* birthday conversation with james wright

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused
Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me – James Wright

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.

*

Since my birthday falls exactly on a Friday this year, I decided to do some extra sharing for this week’s post. First, I will not only present a poem but also present one of my own that is in conversation with it.

First, we have James Wright’s poem above, a short lyric I admire for the way it brings several worlds. The title sets up a casual, almost glib tone, and its directness is interesting to sit with before and after reading the poem. Before reading, the title suggests not simply critique but also a desire to start again via an “unused” pasture. After reading the poem, the title takes on a more literal arc: from the “depressed” start, to the “invitation,” one can see in the title the whole range of emotion traveled in the poem.

While the title is all about directness, the actual poem moves languidly through its details, presenting a counterargument in its indirectness. While the insects are invited in the title, the speaker’s narrative is all about growing closer to the insects, observing their actions through sight and hearing. I say the poem moves languidly, but that is not to say that it is without clarity; in fact, a languid clarity is what is achieved in the pace and directness of the lyric. How else to witness grasshoppers “leap heavily?”

In my own poem in conversation with Wright’s, I found myself pushing against the self in the same spirit of indirectness. Probably telling of my personality that I tend to disappear in poems.

*

after James Wright – José Angel Araguz

Here the poet left
a book of bad poetry
out in an unused pasture.
The grass and dust in his words
carry small white petals
with them into silence.
What I do with the bad

book I’ve become
leaves me behind a stone
that, could it speak,
would speak in pages
about oceans
and about the self
farthered and forgotten.

*

The other bit of sharing I’d like to do is regarding a monopoem series I’m starting. The inspiration for this came from a workshop with Juan Felipe Herrera at this year’s CantoMundo. Among other insights and ideas, one of the things Herrera had us do is take a sheet of paper, fold it in half, and design makeshift literary journal which he called a monopoem. Before leaving the conference, a group of us decided to create monopoems for each other. Here’s the first issue of my own monopoem series, Mosca Dragón:

20160811_171640
* mesquite front *
20160811_171704
* mosca dragón back *

I’m sharing only what the front and back cover look like as the poem inside (“Mesquite”) didn’t photograph all that well. I had a lot of fun creating this monopoem and plan to continue with other issues. They’re fun artifacts to share at readings. I have already shared some of these with my Canto fam via post as well as with the winners from the giveaway earlier this month.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the monopoem, feel free to contact me: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com

Happy dragóning!

José

Advertisements

* skimming with kelli russell agodon

Reading through Kelli Russell Agodon’s collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, I was moved again and again by the kinship evoked between speaker and the poets addressed throughout the poems, but also between poet and craft, and poet to poet. In this week’s poem, “Yakima Ferry at Sunset,” this idea of kinship is there for me from the first line’s declaration:

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read . . .

This line brings to mind a line from Pablo Neruda:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche . . .
(Tonight I can write the saddest lines . . .)

This kind of lyric echo speaks to the poet in me, or, rather the poets in me. At times I am the poet of Neruda’s line, lost in reverie and sorrow; at other times, I am the poet of Agodon’s line, possessed by writing, the sheer event of it inspired by the immediacy of a given moment and place.

I often go with my wife to look at fabric or yarn for the projects she’s working on. Walking through the aisles of material, I imagine the possibilities closed to me, but open to anyone who knows how to sew or knit. I can only compare it to the surge of feeling I get when I walk around the woods or body of water in just the right mood, or sit by a window at a café that happens to be in the right light, a feeling of: Today I could write . . . 

There’s no guarantee, only a glimpse. One can’t recreate this feeling, one can only acknowledge it for the call to words that it is, and get down what one can, “skimming the edges like every poet.”

sunset_mount1

Yakima Ferry at Sunset – Kelli Russell Agodon

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read.

All around me are hippie grandmothers
and grey-haired men with dreamcatchers

hanging from the rearview mirrors of their
Hondas. Everyone is irresistable tonight:

the man in his NRA t-shirt, the child
on the upper deck screaming about licorice,

the woman who cut in front of me to buy a latte.
I am skimming the edges like every poet

on this boat, starting my sentences
with the easiest words – I love, I love, I love

to travel home by ferry, the women
who smile at the men they don’t know,

how my tongue feels in my mouth,
a sort of heaviness that never leaves.

*

Happy ferrying!

José

* moody mooning with stafford & gilbert

If you were a scientist, if you were an explorer who had been to the moon. . . What you said would have the force of that accumulated background of information; and any mumbles, mistakes, dithering, could be forgiven . . . But a poet – whatever you are saying, and however you are saying it, the only authority you have builds from the immediate performance, or it does not build. The moon you are describing is the one you are creating.  From the very beginning of your utterance you are creating your own authority.
(William Stafford)

trojanLast Friday, I had the pleasure of talking at Foy H. Moody High School (Go Trojans!), the high school I graduated from in Corpus Christi, Texas. My talk was structured around the above quote from William Stafford and the idea of writing as performance. Along with reading poems about the moon, I provided students with index cards where they could try their hand at describing/creating the moon. Here’s one that a student, Ashley, was kind enough to allow me to share here:

It makes me want to swallow
my tears, it makes me believe
I can forget my fears.
It gives me hope.

One of the things that moves me about this young poet’s lyric is how it reaches out to a similar sentiment as the Izumi Shikibu tanka I shared last week. Both lyrics set the solitary figure of the moon against the solitude of the self and work out of that tension a feeling of hope. Truly inspiring!

As part of my visit, I donated copies of Corpus Christi OctavesReasons (not) to Dance, and Everything We Think We Hear to the library. As I made my way through readings from Reasons and Everything, I found the moon popping up over and over again in the poems, serendipitously chiming along with the framework of my talk. It was one of those happy accidents that happen while teaching that, in a way, show your intuition paying off.

When a student asked why I thought the moon came up in the poems so much, I surprised myself again by sharing that it might have something to do with having shared a room as a child with my mother. She would work late nights, and often I would stay awake in bed staring out the window. And most nights the moon was there; when not, then the stars.

Looking back on this moment, I can’t help thinking about the following poem by Jack Gilbert, where he gives his own moon-reasoning:

Secrets of Poetry – Jack Gilbert

People complain about too many moons in my poetry.
Even my friends ask why I keep putting in the moon.
And I wish I had an answer like when Archie Moore
was asked by a reporter in the dressing room
after the fight, “Why did you keep looking in
his eyes, Archie? The whole fight you were
looking in his eyes.” And old Archie Moore said,
“Because the eyes are the windows to the soul, man.”

738px-Galileo's_sketches_of_the_moon
* mirrors to the sol *

Another “wish I could back and share” thought: It completely slipped my  mind that in the Octaves I have the following poem where I riff and hold conversation with the Stafford quote. I share it here in the spirit of belatedness:

The moon you are describing is the one you are creating
– William Stafford

How many moons between us, friend?
I meet you under circumstances
bad and good: bad, because you’re not here,
good, because I get to listen

and hear the moon you’d have me see.
Moon of my own efforts: where to start?
My questions? What are questions? Tonight,
the moon is in the shape of one.

*

Special thanks to Simon Rios and Melissa Yanez of Moody for helping set up the talks! Thanks also to Ashley, Marcos, and all the other students who participated in the talk about the moon!

Happy lunaring!

José

 

* tejiendo roosters: a translation tale

Once upon a time, I was a young poet reading through an anthology of Latin American poetry when I came across a poem by João Cabral de Melo Neto that just blew me away. I wrote the poem down in a notebook – it was in Spanish, translated from the original Portuguese – to translate into English later, which I did, happy to be in conversation with the poem.

The thing is when I discovered this poem years ago, I had it in my head that it was made up of only one part, and so for me, the poem was only one section long. And this one section is lovely. See for yourself:

Weaving the Morning – João Cabral de Melo Neto*
translated into English by José Angel Araguz

 1
One rooster alone does not weave the morning:
he will always be working with other roosters.
One to pick up the cry that he
and throw it to another; another rooster
to pick up the cry of the previous rooster
and throw it to another; and other roosters
with many other roosters crossing
the sun-threads of their rooster cries,
so that the morning, made of a soft fabric,
goes on being woven among all roosters.

20160113_182730-1
* gallo remembered *

Later, I rediscovered the poem and learned that the poet had written it with two sections, not just one. And what’s worse, that second, new (to me) section was kinda clunky (again, to me). Again, see for yourself:

2
And taking shape in this fabric, gathered,
stored and waiting where everyone will enter,
entertaining itself in the awning
(morning) sets down its frameless plans.
Morning, a canopy woven of such airy material
it rises by itself: a globe of light.

So there I was, mistaken and shaken. Was the poem I ran into in the anthology misprinted? Or had it been printed at the bottom of a page, and had younger me – floored and amazed by that first section – not turned the page when I copied it down? What else but poetry can have us slipping past ourselves like this?

There were also the questions of translation: Was the poem in its entirety a finer product in the original Portuguese? Should I consult other Spanish translations? What is a translation but a reaching into the material of memory, other’s and one’s own?

Now, my goal in sharing this story – well, not really story, more snapshots of poetic fumbling – is not to make a case against the second section, but to share the poem (it’s charm can withstand my fumbling). I also wanted to engage a bit with ideas of memory and enchantment (charmenchantmenttrès magique) and how both work in specific ways in poetry. The way the roosters build off each other’s cries is much like the way one poem is answered by another, and how one memory is blurred and built upon by another. One reads and writes, in order to read and write some more.

In a recent postcard exchange with Edward Vidaurre, I held onto my earlier enchantment as I wrote the first section of the poem out. I figured, hey, the first section’s the best part and there’s only so much room on a postcard for a poem plus my own meandering explanation at how I failed to remember the second section initially.

So, really, this is a tale of failure. Speaking of: As I prepared to write this blog post, I flipped through my sketchbook, remembering distinctly that I had sketched a rooster sometime in the past, had the image of it vividly in mind (see above).

Alas, when I found the image, it was no rooster:

20160113_182741
* mis-galloed *

 

Happy roostering!

Jose

*p.s. Here is the poem in the original Portuguese as well as the Spanish translation I worked from:

Tecendo a Manhã – João Cabral de Melo Neto (original)

Um galo sozinho não tece uma manhã:
ele precisará sempre de outros galos.
De um que apanhe esse grito que ele
e o lance a outro; de um outro galo
que apanhe o grito de um galo antes
e o lance a outro; e de outros galos
que com muitos outros galos se cruzem
os fios de sol de seus gritos de galo,
para que a manhã, desde uma teia tênue,
se vá tecendo, entre todos os galos.

E se encorpando em tela, entre todos,
se erguendo tenda, onde entrem todos,
se entretendendo para todos, no toldo
(a manhã) que plana livre de armação.
A manhã, toldo de um tecido tão aéreo
que, tecido, se eleva por si: luz balão.

*

Tejiendo la mañana – João Cabral de Melo Neto
translated into Spanish by José Antonio Montano

1
Un gallo solo no teje una mañana:
precisará siempre de otros gallos.
De uno que recoja el grito que él
y lo lance a otro; de otro gallo
que recoja el grito del gallo anterior
y lo lance a otro; y de otros gallos
que con otros muchos gallos se crucen
los hilos de sol de sus gritos de gallo,
para que la mañana, con una tela tenue,
vaya siendo tejida, entre todos los gallos.

2
Y tomando cuerpo en tela, entre todos,
erigiéndose en tienda, donde entren todos,
entretendiéndose para todos, en el toldo
(la mañana) que planea libre de armazón.
La mañana, toldo de un tejido tan aéreo
que, tejido, se eleva de por sí: luz globo.

* moebius stripping with michael ondaatje

This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.

– Alan Watts

I like this quote because of the shift in gears it implies about life and how we approach it. I feel it easily mirrors something done in writing, how one must fight against being caught up in making a point and rather be open to what is at play. In a poem, it is being aware of the possibilities in an image or a turn of phrase, and digging further.

This week’s poem – “The Time Around Scars by Michael Ondaatje” – digs into the image of a scar and ties it to ideas of memory and time. As the poem develops, I feel myself as a reader traveling as if on a moebius strip. Ondaatje, by staying close to an image and emotion, is able to create a reading experience where time is traversed as it only can be in a poem.

* star time *
* star time *

The Time Around Scars – Michael Ondaatje

A girl whom I’ve not spoken to
or shared coffee with for several years
writes of an old scar.
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white,
the size of a leech.
I gave it to her
brandishing a new Italian penknife.
Look, I said turning,
and blood spat onto her shirt.

My wife has scars like spread raindrops
on knees and ankles,
she talks of broken greenhouse panes
and yet, apart from imagining red feet,
(a nymph out of Chagall)
I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars,
they freeze irrelevant emotions
and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl’s face,
the widening rise of surprise.

And would she
moving with lover or husband
conceal or flaunt it,
or keep it at her wrist
a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember
is a medallion of no emotion.

I would meet you now
and I would wish this scar
to have been given with
all the love
that never occurred between us.

***

Happy occurring!

Jose

* beginning with juan felipe herrera & some news

This week’s poem by Juan Felipe Herrera (recently appointed as the first Chicana/o U.S. Poet Laureate) caught me towards the end the first time I read it. The way the details come together. The turn and return at the end to the image of something dark around the neck. Each reading of it since that first helps me appreciate the lyrical nerve at work.

The words about the grandmother had me in my memories of my own grandmother who passed when I was nineteen. I’ve been in a similar space as the poem describes, “inventing her memory.” For me, “black sparkles” is ink, each word more of the “leash” the poet writes of.

Cimabue, Goya, Beginnings – Juan Felipe Herrera

I carry a dark necklace around my neck.
It’s painted on.

No one has taken notice.

They think it’s an outline or an odd shadow.
No one has stared longer than a few seconds.

I’ll tell you.

I didn’t know where to put all the fragments of the novel
that family never finished. It had such sweet beginnings,
but it grew umber with a one-eyed madonna hovering
over the lampshade.

So many years, I whispered to her
come to me,
listen to me
I understand.

She would appear to me with gold-leaf
around her braids and seven daggers erect over the heart;

perhaps the last desire; the first real words
escaping from my grandmother’s grave, trying to touch
my hair as I sat at seventeen, writing,
inventing her memory.

Her voice was so loving,
now, all that remains is this broken leash
of black sparkles.

Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue
Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue

I’d also like to announce that my full-length microfiction collection Everything We Think We Hear has just been accepted for publication by Floricanto Press!!!

This manuscript has gone through several incarnations since 2012. The move towards microfiction happened in the last year. Something conceptually clicked about these pieces as I was working with FutureCycle Press on the finishing touches of my recent chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance. FutureCycle’s belief in one project breathed life into another.

I’ll be sharing more updates on the project as the book comes together.

Happy everything!

Jose

 

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,

Consecration.
Consolation,

a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.

***

Happy sunning!

Jose

p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.