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 review at Poetry International!

Just a quick post to share my review of Zeina Hashem Beck’s latest poetry collection, Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, LLC, 2017) up now at Poetry International!

In this review, I go into Beck’s own engagement with the work of Pablo Neruda and how her singular braiding of political awareness and personal intimacy creates compelling and necessary poetry. Check it out here.

Thank you to editor Ilya Kaminsky for the opportunity!

— José

* autumning with jane hirshfield

Oyes en medio del otoño
detonaciones amarillas?

(In the middle of autumn
do you hear yellow explosions?)

— Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

*
yellow-leaves

Neruda’s lines above evoke a pleasing moment of synesthesia, blurring the sight of yellow leaves with the sound of explosions. As the season changes, I can’t help but see such blurred moments more and more in life.

This week’s poem, “The Heat of Autumn” by Jane Hirshfield, works its materials on a similar level as Neruda’s question above. Housed under the concept of “heat,” the narrative of the poem draws its details together in a way that imbues meaning, connecting things in an active way.

The third line, for example, refers to the “apples” of one season becoming the “cider” of another. In doing so,  the first of the poem’s many little dramas is enacted. By the end, enough details and imbued meanings have piled upon each other (like leaves), that the “heat” of the title becomes a sensation on both a physical and emotional level.

*

The Heat of Autumn – Jane Hirshfield

The heat of autumn
is different from the heat of summer.
One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.
One is a dock you walk out on,
the other the spine of a thin swimming horse
and the river each day a full measure colder.
A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
Before he goes she straightens his belts in the closet,
rearranges the socks and sweaters inside the dresser
by color. That’s autumn heat:
her hand placing silver buckles with silver,
gold buckles with gold, setting each
on the hook it belongs on in a closet soon to be empty,
and calling it pleasure.

(from Hirshfield’s collection After, 2006)

*

Happy autumning!

José

* singing with jim ferris

Poet of Cripples – Jim Ferris

Let me be a poet of cripples,
of hollow men and boys groping
to be whole, of girls limping toward
womanhood and women reaching back,
all slipping and falling toward the cavern
we carry within, our hidden void,
a place for each to become full, whole,
room of our own, space to grow in ways
unimaginable to the straight
and the narrow, the small and similar,
the poor, normal ones who do not know
their poverty. Look with care, look deep.
Know that you are a cripple too.
I sing for cripples; I sing for you.

*

beauty is a verbOne of the highlights of teaching composition this summer has been engaging with excerpts from the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. There is a wealth of great poetry in this anthology, which includes the work of Ona Gritz, Hal Sirowitz, and the writer of this week’s poem, Jim Ferris.

What I love about this week’s poem, “Poet of Cripples,” is how Ferris takes a singular experience and sings it in such a way that it becomes personal for the reader. The stakes engaged with via the poem quickly become familiar; the speaker’s intimate address of Look with care, look deep, is in the tradition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Poetry becomes, for Ferris as it was for Whitman, a way to access our hidden void and push ourselves to what we would become.

This poem’s momentum makes me think of another Whitman-influenced poet, Pablo Neruda, specifically his lines at the end of “Alianza (Sonata)” where so much intangible and conceptual feeling is evoked through language that is felt in the body:

Screenshot_2016-07-14-20-51-34-1

…I feel your lap’s heat and the transit of your kisses
creating fresh swallows in my dreams.

At times the fate of your tears rises
like age up to my forehead, and there
the waves keep breaking, destroyed by death:
its movement is damp, decayed, final.

Both poets meet at the place where language and the body meet to affect each other, like waves making and unmaking the shore.

Happy singing!

José

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

* 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

* new online chapbook released!!!

“In the book of flight, plastic bags are brought in to do the work of clouds.

Dead leaves rest in the margins.

Grass clippings, eyelashes, fingernails: errata in the book of flight.”

(José Angel Araguz from The Book of Flight)

book of flight cover

Happy to announce the release of my latest online chapbook The Book of Flight published by Essay Press! Read it free online or download the chap in PDF here.

The Book of Flight is one of twelve winners in Essay Press’s first Digital Chapbook Contest. For this contest, Essay Press asked 12 recent Essay authors each to select and introduce a manuscript extending and/or challenging the formal possibilities of prose. I am honored to have my manuscript selected and eloquently introduced by the innovative author Misha Pam Dick.

Here is a brief description of the chapbook:

“José Angel Araguz’s The Book of Flight is a chapbook of aphoristic, fragmentary writings in the style of Ramon Gomez de la Serna’s greguerías and Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Described by Misha Pam Dick as “a four-part microtreatise-poem. Like aphorisms that don’t preen, or fragments that don’t mourn,” The Book of Flight lives somewhere between the insight of haiku, the personal heat of tanka, and the everyday tone of a poet’s notebook.”

This project is especially meaningful to me as it represents the culmination of many of the ideas and insights I have followed and exercised throughout various notebooks and other projects over the past ten years. “Clock Ode” in Reasons (not) to Dance as well as “Zoot Suit Riot” and “Moth Season” in Everything We Think We Hear are good examples of precursors to the sensibility that is in full force in this project.

Please read and share this free chapbook and stay tuned for the other eleven selections from Essay Press!

Thanks to Andy Fitch, Maria Anderson, and Aimee Harrison for all the hard work in putting together the chapbook. Thanks toAndrea Schreiber for the cover art and Courtney Mandryk for the cover design. And an extra special thanks to Misha Pam Dick for selecting the manuscript and writing the introduction!

See you Friday!

José

* questions with Pablo Neruda & Mary Oliver

XXXIII.

And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?

And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?

Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?

Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?

Pablo Neruda, from the Book of Questions

* sunsetular *
* sunsetular *

The above excerpts from Neruda are from a post I did last summer having some translation fun (see here).

It is my birthday month and so I am in question mode all sorts.  I believe questions can be their own genre of literature (ask Neruda).

There is the story of the Rabbi being asked by his son: What is the meaning of life? – to which the Rabbi responded with: Why would you ruin such a great question with an answer?  

The poem below by Mary Oliver turns on its questions, creates from a desire to know, a knowing.

***

Some Questions You Might Ask – Mary Oliver

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape?  Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

***

Happy grassing!

Jose