into the octaves part three

araguz coverThis post is the third and last of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD (check out the first post here and the second here).

For this final post, I’m sharing a sequence that did not make it into the book. It’s a sequence strictly written around the life of E. A. Robinson, with some braiding of my own narrative in there. I share them, flaws and all, in the spirit of craft lessons as well as a kind of fan fiction among poets.

On the craft side, one can see the moves I was trying out. The word “untriangulated” comes into play, for example. There are distinct syllabic patterns throughout these as well. As for fan fiction, I do borrow from Robinson’s own mythic Tilbury town and mention a number of his characters. Even if you haven’t read his poems, however, there is at least a sense of a lonely dude being written about.

This last bit might be at the heart of both these posts and my book. Facing and acknowledging the loneliness that the death of others leaves us in. And also the loneliness of mortality, of living on. In conversation with a friend, I surprised myself by calling this my most vulnerable book, mainly due to how stripped the poems are, eight lines per page, no title even. Whatever flaws in the lyrics below, what I hope comes through is the effort to push beyond sentimentality into clear sentiment and human gesture. Ultimately, in lyric poetry, and especially when it comes to elegiac material, human gesture is what we’re after.

Octaves for E. A. Robinson

His medicine was stronger than any
supplied to him.  It waited for him to sit
alone, and drew from him its strength the way
the sun and moon divide the sky, pulling
the light between.  The days of sun would burn.
The days of moon returned to count the hours,
the body for him especially a thing
irreparable: grit turned on itself.

*

He stood with them in the moonlight as though
walking on air – that’s how it comes to me
at least, this poet of images like rare and vague
Bible curses slipped through codes and tongues,
and only registered by some to have
a cursing power.  Many read his words
and puzzled, but never called it puzzle: the air
in which they read, the moonlight he stood in.

*

No readings, talks or lectures: no voice, then,
one would think, reading on the poet.
Time was always set aside for words,
for words and drink.  He drank the words, the words
drank him.  His writing like water passing
from one glass to another, the same volume
kept, the same clear substance moving.
A restlessness you could almost see.

*

I walk the city where you stumbled, stumble
myself a few  times. I do not have
your untriangulated stars only
a vague idea where they are. The lights
I walk under are different from the ones
that lit your way. You stumbled in the dark.
I am blinded on my way between
the page and working for the page, the stars.

*

They dropped names into a hat
and picked yours out. The winner
was from Arlington, so there
your middle name. The words came
slowly. Whatever the sun
did to the sand, whatever
filled the air that day: laughter,
broken waves: each has named you.

*

You gave them drink, Win,
gave them Tilbury,
the house on the hill,
the mill and no one
there anymore, gave
Flood and Stark, Bright tore
down the slaughterhouse,
you did not give, Win.

*

Had I your nerve South Texas
would be riddled out, riddled
with faces over bottles,
riddled with birds, wingspans wide
as palm trees. I’d follow down
each crack on the face the Sphinx
sits there holding, be part of
the wearing wind howling through.

*

Black diphtheria: two words
to end a life your mother’s
body left for her sons to
care after to carry out
past the porch where the preacher
prayed at a distance down to
where two brothers dug and you
clung to life you’re supposed to

*

you loved your brother’s wife like
Lancelot loved Guinevere
you fell into your stories
drank Tilbury dry drank Flood
would’ve drunk the moon could you
see straight into yourself as
the bullet through the head which
has not landed since it shot

*

just a person in the crowd
or in Hood’s sketch a man too
busy reading to look up
every curve and shade around
the pages made them seem set
for flight but not yet one more
turn of phrase what sentence then
for the silence you’re drawn in?

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

into the octaves part two

araguz coverThis post is the second of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD (check out the first post here).

Around the time of putting the early drafts of these sequences together, I remember having a conversation with a friend about Donald Justice and the work he put into having Weldon Kees’ poetry be more well-known. I remember saying that it’s what we do as writers: carry each other forward, whether in memories, stories, or creative work. Always advocating for presence on some level.

This thought shaped the collection in a lot of ways. An influence and example of this type of carrying each other work is the sequence “Twelve Poems for Cavafy” by Yannis Ritsos. In this powerful sequence, Ritsos pays homage to the poet Cavafy through distinct lyric meditations. The ones that move me the most are the ones that focus on the every day life of the poet, honoring the things that lived around the poet and his poems.

The poem “His Lamp” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Ritsos uses Cavafy’s lamp as a jumping off point into a meditation on mortality. Similarly, the sequence “for Dennis Flinn” in An Empty Pot’s Darkness chronicles moments of my friendship with Flinn, specifically during a summer in which I lived at his house. He lived without electricity, and offered me a room during a tough period in my life. We survived in the dark together, often talking or writing by the light of kerosene lamps ourselves. In the excerpts below, I do my best to honor Flinn’s armchair. It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize plays a large part of the experience of living with someone until that person is gone.

excerpt from “Twelve Poems for Cavafy”
by Yannis Ritsos

2. His Lamp

The lamp is peaceful, serviceable; he prefers it
to any other lighting. He adjusts his light
to the needs of the moment, to the age-old
unavowable desire. And always
this odor of kerosene, this subtle presence,
very unobtrusive, at night, when he returns alone
with so much fatigue in his limbs, so much futility
in the texture of his coat, in the seams of the pockets,
that every movement seems useless, unendurable —
once more, to distract him, here’s the lamp — the wick,
the match, the flickering flame (with its shadows
on the bed, on the desk, on the walls), but especially
the glass cover — its fragile transparency
which, in a simple and human gesture,
once more involves you: in saving yourself or in saving.

**

excerpts from “for Dennis Flinn” sequence — José Angel Araguz

You spent afternoons in your armchair,
in and out of sleep. You’d call my name
to see if I was around. Evenings,
you’d go housesit, leaving me the dark.

Since you died in someone else’s house,
no one’s explained it to your armchair:
He is sleeping in another life.
When he wakes, you’ll know it when you creak.

*

No plot then, no arc, no denouement.

The day you turned ash, I wasn’t there.
I can only tell it like you might
through white, gray words: You rest in pieces.
Perhaps you’d laugh. You merely left scraps.
A chuckle. A crackle in your throat.
You left life as broke as you had lived.

I can almost hear your armchair creak.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

into the octaves part one

araguz coverThis will be the first of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD as of this week!

Back when I started experimenting with the octave form, I drew inspiration from a series of poems by Edward Arlington Robinson also entitled “octaves”:

XI – Edward Arlington Robinson

STILL through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

I wrote about this particular octave once in a previous post, and noted how much I admired how Robinson gets away with the highly syllabic words “unermunerative” and “untriangulated.” As my own experiments at the time had me working around intuitive syllabic phrasing, I took it as a challenge to include highly syllabic words throughout the sequences of An Empty Pot’s Darkness.

The octave below is from the sequence “for Christine Maloy” which pays elegiac tribute to a young poet from my hometown Corpus Christi who was living with lupus, a serious autoimmune condition, until she died one winter due to flu. Her death was discussed in the local news in a way that glossed over how vulnerable people who are immunocompromised actually are to things like the flu which are summarily dismissed or made light of in society. In writing about her passing and our friendship, I found myself at turns angry and lost to these attitudes and how they overlook the real human lives affected by them.

In this sequence dedicated to my friend I try to work out poems that are examples of how formal strategies can be subverted and brought into conversation with personal and political stakes, all in the effort to represent the human life we carry in memory.

excerpt from “for Christine Maloy” sequence – José Angel Araguz

On Facebook, people still seek you out.
This last face, pixelated,
thumbnail hitchhiking to now,
gives a grin, lends small glints to your eyes,
constellates them to sharp points of light.
Is this the shape of your myth?
A held look, a look away
I cannot triangulate.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

community feature: Airlie Press book launch!

This particular community feature post is focused on the upcoming book launch of three of Airlie Press’s new titles: Ordinary Gravity by Gary Lark, Savagery by J.C. Mehta, and, winner of the 2018 Airlie Prize, Wonder Tissue by Hannah Larrabee!

Here’s the info for those of you in the Portland, OR area:

When: Tuesday, October 1st @ 7pm
Where: Annie Bloom’s Books, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97219

I’m presently in my second year of a three-year stint as a co-editor of Airlie Press and can honestly say that it is a joy to be able to play a part in bringing these books out into the world. Below are excerpts from the new books either to give a taste of the upcoming book launch or to hold space for those of us, like myself, who aren’t able to be there.

Excerpt from Ordinary Gravity by Gary Lark

Much Improved 

Hardly anyone dies of typhoid fever
any more. We can send our sons to war
without complaint. Lice are quickly dispatched
and no one freezes to death.
We have piles of antibiotics.
The broadsword wounded aren’t left
in the field to die with others rotting around them.
Of course there are more bombs and bullets
but morphine is readily available.
We can usually save a soldier whose limb
is blown off.
Yes, things are much improved.
We can send more daughters up to the front.
They have the right.
Soldiering is still a good option for the poor.
We’re working on pills for madness,
more medications to calm the nerves
and we’ll get a handle on this suicide business,
yes we will.

*

Excerpt from Savagery by J.C. Mehta

The Heart Consumes Itself 

It’s not true the starved
don’t eat, we die

of broken hips, pelvis
churned to dust—slowly,

the heart consumes
itself. Atrophies and implodes.

(These chambers, remember,
are a muscle.)

Nobody nowhere shoulders
the strength to stop it all, the whole
fat world from slipping
between cracked, wanting lips. We eat

and we hate,

with each bite and gag-
me spoon. Our weakness
displayed like limbs
splayed wide, flushed
shameful folds of pink.
How I wish

I could stop. Let the valves
shut down cold. Listen,
that last organ coda. And you
in dutiful ovation.

*

Excerpt from Wonder Tissue by Hannah Larrabee

Extraterrestrial

Loose-leaf planet I survive
steeping in a pocket of dust
or lakeside listening to loons,
my tongue curling around
their songs of sorrow, fierce
red eyes, fierce as her body,
its way of going about me—oh,
abandoned bed like a reliquary,
her bone fingers a memory
inside me—oh, I have learned
the language of the homesick
 on
this planet of horses, this planet
of her legs tightening around me,
force rising against gravity, magma
loosened as from a spur kicked
into earth, foaming at the bit, I am
tamed, I am tamed, come tame me
extraterrestrial, I, too, have learned
the word beautiful, mapped its quiet
coordinates, the wind through her dress
is the conversation of cells, I am alive
in all my fires.

*

Click on the following to learn more about Airlie’s publishing collective model, our present single poem prize, our national Airlie Prize, and the regional open reading period from which editorships are determined.

And be sure to check out my own new Airlie title, An Empty Pot’s Darkness.

new book: An Empty Pot’s Darkness!

I’m happy to announce the release of my newest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press)! This collection takes the octave form I worked with in my chapbook Corpus Christi Octaves and expands on it with new sequences on life, love, and death.

araguz coverThank you to Ani Schreiber for creating the cover art! Special thanks also to Adeeba Shahid Talukder, Vincent Cooper, and Laura M Kaminski for writing blurbs and spending time with the project early. Also, thank you to the whole Airlie gang for taking a chance on this project.

One last thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read my work in the past! This new project has me working in a more nuanced space, one that I hope reads as a further development of my way with the line.

Copies can presently be purchased at the Airlie site – where you can also read more about the book as well as catch an excerpt.

Thank you for helping me welcome this new book into the world!

writer feature: Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

This week’s poem was drawn from the feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

*

Happy to be sharing a collaborative poem this week by two poet friends: Yahia Lababidi and Laura Kaminski. Collaborative poems create such singular reading experiences, the meeting of two sensibilities creating another sensibility performed through the poem. Because of the idiosyncratic nature of this creative undertaking, I asked Yahia and Laura to share some thoughts on their process, the results of which are featured below after the poem.

PITCHERI was excited when I first read the poem, intrigued by its pacing and lyric turns right away. What I most enjoy about this poem is how its meditation on sin and the body is approached in references and images that redefine both as they accumulate. The first stanza, for example, sets up a logic around guilt that is quickly subverted in the second. Then at the end of the second stanza there is a reference to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, “Guilt is never to be doubted.” This line on its own is one of those faux truisms that denies itself the moment after it’s read or uttered. The silence after the line break makes you immediately doubt this statement on doubt. These moves early in the poem have the effect of a bottle rocking unsteadily on its base and then settling into stillness via the Kafka line. This stillness is the perfect lead into the following stanza’s “Walk softly then” direction.

Similarly, the body is described in house terms and images, all of which create a different conversation about interiority and the self than usually encountered in poems. An image like the water pitcher one in stanza six, for example, is effective for what it evokes through the directive tone and leaves unsaid. By the poem’s end, gratitude for the “holy mess” of who we are works as a physical and active thing through the refrain of breathing.

Holy Mess
by Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

Overnight, your once blessed existence
might reverse course
become an alien thing
and you stand accused
of unspeakable crimes

Never mind, you are innocent
of these base horrors—
as Kafka says, in his Trial,
‘Guilt is never to be doubted’

Walk softly then, in sock-feet
across the floor that’s in your mind
until you reach the alcove
between the two open windows
that serve as sockets for your eyes

inhale through the nose
exhale through the nose

Be grateful, then
there are still dreadful sins
in our fallen world
of which you are blameless

Then move to the left window
lift the pitcher full of water
just beneath it to the sill
and pour it out

inhale through the nose
exhale through the mouth

Cross over to the other window
and look out, cross your arms over
your chest and clasp your shoulders

Now, tell me, how will this crucible
change you? Then show how this
unasked-for crisis is
blessing, allow it to assist
the birth of your longed-for self

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the nose

Slowly, return to descend
the spiral staircase of your spine
until you reach the landing
level with the Heart —

Thank God, for this Holy Mess —
Open the window, air it out

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the mouth

*

Yahia: Poetry is an expression of the intolerable. Through it, one can confess in code and attempt to articulate what is unutterable.  Recently, undergoing a particularly difficult spiritual trial, I turned to poetry for solace, as a form of prayer, to overhear my higher self.

But, in this trying instance, I found that my voice and vision were not enough; I needed another poetic soul to unburden myself to, who could talk back to the intimacies that I shared and walk me through them.

So, I submitted the partial poem that I had composed to a poet and friend I admire, Laura Kaminski, and the result is this fuller work of (he)art — a steadying call and response and a kind of breathing meditation.

Laura: I carried the partial poem with me through the remainder of that day and into the night, and what came was this: when a part of our body is in pain, it screams out along the nerves, and it becomes difficult not to slip into that pain as an identity: *I am the torn ligaments in my foot* and such, where the injury and pain of it supersede any other perceptions of the body, become defining. When I hurt, pain hijacks my identity. I cannot see my self beyond the injury.

How much the same is true when what is injured is one of our inner selves, part of our psyche rather than physical body, but superseding identity in the same way: our “I am” is lost beneath the “I am the falsely accused.” How to return to the wider, more comprehensive perspective, to gently invite the injured voice inside to subside, to return to being part of a larger, uninjured whole? Then came the words of walking across the floor within the mind, and it struck me how once those words are thought, the imaginative-identity, like Alice, resizes its self to fit, and opens us to wonderland again.

*

Yahia Lababidi, Egyptian-American, is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, most recently the collection of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere.

Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks. She serves on the editorial teams at Praxis Magazine Online and Right Hand Pointing. For more information on her work, check out her site.

writer feature: Olivia Dresher

Jumping back into things with the work of Olivia Dresher whose latest collection of fragments and aphorisms, A Silence of Wordscame out recently from Impassio Press.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of A Silence of Words and got to share my thoughts via the following blurb:

dresher“In A Silence of Words, Olivia Dresher continues to explore her fascination and deft facility with fragments and aphorisms. Taken from their first public home of Twitter, Dresher’s fragments find their way into a reader’s inner consciousness with the intimacy of poetry and the depth of philosophy, offering “Awe, not answers.” If, as she tells us elsewhere, “The mind likes being alone, the heart doesn’t,” this collection delivers at turns solitude and companionship. In the same way that the mind and heart live within one body, so do the nuance and complexity of these short works live within one’s reading experience, each one a gift of presence and existence.”

To get a sense of what I mean in these words, I have included two small excerpts below.

What I would add to readers new to Dresher’s work is how dually instructive and illuminating these aphorisms and fragments are. Able to carry a range of emotion, from perceptively distant to openly vulnerable, Dresher’s work evokes a person speaking to one’s self in a way that is also speaking to you, the reader. Together in this unique space, human realities are experienced in real time.

I first experienced the unique sensibility of Dresher’s work when I discovered the anthology she edited, In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing (Impassio Press). In this anthology, Dresher outlines a clear idea of the varied scope of fragmentary writing through representative works and authors. I continue to admire her work for how it has shaped me both on the page and in life.

excerpts from A Silence of Words by Olivia Dresher

533
Insects are arrogant

534
Tears go deeper than a smile.
Imagine if a photographer told you to “Cry!” instead of “Smile” before taking your photograph.

535
Tears are perfect

536
Tidal wave moments…

537
Everything to feel,
nothing to be done.

538
If I could love unhappiness,
I’d always be happy.

*

587
Her mind, a kite her heart liked to fly.

588
What are you reading,
the young man on the bus asked me.
Aphorisms, I said.
What do you do for fun, he asked.
Write aphorisms, I said.

589
Longing to feel his longing…

590
As an infant, what did I love?
I loved music and the sky, even then.

591
Stop spilling your silence all over me,
she said silently.

*

Copies of  A Silence of Words can be purchased here.

To keep up with Olivia Dresher’s work, follow her on Twitter: @OliviaDresher