testamenting with Carolyn M. Rodgers

Over the summer, I got a chance to add to my forthcoming poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness, which will be published in 2019 by Airlie Press. This book is an expansion of my chapbook Corpus Christi Octaves (Flutter Press) and its series of lyric sequences about two late friends from my hometown in Texas. This new collection builds on the theme of mortality, the latest addition being a “testament” poem.

testamentTestament poems tend to be a mix of a poet’s last will in verse (a la Francois Villon) and a catalogue of wishes and hopes (a la Pablo Neruda). This particular mode of lyric meditation, for me, ended up feeling expansive. I was surprised by how I ended up writing less about the life live and more about the act of writing as living and survival.

I see a similar emphasis on survival in the poem below by Carolyn M. Rodgers. The poem begins by immediately departing from the testament’s focus on the self and instead addressing the poem to another. By doing so, connection becomes part of the survival act. The poem moves in its declarations and images of hardship, creating a narrative that reaffirms life through active survival. Speaking of how “we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here),” Rodgers honors this survival as the undeniable fact of who we are. 

Testament – Carolyn M. Rodgers

child,
in the august of your life
you come barefoot to me
the blisters of events
having worn through to the
soles of your shoes.

it is not the time
this is not the time

there is no such time
to tell you
that some pains ease away
on the ebb & toll of
themselves.
there is no such dream that
can not fail, nor is hope our
only conquest.
we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here)
in our blunderings, our bloomings
our palms, flattened upward or pressed,
an unyielding down.

from The Heart as Ever Green (Anchor Press)

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new poems up at Gris-Gris & new CR post!

Just a quick post to announce the release of the latest issue of Gris-Gris, which includes my poems “The Ladder” and “Clock Affirmations.”

“The Ladder” is dedicated to my friend Christine Maloy whose passing is also commemorated in my second chapbook, Corpus Christi Octaves.

This issue also includes work by Alejandro Escudé, Kristen Jackson, and Stanley Rubin among other stellar work. Read the issue here.

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Also, here’s the link to my latest What’s Poetry Got to Do With It? column published on the Cinncinati Review blog.

This time around I go into a few of the connections that I see between poetry and meditation. Here’s a brief excerpt from the conclusion:

Attention, which in meditation talk is often termed mindfulness or awareness, is invaluable to poetry. By having us pay attention to words, poems open ways for us to pay attention to the world.

Read the rest here.

See you Friday!

José

* new essay up at Art + Money!

keroseneJust a quick post to announce the publication of my essay “Snapshots From a Year Without Electricity” in Art + Money!

Art + Money is a free monthly newsletter in which writers and artists talk about how money shapes their lives. (No spam. Just crazy-great original essays.) Sign up here: http://tinyletter.com/catbaab/

“Snapshots From a Life Without Electricity” moves in small “snapshot” paragraphs through some of the pivotal moments of the year I lived in my friend Dennis’ house, sans electricity but with plenty of words to keep us going.*

Here’s an excerpt from my essay:

*

In this snapshot you recognize the field mouse as you last saw him. Your friend laughs at you whenever you come to him agitated after hearing the mouse scurry through the unused kitchen. There’s nothing for him there. Let him look around. After months of the mouse eating through books, shelves covered in what could be mistaken for confetti, the aftermath of words being ripped and ground until they weigh thick in ink and pulp inside his belly, you stand frozen here, as if mirroring the mouse. Anyone else looking in would think each still figure waited for the other to begin explaining everything; anyone else would wonder who in this snapshot is unable to move on.

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Art + Money is published by my longtime friend and fellow writer Catherine Baab-Muguira. My essay has the honor of being the second installment.

Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to check out the rest!

See you Friday!

José

*(This friendship is also the subject of one of the sequences of my chapbook Corpus Christi Octaves).

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Everything We Think We Hear by Jose Angel Araguz

Everything We Think We Hear

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends December 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

* 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.

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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

 

* tanka, update, & news

after the discharge orders
we idle
at a stop sign
I haven’t heard
the birds til now

— Jose Angel Araguz

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Just a quick post to update on life as well as to share news of a sale.

Update: I am happy to report that I was discharged from the hospital Friday afternoon and have been recuperating nicely. I even taught yesterday. I made sure to tell my students that I was happy to be in front of them again.

Thank you to everyone who helped me get through the difficult week/weekend. All the kind words and ‘likes’ of my previous post meant a lot to me.

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Sale: Just got word from Flutter Press editor Sandy Benitez that all FP titles are on sale at 40% off including my own Corpus Christi Octaves.

This is significant on two levels: 1.) It’s the first time a chapbook of mine has been on “sale” (eek!), and 2.) This month marks the one year anniversary of Corpus Christi Octaves and the three year anniversary of my first chapbook The Wall.

I plan on sharing some readings from my recent trip to Texas to celebrate later this month. For now, check out the Flutter Press sale – including chaps by Dale Wisely, Howie Good, and Rachel Adams – here. 

The sale ends on July 13th.

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See you this Friday!

Jose

* lining up with charlotte mew

So, at one point during CantoMundo, this happened:

* this guy might be too happy *
* this guy might be too happy *

This image pretty much sums up my feelings this week in regards to the release of my new chapbook, Corpus Christi Octaves, and all the support people have shown both here on the blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. To all of you who have sent warm wishes in one form or another, thank you for making this week pretty big for me.

Like that SMILE pictured above big 🙂

Working on a project like the octaves, so focused on creating tension within specific formal parameters, makes me quick to spot other eight-liners out there. This week’s poem “Sea Love” by Charlotte Mew holds its own lessons on compactness, diction, and fluidity of line.

Thomas Hardy considered Mew an incredible artist and, along with Housman, placed her in high esteem for her way with diction and feel for people. The music here is exceptional. The third line drags out in a wonderful, rocky contrast to the other contained lines. The sea like the lover cannot be reined in. The heart breaks on the “wind” at the end.

* make it mew *
* make it mew *

Sea Love – Charlotte Mew

Tide be runnin’ the great world over:

‘Twas only last Junemonth I mind that we

Was thinkin’ the toss and the call in the breast of the lover

So everlastin’ as the sea.

Here’s the same little fishes that sputter and swim,

Wi’ the moon’s old glim on the grey, wet sand;

An’ him no more to me nor me to him

Than the wind goin’ over my hand.

***

Happy going!

Jose

p.s. I’ve revamped both the Chapbooks tab & Audio tab – the latter with a link of my reading from Corpus Christi Octaves at The Poetry Loft! Special thanks to Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for the opportunity! Check out the reading 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