* the influence wrecking ball via Robinson Jeffers

To the Stone-cutters – Robinson Jeffers

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain.  The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years,
and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.

* a rocky poet *
* rockin’ poet *

If that don’t wake you up on a Friday morning I don’t know what will!

I’ve been wanting to do a post on Jeffers for a while.  He’s definitely been an influence.  I first got into his work back during my MFA – which resulted in my poor workshopmates being inundated with a Jose poem that was needlessly dark and unnecessarily long.

To keep it short, the influence wrecked me for a bit.

Which is the way it works sometimes.  So much of writing is born out of reading, and sometimes we walk away from things we read with only a glimpse of how the writer got there but fully convinced we can get there too.  I want to believe it’s a youthful hubris but I would be kidding myself.

To get back to Jeffers: he is famous for his longer works, but there is a lot of heart and insight in his shorter poems.  After getting over my initial impulse to take after his way with the line (and getting away from myself in the process), I spent some time with the shorter lyrics learning a thing or two about compression and conciseness.

The poem below is a rare note not only in its brevity but also in his use of another’s voice.

Cremation – Robinson Jeffers

It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation.  To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had great joy of my body.  Scatter the ashes.

***

Happy scattering!

Jose

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* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

***

This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J

* strange week & a poem

It’s been a strange week here in my world.  I promise to be back with a more regular post next week.  For now, please enjoy this poem of mine published originally in Hanging Loose, a great magazine out of Brooklyn.  More info on them can be found here.  The poem comes from my time working at Oren’s Daily Roast at Grand Central Station.
Grand Central, yo.
Directions – Jose Angel Araguz

The man asking for directions sighs when I answer him in Spanish, shakes my hand, almost hugs me. He tells me I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican but we are not all hermanos, primos, and maybe that is why I excuse him like a brother or a cousin when he points to my books and asks what I am studying and hears “la policia.” Before I can correct him, he releases another sigh and says alright, says he knew he could trust me when he saw me, says that is the best thing for a man, to be strong, to stand for something, that in this country it is like money to be a police officer, the girls love it, family approves, and your boys know they can trust you, and as he goes on about parking tickets and handcuffs, I think about all the nice things being said and whether he would say them about “la poesia” and how the thing I do study is made up of everything we think we hear.

(published originally in Hanging Loose No. 98)

Happy hearing!

J

* picture found here.

* w. s. merwin & the friday influence

Dusk in Winter – W. S. Merwin

The sun sets in the cold without friends
Without reproaches after all it has done for us
It goes down believing in nothing
When it has gone I hear the stream running after it
It has brought its flute it is a long way

***

 This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!

What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines.  Not only the brevity but the subject matter.

We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity.  Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.

What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.

That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem.  It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.

Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke.  The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.

***

rains, yo

The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene.  In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:

To the Rain – W. S. Merwin

You reach me out of the age of the air
clear
falling toward me
each one new
if any of you has a name
it is unknown

but waited for you here
that long
for you to fall through it knowing nothing

hem of the garment
do not wait
until I can love all that I am to know
for maybe that will never be

touch me this time
let me love what I cannot know
as the man born blind may love color
until all that he loves
fills him with color

***

Happy filling!

J

(photograph found on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/sep/26/poster.poems.rain.poetry)

* Jaroslav Seifert & the friday influence

A startling metaphor is worth more
than a ring on one’s finger…

…In vain I snatched for ideas
and fiercely closed my eyes
in order to hear that first magic line.
But in the dark, instead of words,
I saw a woman’s smile and
wind-blown hair…

(from To be a Poet – Jaroslav Seifert)

***

This week on the Influence, Czech poet: Jaroslav Seifert.

Sometimes I do research for these blog posts, needling around the internet trying to find the birth dates of poets.  And sometimes I am surprised.

Such is my experience with Seifert – an almost shame of not having known about him, but an honor to know of his work now.

I believe that a poet’s journey is to always be writing closer and closer to themselves.  The hardest thing for a poet is to just write it down, not the idea of a poem but the poem itself.

Charles Bukowski pointed out once that he marveled at the way people will pour their hearts out writing long, intimate, fiery letters – then turn around to write a poem and feel the need to sound poetic.

This isn’t a rant – if anything, it is a self-indictment.  I know I only come close to what I’m talking about once a year, if I’m lucky.  Yet it is what one strives for page after page, word after word.

And I believe Seifert had something all his own going.

Check out the poem (after the significant image below), give it consideration.  More than anything, I hope you come across some joy in it as I did.

brooch-worthy, no?

An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert *

If you’re at your wits’ end concerning love
try falling in love again —
say, with the Queen of England.
Why not!
Her features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
But if you were to ask her
for a date in Hyde Park
you can bet that
you’d wait in vain.

If you’ve any sense at all
you’ll wisely tell yourself:
Why of course, I know:
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.

When he was in England
my son bought me in London’s Piccadilly
an elegant umbrella.
Whenever necessary
I now have above my head
my own small sky
which may be black
but in its tensioned wire spokes
God’s mercy may be flowing like
an electric current.

I open my umbrella even when it’s not raining,
as a canopy
over the volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets
I carry with me in my pocket.

But there are moments when I am frightened
even by the sparkling bouquet of the universe.
Outstripping its beauty
it threatens us with its infinity
and that is all too similar
to the sleep of death.
It also threatens us with the void and frostiness
of its thousands of stars
which at night delude us
with their gleam.

The one we have named Venus
is downright terrifying.
Its rocks are still on the boil
and like gigantic waves
mountains are rising up
and burning sulphur falls.

We always ask where hell is.
It is there!

But what use is a fragile umbrella
against the universe?
Besides, I don’t even carry it.
I have enough of a job
to walk along
clinging close to the ground
as a nocturnal moth in daytime
to the coarse bark of a tree.

All my life I have sought the paradise
that used to be here,
whose traces I have found
only on women’s lips
and in the curves of their skin
when it is warm with love.

All my life I have longed
for freedom.
At last I’ve discovered the door
that leads to it.
It is death.

Now that I’m old
some charming woman’s face
will sometimes waft between my lashes
and her smile will stir my blood.

Shyly I turn my head
and remember the Queen of England,
whose features are on every postage stamp
of that ancient kingdom.
God save the Queen!

Oh yes, I know quite well: 
it’s raining in Hyde Park today.

***

Happy saving!

J

* translation by Eswald Osers

* Beautiful & Pointless by David Orr – a quick review

Just finished reading David Orr’s lovely book: Beautiful & Pointless, a marvelous and sly book.

now to think of another title for my autobiography

Marvelous because Orr is able to navigate through the realm of contemporary poetry – both the writing of it and the living of it – in a charming and knowledgeable manner.

Sly because his essays have forced me to take a long, hard look at myself and my aspirations as a poet while making me chuckle.

Damn.

David Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review.  I have been enjoying his columns for years now.

The biggest risk taken in this book is Orr’s breaking down of the mystique surrounding the business and writing of poetry while at the same time showing how the public and private realms are inseparable and *gasp* often beneficial to each other.

(*gasp* because I am a bit of a poet hermit in terms of the outside poetry world.  I mean, it’s scary.  They should send chocolate with rejection letters.)

The charm of the book is how, by breaking down the mystique, Orr makes a fair argument for how poetry is like sports or travel or any other activity that gives pleasure and meaning on an individual level, first and foremost.  By putting it in this context, poetry’s mystique – the revelations, the idiosyncratic fascinations, its intimate tones – is simply part of its appeal.  It is an art not for everyone, but no less worthwhile and valuable to people.

Overall, it is a reaffirming book and worth checking out.

Here’s a sample of why:

…much of life is devoted to things that in the don’t matter very much, except to us.  Time passes whether we like it or not, and its too-quick progress is measured out in private longings and solitary trivialities as much as in choices we might defend to a skeptical audience…I can’t tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead,  that choice can be meaningful.  There’s little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident…

Check out more from David Orr at his website: http://davidorr.com/

Happy evidenting!

J

* e.e. cummings & the friday influence

(if there are any heavens… – e.e. cummings)

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)

***

This week on the Influence: e.e. cummings.

Or “lower-case cummings” as William Carlos Williams liked to refer to him as.

Mine may have been the last generation to go through an adolescent phase of writing all in lower case out of homage to Cummings.  Whether you did it for a year or just one poem, it happened – you went for the typographical thrill that he explored in his work.

What one discovers in this phase is that what comes off at first as easily imitable quirks of print are, in fact, part of a purposeful and powerful way with the line.  (but I was young – what did I know?)

In the poem above, I marvel at the way he works the use of parentheses both to carry out the argument in the poem as well as adding a visual layer to the poem, the parentheses something like petals in the lines.

There is also a lot of emotion played out in the move from longer and shorter lines.  The cut to parentheses mid-phrase hinges on something akin to doubt and nerve to say what must be said here.

Then there’s what isn’t said: both lines “standing near my” and later “This is my beloved my” cut off naming –  with different meanings each time, so that in the absence of a word – just as in the absence of a mother/beloved – more and more gets left unsaid.

Charles Bukowski has a poem in which he talks about how he likes to think of E. E. Cummings as a pool hustler – a suiting image, really, a man smooth at a game of high stakes.

((((((steeping))))))

Happy staking!

J