sleep with lightning
that held fast in me, turned me
into that color – a hardened flash
falling through the years into a room
where I tried to restrain the weather
of what I felt, but raised
my voice, punched the wall, the table,
clawed after and clutched your arm
as you tried to leave before
hearing what I had to say,
clutched and pulled away to see the white
of where the blood had left, a hardened
streak that burst into
your hand hard across my face, your voice
no longer a voice I knew,
a voice that from then on
kept me at a distance,
would harden and check me for years,
distrustful, despite our apologies,
despite tears and my own diminishing
voice, a pebbled voice, a grit,
shit shit shit under my breath
every time we’d argue, knowing
there was nothing I could do
but take it, hold my clouded self,
not wanting to hit, ricochet, scatter.

*

For more commentary on this poem, check out the rest of the Carve Magazine Q&A.

Happy hailing!

José

new review up at The Bind!

Just a quick post to share my latest creative review for The Bind!

This time around I do a review & erasure based on one of the poems from Jennifer Givhan’s collection Protection Spell!

I had a lot of fun working out the erasure and engaging with the main themes of the book both in the process and in my review. Check it out here.

See you Friday!

José

smoking with george oppen

Some poems are capable of tapping into the connotations or “languages” around a word and making them meet. This week’s poem, “If It All Went Up in Smoke” by George Oppen, for example, does a great job of taking the languages of  the word “smoke” and blurring them to create a visceral metaphor.

First, there is the paradoxical logic of the initial two lines: “that smoke / would remain,” which presents the image of smoke hanging in the air. Then through “light” “footprints” and “grass blades,” the logic of the poem further develops from transient, slight things, only to have that idea pushed against by the solidity of “wells” and the presence of “distances.”

As smoke is always in motion, so is language and, by default, poetry. Smoke is also after-the-fact, needing to arise from a fire. From the fire of experience (“grass / blades”), begins the smoke we write and read in poetry.

smoke-32

If It All Went Up in Smoke – George Oppen

that smoke
would remain

the forever
savage country poem’s light borrowed

light of the landscape and one’s footprints praise

from distance
in the close
crowd all

that is strange the sources

the wells the poem begins

neither in word
nor meaning but the small
selves haunting

us in the stones and is less

always than that help me I am
of that people the grass

blades touch

and touch in their small

distances the poem
begins

*

Happy beginning!

José