one more from tina cane

In my recent microreview & interview of Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books), I focused on the idea of place and its dual nature in the book as noun and action. I found this particular lens to the collection engaging on several levels. In a poem, place is often both what we write about and what we create in writing. This duality parallels several ideas on the interaction between content and form discussed by poets from Charles Baudelaire to Denise Levertov. There are moments in Cane’s collection when content and form interact and create a tension that feels like a living pulse.

telegramIn this week’s poem, Cane takes the conceit and form of a telegram and subverts it to create a moving statement on mortality. The repetition of the word “STOP” — a direct allusion to the telegram form which would use this word to signal the end of a phrase or sentence — is expected given the title of the piece. Once the narrative of the poem begins to build, however, the word begins to carry with it an added sense of urgency. The practice of using “STOP” in telegrams increased during WWI in an effort towards clarity. In the context of a poem, this effort becomes less about clarity of a message and more of clarity of feeling.

Telegram to My Father – Tina Cane

YOU LOOK LIKE A GOYA STOP IN THE WATERY LIGHT STOP
CHEEKBONES SHARP SKIN THIN LIKE ONION PAPER STOP
BREATHING STOP SHALLOW STOP YOUR FINGERS FRAGILE DRUMMING
ON THE BEDSHEET STOP YOU ARE MOVING YOUR LIPS STOP TRYING
TO RIDE THE TIDE OF MORPHINE DRIP STOP UNCLE MARTY IS ON THE PHONE
MANIC IN STATEN ISLAND STOP PLEADING “YOU DECIDE YOU DECIDE”
JUST BELOW A SHOUT STOP THE FLUIDS I SAY STOP “WHY NOT ME?”
YOU ONCE QUIPPED “STOP” I SAID “WHY?” YOU SAID END

*

Happy pulsing!

José

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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in the air with iskandar haggarty

This week’s poem “Flutter” by Iskandar Haggarty comes from his online chapbook There Are No Women In Our House (Praxis Magazine) and is a great example of how a lyric sequence can range in dynamic both conceptually and structurally. In terms of concept, Haggarty keeps the imagery “in the air,” so to speak, across the three sections of the sequence, charging the poem with the flutter of “sparrows” and “fireflies” as well as the expansiveness of a sky that includes moon, planets, and constellations.

This in the air work is furthered in terms of structure by the use of three line stanzas, or tercets, throughout. The sequence goes from four tercets in the first section, to three in the second, and two in the last. This consistency varies within each section by having a single line conclude each one.

Ursa_major_-_MercatorThis structural work creates a visual shape that has the eye “flutter” along with the concept, both moving the reader through the poem’s lyric narrative. The result is a poem that surprises by what it can evoke through its turns and images. From awe to “morning sadness” to finally wonder, this lyric sequence creates its intimacy in an indirect yet vivid manner.

Flutter – Iskandar Haggarty

I.

Your mother had
sparrows
tangled in her hair

and fireflies
trapped inside
her vocal cords.

Every morning, she’d
awaken before the moon
had slumber in its eye

and lightly brush your
snoring father’s
head full of Saturn

with her lips.

II.

Your mother was made
of ashes and was married
to the stars.

Each night, she’d rain down
from Ursa Major,
sprinkling the edges

of thunderbolts
and canopies,
fertilizing the soil

with morning sadness.

III.

Your mother was
the daughter of
Jupiter.

Really? I asked,
my eyes full of
crescents.

The butterflies in Grandpa’s eyelids smiled.

*

Happy fluttering!

José

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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microreview & interview: Manuel R. Montes’ Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles

For this special microreview & interview, I share excerpts from a Spanish to English translation in progress I’m working on as well as provide insights into why I’m excited about this project and some commentary from the writer Manuel R. Montes himself.

montes cover

review by José Angel Araguz

I am currently working with Montes on a translation of his novel Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles (winner of the Premio Bellas Artes Juan Rulfo para Primera Novela 2007), which is a complex work of fragmented storytelling. In our conversations over the text, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” to describe the ambitious range of techniques exhibited throughout the text. Infinita details the brief life and sudden dying of a prematurely born child through the various voices and thoughts of the individuals involved. The nonlinear story jumps between the past and present, establishing connections and metanarrative insights that recall modernists like Virgina Woolf and James Joyce, but which are executed with a human pulse in the style of Roberto Bolaño and Jonathan Safran Foer. Through this ambitious and engaging mosaic of voices and interwoven narratives, Montes honors the human experience of a child’s death with the gravity and complexity it merits.

In the following excerpt from the second section of the book, the narrative flows from a telephone conversation with the father of the lost child to the origins of the novel/narrative itself, all from the perspective of the writer, who is uncle to the “octomesino” or “eightmonther” (a variation on “preemie” which is used to refer to premature born infants):

“this morning I went to the cemetery, ripped grass from his tomb and am planting it, this way we’ll be closer to one another, don’t you think?” I hear a tightness in his voice, panting into the receiver, “by the way, have you begun writing the book?”

–I’ve yet to even try, the process comes less readily when one faces fiction in its most extreme order, made of pure reality–

my sister-in-law mailed  me, in a yellow envelope, sealed, forty-two printed sheets and a back-up magnetic, three and a half inch disc, it is a long letter that contains “only what happened,” and besides this, another note, handwritten, in the first folio, which adds, “I hope this material will be useful, make whatever changes you think appropriate,” the font chosen is ordinary, the font size, reduced, in the document, unnumbered, almost every chapter is described, almost of a whole novel, “much is missing, I’m sending you what I have stored in the computer, according to my notes, as I remember it”

–but the novel or all the possible novels could be anywhere, and what is lost is the author, searching, attempting to write it or them, lost in the chimeric jungles of paraphrase–

the recipient of the letter is a space without image or the imposing blank page in the middle of a photo album

the recipient is, to be precise, the eightmonther

–“you should at the very least find a way to organize so many loose notes”–

A good sense of the tone and scope of the novel is given here, especially how the text moves between being a meditation on a family crisis as well as a meditation on the act of writing. Two frustrated acts of creation are paralleled. What moves the novel for me from straightforward prose into lyrical territory is how the narrative dwells on details and allows for significance and intimacy to arise out of things like the font chosen by the mother to share pieces of the story. The phrasing of that last line, that a brief life and a death can result in “so many loose notes,” is rich in poetic meaning, both for the narrator and the reader of this fragmented text.

The novel moves forward in this fashion, switching perspective and scene, in order to convey the emotional currents of the characters involved. One of the more impressive results of this fragmented narrative is the multiplicity of voices made possible through it, including that of the eightmonther. Here, in a passage a little after the one above, the narrator continues to metanarratively piece together and meditate on the task at hand, only to be interrupted by the eightmonther’s voice (in italics), creating itself amidst the “loose notes”:

another segment, from the notes of the letter

“everything was so real, that night –the first night of august– was the longest night of my life”

–is it that fiction could possibly shorten the suffering?–

it’s that your maternal love started to become more of a labyrinth, and started to darken

you have to tell them that my body, or its forgotten nostalgia, mourns itself at times, do not remember me, do not describe me, you don’t have to cure me, I am fighting to die, do not entangle me, do not bind me, I grow more distant if you tie me down, and I want to come closer, my body does not work, but I am not only my body, let me escape this body like I escaped yours, you have to tell them that it’s useless, you will see that it’s useless, when you are here, with me, that body has ceased to belong to me, leave it alone, leave me alone, that body continues to hurt me when you recall it  

“I would like to know what you are thinking, what would you say if you could speak”

–“remember, organize, organize”–

there are quotes from other characters, but they are inconsistent, imprecise, lacking continuity, my sister-in-law could not deal too much with correcting them or giving them greater emphasis, making them more legible, clearer, impossible to behave so coldly when relating an agony, the voices which burst into the letter resemble those curtains which mysteriously widen like a bellows and make us look back, on summer nights, during a drowsy instant in which the wind has stopped blowing

Here, the rich turns of phrase continue: “remember, organize, organize” reads like a mantra during this attempt to narrate a dark time. The interruption of the eightmonther’s voice can be seen as a kind of consciousness bursting in, much in the spirit of the curtain image in the last paragraph, something else moving in the room of the narrative. What does narrative embody? What does it stir up? What does it potentially exclude or replace? These questions move like electric currents throughout the text.

While these short excerpts can by no means do justice to the whole of the novel, I feel comfortable sharing them here as fragments of a work that in itself is fragmented. Before a whole story is understood, there are voices making themselves known. The story of the eightmonther moves from the mother’s “loose notes” to the narrator’s meditation and effort that is the novel, and now to the translation of that effort. It is a story of motion, which is what is at heart of lyricism.

*

IMG_5479Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing this novel and how did you work through them?

Manuel R. Montes: The difficulties were — have been ever since I wrote the book ten years ago — strictly emotional, familiar. The writing process was impressively unconscious, fluid, impersonal and intimate at the same time. It was an act of hearing and transcribing more than anything else. Of waiting for the last pain from the silence of a white pages filling at their own pace. I — the self-critical I, the form-obsessed I, the style miniaturist and neobarroque experimental I — barely intervened. The novel wrote by itself in less than two months. I kind of recollect the overnight sessions in front of the computer, the urgency to finish and the sadness, but these I won’t consider hardships. The only real challenge for me was to deal with guilt and gratefulness, having dared to expose, with all its tragic luminosity and its engulfing darkness, the death of a new born, dear nephew. I experienced true regret and also a simultaneous, joyful necessity of immortalizing, in words that didn’t seem to be mine, his four-month, relentless and unbearable life and struggle before he passed away. I have not worked through this mourning feeling completely, nor have I stopped marveling every time I remember how the novel just materialized independently from me, way beyond my control or even my will. It was as if I couldn’t touch it. I still can’t.

Influence Question: In describing this project to others, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” – Do you have any thoughts about the phrase, which for me is not a fixed term but something I continue define as I continue to translate your book?

Manuel R. Montes: I am not against the phrase, not at all, which would offend by the way many of the novelists of my generation or even older authors if someone considered their works as examples of that category. Nevertheless, when I think of «lyric», it’s the expressive predominance of the «I» as the main voice of a work what comes to my mind, and because of that resemblance to a certain kind of poetry I would disagree with the term, since the narrator in my novel is a hidden shadow, a silent, invisible and anonymous figure, some sort of scared and hypersensitive witness who listens those around him or her crying. A nobody who is mute but has to translate to prose the horror and the wonder of a short and fragile existence, feeling impotence and fear and compassion, but also admiration. It’s not «I» who speaks or try to speak here, but «Them», «Us».

*

Special thanks to Manuel R. Montes for participating! To find out more about his ideas on writing, go here.

photo credit: Diana Cárdenas

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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Small Fires excerpt & Goodreads giveaway announcement!

This week I am excited to announce a Goodreads giveaway for my latest poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). I’ll be giving away ten signed copies of the book. Deadline is August 10th, 2017. Check out the details here:

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

To help celebrate this announcement, I am presenting an excerpt from Small Fires in the form of both a poem and some commentary. The poem is entitled “Hail from Corpus Christi” and as I mention in a Q&A conducted by Carve Magazine, working on this poem was key into finding the themes of the collection.

Hails from Corpus Christi – José Angel Araguz

I would be belted after dinner,
my food eaten with the moon,
the night a table where a place
is set, and a place diminishes –
hardened, chucked out of the sky,
milk-glow, but a rap like a stone,
the kind in movies thrown at windows
to get someone’s attention – I was all
attention as my mother’s boyfriend
turned to rain and thunder,
clouds broke into fists and cries
broke the sky of my sleep with lightning
that held fast in me, turned me
into that color – a hardened flash
falling through the years into a room
where I tried to restrain the weather
of what I felt, but raised
my voice, punched the wall, the table,
clawed after and clutched your arm
as you tried to leave before
hearing what I had to say,
clutched and pulled away to see the white
of where the blood had left, a hardened
streak that burst into
your hand hard across my face, your voice
no longer a voice I knew,
a voice that from then on
kept me at a distance,
would harden and check me for years,
distrustful, despite our apologies,
despite tears and my own diminishing
voice, a pebbled voice, a grit,
shit shit shit under my breath
every time we’d argue, knowing
there was nothing I could do
but take it, hold my clouded self,
not wanting to hit, ricochet, scatter.

*

For more commentary on this poem, check out the rest of the Carve Magazine Q&A.

Happy hailing!

José

new review up at The Bind!

Just a quick post to share my latest creative review for The Bind!

This time around I do a review & erasure based on one of the poems from Jennifer Givhan’s collection Protection Spell!

I had a lot of fun working out the erasure and engaging with the main themes of the book both in the process and in my review. Check it out here.

See you Friday!

José

smoking with george oppen

Some poems are capable of tapping into the connotations or “languages” around a word and making them meet. This week’s poem, “If It All Went Up in Smoke” by George Oppen, for example, does a great job of taking the languages of  the word “smoke” and blurring them to create a visceral metaphor.

First, there is the paradoxical logic of the initial two lines: “that smoke / would remain,” which presents the image of smoke hanging in the air. Then through “light” “footprints” and “grass blades,” the logic of the poem further develops from transient, slight things, only to have that idea pushed against by the solidity of “wells” and the presence of “distances.”

As smoke is always in motion, so is language and, by default, poetry. Smoke is also after-the-fact, needing to arise from a fire. From the fire of experience (“grass / blades”), begins the smoke we write and read in poetry.

smoke-32

If It All Went Up in Smoke – George Oppen

that smoke
would remain

the forever
savage country poem’s light borrowed

light of the landscape and one’s footprints praise

from distance
in the close
crowd all

that is strange the sources

the wells the poem begins

neither in word
nor meaning but the small
selves haunting

us in the stones and is less

always than that help me I am
of that people the grass

blades touch

and touch in their small

distances the poem
begins

*

Happy beginning!

José

atlasing with lucille clifton

Last week saw the release of my latest digital chapbook Naos Explains Everything Via Crumbs published by the good people at Right Hand Pointing. Part of Naos’ latest meditation / treatise / mixtape ideas had him ruminating on the figure of Atlas, the Titan condemned to carry the earth for eternity:

the ant is Atlas under a crumb —
Atlas carries the crumb of the earth —

I believe what Naos might be getting at is that it’s all about perspective.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA similar theme arises in this week’s poem in which the late great lucille clifton takes on the story of Atlas. In clifton’s poem, the speaker is Atlas himself detailing how he has gotten “used to the heft of it.” Two things in particular move about this interpretation of the mythological figure. First, how, through the details of “forest,” “sea,” and “odor of flesh,” clifton’s Atlas conveys a familiarity and endearment for the human earth.

The other thing I keep finding compelling is the absence of a specific word for “it.” Due to the title, the informed reader picks up on who the speaker is, and what his role is in myth. The absence of a specific word – “planet,” perhaps or “earth” – points to clifton’s overall ambition, which is to present this mythological figure in distinct human terms. It is a human voice that speaks in terms of “it,” and the human voice of her other poems adds further depth to the story of Atlas.

atlas – lucille clifton

i am used to the heft of it
sitting against my rib,
used to the ridges of forest,
used to the way my thumb
slips into the sea as i pull
it tight. something is sweet
in the thick odor of flesh
burning and sweating and bearing young.
i have learned to carry it
the way a poor man learns
to carry everything.

*

Happy Atlas-ing!

José