* in memory of francisco x. alarcón

The X in My Name – Francisco X. Alarcón

the poor
signature
of my illiterate
and peasant
self
giving away
all rights
in a deceiving
contract for life

alarcón4The death of Francisco X. Alarcón earlier this month has been on my mind as I wrap up my 3rd year reading and work through exams this week. Reviewing his book, Canto Hondo/Deep Song was a revelatory experience for me. Through following and engaging with Alarcón’s singular minimalist poetics, I learned a lot about precision with the line as well as how much weight can be carried via emphasis. But it was his commitment to representing and singing for those who suffered that moved me the most.

His death remains a constant source of conversation in the Latin@ literary community, mourning and celebration following each other in a complex cycle that would’ve pleased el maestro. As shown in the poem above, Alarcón was well aware of the contradictions to be worked with in being a Chicano; even an X in a name can be a metaphor for the multifaceted tension of identity and self.

I write this post the night before my final 3rd year exam. Diving into my own sense of tradition and identity in Latin@ poetics has been an emotional journey. I have had great community throughout – from my CantoMundistas, to readers of my poems and books, as well as those of you who stop and read these Influences. Thank you. Thank you as well to the great teachers I’ve had, in the classroom and on the page.

“Mexican” Is Not a Noun – Francisco X. Alarcón

  to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
   seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
   showing solidarity with two thousand
   striking cannery workers who were mostly
   Mexican women, October 27, 1985

“Mexican”
is not
a noun
or an
adjective

“Mexican”
is a life
long
low-paying
job

a check
mark on
a welfare
police
form

more than
a word
a nail in
the soul
but

it hurts
it points
it dreams
it offends
it cries

it moves
it strikes
it burns
just like
a verb

*

Happy verbing!

José

p.s. Here is Rigoberto González’s tribute to Alarcón.

* salvaging with kay ryan

Salvage – Kay Ryan

The wreck
is a fact.
The worst
has happened.
The salvage trucks
back in and
the salvage men
begin to sort
and stack,
whistling as
they work.
Thanks be
to god—again—
for extractable elements
which are not
carriers of pain,
for this periodic
table at which
the self-taught
salvagers disassemble
the unthinkable
to the unthought.

20151211_234610

What I love about the lyric above by Kay Ryan is how much complication it holds in its short lines. Between casual observation and straight fact, there are worlds living side by side. The “unthinkable” happens, then others get to “whistling as/they work.” Poems like these show the necessary work of poets and their asbestos gloves, able to hold volatile and conflicting materials via imagery and metaphor, and make from them a flash and foundation of understanding.

***

Ani and I have been going through our own process of “salvaging” what we can from the “unthinkable” for about a week now. Last Friday evening, round-the-clock construction began at the intersection near us. Above is a photo taken around midnight Saturday. That’s a spotlight lighting the way for the poor guys out there doing their job. There was a brief respite from Sunday night til Tuesday morning, when work started up again. By Tuesday afternoon, we had this scene:

20151216_172408

Count’em: that’s three heavy-duty machines moving around, rattling the apartment building, making us feel like dinosaurs are roving outside our window. This stage of construction is only from 8:30am til 5:30pm each day. At night, steel plates are lined up along the street which sound like thunder every time a car passes over them. THOSE we hear at night.

Each of us is coping as best we can. Ani’s begun coming up with stories about “Mr. Scoopy” and I keep wondering if these guys will get the holiday off next week. We’re told the work should be done by Christmas Eve. We’ll be in “salvaging” mode til then.

***

Speaking of things under construction, things have cleared up regarding my new book, Everything We Think We Hear. It is officially available on Amazon (again)!

I’ll keep bookending the Friday posts with book info throughout December. I’m happy to report that I have booked a few readings in my hometown Corpus Christi, TX in March. Also, I have some news about things coming up in Spring 2016. More details on all of this soon!

Happy salvaging!

Jose

* new blog post at Cincinnati Review blog

Just a quick note to share my latest post for my Cincinnati Review blog column “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” Read the new post here.

This time around I discuss astrology, focusing on Pisces and Sei Shonagon. Along with expanding on ideas on astrology I’ve shared here on the Influence, this post can be seen as a kind of part 2 to my earlier Sei Shonagon post.

See you tomorrow!

Best,

José

* review of natalie scenters-zapico’s the verging cities

 

* the verging cities *
* the verging cities *

This week’s poem, “After I Read Your Obituary,” is by fellow CantoMundista Natalie Scenters-Zapico. The poem comes from her collection The Verging Cities which I was fortunate enough to get to review for The Volta Blog. In my review, I focus on the phrase “Let me learn you how” (found early in the collection) as a key to open up the powerful reading experience Scenters-Zapico has worked out for us.

This week’s poem provides an example of what I mean in the way the speaker’s experience with reading an obituary comes to life for her and the reader through an expanding conceit and attention to detail. As the poem develops, so does the speaker’s engagement with the reality of the dead and the worlds that engagement creates.

Read my review of Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities here.

After I Read Your Obituary – Natalie Scenters-Zapico

you crawl into bed with my husband
and me. Your body is smaller
than I remember; I hush your voice

when you complain: the aloe-vera
in the pot is made of plastic.
Your breathing grows, a weed

in monsoon—you whisper: mother,
father, and sister fell open as birds
in their chairs when they were shot

at dinner. You show me how
you dove under the table, felt specks
of their blood on your lips before

seeing the scuffs on your father’s leather
shoes. You tell me, you buried
your family in the walls of an abandoned

restaurant, so you could travel to my home
to measure the depth of my new weather-proof
windows. With the tip of the plastic

succulent I rub your swollen ears.
I tell you: in this new country I am worse
than the city of thousands dead,

I am a wound red with iodine. My husband
wakes and I beg him for water
I’ve never known to taste so clean.

***

See you next Friday!

José

* Francisco X. Alarcón: poem & review

* canto hondo *
* canto hondo *

Happy to share my latest review for the Volta Blog: a meditation on Francisco X. Alarcón’s latest collection, Canto Hondo. In my review, I discuss Alarcón’s engagement with Federico García Lorca’s ideas on cante jondo (deep song). Alarcón delves into García Lorca’s homage to his Andalusian influences to create his own deep song tempered by his own distinct poetic line, a line I describe as being “as alive and intimate as a nerve or a gasp.”

The review may be read here.

To get a sense of what I mean by the above, I’ve chosen this week’s poem from Alarcón’s From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche (University of Arizona Press). Following the poet’s line breaks, I like how the reader is invited into the thought and experience of each stanza. I’m also moved by the choice of moving from a four-line stanza to a three-line stanza, right at the line “…you’re home’s/nowhere -.” This change in form mirrors a change in the drama and tone of the poem; the stanzas that follow put forth their own hope and response to the dilemma of “those who have lost everything.”

Enjoy!

To Those Who Have Lost Everything – Francisco X. Alarcón

crossed
in despair
many deserts
full of hope

carrying
their empty
fists of sorrow
everywhere

mouthing
a bitter night
of shovels
and nails

“you’re nothing
you’re shit
your home’s
nowhere”—

mountains
will speak
for you

rain
will flesh
your bones

green again
among ashes
after a long fire

started in
a fantasy island
some time ago

turning
Natives
into aliens

 ***

Happy amonging!

José

* chapbooks celebration reading

As promised, I have uploaded another reading from our time in Texas back in April. I had hoped to share videos of me reading from both Corpus Christi Octaves and The Wall in order to celebrate their respective anniversaries. Sadly, the reading from the Octaves was severely crashed by seagulls and sun. The seagulls kept cawing over the words (these were poetic seagulls, mind you) and the sun kept me squinting the whole time. I also ended up bursting out laughing at the seagulls mid-reading. It was a mess! But it did lend itself to this iconic screenshot where the inspiration for the cover (artwork by Andrea Schreiber) can be seen:

* mirador mirando *
* mirador mirando *

All being said, we had fun! Below is a reading from The Wall that came out, only minor seagull interference. The text of the poems read are also below:

Key Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I guide the metal, shave it down, follow the make of another key snapped where one would hold it, and when done, turn to face a door I remember from a neighborhood I never lived in but visited once to hear stories of my father, a door that is locked when I try the handle so that I pull out the new key, and when that jams, begin talking to myself, and stop only to lift a key ring from my side, slide the new key next to a hundred others, and let my arm fall, the key ring hitting my side in a dark chuckle.

Ocean Dream – Jose Angel Araguz

In which I am pushed down into the sand only to look up and see a man running into the waves, his legs then breaking into waves, his body breaking into waves, something of my father’s face breaking into waves, until all I am left with is that clash of water and sun that makes metaphor unnecessary.

Concrete – Jose Angel Araguz

Now I’m as old as my father was
When less than a year was left him (Carl Dennis)

At this point, my father had been in jail long enough to be used to concrete, his walls, floors, and sky the same color as the memories I have of him, a color that does not deepen despite the ink and pages, a color that comes out in the weather only when the clouds are full and waiting to let fall nothing one can hold onto.

***

See you Friday!

Jose

 

* another excerpt from Reasons (not) to Dance

* holy dancin' castles *
* holy dancin’ castles *

As promised, here is a second installment celebrating the release of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance!

Above is another of the ink paintings by Andrea Schreiber that was nominated as a possible cover. This ink painting was specifically inspired by the piece “Spinster,” the text of which is below.

Enjoy!

Spinster – José Angel Araguz 

You want me to tell you about life here. There was a castle where a woman was buried within a wall as a sacrifice. They knew nothing about her except she loved to dance. Later, there was a law against dancing. You knew when someone was breaking the law because the castle would begin to shake. Mother called the woman a saint: only someone who was pure could root out those who wronged. The night my father left, the castle crumbled down. Granted, this is only partly true. It was told to me and I tell you, not because I believe in dancing castles. I believe you have come here wanting stories, and all I have learned are reasons not to dance.

*

Copies of Reasons (not) to Dance can be purchased here.

Happy (not) dancing!

Jose