into the octaves part two

araguz coverThis post is the second of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD (check out the first post here).

Around the time of putting the early drafts of these sequences together, I remember having a conversation with a friend about Donald Justice and the work he put into having Weldon Kees’ poetry be more well-known. I remember saying that it’s what we do as writers: carry each other forward, whether in memories, stories, or creative work. Always advocating for presence on some level.

This thought shaped the collection in a lot of ways. An influence and example of this type of carrying each other work is the sequence “Twelve Poems for Cavafy” by Yannis Ritsos. In this powerful sequence, Ritsos pays homage to the poet Cavafy through distinct lyric meditations. The ones that move me the most are the ones that focus on the every day life of the poet, honoring the things that lived around the poet and his poems.

The poem “His Lamp” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Ritsos uses Cavafy’s lamp as a jumping off point into a meditation on mortality. Similarly, the sequence “for Dennis Flinn” in An Empty Pot’s Darkness chronicles moments of my friendship with Flinn, specifically during a summer in which I lived at his house. He lived without electricity, and offered me a room during a tough period in my life. We survived in the dark together, often talking or writing by the light of kerosene lamps ourselves. In the excerpts below, I do my best to honor Flinn’s armchair. It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize plays a large part of the experience of living with someone until that person is gone.

excerpt from “Twelve Poems for Cavafy”
by Yannis Ritsos

2. His Lamp

The lamp is peaceful, serviceable; he prefers it
to any other lighting. He adjusts his light
to the needs of the moment, to the age-old
unavowable desire. And always
this odor of kerosene, this subtle presence,
very unobtrusive, at night, when he returns alone
with so much fatigue in his limbs, so much futility
in the texture of his coat, in the seams of the pockets,
that every movement seems useless, unendurable —
once more, to distract him, here’s the lamp — the wick,
the match, the flickering flame (with its shadows
on the bed, on the desk, on the walls), but especially
the glass cover — its fragile transparency
which, in a simple and human gesture,
once more involves you: in saving yourself or in saving.

**

excerpts from “for Dennis Flinn” sequence — José Angel Araguz

You spent afternoons in your armchair,
in and out of sleep. You’d call my name
to see if I was around. Evenings,
you’d go housesit, leaving me the dark.

Since you died in someone else’s house,
no one’s explained it to your armchair:
He is sleeping in another life.
When he wakes, you’ll know it when you creak.

*

No plot then, no arc, no denouement.

The day you turned ash, I wasn’t there.
I can only tell it like you might
through white, gray words: You rest in pieces.
Perhaps you’d laugh. You merely left scraps.
A chuckle. A crackle in your throat.
You left life as broke as you had lived.

I can almost hear your armchair creak.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

into the octaves part one

araguz coverThis will be the first of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD as of this week!

Back when I started experimenting with the octave form, I drew inspiration from a series of poems by Edward Arlington Robinson also entitled “octaves”:

XI – Edward Arlington Robinson

STILL through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

I wrote about this particular octave once in a previous post, and noted how much I admired how Robinson gets away with the highly syllabic words “unermunerative” and “untriangulated.” As my own experiments at the time had me working around intuitive syllabic phrasing, I took it as a challenge to include highly syllabic words throughout the sequences of An Empty Pot’s Darkness.

The octave below is from the sequence “for Christine Maloy” which pays elegiac tribute to a young poet from my hometown Corpus Christi who was living with lupus, a serious autoimmune condition, until she died one winter due to flu. Her death was discussed in the local news in a way that glossed over how vulnerable people who are immunocompromised actually are to things like the flu which are summarily dismissed or made light of in society. In writing about her passing and our friendship, I found myself at turns angry and lost to these attitudes and how they overlook the real human lives affected by them.

In this sequence dedicated to my friend I try to work out poems that are examples of how formal strategies can be subverted and brought into conversation with personal and political stakes, all in the effort to represent the human life we carry in memory.

excerpt from “for Christine Maloy” sequence – José Angel Araguz

On Facebook, people still seek you out.
This last face, pixelated,
thumbnail hitchhiking to now,
gives a grin, lends small glints to your eyes,
constellates them to sharp points of light.
Is this the shape of your myth?
A held look, a look away
I cannot triangulate.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.