microreview & interview – it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado

review by José Angel Araguz

 

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Early in his essay-turned-chapbook it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado (Orison Books), poet Ilya Kaminsky speaks of Adélia Prado’s work as being in the mystic tradition. He then promptly delves into the questions and assumptions that come along with references to mysticism. Noting that “the term mystic may mislead or intimidate,” Kaminsky goes on to argue that mystical experience, far from being something “attainable only by a few human beings,” is actually “always available, and to anyone.”

This opening note on mysticism’s accessibility and ubiquity quickly frames his analysis on Prado’s work within an argument that feels familiar within poetry circles. Replace the word mystic with poetry in the above statements and one finds the divide to be similar; both mysticism and poetry are regarded with mistrust by some non-practitioners (not to say non-believers), a mistrust that ranges from veiled skepticism regarding the respective value of each, to outright dismissal. To push this comparison further, mystics and poets are equally defined by practice: a mystic is only a mystic when voicing their spiritual truth, and a poet can only be called so via the creation of a poem. Or, to put it another way, the poet is by no means an embodiment of poetry any more than a mystic is the embodiment of truth: both are fingers pointing to the moon.

Navigating this fine line between the ineffable and the practical is not only the work of the mystic and poet, but also of the critic. Kaminsky does a great job throughout this short essay of establishing a sense of the traditions Prado’s work is in line with, both mystically and poetically. On the mystical side, the references range from the philosophical (Emil Cioran) to the spiritual (Paul Tillich; Martin Buber); on the poetry side, a reference to Czeslaw Milosz leads to references to Whitman as well as Mayakovsky, Anna Swir, Allen Ginsberg, and a number of other singular poetic sensibilities. This diverse catalog of associations is handled in a way that places them in the reader’s grasp; Kaminsky eschews any kind of intellectual name-dropping by inviting the reader into what informs his own personal reading of Prado’s work and the stakes such reading creates.

This engaged meditation on the mystical and the poetic serves not only to make clear Kaminsky’s own take on the work, but also provides a lively introduction to Prado’s work. If, according to W. H. Auden, the real gift of a critic is not what they say but the excerpts of another’s work they curate for a reader, the excerpts chosen by Kaminsky do a great job of speaking for themselves:

With me it’s wild parties
or strict piety.
I didn’t deserve to be born,
to eat with a mouth, walk on two feet
and carry inside me twenty-five feet of guts.

(“The Third Way”)

Here is but a glimpse into Prado’s sensibility. In these five lines, one immediately senses the reckoning that infuses Prado’s work, a reckoning that would be light except for its underlying awareness of mortality. To add to Kaminsky’s analysis, I would argue that Prado’s work can be considered mystical for the way it lives vulnerably and exuberantly between life and death. It’s the kind of lyricism that cannot be taught, but rather caught and lucked up on.

Reading through this essay, I got the sense that Kaminsky has a clear idea of the precarious nature of this register of lyricism. His notes have the tone of a writer honoring the work of another not by arguing for it, but by speaking alongside it. It is in this spirit that the response below to the question “What are challenges in writing about Adélia Prado?” should be read.

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Influence Question: What are challenges in writing about Adelia Prado?

Ilya Kaminsky: Spiritual thinker is someone who believes in the impossible.

Poet is someone who believes in the impossible via words that stun.

What’s the danger of spiritual thinker? Demagoguery.

What saves A. Prado for that? A sense of humor.

Challenge in writing about it? Showcasing her sense of humor without making her sound glib.

On the page, Prado’s writing is elemental. It is straight out of earth, stars, water, lungs.

The challenge with elemental writing is to address it in kind.

So, the piece is a series of brief pieces connected by a bit of wind.

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Special thanks to Ilya Kaminsky for participating! To learn more about Kaminsky’s work, check out his site! Copies of it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado can be purchased from Orison Books.

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Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press) and Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, forthcoming in March 2019). He is also the editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins). With Jean Valentine, he has translated the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, Dark Elderberry Branch (Alice James Books).

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new review of Until We Are Level Again

Just a quick post to share the most recent review of my book Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press) by Valerie Duff-Strautmann over at Salamander. Duff-Strautmann reviews my book alongside Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon Press). Please check it out!

Thank you to Valerie Duff-Strautmann for spending time with my work and for all the support throughout the years!

See y’all Friday!

José

poetry feature: Dah

This week’s poem is drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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One of my favorite things about reading a new poet is being introduced to their ways of noticing. Whether it’s what they notice in the world around them or their interior world, this kind of noticing leads naturally to the noticing that plays out in language through word choice and phrasing. This week’s poem – “Inheritance” by Dah – captivates through its evocation of a unique sensibility and way of seeing.

First, the poem sets itself as being about seeing, about “Adjusting to darkness…” and “beginning to see.” From there, we get a catalog of sensation and detail starting in the second stanza. The speaker’s voice has a directness that is near terseness; for example, “wind-slap” and “moldy apples” are rendered through enjambment across line break and phrasing. One gets the feeling of overhearing someone sussing out the right words for things.

red tail hawkThis terseness opens up to the third stanza’s longer sentence about Death Valley. While this sentence is broken across four lines, the phrasing is only interrupted in a natural way at the end by a list. Yet, the pace continues to change. The third stanza’s last line is an interrupted sentence, taken up by the fourth stanza. There is subtle momentum that brings the reader closer in attention to what is being detailed. This attention is rewarded by the final interruption of the last two lines; here, the action of hearing “flapping, swishing” wings interrupts the pacing in a way that doesn’t disrupt the sense of the poem. Instead,  the action of these lines, and of the noticing and wording of them, ends the poem with a lyric turn reminiscent of haiku. We are left, like the speaker, listening close.

Inheritance – Dah

Adjusting to the darkness
my eyes dilate. Stars cast faraway
doubt. I’m beginning to see.

Against my face, a wind-slap
rattles my teeth. On the ground,
like musty breath, moldy apples
splayed open in crates;
I pocket the seeds and head west.

The expanse of Death Valley
is an exhausting sandbox
strung with ghost-rivers,
white sage, wild mules.
Under a littered moon

meteorites are agitated sparklers
or troubled spirits.
I hear flapping, swishing,
a red tail hawk.

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Dah’s sixth poetry collection is The Opening (CTU Publishing Group 2018) and his poems have been published by editors from the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Africa, Singapore, Spain, Poland, Philippines and India. Dah lives in Berkeley, California and is working on the manuscript for his eighth poetry book. He is a Pushcart nominee and the lead editor of the poetry critique group, The Lounge. Dah’s seventh book, Something Else’s Thoughts, is forthcoming in July 2018 from Transcendent Zero Press.

 

update: reviews & media

As promised (forewarned?), here are a few more updates regarding recent publications and output. First off, some review-related news:

  • I’m happy to share that my latest book, Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press) was reviewed by Rodney Gomez for the Latino Book Review. I am honored and humbled by Gomez’s insight into my work.
  • Also: I’ve been keeping up with my own review work for The Bind. Recently, I wrote reviews of Amber West’s Hen & God (The Word Works) and MK Chavez’s Dear Animal, (Nomadic Press).  Both reviews come with writing prompts built off of themes and concepts found in these engaging and powerful books.
  • Lastly, here is a cool clip put together by the good people at Pilgrimage Press that features audio of me reading my poem “Coconut” over a backdrop they designed. Special thanks to everyone at Pilgrimage for including my work in their magazine and for putting together this clip!

See you Friday!

José

update: new work

I’ve been behind in sharing some of my recent publications of the past few months so I’ll be doing a few short posts this week to rectify this.

First up – new work:

  • I’m honored to have my poem “Conditioning (Run Study)” published in the latest issue of Hunger Mountain “Everyday Chimeras.” They have been kind enough to share it on their site as well. Special thanks to the editors for including my work alongside some great writers including Elizabeth Acevedo, Brian Clifton, and Carl Phillips!
  • Also, my poems “Flea Market,” “Funeral,” and “Grit” are included in the latest issue of The Inflectionist Review! I’m always excited to be a part of one of IR’s issues. This one includes fine work by Jon Boisvert, Laurie Kolp, and Maximilian Heinegg among others!
  • Lastly, I am psyched to have a haiku included in the latest issue of Bones: journal for contemporary haiku. I found out about this journal a year ago, and spent that year reading past issues and working out how my haiku aesthetic could learn from the work they publish. Special thanks to the editors for including my work!

Stay tuned for updates on reviews and media later in the week!

— José

two by Barry Spacks

In an interview with Grace Cavalieri, Kay Ryan talks about a certain “chill” and restraint she feels is necessary to writing:

I sometimes compare the chill to say, if you put an ice cube on your hand, your hand – your skin would turn pink when you took the ice cube away, and you’d see that your skin was pink where you’d had that ice, because your blood is all sent to where the chill was. So that if you have a somewhat chilly surface in work, it brings the reader’s blood to that place.

I’ve been fascinated by this quote for years now. I admire what it honors about language, its ability to have an effect, to draw meaning to itself, and how, even with restraint, language remains as intimate as ice on skin.

I also enjoy what Ryan’s words make me think about in regards to writing about personal material. In a way, a writer is always negotiating how much of their personal life they put into their work; and because even writers are humans, and as humans things are messy, never strictly one way or another, language remains fluid, directed rather controlled by how we use it.

treesI’m always fascinated by this idea of personal and creative negotiation and how it plays out across a poet’s work. This week, I’m sharing two poems by Barry Spacks. Both poems stood out to me in my reading of his book Spacks Street: New & Selected Poems, enough to write them out in my notebook. What fascinates me looking back at these two poems specifically is how different yet connected they are.

“Poem” is as enigmatic as its title in terms of what it is about, working as an ars poetica almost, a meditation on the fluidity of language. “At 35,” on the other hand, delves into specifics, ideas of age, fatherhood and son-hood. Where these two poems connect is in their haunted tone. Whether contemplating the abstract or the personal, these poems by Spacks are charged with intimate lyrical sensibility.

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Poem – Barry Spacks

Will it come again like this?
Will we ever get it right?
It is always as it is,
And it passes.

Never as it was,
Yet always somehow bright,
Always somehow sweet
In its changes.

We will never get it right.
It will come, but not like this.
It is always as it is,
And it changes.

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At 35 – Barry Spacks

Father, what would you make of me? I wear your face.
I hear my cough and think the worms have sent you home.
Here at my table in my insubstantial house,
your myth of hope,
the piece of man you left,
I live your death
stroke for stroke.

There are no vows you did not keep I will not break.
I leave no darkness unacknowledged for your sake.
You are the school I teach. The course I take.
I move toward age, and you become my son.
Along the path ahead
you lift aside
the branches.

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To learn about the work of Barry Spacks go here.

unraveling with Gregory Orr

One thing I’m always reminding myself to do when revising a poem is to open up to what’s already there on the page and push beyond what I see to what else could be there. Usually I’ll write a list of images or words that the language of the draft as-is inspires. While I have no insight into how this week’s poem – “Song: Early Death of the Mother” by Gregory Orr – got written, reading it is a lesson in a similar unraveling of thought and lyric.

Briar_Rose_prickles_(3438080014)From the image of the “last tear” made of glass, the speaker begins an inventory of comparison images, each with its own metaphoric charge. The glass tear becomes “ice” that “doesn’t thaw”; then becomes a tooth; and so on. The eleven lines in which these images travel through pass by with such urgent enjambment, one is shook at the end by the rush of meaning and significance. This rush and tumble evokes the emotional tumult beginning for the boy in the poem, who himself is having to catch up with what has passed.

Song: Early Death of the Mother – Gregory Orr

The last tear turns
to glass on her cheek.
It isn’t ice because
squeezed in the boy’s hot
fist, it doesn’t thaw.
It’s a tooth with nothing
to gnaw; then a magical
thorn: prick yourself
with it, thrust it in soil:
an entire briary
kingdom is born.

from The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)