new book reviews!

Just a quick post to share my latest published book reviews!

accardi

First up is my review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s collection Only More So (Salmon Poetry) which can be read at Queen Mob’s Tea House. In it, I discuss the use of lists as an engine behind a number of Accardi’s powerful poems.

Also, my review of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press) by Ashley M. Jones is available to be read at Fjords Review. In this review, I focus on the ways Jones reckons with history on a personal level to pay homage to Birmingham, Alabama.

magic-city-gospel-cover

See you Friday!

José

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modifying with ángel gonzález

This week’s poem comes from Spanish poet Ángel González. It speaks of the ways words modify and change what they are attached to. It’s the kind of poem that if you speak too much about it, it flies away, like the butterfly in the poem.

I offer my own translation from the Spanish with the full awareness that the act of translation itself lives in this territory of ephemeral, shifting meaning.

I offer it also as a belated valentine to Ani, as we happened to be apart last week. What’s in the date of a holiday, really?

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A veces, un cuerpo puede modificar un nombre – Ángel González

A veces, las palabras se posan sobre las cosas
como una mariposa sobre una flor, y las
recubren de colores nuevos.

Sin embargo, cuando pienso en tu nombre, eres
tú quien le da a la palabra color, aroma, vida.

¿Qué sería tu nombre sin ti?

Igual que la palabra rosa sin la rosa:
un ruido incomprensible, torpe, hueco.

*

Sometimes, a body can modify a name – Ángel González
translated by José Angel Araguz

Sometimes, words pose themselves over things
like a butterfly over a flower, and they
cover them in new colors.

Nevertheless, when I think of your name, it’s you
that gives the word color, aroma, life.

What would your name be without you?

Same as the word rose without the rose:
an incomprehensible, clumsy, hollow noise.

*

Happy modifying!

José

new interview series for the CR blog!

Just a quick post to share my new interview series for the Cincinnati Review blog focused on #poetsofinstagram!

The interviews in this series will range from poets who work with erasure/blackout poetry and found poems, to poets who combine their own artwork with their text. These interviews will focus on the writing itself as well as the sense of community to be found among poets on social media.

Check out the first interview with @nomadic_words and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!

See you Friday!

José

adrienne rich & knowing

There’s an Adrienne Rich quote I’ve been carrying in my pocket for about a month now, bugging friends with it and dropping it into conversation whenever possible. It goes:

The learning of poetic craft was much easier than knowing what to do with it — with the powers, temptations, privileges, potential deceptions, and two-edged weapons of language.

These words come from the foreword to her selected poems, The Fact of a Doorframe. Here, she is discussing her earlier work, how the crucible of youth and experience were changing the stakes of her writing. I feel these words at the core of me as I begin to near the end of my PhD studies. What are the reasons for this degree? What can it do? More than anything, I find myself answering these questions with action. That the knowledge and experience gained in the process of education can be shared with others. That I can turn around help make things clearer for others by engaging and imparting the tools.

portrait_of_marie_curie_1867_-_1934_polish_chemist_wellcome_m0004624These are things that are embodied in the beginnings of this blog, which I created to share poetry and thoughts on poetry. I see these ambitions also reflected in my book reviews: That listening can also be action, and in reviews, one listens and relates what they hear so that others can listen as well. Words, in this way, become a source of power, one capable of mutability as much as connection.

This week’s poem engages with the idea of power via the figure of Marie Curie. In the poem, Rich’s speaker engages with the cost of power, and what must be dealt with as we fulfill the needs and ambitions of it. What comes across by the end is the speaker’s capacity for empathy, their ability to listen and evoke Curie’s relationship with power, and show it for the dual struggle and triumph it was.

Power – Adrienne Rich

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power

*

Happy listening!

José

p.s. Special thanks to Steven Sanchez for introducing me to this poem!

breathing with Steven Sanchez

bodyIn my microreview & interview of Steven Sanchez’s To My Body (Glass Poetry Press), I focused primarily on the use of imagery throughout the collection to explore the presence of both the physical and experiential body in a poem. It is more than fitting, then, that this week’s poem, “Human Breath Is Eroding The Sistine Chapel,” takes the body metaphors and further unpacks them in an ekphrastic poem that adds new threads of myth to a familiar image.

The travel of this particular poem is where much of the image work is done. The title starts off by placing the image of Michelangelo’s painting in the reader’s mind. We are, like the speaker, considering the famous image and this fact about human breath and erosion. A few lines in, the poem shifts and imposes over this first image the image of the speaker’s hotel room ceiling, their meditation suddenly taking on a more intimate tone. This intimacy is complicated by the third shift of the poem as the speaker digs into memory. Here, the two imposed images so far in the poem are clouded, literally, by the frost breath of the memory.

These three moves present different takes on human breath: it can erode a painting on a ceiling; it can convey smoke in a hotel room; and it is what words are carried on in speech. In each take, breath leaves the human body to have an effect elsewhere. The nature of these effects is at times unmanageable, yet we continue to look, hoping to see something of ourselves in time.

god2-sistine_chapel

Human Breath Is Eroding The Sistine Chapel – Steven Sanchez

Where else do words tarnish
paint and plaster like smoke

on wallpaper, remnants of strangers
I feel close to? The dark matter

of their lungs and mouths scours
the textured ceiling. I light up and lie

down on the motel bed, becoming
Michelangelo on my back, cigarette

stroking the air. I see the world
like I used to, making cold angels

on the white expanse of my backyard
where I watched winter enter

and leave my body, transforming
words into something invisible,

almost tangible, like Adam’s left
hand that will never reach God.

*

To My Body by Steven Sanchez can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.

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Happy breathing!

José

microreview & interview: Steven Sanchez’s To My Body

body

review by José Angel Araguz

In his chapbook To My Body (Glass Poetry Press), Steven Sanchez brings together a series of poems that explore the ways in which the body learns what it means to be present. In unpacking moments of conflict and joy, To My Body becomes an ode to both the physical body and the body of experiences lived through.

One of the main engines in which this work is done is imagery. Sanchez’s eye for building up to apt and compelling images that speak volumes is evident throughout. In the opening poem, “Homophobia,” for example, a childhood memory of being shamed by a father for being “afraid // to let go” while hanging from monkey bars, ends:

you fall
in the sand and I hear

you sniffle.
You grab sand and squeeze
your hand, each grain

sieving
through your fingers
like water.

This image of moving from “sniffle” to the image of a hand squeezing a fistful of sand works on two levels. First, the grabbing after sand is an act of reaching for and wanting connection; that what is literally close at hand, sand, is something gritty and difficult to keep hold of, however, evokes how distant and unavailable that connection feels. What is being depicted is no less vivid for being a memory; time itself, evoked through the image of falling sand, creates its own grit. Secondly, the speaker interprets this image as moving “like water,” a simile that fruitfully juxtaposes disparate elements. That something rough and solid like sand can move and evoke water places in the reader’s mind a symbol for how fear works. The distance fear creates between people – here, the father and son, but also the son and themselves – often forces people to live parallel lives. The speaker is being asked in this moment to understand the hardness of difference, to let go of the hurt they feel while it is undeniably physically and emotionally present.

Similar image work occurs in the poem “Paleontology” whose opening lines set up the following scene of domestic violence:

My father threw second hand encyclopedias
at my mother’s back and she blanketed me

between her and the mattress…

This image of a mother protecting her child with her body is then unpacked by the speaker through further connections as the speaker recalls:

…the book splayed open

on my bed where a Tyrannosaurus Rex
assumed a fetal position, her spine

and tail arched into a semicircle,
skull tucked between claws

and into what was left of her chest. Her ribs
pierced the eye sockets of her offspring.

When that six-mile asteroid plummeted
from the sky, did the mother devour him whole

protecting him the only way she knew how
or did she fall onto him after impact…

These lines do a great job of unpacking the complicated implications of the opening image. Present day violence and protection is reframed here and placed within the wider context of existence, which is essentially what is at stake. Through the parallel image of an extinct species in a pose of bodily protection, Sanchez makes clear the dire nature of this moment between mother and son without any loss of the risk, danger, or love that existed simultaneously.

Ultimately, the poems of To My Body present a poetic sensibility able to honor and understand what it means to live through physical and emotional circumstances, to render them for both their darkness and light. In the poem below, one sees this sensibility in the service of coming to terms with one’s self. The speaker’s narrative develops through images of bodily knowledge (“skull’s tenor,” “the dense beat of a palm”), and through these images comes to an understanding, not to say peace exactly, with what it means to live with the dual nature of difference. Where the earlier image of sand falling from a child’s hand evoked conflicted and hurt emotions, this poem’s speaker presents its closing image of shark gills with an edge. To be in possession of “two halves of a sonnet / that can turn an ocean into breath” is to be in possession of a whole expression, two parts of an argument that can both overwhelm and sustain life.

The Anatomy Of Your Voice – Steven Sanchez

Only you can hear the rattle of bones
inside your voice, the skull’s tenor

tucked around the alto of your vocal cords
like the drumhead of a tambourine,

the dense beat of a palm striking skin.
At ten years old you hear yourself

on an answering machine and realize
why kids call you fag–your vocal cords

aren’t strings on a cello and aren’t steel
braided cables suspending a bridge,

they’re membranes slit in your throat
like silver zils in a tambourine ringing

whenever you speak.
Remember to inhale

as if through the gills
on either side of a shark —

seven and seven, two halves of a sonnet
that can turn an ocean into breath.

*

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

Steven Sanchez: I’ve never had much patience. When I was little, I’d untie my shoes in a hurry and usually end up with a tight knot I couldn’t get out. Sometimes my parents helped me out, and sometimes I cut it. While I’ve gotten better at untying my shoes, there’s still this knot I feel inside my stomach.

Up until a few years ago, if you’d asked me what I wanted more than anything in the world, I would’ve told you two things: to be straight and white. I didn’t learn the terms for these desires until grad school, and that’s when I realized how much society had made me internalize homophobia and racism. But the knot I have isn’t learned self-hate, it’s the effects of that prolonged self-hate, and it’s also anger. When California passed Prop 8, it was the first time I felt that knot in my stomach—not so much because of the prop itself, but because everybody around me, at best, was nonchalant. And as time goes on, as more headlines point out everyday injustices, people remain calm, and the knot gets tighter.

The knot never leaves and that was the hardest part was about writing To My Body.  I wanted to unravel that knot, to get rid of it so I could move on to something else. I was hopeful that these poems could be something like a spool, winding up my experiences so that somebody else could use them, but more often than not, the poems ended up tightening the knot. I started becoming frustrated.

Part of my frustration was because I definitely wasn’t ready to write these poems; the other part was that I felt like I kept failing because people said my poems were “political,” which people often used as a euphemism for heavy-handed. What really helped me work through that was reading Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. They taught me how the personal is political, that simply existing is a political act, that every poem is political. I struggled so much with the negative connotations of “political poetry” that I’d forgotten how empowering it could be.

Changing my perception about the term political wasn’t enough. I knew that my poems still didn’t do what they needed to; they didn’t surprise me and they didn’t feel natural. At a craft talk, Eduardo Corral mentioned that coming to the poem with a pre-set message you want to convey doesn’t work because you’re not allowing yourself to be caught off guard. Also, Adrienne Rich wrote about the two kinds of political poems: good and bad. Bad political poems create an argument. Good political poems create an experience. I started realizing that because I had a pre-set message I wanted to convey, I approached them like an argument—here’s my statement, here’s my image supporting that statement. Instead, I tried re-creating formative moments in my life on the page without worrying about making a statement, without worrying about resolving those moments, and the knot started to loosen.

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Special thanks to Steven Sanchez for participating! Find out more about his work at his siteTo My Body can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.

suddenness via leah poole osowski

osowskiThis week I’m sharing a poem from Leah Poole Osowski’s collection Hover Over Her which I recently discussed in a microreview & interview for the CR blog.

In my review, I discussed the collection in terms of “the poetics of suddenness.” This week’s poem, “Glow Sticks,” embodies what I mean by this phrase in its use of direct commands to indirectly handle a narrative charged with urgency. One of the ways in which this move comes together is the mix of long and short sentences.

The shift in energy, for example, between the sentence: “Crack them like taking a frozen lake in your hand, / as a branch, and applying light pressure”  which occurs over two lines, to the sentence after it, “Enter the dark” is compelling for a number of reasons. For one, it is the move from the comfort of detailed instruction and linguistic duration of the longer sentence to the “dark” of the shorter sentence that is abstract and concise. Also, the switch in diction and length creates a momentum in the speaker’s voice that evokes the suddenness that the addressee is being guided through.

This momentum is builds throughout the poem, culminating in the image of “flashlight beams / spelling your name into space.” I’m moved in these final lines by both the closing side of the indirect narrative of the poem as well as what the image implies beyond the poem. To have a name spelled out in light into space speaks to the fleeting nature of life. One can see a parallel in this image of John Keats’ epitaph, which reads: “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Osowski’s collection is full of moments like this one, whose freshness and vividness is articulated through a living pulse.

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Glow Sticks – Leah Poole Osowski

Phenol and chemistry that excites a dye.
Crack them like taking a frozen lake in your hand,
as a branch, and applying light pressure.
Enter the dark. Teach a girl who’s never seen light
held in a tube to throw them toward the ceiling —
see the night split open like fault lines.
Show her to trim her wrist and dance like prisms
in a thunderstorm. Tell her how to keep
them into tomorrow, with tinfoil in the freezer,
and watch her worry. You understand this fear
of losing the light. How many summers did you
break them open over the sands of Cape Cod bay,
shake the chemicals onto the ground to bring
the constellations to your feet? You still taste
the hydrogen peroxide when you kiss strangers.
Still mourn the slow deaths of jarred fireflies,
of sand-covered beach fires, of flashlight beams
spelling your name into space.

*

Happy glowing!

José