* writing the woods with wislawa szymborska

In the summer course I’m teaching, we have been discussing ideas of writing as performance; that is, what gets going as soon as words are on the page. It’s similar to what William Stafford means when he says, “The moon you are describing is the one you are creating,” which I wrote about in a post from this Spring. 

I came across this week’s poem, “The Joy of Writing” by Wislawa Szymborska, and share it here because of the connection it has to these concepts of writing as performance. From the beginning, the poem ties the act of writing to what’s being described, creating a singular conceit of “these written woods.” The metaphor is stretched enjoyably far. What I find most enjoyable of all, at least this week, is the startling nature of the last line: “Revenge of a mortal hand.” In contrast to the title of the poem which sets up low dramatic expectations, Szymborska takes us down to that last line with a sense of mortality and complication that is surprising as well as apt and necessary.

The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides 1824-7 by William Blake 1757-1827

The Joy of Writing – Wislawa Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Happy mortaling!

José

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

* another bolaño lyrical alignment

Here’s another lyrical alignment from Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.

I came across this paragraph “re-aligned” in some old notes from 2008. The scene is of the enigmatic Ulises character described via another character’s story of him. I often describe Bolaño as a poet’s poet. His writing, like that of Borges, is infused with signs of a rich reading life and often speaks on the craft in an infectious and serious way. The text below creates a fable out of thin air that evokes real places and real struggle.

* is land, no? *
* is land, no? *

Two Islands – Roberto Bolaño

a lyrical alignment*

One day I asked him where he’d been. He told me
that he’d traveled along a river that connects
Mexico and Central America. As far as I know,
there is no such river. But he told me he’d traveled
along this river and that now he could say he knew
its twists and tributaries. A river of trees
or a river of sand or a river
of trees that in certain stretches
became a river of sand. A constant flow of people
without work, of the poor and starving,
drugs and suffering. A river of clouds
he’d sailed on for twelve months,
where he’d found countless islands and outposts,
although not all the islands were settled, and sometimes
he thought he’d stay and live on one of them
forever or that he’d die there.

Of all the islands he’d visited, two stood out.
The island of the past, he said, where the only
time was past time and the inhabitants were bored
and more or less happy, but where the weight
of illusion was so great that the island
sank a little deeper into the river
every day. And the island of the future,
where the only time was the future,
and the inhabitants were planners and strivers, such
strivers, said Ulises, that they were likely
to end up devouring one another.

*text from The Savage Detectives

***

Happy anothering!

Jose

 

 

 

 

 

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!

Eek!

* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins

***

Happy quoting!

Jose

p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* sentimentality via mary ruefle & hart crane

I revisited this week’s poem – Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” – this summer reading through Mary Ruefle’s “Madness, Rack, & Honey.” In the book, she points to the sentimentality of the poem, how it makes the campy humor of Chaplin and the image of a kitten and raises them to their proper place, which is simply a place of consideration. That each of us here simply to be seen and heard.

On the technical side, Crane’s always up to something metrically. Here, I like how he sneaks in a six beat line into every stanza except for the first and last, the mix of rhythms evoking Chaplin’s signature walk a bit.

(Spooky and coincidentally: Ruefle and Chaplin share the same birthday).

Later in the same essay, she states that if someone says your poem is sentimental, it probably means it isn’t sentimental enough. Committing to that impulse and seeing sentimentality through to what’s at stake is the challenge. And the only way to see and hear one’s self.

* liked the poem til I pointed out the thing about the meter *
* liked the poem til I pointed out the thing about the meter *

Chaplinesque – Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,
contented with such random consolations
as the wind deposits
in slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
a famished kitten on the step, and know
recesses for it from the fury of the street,
or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
that slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
facing the dull squint with what innocence
and what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
more than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
what blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
the moon in lonely alleys make
a grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
and through all sound of gaiety and quest
have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

***

Happy sentimenting!

Jose

* My Writing Process Blog Tour!

Happy Monday, y’all!

I’ve been invited to participate in the My Writing Process: Blog Tour by poet extraordinaire, Lisa Ampleman. Here’s some info on Lisa:

Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Check out her site here.

The tour is focused on sharing a bit about our writing process. Here are my answers to the tour’s questions:

  • What are you working on?

Globally, I just put the finishing touches on two full-length poetry manuscripts. Each has taught me a bit more about learning the character of a project. A little more locally, I am trying some new things in regards to my daily writing, which tends to be form-focused.

  • How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

I believe it’s a lifetime goal to have your work differ from that of others. Or, rather, that we should be pushing ourselves closer and closer to ourselves with each poem. If there’s anything I aim for consistently is vulnerability – whether that comes through rawness of content or pushing myself into a formal structure that makes me uncomfortable and staying with it. Something James Cummins says about writing sestinas applies here, that it is a process of humiliation and perseverance.

  • Why do you write what you do?

I write what comes. When I work on a poem, free write or several drafts in, I see my job primarily as a mover of words, of making choices and reading into the possibilities and consequences of those choices. I suppose it’s like an inner divining rod leading to fresh water 🙂

  • How does your writing process work?

Time is the biggest factor. There’s the time I put in daily, at least half an hour. Merwin describes his daily writing as a listening in to see what can be heard that day. There’s also the time I let pass after I finish a notebook. I’m working on poems at the moment whose first drafts were in 2012. The time away allows me to become a different writer than when I wrote it, to read more, learn more. Anything to help me see past myself.

***

* site-seeing *
* site-seeing *

Tune in a week from now and check out the responses from these fellow poets:

Miriam Sagan founded and directs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her most recent collection of poetry is SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA: A Poetic Sojourn (Sherman Asher Publishing). She recently hung 24 hours of diary entries on a laundry line at Salem Art Works in upstate New York and this winter is headed to The Betsy Hotel in Miami to install a poem on sand. She has been in residence in national parks, sculpture gardens, and in a trailer with Center for Land Use Interpretation at the edge of a bombing range in Great Basin. She has been awarded the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and this year’s Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts. Check out her blog here.

***

Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and the upcoming The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Horror. Her web site is here.

***

Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua has read for Oregon Poetry Association, Windfall Reading Series, Isangmahal Arts Collective, NW Poets Concord, Talking Earth, PoetsWest, Brigadoon Books, Fault Lines and Word Lab in Manila, Philippines. He is published by Vena Cava, Word Laboratories, Mixer Publishing, Concord, and Paw Print Publishing. His most recent work appears in The Inflectionist Review and his three-poem poster to promote his first collection, Fawn Language, is featured in the 25th Anniversary Showcase at Poets House in New York City.Fawn Language is published by Tebot Bach of Huntington Beach, California. His blog is here.

* new chapbook: Corpus Christi Octaves

* new chapbook! *
* new chapbook! *

I am happy to announce that my new chapbook – Corpus Christi Octaves – is officially available from Flutter Press! Purchasing info here.

This collection is made up of two elegiac sequences and an interlude. My goal with the two sequences is to honor my friends both for what they meant to me but also for the poets they were. In discussing Donald Justice’s championing of Weldon Kees recently with a friend, I found myself saying: “We gotta keep each other alive somehow.” There’s some of that in these sequences. My model in the spirit of the poems is Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, whose eloquent series on the poet Cavafy never ceases to amaze me in its ability to pay tribute both to the poet and to the craft of poetry. The interlude delves a bit deeper both into the setting, South Texas, as well as my own role of poet/elegist. The poems here meditate on different facets of the themes brought up in the sequences.

Another thing that marks this collection is the use of syllabics. In each of the eight-line poems, I work out a syllabic pattern, the jolt and jar of which allows for surprises as well as a sense of brevity and preciousness. This project took me back to when I was in 2nd grade and someone had showed me the 5-7-5 count of haiku, which then started me on the path of sitting in silence, wagging fingers in the air, doling out each word.

Here’s a sample:

Snow

The snow today brings back the first snow,

     white like this, at turns pristine,

     then bitter like this, broken

by steps whose depths can’t be guessed like this.

 

We’ve treated one another like snow,

     watched each other fall and drift.

     You have come today like snow,

and made me pause. And like snow you leave.

***

Special thanks to Andrea Schreiber for the remarkable ink painting commissioned for the cover. She did a great job of capturing a Corpus Christi icon, the miradores which line the sea wall:

* life imitating art *
* life imitating art *

Special thanks also to John Drury, Daniel Groves, and Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for their wonderful comments on the back cover.

A very special thanks to Sandy Benitez, editor of Flutter Press, for helping me find a home for this project. Flutter Press is a micro poetry press that utilizes print on demand (POD) technology to publish modern, beautiful chapbooks, 6″ x 9″, with glossy covers. They have published collections by Howie Good and Dale Wisely. Find out more about the press here.

And thank you to everyone who has supported me along the road of doling out words!

See you Friday,

Jose

* bolaño: a lyrical alignment

I recently reread Robert Bolaño’s novel “The Savage Detectives.”

I first read it in 2008. I had just moved to Oregon after completing my MFA, two years in NYC that were a combination of awe and awful. To be a young poet anywhere is to be confused and enchanted – and able to use words like “confused” and “enchanted” in regards to oneself without the slightest blush (blogging allows me to hide any possible blushing).

I was elated to find in Bolaño’s world a gang of poets that were as breathlessly falling apart as I felt. Six years later, and the book hasn’t lost its charm. Bolaño’s writing is overwhelming: he goes from inundating you with insider literary namedropping with the air of gossip and conspiracy to creating astounding metaphors that drive home the depths of human despair.

Or something like that.

The aligned below is a secondhand account about the reading habits of Ulises, one of the main characters of the novel whose adventures throughout the book prove him worthy of his namesake.

* some books may have been damaged during the making of this novel *
* some books may have been damaged during the making of this novel *

Making the Ink Run

aligned from Roberto Bolaño’s novel “The Savage Detectives”

He was a strange person. He wrote in the margins
of books. I’m glad I never lent him any
of mine. Why? Because I don’t like people
to write in my books. You won’t believe this but he
used to shower with a book. I swear.
He read in the shower. How do I know? Easy.
Almost all his books were wet. At first I thought
it was the rain. Ulises was a big walker.
He hardly ever took the metro. He walked
back and forth across Paris and when it rained
he got soaked because he never stopped to wait
for it to clear up. So his books, at least
the ones he read most often, were always a little
warped, sort of stiff, and I thought it was
from the rain. But one day I noticed that he went
into the bathroom with a dry book and when
he came out the book was wet. That day my curiosity
got the better of me. I went up to him
and pulled the book away from him. Not only
was the cover wet, some of the pages were too,
and so were the notes in the margins, some maybe
even written under the spray, the water
making the ink run, and then I said,
for God’s sake, I can’t believe it, you read
in the shower! have you gone crazy? and he said he
couldn’t help it but at least he only read
poetry (and I didn’t understand
why he said he only read poetry,
not at the time, but now I do: he meant
that he only read two or three pages, not
a whole book), and then I started to laugh,
I threw myself on the sofa, writhing in laughter,
and he started to laugh too, both of us laughed
for I don’t know how long.

****

Happy laughing!

Jose