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Last week saw the release of my latest digital chapbook Naos Explains Everything Via Crumbs published by the good people at Right Hand Pointing. Part of Naos’ latest meditation / treatise / mixtape ideas had him ruminating on the figure of Atlas, the Titan condemned to carry the earth for eternity:

the ant is Atlas under a crumb —
Atlas carries the crumb of the earth —

I believe what Naos might be getting at is that it’s all about perspective.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA similar theme arises in this week’s poem in which the late great lucille clifton takes on the story of Atlas. In clifton’s poem, the speaker is Atlas himself detailing how he has gotten “used to the heft of it.” Two things in particular move about this interpretation of the mythological figure. First, how, through the details of “forest,” “sea,” and “odor of flesh,” clifton’s Atlas conveys a familiarity and endearment for the human earth.

The other thing I keep finding compelling is the absence of a specific word for “it.” Due to the title, the informed reader picks up on who the speaker is, and what his role is in myth. The absence of a specific word – “planet,” perhaps or “earth” – points to clifton’s overall ambition, which is to present this mythological figure in distinct human terms. It is a human voice that speaks in terms of “it,” and the human voice of her other poems adds further depth to the story of Atlas.

atlas – lucille clifton

i am used to the heft of it
sitting against my rib,
used to the ridges of forest,
used to the way my thumb
slips into the sea as i pull
it tight. something is sweet
in the thick odor of flesh
burning and sweating and bearing young.
i have learned to carry it
the way a poor man learns
to carry everything.

*

Happy Atlas-ing!

José

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Just a quick post to share 3 recent publications of new work:

.) Check out three new octaves in the latest issue of The Inflectionist Review. These poems come from a new sequence that expands upon the syllabic craft concepts explored in my chapbook Corpus Christi Octaves (Flutter Press, 2014). Special thanks to John Sibley Williams & A. Molotkov for including me in this issue along with CL Bledsoe, Devon Balwit, and other fine writers!

.) Also, the latest issue of Shantih Journal includes “Nada Takes Stock” from my series The Nada Poems. Thank you to David L. White and everyone at SL for putting together such a fine issue!

.) Lastly, I am proud to have my prose poems “Mist Song” and “Creature Song” be a part of the inaugural issue of Scryptic Magazine. Special thanks to Chase Gagnon and Lori A Minor for including my work! Read more about the vision of this magazine here.

*

See you Friday!

José

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* naos to meet you *

* naos to see you again *

Just a quick note to share the release of my latest digital chapbook: Naos Explains Everything Via Crumbs published by Right Hand Pointing.

You may remember the persona, Naos, from my first digital chapbook with RHP, Naos: an introduction.

This time my cursi philosopher Naos (a mix of Aesop, Diogenes, & Walter Mercado) takes his habit of explaining to epic proportions.

Or rather, micro-epic proportions, as his focus is on crumbs.

Here are two excerpts from the sequence:

(ix)

the ant is Atlas under a crumb—

Atlas carries the crumb of the earth—

*

(x)

Poetry as a matter of crumbs:
hinting at the food of experience

from what little
falls behind.

*

Check out the rest of the digital chapbook here.

Happy crumbing!

José

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In my recent microreview & interview of Michael J. Wilson’s A Child of Storm (Stalking Horse Press), I focused my review on ideas of ambition, how the poems in the collection sought to explore their subject from various angles and depths. The poem below, also from the same collection, is an example of this lyric ambition on more intimate grounds.

While the poem’s narrative develops out of ideas of taste and scene, what makes the poem compelling is the work the reader is left to engage with through reading. Much like Philip Larkin’s idea of a poem being an explosive set off by the reader’s reading of it, Wilson’s poem here works through lines that involve the reader’s imagination directly. Rather than guiding or describing, the poem evolves through fruitful ambiguity. As the poem’s ending words are read, one is prompted to simultaneously listen, observe, and feel.

cherry birch

Cherry Birch – Michael J. Wilson

You tell me to chew a birch twig and it tastes like wintergreen and I’m shocked by the numbing : that wooden thing in my mouth — Even in December I can tell that you are hot under your clothes that you have the itch to get naked : I won’t stop you there is an empty spot on the desk : fold them there : Sheets are hissing :

*

Happy birching!

José

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wilson cover

review by José Angel Araguz

Tesla Writes An Obituary – Michael J. Wilson

I left you New York —

Walked the mountain paths of Colorado — found
a field to plant my bulbs

I’m the tired circus sidekick — arms spread — tied to a wheel
waiting for daggers

The clear dark night steamed with Milky Way and nothing

Here is some patent for a ray gun on a receipt for a hat
now — let me spill anonymous electrons in peace

You have your direct currents to the ears of America

I am not inclined to be king
Quietly — I will build a city of light
capture the sun
drive my fists into the ground until I split the earth in two

I will walk into the sky —

Edison, +++++++ you have no hobby —
care for no amusement —
disregard the rules of hygiene —
you have

immense +++ blind +++ contempt +++++ for learning
knowledge
decency

trusting only good +++ American +++ sense —

Leave me in my empty with Clemens

Forget you ever knew a Nikola Tesla

*

Mirroring the image above of “the tired circus sidekick — arms spread — tied to a wheel / waiting for daggers,” the poems in Michael J. Wilson’s A Child of Storm (Stalking Horse Press) approach their materials from various angles. Whether assuming the persona and mythology of Tesla, providing a sequence of history lessons, or delving into the implications of selfhood juxtaposed against nature and city, these poems take aim at exploring variations. Each turn in a poem is another dagger thrown, not to hit the subject directly, but to create a charged air and impact around it.

In the poem above, the Tesla persona is taken on with a directness capable of epic address (“I left you New York”) as well as pathos (“let me spill anonymous electrons in peace”). The effect of this directness is a commanding lyricism. There is command in the way the voice in this and other Tesla poems feels human; yet the lyricism arises not out of the voice but out of the ambition visible behind each poem, line by line.

This poetic sensibility leads to lines that cascade in meaning and image. In “Faraday Cage,” for example, a sequence ends: “May the echo that is my ghost skip on your page like a frame / of film melting.” The travel here is compelling: from the resonance of “echo” and “ghost,” words that imply sound first then mortality, to the moves of logic within the image of a melting film frame, the ambition here is to both evoke and hold, all the while aware of the transient nature of memory. Another moment of lyrical ambition occurs in “Study (Sand Dune and Tree)” and its image of “These flagellant trees / arms raised mid-cat o’ nine prayer.” These two lines work like a Venn diagram, evoking simultaneously the action of flagellation and the stillness of trees and prayer.

This vision runs through the collection, allowing for moments rich in revelation like the following excerpt from “History Lessons: The Rock Dove”:

The pigeon originates in Europe, northern Africa and southern Asia but is found in nearly every city in the world. One of the first animals to be domesticated, pigeons seen today are feral ancestors of birds raised for food, work, or as pets.

While ostensibly part of the history lesson of the poem, these lines read as possibly being about Tesla as well as the speaker in other poems, these various voices aware of a history that both created and estranged them.

Ultimately, a fruitful estrangement results from the ambition behind these poems. In the poem below, the reader follows a scene between the speaker and another person where the unravelling of a sweater at the end of the poem mirrors the unravelling that can occur between two people. The poem moves, however, with an intimacy that grows with each turn of conversation, sense, and memory.

*

Eastern Red Cedar – Michael J. Wilson

You
smell
like
cedar berries +++ and sawdust
mixed with plastic

You say: The radiator is full of steam

It’s closed system
probably full of some black death
we wouldn’t want to know about :

Remember when we had a stove in the kitchen
the grass comes yellow squared where the woodpile is
remembered

How
did
this sweater get a hole in it

How does a moth get passed all that smell

You mumble
Something about an old dog you used to know
a cold snowy day
a fall by the woods
when you were ten
The radiator punches the air and you look
at the discolored circle on the floor where the stove was

You say these things only comfort on the first cold day

That slipped stitches in sweaters only get bigger

*

unspecifiedInfluence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Michael J. Wilson: At its core, poetry should be revelation, it should sear. This could be personal, but it needs to be like a shot of light through the subject. It should clear space around itself. I reference St. Teresa a lot in my work. I’m not remotely religious, but the idea of being penetrated by revelation is one I identify with. I equate revelation with the body and mind.

Nikola Tesla felt science the way Teresa felt God. His vision of science – a great light that infused his being – is as close to actual religious ecstasy that I believe one can get in reality. Tesla saw his creations wholesale in his visions, then he made them to match what he perceived. That’s a description of writing. Poetry can, and should, be complete visions laid bare.

Speaking more broadly about books as objects – I am interested in arcs. Narrative and emotional. I wanted this book to feel like it added up to something. Even if that something is ephemeral and indescribable. I find books that feel like random poems collected to be tiring. There are great examples of this kind of book, but I want more. I want them to feel like the best albums do. An experience to be had. They should cohere. I like to think I did a small bit of that with my book.

IQ: How did you navigate the use of persona/research during the making of this collection and what did you learn from this process?

MJW: Research is ingrained in my process. I will spend months reading, obsessively, on a topic. I’ll buy books. Watch documentaries. I will talk about it to anyone in earshot and get my findings tattooed across my eyeballs.

I’ve always been attracted to the weird details in the “truth” of things. The fact that Tesla’s brother died from a fall off a horse. That the idea that maybe Tesla caused the accident somehow. Those things interest me way more than the particulars of his plans for alternating current. That level of research is where I go. The personal, the tiny. So, in a lot of ways they are inseparable.

When writing in Tesla’s voice I tried to just think about how one would behave if this was how the world was seen. And then I blended in my own world view. I found that this created a Tesla that could also talk about my beliefs and issues.

I found that this helped me work through the deaths of several family members. It was almost like Tesla was doing the thinking. It created a persona for myself to navigate the world in this project. And perhaps beyond it.

*

Special thanks to Michael J. Wilson for participating! To find out more about his work, check out his siteA Child of Storm can be purchased from Stalking Horse Press.

author photo credit: Cameron Gay

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I’m always surprised when a poem turns around and offers me something that opens up a whole other personal meditation. In this week’s poem “What I Understood” by Katha Pollitt, the moment happens in two lines before the end:

people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.

These two lines follow a meditation on childhood memories of “futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment” and answer that brief yet heavy list with the list of things noticed “sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.” It’s the kind of move that leaves me asking myself what things “save” me in everyday life.

Having just moved back to Oregon, Ani and I are surrounded by a whole new set of things to notice. On the walk to work, for example, there is a brief dip down a long stretch of road, the brief steepness leading to a small bridge that crosses a creek, a creek that one can only hear and smell and see if one is on the side of the road by foot, a creek that gives me moments so much like being inside a cathedral, or reading a poem, moments turned over, silent while not silent, alone yet not alone. This brief pocket of woods and water save me.

Also saving us these days is a California scrub jay who has a route by our new home. While it’s likely more than one bird passing through, we have gotten to calling each one we see “Leonard.” He passes the tree in the front yard then lands on the fence beside the house like so:20170521_172852-1.jpg

Here’s to what you may notice today and in the days to come. Like the speaker in the poem below, we may be left not understanding what we notice, but it may save us nonetheless.

What I Understood – Katha Pollitt**

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility. Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I’d ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others? I knew
about snobbery, too, and cruelty—for children
are snobbish and cruel—and loneliness: in restaurants
the dignity and shame of solitary diners
disabled me, and when my grandmother
screamed at me, “Someday you’ll know what it’s like!”
I knew she was right, the way I knew
about the single rooms my teachers went home to,
the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,
and that there was no God, and that I would die.
All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.
the only thing I didn’t understand
was how in a world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.
This year I’ll be
thirty-nine, and I still don’t understand it.

*

Happy noticing!

José

**from The Mind-Body Problem (Random House, 2009)

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carstensen chapAs I noted in my recent microreview & interview of Robin Carstensen’s In the Temple of Shining Mercy, one of the things that moved me was the use of empathy as a kind of engine for poetry throughout the collection. The close and true listening required of this kind of writing is instructive and illuminating. Instructive in that it focuses attention on ways to simply be there via poetry; illuminating because of the way the there is unpacked and explored.

An example of what I mean can be found in “Rogues on the Heath,” another poem from Carstensen’s book. Here, the speaker develops a narrative involving tomcats in their life, a narrative that quickly cascades into a meditation on the nature of connecting with others, either through letters or touch. By the end, the speaker presents their own sudden understanding of a need as “feral” and innate as those of the tomcats.

Rogues on the Heath – Robin Carstensen

Tomcats crying on the porch
beneath the bludgeoning sun
will lunge at the bowl
so fiercely the thin blonde one
will knock the food out
as if he’s up to bat when I stoop
to pour. A thousand tiny saws
rattle their throats to stir me
awake, for it is nearly noonday,
and the night was long
and treacherous. I should
ease their abscessed faces,
put their limp bodies down,
should have done the deed
months ago, but both are warm
against my hand, and I am
a cowardly god. An orphaned
one, come down, swung low,
swing low sweet chariot. Here
is morning’s sumptuous hope
on the wane around my ankles,
crawling through feral eyes,
as if my emergence was a letter
like all the letters I’d written
to the one I didn’t love
to death but cared for — the colors
of tulips I’d mentioned but not
their fragrance blooming inside
my coral spring, how I’d saved them
for love, and how the one starving
for it would gnaw my sternum
to shreds, suckle my veins
into brittle twine, because nothing
matters more than the barren stretch
between words in all their bounty
pressing our warm ribs — bowls
and bowls of touch achingly
unable to fill the vast moors of us.

*

Happy rogue-ing!

José

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