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Archive for April, 2017

A few big changes have happened in my life that I am barely catching up on enough to relate here. The first is that I have happily accepted an Assistant Professor position at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. I am really excited to be joining a stellar faculty at an institution known for cultivating a great intellectual and creative atmosphere. I am also excited to be back in Oregon, with its supportive and vibrant poetry community, bookstores, coffee (OMG, coffee!), and proximity to family.

What this big turn also means is that we’ve had to leave Cincinnati sooner than expected. The past few weeks have had us cleaning and packing and cleaning again, until we landed in Oregon last week. Hence, the catching up (with consequent catching of breath).

Along with all the moving work, I have also been working with FutureCycle Press and placing the final touches on Small Fires, which is due out next week. More details to come.

Big moves like this one always take me back to this week’s poem by Richard Tillinghast. Tillinghast’s meditative lyric hooks into the symbol of “big doors” and deftly begins to weave various narratives of “Many things never to be seen again!” The energy and clarity of this particular line does the work of bringing the reader closer to the poem, the speaker seeming to be on the level of awed gossip as they relate the rich details and images that follow. As the poem ends, the reader themselves has been on a ride, ruminating alongside the speaker, and, like them, knowing both a bit of what has passed and that there remains so much more they cannot know.

church-doors

Big Doors – Richard Tillinghast**

I have seen with my own eyes doors so massive,
two men would have been required
to push open just one of them.
Bronze, grating over stone sills, or made of wood
from trees now nearly extinct.

Many things never to be seen again!
The fury of cavalry attacking at full gallop.
Little clouds of steam rising
from horse droppings
on most of the world’s streets once.

Rooms amber with lamplight
perched above those streets.
Pilgrimage routes smoky with torchlight
from barony to principality through forests
which stood as a dark uncut authority.

A story that begins “Once upon a time.”
Messengers, brigands, heralds
in a world unmapped from village to village.
Legends and dark misinformation,
graveyards crowded with ghosts.

And when the rider from that story at last arrives,
gates open at midnight to receive him,
two men, two men we will never know,
lean into the effort of
pushing open each big door.

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Happy dooring!

José

P.S. The Influence is now considering poetry submissions. Check out the “submissions” tab to learn more.

**This poem is from The New Life (Copper Beech Press, 2008).

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1605831838_351eab12ed_bAs the release date of my next poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), approaches, I want to quickly revisit one of the key poems from my book Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press).

Below is the piece “Spiderman Hitches a Ride” along with a short essay about the origins of the piece. The short essay was originally written for the Tahoma Literary Review blog when this piece was published in issue 5.

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Spiderman Hitches a Ride – José Angel Araguz

My mother compares me to Spiderman, and for a second I like it.

I mean, it’s what I’ve always wanted: to be viewed in the glory of courage and costume; to be super tough and just, a city like a little brother needing me to battle bullies and take back lunch money, a villain defining me by default as a hero, his crooked eyebrows and overheated plans carnival mirror to my calm and valiant stance; to push out of paper bag clothes; to leave my shoes untied, their mouths open in awe; to slip on the muscles and dreams of tomorrow’s headlines; to leave a woman breathless, with a single kiss amazed, her heart pounding at the thought of being in love with a man – in tights – who leaves her without a name or number with which to follow him into the fire.

He is like me, my mother says, because he too wants to do good things for people, but he gets beat up, can’t find a job and his girl ends up dating someone else. He saves people’s lives but is always flaco y vago, vagabond skinny with luck and life.

Is this what it meant for her when at seventeen I boarded a plane and soared out of this city, where if she couldn’t see into my head she could at least put a roof over it. Those years I disappeared into the phone, and was ok in Santa Fe, ok in San Diego, ok in New York but still short and small in words.

M’ijo, no te preocupes, don’t worry. She smiles, then slips off her seatbelt to reach over and wrap an arm around my neck, the other dropping a twenty into my lap. The green paper is wrinkled in waves that shudder and blur as I blink fast, trying once again to be heroic.

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On “Spiderman Hitches a Ride”
originally published in Tahoma Literary Review issue 5)

This piece is part of my collection, Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), whose pieces deal primarily with what it meant for me to grow up in and out of South Texas.

The first draft of “Spiderman” was written during the summer of 2004 during which I lived in a house that had no electricity. The house belonged to a dear friend of mine who offered me a place to stay when he heard I was coming back to my hometown, Corpus Christi. “There’s no electricity,” he warned, “but you’ll have plenty of room to sit and write.” Having no job prospects that summer, I happily took him up on it.

Without a job, there was plenty of time to write as well. I spent most days that summer selling my personal library one sad stack at a time at a used bookstore and using the few dollars raised from that to buy coffee. I would take over a table at a café and write and write and write. At night, I would make my way over to the dollar movies and watch just about anything just to be in the air conditioned theater. Corpus Christi summers stay in the high 90s, low 100s, on average, with the nights carrying the heat via humidity.

That summer, I watched a lot of bad movies, keeping my notebook open on my lap and my pen to paper. I blame that summer for the fondness that remains for the train wreck of a movie, Troy, lines from which still come to me when thinking about the Iliad. Similarly, I must’ve watched Spiderman 2 close to a hundred times. Writing in the dark of the theater felt like dreaming; the various narratives and worlds around me began to blur. Peter Parker’s bumbling yet charming bad luck never felt too far off from my own. And while I may never have saved a city from destruction, only myself (barely), you never saw Peter open a letter from Sallie Mae and keep down his lunch.

Going back and forth in (anti)heroic comparisons at night kept me writing at a time when each day I woke to the reality of being young, college-educated, and broke. Broken, too, my ego, my sense of self and of the future. Only poetry braced me; and only family buoyed me.

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See you Friday!

José

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Mirror – Robert Okaji

The attraction is not
unexpected. We see

what is placed
before us, not

what may be.
The mirror is empty

until approached.

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Italian_Baroque_MirrorThis week’s poems were originally published as part of the Origami Poems Project who create free, downloadable microchaps. “Mirror” and “Earth” (below) come from You Break What Falls, and “Sheng-yu’s Lament” (also below) comes from No Eye But the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese. Both microchaps are availabe for free on Okaji’s Origami Poems author page.

What I enjoy about “Mirror” is how it engages the symbol of a mirror lyrically, so that the metaphysical connotations don’t weigh the poem down. Instead, the short lyric passes as quickly as a reflection, while its insights linger like light.

A similar engine is at the heart of “Earth.” Both poems deal with human presence and their implications. Where one fills the “empty” mirror, one “breaks” the earth by being here. It feels natural to pair these poems because each takes the reader into a meditative state with koan-like directness.

Earth – Robert Okaji

Tremor and
stone

beset upon the calm.

Now water
lines the road’s

bed, and we see
no means to pass.

Even so
you break what falls.

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3375190476_26b1cbc344_bTo complement these two poems, I present this third poem, “Sheng-yu’s Lament,” an adaptation from the Chinese. Okaji states in the microchap that he calls it an adaptation rather than translations “because I neither read nor speak Chinese, and have used transliterations to produce these versions.”

Reading below, one can easily that part of what is brought into the adaptation process is Okaji’s lyric sensibility. One can see the handling and navigating of the older poet’s meaning done with reverence not rivalry. Bringing these poems together, one can see how in this poem by another poet we return to “earth” and “mirror,” and can glimpse a bit of what these words might further mean for Okaji as well as ourselves.

Sheng-yu’s Lament
(after Mei Yao-ch’en)
–adapted by Robert Okaji

First heaven took my wife,
and now, my son.
These eyes will never dry
and my heart slowly turns to ash.
Rain seeps far into the earth
like a pearl droped into the sea.
Swim deep and you’ll see the pearl,
dig in the earth and you’ll find water.
But when people return to the source,
we know they’re gone forever.
I touch my empty chest and ask, who
is that withered ghost in the mirror?

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Be sure to check out Robert Okaji’s blog, O at the Edges, to learn more about his work.

Happy triptyching!

Jose

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5759df779b8f9Just a quick post to share my latest and last microreview & interview for the Cincinnati Review blog!

This time around I spend time with Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape With Headless Mama (Pleiades Press).

I’ve had a blast writing for the CR blog and plan to continue the microreview & interviews here on the Influence (check out the Submissions tab for more details).

See you Friday!

José

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influence news

This month marks five years of blogging on The Friday Influence! Over the years, this space has been a great source of community for me. Thank you to all of you who stop by regularly or just pop in at random looking for a poem. I continue learning much from interacting with you, either in the comments or elsewhere, including my Instagram poetry project poetryamano.

As the Influence enters its fifth year, I’d like to go further and reach out to readers and fellow writers in the hopes of having the blog be a bit more interactive. Above, you’ll see that there is a new “Submissions” tab with information on current calls. You’ll see that there are two specific calls, one for those interested in participating in a microreview & interview, and one for a montly haiku/tanka feature.

For the haiku/tanka feature, I’d like to do a monthly post of a variety of haiku and tanka, in whatever variations you are inspired to write. From traditional, nature-centered three line poems, to one line haiku, prose haiku or tanka, or even a blackout / erasure haiku or tanka. Check the Submissions tab for how to send your words and images.

book news

mask with frameIn other news, we’re about a month away from the release of my next book, Small Fires, which will be published by FutureCycle Press. As a bit of a preview, I am sharing the artwork that will be incorporated into the final cover, an ink painting by Andrea Schreiber.

This painting was inspired by the poem “Luchadores” (originally published in Waxwing) which I share below. Thank you all again for a great five years and stay tuned for the release of Small Fires in May!

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Luchadores

after Cathy Park Hong

They were the only men in the house,
and stood firm, one hand raised
saying farewell, the other idle.
I’d make each bed, wash dishes,
set chairs back in place, then dig
under the sink where their masked faces
waited to be pulled out. I fought
with them all afternoon, took turns
playing villain, playing good,
letting each one win, then starting
over. The light in the garage apartment
turned all summer, flickered
light and dark across the floor
as on the leaves outside.

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Happy anniversarying!

José

 

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Just a quick post to announce the release of the latest issue of Pretty Owl Poetry which features three prose poems of mine from a new project. This issue includes stellar work from Ellen McGrath Smith, Chelsea Tadeyeske, and Trish Hopkinson among other great contributions.

Special thanks to Kelly Lorraine Andrews, Gordan Buchan, and everyone at POP for including me in such a great issue!

Check out the issue here.

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Also: The latest and last interview in my #poetsofinstagram series is up now at the Cincinnati Review blog! This time around John Carroll of @makeblackoutpoetry talks about his history with blackout poetry and the hope it inspires in him and others.

I had a lot of fun with these interviews and am considering continuing them on this blog. Stay tuned!

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See you Friday!

José

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lewis hsIn my recent microreview & interview of Susan Lewis’ Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVox [books]), I discuss the ways in which the poems in the collection engage with the uncertainty principle and its take on the relation between position and momentum. My own crude, working definition of the concept takes me back to my reading into Zen, ideas like how we are always in motion; how all we have is the present; and the contradictory thought that there is no now because the now that is now…is different from the now now.

Luckily, Lewis’ book delivers insights via strong prose poems and not half-remembered readings 🙂

In this week’s poem, Lewis engages the concept of pathetic fallacy, which occurs when we attribute human feelings and responses to nature and inanimate objects. With this term as the premise, the poem quickly develops a narrative in which humans talk to nature, only to find nature talking back. Here, the position of humans as the ones doing the addressing is made uncertain by the momentum of some rather chatty flora. What develops is a scenario that pushes back on the pathetic fallacy that is the premise of the poem. By the end, the humans are revealed by the suddenly-more-humanlike flora to be not less human, but more, at least in their eagerness to turn “a deaf ear” and place distance between themselves and their new found partners in conversation.

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Pathetic Fallacy (III) – Susan Lewis

Having fled their native urban clamor, the newcomers greeted the residents of their rural refuge with indiscriminate geniality. To everything living they offered a smile & a friendly word. To the astonishment of the locals, first to respond to this promiscuous bonhomie were the birches. Then why, a farmer asked a grove whose dappled shade he had often preferred to his own domestic complications, did you never speak up before? & why, replied the tree with the stoutest trunk, didn’t you? When the farmer took the question in silent stride, the rest of the grove rustled, their judgment confirmed. Before long, the attention of the new residents was met with a flurry of expression from the long-repressed vegetation. At first it was enough for the naive humans to attend respectfully to the widespread resentment of the thistles, the meandering narratives of the frost grapes, the magisterial pronouncements of the oaks — turning for respite to the sweet & supportive maples, with their generous supply of sap. Soon they permitted themselves to be probed by the delicate tendrils of the man-root — until offspring were generated, giving the lie to the insuperable separation of the phyla. In time, the proud but challenged bipedal parents were overwhelmed by their intimates’ new-found urge to connect. Desperate for peace & quiet, they retreated to the urban jungle, where they felt less guilty turning a deaf ear to that other onslaught of revelations & demands.

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Happy fallacying!

José

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