Fire Writers Conference

This past Monday I had the honor of leading a workshop for the Fire Writers conference, a one day series of creative writing workshops conducted for high school students from public and private schools across Yamhill County. The conference was held at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, Oregon. Workshop leaders included Kate Carroll de Gutes, C. Morgan Kennedy, Fonda Lee, and Kate Ristau.

Alex Dang opened the conference by performing his poem “What Kind of Asian Are You?,” a powerful poetic statement that interrogates the poet’s struggle to define his identity while dealing with problematic stereotypes imposed from the outside. Dang’s presence was important for me, as it made room for my own presence. Performing as a writer of color involves summoning up not only nerve but conscience. How can I best present my work with integrity and conviction? Who will hear it? Teaching is also performance, and these questions come to mind often in my work on and off the page.

Kim Stafford then gave a keynote address entitled “Poetic Testimony for Strange Times.” In this address, Stafford spoke of the importance of embracing what he terms the “3 gifts”: your fire (your own way of kindling self and following “what makes you pay attention”), your truth, and your writing. He also shared stories about his travels as Oregon State Poet Laureate and read poems written by high school students he’s met during his tenure. Hearing Stafford speak is always a lesson in generosity and how the writing life can answer and honor human life one word at a time.

49898424_1987904911257037_4298754598161612800_oMy own workshop was entitled “Mira/Look: Ways of Poetic Looking” and focused on exploring the power of naming, describing, and evoking, framing these acts as forms of “seeing.” The exercise involved reading, and some in the moment writing of haiku. The students in both of my sessions were impressive in their enthusiasm for writing and in their depth of responding to the ideas I presented. I also participated in the haiku writing alongside them, something I don’t normally allow myself to do. Here are two haiku from these sessions:

the space between my front teeth
the air pure
morning observation

resistance
is being tired but alive
winter sunrise

Experiences like this conference always bolster my self-esteem as a writer. Whether it’s engaging in generous conversation about each other’s writing projects, sharing writing tools and strategies with young writers, or simply listening and sharing worries and concerns about the writing life, a gathering like this one strengthens my conviction as both writer and human.

Special thanks to Lisa Ohlen Harris, Deborah Weiner, and everyone else who helped make this conference possible! And a warm thanks to the students who shared their time and writing with me, and to the teachers who continue to guide their way.

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As part of his keynote address, Kim Stafford shared the following poem by his father, William Stafford, which approaches the idea of “the muse” with tact and purpose, side-stepping the usual problematic tropes around the idea. I suppose what I mean when I speak about experiences like this conference strengthening me, I mean something of salvation. A reminder that, like the one given to the speaker of this poem, one is able to save one’s self.

 When I Met My Muse – William Stafford

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

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update: new work

I’ve been behind in sharing some of my recent publications of the past few months so I’ll be doing a few short posts this week to rectify this.

First up – new work:

  • I’m honored to have my poem “Conditioning (Run Study)” published in the latest issue of Hunger Mountain “Everyday Chimeras.” They have been kind enough to share it on their site as well. Special thanks to the editors for including my work alongside some great writers including Elizabeth Acevedo, Brian Clifton, and Carl Phillips!
  • Also, my poems “Flea Market,” “Funeral,” and “Grit” are included in the latest issue of The Inflectionist Review! I’m always excited to be a part of one of IR’s issues. This one includes fine work by Jon Boisvert, Laurie Kolp, and Maximilian Heinegg among others!
  • Lastly, I am psyched to have a haiku included in the latest issue of Bones: journal for contemporary haiku. I found out about this journal a year ago, and spent that year reading past issues and working out how my haiku aesthetic could learn from the work they publish. Special thanks to the editors for including my work!

Stay tuned for updates on reviews and media later in the week!

— José

* monopoem giveaway winners!

2016-12-08-10-06-12Just a quick post to announce the winners of the current Mosca Dragón monopoem giveaway: Laura Kaminski & Jennifer Met!

Both Laura and Jennifer were kind enough to share some poetry in their comments:

Laura shared these lines filled with stunning imagery:

the wing patterns of white-tailed dragonflies are tai chi fish
in flight: where his wings are burnished brown, hers are
transparent and in the spaces where his are so clear they’ve
become invisible all that he is missing can be found in her

And Jennifer shared the following haiku whose imagery becomes technical and personal in a short amount of time:

mating dragonflies—
my overuse
of dashes

(Aubrie Cox, Muncie, Indiana, Frogpond 35:2)

Both winners have been contacted and will have a monopoem sent their way shortly.

Should anyone else be interested in receiving a monopoem, feel free to send me an email [ thefridayinfluence@gmail.com ] between now and next Monday, and I’ll have one sent your way.

See you Friday!

José

* haiku & new monopoem giveaway!

I lay down
all the heavy packages —
autumn moon.

Patricia Donegan

*

reaching the top
of the mountain
losing the mountain

Michael Fessler

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losing its name
a river
enters the sea

John Sandbach

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say no words
time is collapsing
in the woods

Sonia Sanchez

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The above haiku are drawn from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, an anthology I spent time with this week as I wrapped up work at the CR for the semester. The editors provide a great sense of the many paths haiku has been taken on in the English language. I like returning to short lyric forms as seasons change. Helps me pay attention to the details.

Before I share more excerpts from this great anthology, I wanted to thank everyone who entered the Goodreads giveaway for Everything We Think We Hear! Winners have been chosen and will have books sent their way next week. The ten winners will also be receiving copies of the latest Mosca Dragón, my monopoem series. This issue features another poem from my forthcoming collection Small Fires.

2016-12-08-10-06-12Additionally, I am doing a MONOPOEM GIVEAWAY as a thank you to all of you who follow my blog. In order to participate, simply leave a comment below stating your interest in receiving a monopoem. I will keep track of who comments and will pick winners at random. The announcement of winners will be on Wednesday, December 14th! Feel free to comment on this post for a chance to win (on Monday, I’ll give folks another chance).

Here are a few more excerpts from the haiku anthology:

rising river
a shadow still wedged
between the rocks

Susan Constable

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In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.

Richard Wright

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whittling
till there’s nothing left
of the light

Jim Kacian

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mother’s day
a nurse unties
the restraints

Roberta Beary

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Happy detailing!

José

 

* knocking around with kenyon & meyers

The Suitor – Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show all their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

*

box elderIn the poem above, I’m moved by the way things knock into each other in the scene described, and how that knocking mirrors how the poem is working structurally. The lyric momentum here swings between the three “likes” in the poem. Each one is a simile of life: a person sleeping, a school of fish, a timid suitor.

The specificity of each, however, is what makes their presence move beyond image and metaphor. The whole poem moves through them: the suggested breath of “someone sleeping”knocks into the next line about the wind; the fish “turning all at once” turn in such a way that they knock like the mind of the speaker’s sudden understanding; and then the ending pushes things into a further understanding of silence and resilience.

This short lyric brought to mind this haiku by Bert Meyers:

I can only laugh
when my daughter spreads her arms
to catch the cold wind

Both poems, for me, reflect a bit of what this time of year feels like. May is like a hinge between spring and summer, and you can hear the seasons’ doors creaking on the leaves.

Happy creaking!

José

* layers via michael s. harper & basho

 

Village Blues – Michael S. Harper

The birds flit
in the blue palms,
the can workers wait,
the man hangs
twenty feet above;
he must come down;
they wait for the priest.
The flies ride on the carcass,
which sways like a cork in a circle.
The easter light pulls hims west.
The priest comes, a man
sunken with rum,
his face sandpapered
into a rough of split
and broken capillaries.
His duty is cutting
down the fruit
of this quiet village
and he staggers slowly, coming.

12th_century_Greek_Warrior_Fustanella

Sgraffito, I learned recently, is a technique used in both wall decor and ceramics in which contrasting colors are layered across a surface, only to be then scratched into so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. The result is an image made of a specific depth and texture.

This week’s poem – “Village Blues” by Michael S. Harper – performs via language in a way similar to sgraffito. Harper writes of a hanged man’s body by choosing to write about the life going on around it. In describing the birds, workers, even the flies at the scene, Harper layers the daily lives of the village over the dead body, and thus makes the presence of the lost life all the more felt. The description of the priest, too, as he “staggers slowly, coming” to the body, becomes imbued with the unspoken. Through indirect association, everything in the village “sways” along to the village’s “blues.”

These thoughts also bring to mind the following haiku by Basho, where the layered images give way to something deeper:

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake

*

Happy winging!

José

* short lyrics: (pre)spring mix

As I am on the road – in Corpus Christi, Texas promoting Everything We Think We Hear to be exact – I thought I would do a short, fun post of some seasonal short lyrics. Could be that the winters in Cincinnati are tough that I’ve got spring on my mind already.

I’d like to say a special thanks to everyone who made it out to my readings this week. Thank you for braving a rather stormy week in Corpus Christi. A very special thanks as well to Alan Berecka and Tom Murphy for the opportunity to read at Del Mar College and TAMUCC, respectively.

Below are poems by Kay Ryan, Issa, Izumi Shikibu, and Edward Thomas. The Shikibu tanka is an old favorite of mine. I ran into it almost ten years ago in an essay by its translator, poet Jane Hirshfield. In writing about doing the translations for her book The Ink Dark Moon, Hirshfield’s essay broke down how in five lines Shikibu is able to present an image of enlightment (“moonlight”) reaching through to even the most materially impoverished life (“ruined house”).

Enjoy!

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Spring – Kay Ryan

It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as
new.

*
*
*

    The snow is melting
and the village is flooded

    with children.

Issa*
*
*
*
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu**
*
*
*
The Cherry Trees – Edward Thomas
***
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
*
*
Weeping-cherry-tree-arlington-cemetery-dc_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg
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Happy (pre)springing!
*
*
José
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*translated by Robert Hass
**translated by Jane Hirshfield & Mariko Aratani