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Archive for March, 2016

Just a quick post to share that my poem “Element” has been published at Zócalo Public Square! Please check it out!

Thanks to Colette Speer for the opportunity!

See y’all Friday!

José

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Village Blues – Michael S. Harper

The birds flit
in the blue palms,
the can workers wait,
the man hangs
twenty feet above;
he must come down;
they wait for the priest.
The flies ride on the carcass,
which sways like a cork in a circle.
The easter light pulls hims west.
The priest comes, a man
sunken with rum,
his face sandpapered
into a rough of split
and broken capillaries.
His duty is cutting
down the fruit
of this quiet village
and he staggers slowly, coming.

12th_century_Greek_Warrior_Fustanella

Sgraffito, I learned recently, is a technique used in both wall decor and ceramics in which contrasting colors are layered across a surface, only to be then scratched into so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. The result is an image made of a specific depth and texture.

This week’s poem – “Village Blues” by Michael S. Harper – performs via language in a way similar to sgraffito. Harper writes of a hanged man’s body by choosing to write about the life going on around it. In describing the birds, workers, even the flies at the scene, Harper layers the daily lives of the village over the dead body, and thus makes the presence of the lost life all the more felt. The description of the priest, too, as he “staggers slowly, coming” to the body, becomes imbued with the unspoken. Through indirect association, everything in the village “sways” along to the village’s “blues.”

These thoughts also bring to mind the following haiku by Basho, where the layered images give way to something deeper:

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake

*

Happy winging!

José

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asterix-logo-small

Just a quick post to share the news that my poem “La Llorona at the Saloon” is now up at Asterix Journal in their “Asterisms” section!

I love the image they selected to go with my poem! Special thanks to editor Angie Cruz!

See you Friday,

José

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If you were a scientist, if you were an explorer who had been to the moon. . . What you said would have the force of that accumulated background of information; and any mumbles, mistakes, dithering, could be forgiven . . . But a poet – whatever you are saying, and however you are saying it, the only authority you have builds from the immediate performance, or it does not build. The moon you are describing is the one you are creating.  From the very beginning of your utterance you are creating your own authority.
(William Stafford)

trojanLast Friday, I had the pleasure of talking at Foy H. Moody High School (Go Trojans!), the high school I graduated from in Corpus Christi, Texas. My talk was structured around the above quote from William Stafford and the idea of writing as performance. Along with reading poems about the moon, I provided students with index cards where they could try their hand at describing/creating the moon. Here’s one that a student, Ashley, was kind enough to allow me to share here:

It makes me want to swallow
my tears, it makes me believe
I can forget my fears.
It gives me hope.

One of the things that moves me about this young poet’s lyric is how it reaches out to a similar sentiment as the Izumi Shikibu tanka I shared last week. Both lyrics set the solitary figure of the moon against the solitude of the self and work out of that tension a feeling of hope. Truly inspiring!

As part of my visit, I donated copies of Corpus Christi OctavesReasons (not) to Dance, and Everything We Think We Hear to the library. As I made my way through readings from Reasons and Everything, I found the moon popping up over and over again in the poems, serendipitously chiming along with the framework of my talk. It was one of those happy accidents that happen while teaching that, in a way, show your intuition paying off.

When a student asked why I thought the moon came up in the poems so much, I surprised myself again by sharing that it might have something to do with having shared a room as a child with my mother. She would work late nights, and often I would stay awake in bed staring out the window. And most nights the moon was there; when not, then the stars.

Looking back on this moment, I can’t help thinking about the following poem by Jack Gilbert, where he gives his own moon-reasoning:

Secrets of Poetry – Jack Gilbert

People complain about too many moons in my poetry.
Even my friends ask why I keep putting in the moon.
And I wish I had an answer like when Archie Moore
was asked by a reporter in the dressing room
after the fight, “Why did you keep looking in
his eyes, Archie? The whole fight you were
looking in his eyes.” And old Archie Moore said,
“Because the eyes are the windows to the soul, man.”

738px-Galileo's_sketches_of_the_moon

* mirrors to the sol *

Another “wish I could back and share” thought: It completely slipped my  mind that in the Octaves I have the following poem where I riff and hold conversation with the Stafford quote. I share it here in the spirit of belatedness:

The moon you are describing is the one you are creating
– William Stafford

How many moons between us, friend?
I meet you under circumstances
bad and good: bad, because you’re not here,
good, because I get to listen

and hear the moon you’d have me see.
Moon of my own efforts: where to start?
My questions? What are questions? Tonight,
the moon is in the shape of one.

*

Special thanks to Simon Rios and Melissa Yanez of Moody for helping set up the talks! Thanks also to Ashley, Marcos, and all the other students who participated in the talk about the moon!

Happy lunaring!

José

 

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As I am on the road – in Corpus Christi, Texas promoting Everything We Think We Hear to be exact – I thought I would do a short, fun post of some seasonal short lyrics. Could be that the winters in Cincinnati are tough that I’ve got spring on my mind already.

I’d like to say a special thanks to everyone who made it out to my readings this week. Thank you for braving a rather stormy week in Corpus Christi. A very special thanks as well to Alan Berecka and Tom Murphy for the opportunity to read at Del Mar College and TAMUCC, respectively.

Below are poems by Kay Ryan, Issa, Izumi Shikibu, and Edward Thomas. The Shikibu tanka is an old favorite of mine. I ran into it almost ten years ago in an essay by its translator, poet Jane Hirshfield. In writing about doing the translations for her book The Ink Dark Moon, Hirshfield’s essay broke down how in five lines Shikibu is able to present an image of enlightment (“moonlight”) reaching through to even the most materially impoverished life (“ruined house”).

Enjoy!

***

Spring – Kay Ryan

It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as
new.

*
*
*

    The snow is melting
and the village is flooded

    with children.

Issa*
*
*
*
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu**
*
*
*
The Cherry Trees – Edward Thomas
***
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
*
*
Weeping-cherry-tree-arlington-cemetery-dc_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg
*
Happy (pre)springing!
*
*
José
*
*
*translated by Robert Hass
**translated by Jane Hirshfield & Mariko Aratani

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Just wanted to share my my recent interview with Speaking of Marvels.

Here, I open up about The Book of Flight as well as my other chapbooks: The Wall, Naos, Corpus Christi Octaves, & Reasons (not) to Dance.

Also, check out this clip of me reading “Hangman Ode” earlier today at Del Mar College. Looking forward to reading as the featured poet tonight at their open mic (7pm, Del Mar College White Library, Room 514).

Thanks to everyone who made it through the rain to see the reading!

See you Friday!

José

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The Poets – Bert Meyers

There he sat among them
(his old friends) a walking ash
that knows how to smile.
And he still dreamed of a style
so clear it could wash a face,
or make a dry mouth sing.
But they laughed, having found
themselves more astonishing.

They would drive their minds
prismatic, strange, each wrapped
in his own ecstatic wires,
over a cliff for language,
while he remained to raise
a few birds from a blank page.

abstract-219736_960_720

* spot the heart & ohio in the ash *

This continues to be one of my favorite Bert Meyers poems. Not only does it contain the characteristic Meyers’ eye for images capable of performing their own narrative while adding to the poem’s (“a walking ash/that knows how to smile”) but there is also something prayer-like to the focus of the lyric.

Through telling the story of one of “the poets,” the poem presents two sides and approaches to poetry. One side is that of the “he” who “dreamed a style/so clear it could wash a face,” while the other side is that of the other poets who “drive their minds/prismatic.”

In describing both sides, the speaker speaks in the clear manner that is dreamed of by the “he,” and does so with the effortlessness that is the opposite of the “prismatic” poets. When the poem gets to its last line, I can’t help but believe in the “few birds” rising from the poem before me.

Next week will bring me to back to my hometown, Corpus Christi, Texas for readings at Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I’m really looking forward to these readings. It’ll be the first time in over 10 years that I’ll be reading in my hometown and I’m excited to share the work I’ve done so far. I’ll be reading from Everything We Think We Hear along with selections from the chapbooks. Here’s the info:

*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Reading & Book Signing 11am

*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Open Mic feature 7pm

*)Thursday, March 10th 2016 Texas A&M University Corpus Christi: Opening Reader for Laurie Ann Guerrero 7pm

I’ll also be spending the afternoon doing a talk/reading at Foy H. Moody High School the Friday of next week.

I’ll be reaching out to folks on Facebook but feel free to contact me if you have any questions: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com

*

Happy ashing!

José

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