writing prompt: shape tracing

This week I’m introducing a new type of post focused on writing prompts! These will come in part out of my teaching background and will also be informed by work I’m currently exploring.

This week’s poem, “have I mattered to my / phone…” in particular involves a visual component that doesn’t travel well to Instagram. For those of you following my poetryamano project, you know the writing I post there tends to be short, brief lyrics. The poem below is longer and engages with shape in an integral way so that even breaking it up into pieces across photographs wouldn’t work.

The prompt: Draw a shape on your page and then proceed to write a poem inside it. Don’t worry about line breaks, rather, focus on filling the shape with narrative, image, and whatever else pops up while writing. The kicker is that you’re limited to the shape you’ve drawn.

A variation on this prompt – and one that I follow in my poem below – is to trace out the shape of an object and then write about the object. What I did was trace the outline of my cell phone. It ended up looking like a crude soap bar, probably because of the protective case it’s in, but the shape worked for the exercise nonetheless. I then focused on the phrasing that came immediately to mind.

The world of phones these days is stigmatized in ways that are unfair to artists and people who do everything from conduct business to engage the world through apps that make their lives more accessible. With these thoughts in mind, the idea of mattering seemed like an apt thing to invoke. I have transcribed the poem below the photograph in case my handwriting is hard to read.

Let me know if you try your hand at this. As always, the Influence is open for submissions. Enjoy!

2018-10-25 16.26.34

“have I mattered to my / phone…” – José Angel Araguz

have I mattered to my
phone to where my fingers
swipe where my print has
slicked swirled been
singled out and suddenly
swept away have I mattered
to the oil and grease at
the side of my thumb the
flab of index the edge of
each fingernail have I
mattered to this space where
words appear under my
skin words flicker under
my pulse have I mattered
without metered thought
measured instead in mine
own mouth and malleability
have I mattered in matter

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Happy shaping!

José

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Selena poems!

Selena_Quintanilla_statue_Mirador_de_la_florThis week I thought I would celebrate the publication of another one of my Selena poems in the latest issue of Crab Orchard Review by sharing the first Selena poem I wrote.

The poem “The Things to Fight Against” (below) can be found in my second full length poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), and was originally published in Switchgrass Review. In this poem, I braid together a bit of my own personal mythology with the late singer’s tragic death, our two narratives meeting across our respective bilingualism and lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. This poem is also an example of me working in syllabics.

Araguz author photo 3
old photo – parallel pose unintentional

My new poem, “Selena: a study of recurrence/worry,” is a pantoum and goes further into the impact of her life and death upon not only my own life but of those I hold dear in my hometown.

Be sure to check out my other poems in COR “St Peter to Joseph” and “Sentence” along with work by other stellar writers in this issue. Special thanks to editors Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble as well as everyone at COR who helped make this new issue possible!

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The Things to Fight Against – José Angel Araguz

for Selena

Onstage, mouth brimming with the Spanish
parents teased her with, maybe she looked
down and saw the cowboy hats, the boots
and belt buckles, the purses, curls,
and children, maybe she saw herself,

thought: Of all the things to fight against,
sound’s not one of them – sound of applause,
sound of gritos, sound of sparked cuetes,
sound of beer cans gasping open,
sound of busses turning in the dark,

groaning in dreams, sound of R’s rolling,
sound of birdwing flutter, sound of wind
over open water, sound of flags
unfurling, sound of flame flaring
up and out of a struck match, sound of

a voice, my own Spanish unsure, chopped,
shaky, sound of a bullet breaking
through the air, sound of a newspaper
splayed on the wind, the news floating,
punched with the grace of long hair – her hair

now a cold blade of bronze, her statue
along the sea wall, to see her is
to see the tide forever turning,
pulled and pulling away, is to
think again of her killer, crying

in her car in a stand-off, gripping
the gun which would later be broken
to pieces and thrown into the same
waters the statue looks over,
is to hear my aunt again call us

a city of crabs in a bucket,
each of us clambering to get out
has another behind them – their face
similar, a face we’ve grown with
and understand – dragging them back down.

 

disbelief y Concha Méndez

In my fascination with the short lyric, one of the variations I enjoy are poems that work like door hinges into an emotion. These poems walk the fine line of narrative and abstract language, and take on risks in order to create an emotional impression.

This week’s poem – “No es aire lo que respiro…” by Concha Méndez – is a good example of what I mean. In typical short lyric fashion, the poem is carried by a personal tone that evokes intimacy. From there, the voice delves into metaphoric language, developing a narrative of air-turned-ice, ground that opens, and eyes that see an ever-darkening world. The poem ends on lines of sorrow and disbelief.

dawnDespite the bleak turns in a small amount of lines, this poem is one of hope in the way that poetry writing in general implies hope. Here, in ten lines, is the presence and direct statement of one’s feelings. Also, there’s the sense of one reporting from an inner landscape in language whose ambiguity leaves what poet D. M. Garrison calls “dreaming room,” that is, a space for a reader to dwell on what the words bring up for them. In the light of recent events in the news, including climate change reports and the Kavanaugh confirmation, we have been given many reasons to “look at the world” and “not want to believe.”

In my translation, I worked towards having the words do the “hinge” work I spoke of earlier, and downplaying some of the cadence in the original Spanish that doesn’t exactly carry over into English. My goal was to drum up some of the tension and air of dwelling in Méndez’s original. Enjoy!

No es aire lo que respiro… — Concha Méndez

No es aire lo que respiro,
que es hielo que me está helando
la sangre de mis sentidos.
Tierra que piso se me abre.
Cuanto miro se oscurece.
Mis ojos se abren al llanto
ya cuando el día amanece.

Y antes del amanecer,
abiertos miran al mundo
y no lo quieren creer…

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It’s not air that I breathe … — by Concha Méndez
English translation by José Angel Araguz

It’s not air that I breathe,
that is ice freezing
the blood of my senses.
The ground I tread opens for me.
Wherever I look darkens.
My eyes open, weeping
already when the day dawns.

And before dawn,
they look at the world
and do not want to believe…

music-ing with Ntozake Shange

In a workshop a few years ago, I had the honor of getting to hear distinguished poet Carmen Tafolla talk about voice and its role in poetry. She said that we should consider human voice a chemical component of the poem, that through it, heat and energy were summoned to bring language to life.

This week’s poem, “i live in music” by Ntozake Shange, is a good example of the many ways voice can raise metaphor and imagery into human energy. The lines

sound 
falls round me like rain on other folks 
saxophones wet my face 
cold as winter in st. louis 

bring together sound and metaphor in a compelling way. The use of “sound” and “round,” for example, create a lyric momentum through internal rhyme. This momentum is furthered by the echo of sounds in the rest of the line: “sound” and “round” make use of distinct “s” and “r” sounds which are brought up again in “rain” and “folks.” The effect is phrasing that is engaging and evocative. A similar move occurs in the following two lines, “saxophones,” “wet,” and “face” echoed in “winter” and “st. louis.” One can hear music and rain in these lines.

musicWhat moves the poem into human resonance for me is the way this sound-play is put in the service of the speaker’s voice and their turns of statement and questioning. The lines “i live in music / is this where you live?” start the poem with a narrative step forward followed by a pause. This use of line break and pacing affects the reader in a visceral way; the lines evoke a human voice talking to and asking after the reader. This presence, along with the soundscape of the whole poem, lead to the poem’s ending “hold yrself / hold yrself in a music” in a way that emphasizes the urgency of these lines while living them out.

i live in music – Ntozake Shange

i live in music
is this where you live?
i live here in music
i live on c# street
my friend lives on b-flat avenue
do you live here in music
sound
falls round me like rain on other folks
saxophones wet my face
cold as winter in st. louis
hot like peppers i rub on my lips
thinkin they waz lilies
i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips
& a upright bass for both sides of my heart
i walk round in a piano like somebody
else be walkin on the earth
i live in music
live in it
wash in it
i cd even smell it
wear sound on my fingers
sound falls so fulla music
ya cd make a river where yr arm is &
hold yrself
hold yrself in a music

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to learn more about Ntozake Shange, check out her site