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This week’s poem is another gem from Bill Knott.

I’m always happy to run into poems that take on an overlooked part of life and refresh it, make it new by simple acknowledgement. In the case of Knott’s poem “Paradise,” the act of reading a book with facing translations is blown up for the meeting of worlds and circumstances that it is. The choice of words to describe what he terms “Righthandland” – gutter, damned, pulp, tongue – and what it means to dwell as a reader in one language with only glimpses of the original is spot-on. Enjoy!

* the music facing *

* notes from Lefthandland *

Paradise – Bill Knott

Always reading the recto
translation of a verso
original, my eye fades.
I notice how the paper
here on this side seems
darker than its opposite:
it is brighter over there
on the lefthand page, the
words of the real poem
give it that glow which
the prized act of creation
emits.  We who must live
here in Righthandland
are damned no matter
how hard we try to rhyme
minds with that perfect
realm across the gutter.
Even if our pulp comes
from the same stock,
we fear closing the book
will bring us face to face,
mouth to mouth with
that tongue we’ve always
lost, and can never kiss.

***

Happy nevering!

Jose

This week’s poem by Juan Felipe Herrera (recently appointed as the first Chicana/o U.S. Poet Laureate) caught me towards the end the first time I read it. The way the details come together. The turn and return at the end to the image of something dark around the neck. Each reading of it since that first helps me appreciate the lyrical nerve at work.

The words about the grandmother had me in my memories of my own grandmother who passed when I was nineteen. I’ve been in a similar space as the poem describes, “inventing her memory.” For me, “black sparkles” is ink, each word more of the “leash” the poet writes of.

Cimabue, Goya, Beginnings – Juan Felipe Herrera

I carry a dark necklace around my neck.
It’s painted on.

No one has taken notice.

They think it’s an outline or an odd shadow.
No one has stared longer than a few seconds.

I’ll tell you.

I didn’t know where to put all the fragments of the novel
that family never finished. It had such sweet beginnings,
but it grew umber with a one-eyed madonna hovering
over the lampshade.

So many years, I whispered to her
come to me,
listen to me
I understand.

She would appear to me with gold-leaf
around her braids and seven daggers erect over the heart;

perhaps the last desire; the first real words
escaping from my grandmother’s grave, trying to touch
my hair as I sat at seventeen, writing,
inventing her memory.

Her voice was so loving,
now, all that remains is this broken leash
of black sparkles.

Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue

Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue

I’d also like to announce that my full-length microfiction collection Everything We Think We Hear has just been accepted for publication by Floricanto Press!!!

This manuscript has gone through several incarnations since 2012. The move towards microfiction happened in the last year. Something conceptually clicked about these pieces as I was working with FutureCycle Press on the finishing touches of my recent chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance. FutureCycle’s belief in one project breathed life into another.

I’ll be sharing more updates on the project as the book comes together.

Happy everything!

Jose

 

As promised, I have uploaded another reading from our time in Texas back in April. I had hoped to share videos of me reading from both Corpus Christi Octaves and The Wall in order to celebrate their respective anniversaries. Sadly, the reading from the Octaves was severely crashed by seagulls and sun. The seagulls kept cawing over the words (these were poetic seagulls, mind you) and the sun kept me squinting the whole time. I also ended up bursting out laughing at the seagulls mid-reading. It was a mess! But it did lend itself to this iconic screenshot where the inspiration for the cover (artwork by Andrea Schreiber) can be seen:

* mirador mirando *

* mirador mirando *

All being said, we had fun! Below is a reading from The Wall that came out, only minor seagull interference. The text of the poems read are also below:

Key Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I guide the metal, shave it down, follow the make of another key snapped where one would hold it, and when done, turn to face a door I remember from a neighborhood I never lived in but visited once to hear stories of my father, a door that is locked when I try the handle so that I pull out the new key, and when that jams, begin talking to myself, and stop only to lift a key ring from my side, slide the new key next to a hundred others, and let my arm fall, the key ring hitting my side in a dark chuckle.

Ocean Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I am pushed down into the sand only to look up and see a man running into the waves, his legs then breaking into waves, his body breaking into waves, something of my father’s face breaking into waves, until all I am left with is that clash of water and sun that makes metaphor unnecessary.

Concrete – Jose Angel Araguz

Now I’m as old as my father was
When less than a year was left him (Carl Dennis)

At this point, my father had been in jail long enough to be used to concrete, his walls, floors, and sky the same color as the memories I have of him, a color that does not deepen despite the ink and pages, a color that comes out in the weather only when the clouds are full and waiting to let fall nothing one can hold onto.

***

See you Friday!

Jose

 

* holy dancin' castles *

* holy dancin’ castles *

As promised, here is a second installment celebrating the release of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance!

Above is another of the ink paintings by Andrea Schreiber that was nominated as a possible cover. This ink painting was specifically inspired by the piece “Spinster,” the text of which is below.

Enjoy!

Spinster – José Angel Araguz 

You want me to tell you about life here. There was a castle where a woman was buried within a wall as a sacrifice. They knew nothing about her except she loved to dance. Later, there was a law against dancing. You knew when someone was breaking the law because the castle would begin to shake. Mother called the woman a saint: only someone who was pure could root out those who wronged. The night my father left, the castle crumbled down. Granted, this is only partly true. It was told to me and I tell you, not because I believe in dancing castles. I believe you have come here wanting stories, and all I have learned are reasons not to dance.

*

Copies of Reasons (not) to Dance can be purchased here.

Happy (not) dancing!

Jose

Just a quick post to share my contribution to Rosebud Ben-Oni’s recent guest post at the Kenyon Review blog.

Rosebud reached out to her fellow CantoMundistas – Javier Zamora, Carolina Ebeid, Yesenia Montilla, Ruben Quesada, Amy Sayre Baptista, & myself – and asked us each to write a few words on the books by Latina/os written in the 21st Century which have influenced us. Anyone familiar with this blog knows I’m a book geek, happy to dig into what I’m reading, so I relished this opportunity.

Below is my contribution to the Rosebud’s guest post. Make sure to check out the rest of the insightful contributions here.

*

“Books Written in the Twenty-first Century by Latina/o Poets That Have Made Me Braver”
by José Angel Araguz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Elegies In Blue: Written early at the turn of the century, this book stands as a living elegy for both the century that’s passed and the century that continues to grow in the echo of Sáenz’s words: “Perhaps, this year, a harvest for the poor./At last. This year. A harvest for the poor.”

Rosa Alcalá, Undocumentaries: In “Speaking of the Tree,” Alcalá brings together tree mythology, her father, hurricanes, German walds, the Texas/Mexico border, Vermont, etc. – all in a poem whose meaning keeps growing like a tree in both directions, skyward and earthward. Its song and lament holds praise for the lives touched by trees, and a lament for what passes across them. In this collection, this kind of lyrical nerve and ingenuity establishes a poetics of what goes unsaid and “undocumented.”

Rigoberto González, Red-Inked Retablos: I can’t stress enough how powerful the impact of reading the speech “To the Writer, to the Activist, to the Citizen.” From the call for Latina/os to fight with intelligence and be empowered in our public presence as well as to conduct more literary criticism, stressing that we must “generate praise for those who are [our] colleagues not [our] competition,” he makes being a Chicano writer seem like the inevitable beat of my heart.

Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth: Lastly, I keep this following excerpt from “Parts of an Autobiography” written on the first page of my writing journal as a kind of reminder of what is at stake in navigating the worlds of identity and poetry:

53. The writing is not the catharsis. The decision to excavate is the catharsis. The transformation from dreadfulness to art is the catharsis, but the art is the art.

*

Special thanks to Rosebud Ben-Oni and the good people at The Kenyon Review for this opportunity.

See you Friday!

Jose

Human beings pass me on the street, and I want to reach out and strum them as if they were guitars. Sometimes all humanity strikes me as lovely. I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say There, there, it’s all right, honey. There, there, there.

Sandra Cisneros, from ” Never Marry a Mexican”

 

After last week, I’ve been enjoying hitting the books on my exams list again. This week I’m revisiting the work of Sandra Cisneros. In rereading her short story collection Woman Hollering Creek, written after The House on Mango Street with a book of poems in between, it’s interesting to note echoes of Mango Street, at least in terms of formal music and spirit.

The above excerpt, for example, has the nuance and linguistic power of evocation of the best short pieces that make up The House on Mango Street. Yet, even in this excerpt, one can see that the stakes are different. Where Mango Street is a book of childhood, of youthful observation and insight, here the speaker is possessed of the wildness of adulthood. And it’s there in the language. The last sentence’s “There, there, there” evokes the strumming of a guitar in an almost tangible way.

It is in this evocation that Cisneros builds off her previous collection of stories and continues in the spirit of what Charles Baudelaire, in dreaming and defining the prose poem, described as “the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm or rhyme, supple and agile enough to adapt to the lyrical movements of the soul.”

Prose poem, flash fiction, short short, microcuento – whatever banner the lyrical movements happen under, the eye and heart are first to recognize the signs.

Rachel says that love is like a big black piano being pushed off the top of a three-story building and you’re waiting on the bottom to catch it. But Lourdes says it’s not that way at all. It’s like a top, like all the colors in the world are spinning so fast they’re not colors anymore and all that’s left is a white hum.

There was a man, a crazy who lived upstairs from us when we lived on South Loomis. He couldn’t talk, just walked around all day with this harmonica in his mouth. Didn’t play it. Just sort of breathed through it, all day long, wheezing, in and out, in and out.

This is how it is with me. Love I mean.

Sandra Cisneros, from “One Holy Night”

*

Happy hollering!

Jose

p.s. Check out a previous post on a Cisneros-inspired microfiction here.

after the discharge orders
we idle
at a stop sign
I haven’t heard
the birds til now

— Jose Angel Araguz

*

Just a quick post to update on life as well as to share news of a sale.

Update: I am happy to report that I was discharged from the hospital Friday afternoon and have been recuperating nicely. I even taught yesterday. I made sure to tell my students that I was happy to be in front of them again.

Thank you to everyone who helped me get through the difficult week/weekend. All the kind words and ‘likes’ of my previous post meant a lot to me.

*

Sale: Just got word from Flutter Press editor Sandy Benitez that all FP titles are on sale at 40% off including my own Corpus Christi Octaves.

This is significant on two levels: 1.) It’s the first time a chapbook of mine has been on “sale” (eek!), and 2.) This month marks the one year anniversary of Corpus Christi Octaves and the three year anniversary of my first chapbook The Wall.

I plan on sharing some readings from my recent trip to Texas to celebrate later this month. For now, check out the Flutter Press sale – including chaps by Dale Wisely, Howie Good, and Rachel Adams – here. 

The sale ends on July 13th.

*

See you this Friday!

Jose

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