new essay published: excerpt

Far-Villages_Final_CMYK-768x1187This week I’m proud to share an excerpt from my essay “Keeping the Conversation Going, or Some Stories I Can’t Tell Without Rolling My R’s: A Meditation on Latinidad, Disdentification, & Some Poems” which was recently included in the anthology Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets edited by Abayomi Animashaun and published by Black Lawrence Press.

This essay engages with the concept of disidentification as established by José Esteban Muñoz in his book Disidentifications: Queers Of Color And The Performance Of Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 1999) and uses it as a fulcrum into a meditation on my own struggles at the intersection of identity and creative life. As a writer of color, my experience has been that politics found me first; that is, that I don’t have the privilege to decide to “not get political” as it’s said. As evident from early memories of being a child and getting glared at, along with my family, while at the grocery store, I was politicized long before I knew the words that defined me in the eyes of society.

Later, I sat in political science classes and learned ideas like “living below the poverty line” and “marginalization,” words that struck me with shame as well as insight, and was left unable to theorize about such things as they were words that described who I was, where I came from. Learning, in so many ways, has been a process of piecing myself together in the face of such formative disruptions of self. The learning that I engage with in creating poetry and lyric essays is a similar piecing together.

My essay is broken up into a first half, which meditates in prose about these and similar ideas. The second half goes through a series of poems from my first two collections and engages with a dialogue after each exploring what’s in the poem and what’s left out. I offer below the closing poem and prose section. The poem “A Poco” is new and is not in any of my books. Yet, the conversation on and off the page that I experience with it grapples with the same urgent self-interrogation as the rest of the essay. I share it here now as a way to celebrate this new anthology, but also to say thank you to those of you–past, present, and future–who come here and read this blog. 

Special thanks to Abayomi Animashaun for including this essay in this landmark anthology and to Black Lawrence Press for providing a home for this communal converation! A special thanks and shout-out to poets Peggy Robles-Alvarado, Christina Olivares, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, and Lupe Mendez with whom I participated in the panel Beyond the Blueprint: a poetry reading and panel discussion on the reconstructed self at the 2017 Thinking Its Presence conference: The Ephemeral Archive hosted at the University of Arizona. It was there that I first read a draft of this essay.

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(excerpt from essay “Keeping the Conversation Going, or Some Stories I Can’t Tell Without Rolling My R’s: A Meditation on Latinidad, Disdentification, & Some Poems”)

José Angel Araguz

A Poco

for Ramon

This piece of paper is work? A poco?
I won’t believe that, ni un poco.

It’s work for me with this good eye,
one bad eye from broke glass, pero a poco

tu with two don’t struggle here?
And with books and school? A poco

you all talk about it, in class, I mean,
about what it means? That’s work. A poco,

I’m not here, you don’t write about me,
right? My bad eye? I bet you do. A poco,

no? You have nothing else? You have nothing else.
Don’t say it looks like a bruise gone white. A poco,

no? But don’t say it. Say it’s a marble, or
like my granddaughter says: A poco,

 you can’t see out of that fish eye, abuelo?
Can you see me? Nope. Ni un poco.

What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.

What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.

*

Happy disidentifying!

José

writing prompt: found sonnet

This week’s writing prompt has me sharing something I wrote during my experience teaching in my first winter residency for the Solstice low-residency MFA program at Pine Manor College. Along with teaching a craft course on poetic authority and hybrid forms and participating in a faculty reading, I also had the privilege of leading a series of graduate workshop sessions with the great poet and educator Kathi Aguero. Together, we led folks in conversations about their respective work as well as discussions on craft, theory, and exercises.

For one exercise, Kathi had us practice writing iambs. My usual practice in freewriting is to be guided by cadence and/or some syllabic or word count concept. Writing into prosody purposefully has always been a misadventure for me; meter is in everything we write (and speak), of course, but I like noting and manipulating its nuances after I have some material written. Only after there is something to work with do I feel comfortable trusting my ear, so to speak.

I share about this mistrust of self as a way to explain my thinking (again, after the fact) of how I approached this exercise and happened upon what I’m calling a “found sonnet.” We held our workshops in the library which was featuring a variety of artwork including the piece Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright (see below). Not only was I struck by the dynamic depths and energy of the work itself, I also found myself admiring and nodding my head as I read Fortini-Wright’s statement that accompanied it.

Here’s the statement in full:

As a teacher I sometimes feel as if I’m a student. By this I mean I learn from them as much as they do from me. There is a back-and-forth dialogue which coalesces multiple perspectives in this creative community that we call the classroom. With my background of graffiti and fine arts, I blend both worlds into my teaching philosophy, balancing these two perceived opposites. From this experience of being well-versed in realism and pure abstraction, students obtain a wider bandwidth or perspective to view their work within.

I choose to work in black-and-white using the spray can and brush, and introduced this method to Antonio White, who has taken several of my classes. Spray paint is great for capturing atmospheric qualities of light, haze and distance, while the brush marks and thicker texture appear in the foreground. My black and white painting titled “Mosaic Pavement” embodies many recurring subjects and themes from past paintings: observations, abstract experimentations, passions, and spiritual teachings. The use of opposites can capture the widest range of form, contrast, and dimension, which plays into my constructs both physically and spiritually.

Teaching is legacy where information gets passed down from one generation to the next. That lesson was taught to me from Paul Goodnight, a mentor, friend, and role model to myself, and artists across the world. I met him through mentoring with Paul Rahilly, who I later found out was Paul Goodnight’s teacher, mentor, and dear friend as well. The biggest gifts of teaching are passing on information to the next generation, sharing the experiences of life, and developing long term relationships.

(Percy Fortini-Wright of Pembroke, MA for Mosaic Pavement, Spray and oil paint, 72 x 72 in. 2019)

IMG_20200110_112238
The artist statement for Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright.

As you can see, Fortini-Wright’s generous vision as an educator and humility in the face of both the creative and teaching task is articulated here in an engaging way. The admiration for this statement led me to naturally begin noting where iambs fell within. I then began singling out phrases in my notebook, keeping them in the order in which they appeared. Since the original exercise was to work in iambs, I decided to suss out as best I could an iambic pentameter line and work out a sonnet from the endeavor.

To try this modified exercise on your own:

  • First, find a prose text that you find dynamic. This can be anything from an artist statement as I worked with but also news articles, passages from novels, etc.
  • Then, begin noting iambs. If you’re not inclined to work out iambs, feel free to simply curate a series of words and phrases.
  • As you select your words and phrases, be sure to keep them in order. The goal is to work out a kind of “ghost” poem from the original.
  • When you have fourteen lines that work as a kind of argument, you’ll have your own found sonnet. Note: you don’t have to compose a sonnet from this necessarily. You’re welcome to work out a poem of whatever length and form you desire. The fun, as I see it, comes from working out surprising and parallel statements from the original text.
  • Bottom line: Have fun!

Enjoy mine own poem below and feel free to email me with any of your own found sonnets. Happy writing!

IMG_20200110_112300
A photo of Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright.

José Angel Araguz

Teaching is legacy

(found sonnet based on the artist statement for
Mosaic Pavement
by Percy Fortini-Wright)

I sometimes feel as if I’m a student;
I mean I learn from them as they from me.

There is dialogue which coalesces
in this community we call the classroom.

With my background, I blend worlds into
philosophy, balancing opposites.

From this experience of being real,
students band to view their work within.

I choose to work in qualities of light
while recurring subjects abstract passions.

Opposites can capture and construct
both physically and spiritually.

Teaching is legacy: the biggest gifts
are experiences developing.

*

To learn more about the work of Percy Fortini-Wright, go here.

new review at The Bind!

Front-note: I hope everyone is staying safe out there–whether you’re protesting in person or doing activism at home. Black Lives Matter and we must do everything to push against systemic oppression.

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rosa bookAlso, just a quick post to share that my chronicle-review of Rosa Alcalá’s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem) went live earlier this week at The Bind!

Read as I divulge about writerly lateness but also about how books we carry–physically and emotionally–matter so much to our lives.

For more of Rosa Alcalá’s work, check out the poem “At Hobby Lobby” from MyOTHER TONGUE.

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Ever yours,

José

hushing with Susan Woods Morse

In these days of self-isolation and sheltering in place, the word “isolation” itself has been charged in meaningful new ways. And while the charging and refreshing of language with new meaning has been one of the enterprises of poetry from the start, when life takes on this work for us in a way that startles and discomforts, it is ultimately poetry that is able to show us that what feels new is often familiar enough.

round vehicle side mirror
Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas

I’m brought to these thoughts by this week’s poem “In the Hush” by Susan Woods Morse (below) which in its own way explores isolation as both verb and noun. The speaker begins by sharing that she is “contemplating the meaning of “now”.” By doing so, she is, in fact, isolating the present moment as something to be known further. Yet, despite this focus, the speaker admits to being unable commit to the endeavor, at least not when compared to, first, a cat, and later a bird in the second stanza. This inability to get at the meaning of “now” moves us into the noun sense of the word isolation. Even with the second stanza ending as it does with admiring confidence toward a swallow, the image of something making itself distant from the speaker implies the second sense of isolation.

There’s then another compelling turn of isolation and self-awareness in the following stanzas. First, a casual walk to a bar with a partner is described. While the speaker shares that they “[tell] ourselves we want the exercise,” she goes onto confide that “but I think it is also because the phone rarely rings.” This quick admission implies an isolation felt similar to that of the first two stanzas. This poignant, passing insight is echoed in the closing stanza’s final image of a field whose “false luminescence…plays tricks” on the speaker by bringing up memories while in the present moment “in that field a cow chews its cud, indifferent / to the consuming interests of the heart.”

This closing confluence of memory and image drives home the tension of the poem. While the speaker has been making efforts to isolate the present, the same effort reflects back a sense of isolation. This isolation is simultaneously rich in the details and insights offered but also reflects the cold of “indifferent” nuances. In this way, the speaker, as much as the poem on the page, makes her way to seeing “the consuming interests of the heart” clearer.

*

Susan Woods Morse

In the Hush

I sit on our deck, hands clasped behind my head,
contemplating the meaning of “now.”
I want to loll like our cat and bask in the heat
with his easy ennui,
only mine would be determined detachment,
not the same thing at all.

Instead, like him, I listen to the birds.
We both watch a swallow beat, then rest,
beat, then rest its wings against the paleness of sky.
And I think that is how to do it,
that is how to climb
a long tunnel of hollow air.

Tonight you and I will walk to the neighborhood bar,
telling ourselves we want the exercise,
but I think it is also because the phone rarely rings.
We will each drink one beer to tide us over
for the quiet walk home. We are just
occasional visitors there, unknown.

And for a long time after your snoring has begun
I will gaze through the dormer window
knowing that somewhere in a field
which has a certain false luminescence,
the green that plays tricks when I remember
being young and in the moonlight,
in that field a cow chews its cud, indifferent
to the consuming interests of the heart.

*

Susan Woods Morse’s chapbook In the Hush can be purchased from Finishing Line Press.

poetryamano project: august 2017

This week I’m sharing another installment archiving my Instagram poetry project entitled @poetryamano (poetry by hand). This account focuses on sharing poems written by hand, either in longhand or through more experimental forms such as erasures/blackout poems and found poems.

Below are highlights from August 2017. This month found me focusing on haiku on short, imagistic haiku. Also included below is a haiga inspired by the 2017 eclipse.

Be sure to check out the previous installments of the archive – and if you’re on Instagram, follow @poetryamano for the full happenings.

Enjoy these forays into variations on the short lyric!

aug 2017 1
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: faces shuffle through the coffee drips its bitter business.”
aug 2017 2
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “at night lilacs lose their color to the moon.”
aug 2017 3
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “writing across this blank paper a branch’s shadow.”
aug 2017 4
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “why again why the wind fed broken glass.”
aug 2017 5
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “reading scraps of Sappho years later my ears burn.”
aug 2017 6
Image description: A handwritten tanka that reads: “the gray cat’s eyes stop to take you in long before you can place them.”
aug 2017 7
Image description: A handwritten haiga that reads: “after the eclipse same trees under the same moon.”
aug 2017 8
Image description: A handwritten haiga that reads: “paper clip dash of wire hugs air to itself.”

 

 

community feature: Salamander Magazine

One of the big changes in my life that I was unable to share about during an academic year full of transition (including the present pandemic-related interruption) is how it’s been going during my first year as Editor-in-chief of Salamander Magazine. While we are currently in production for our 50th issue–and also running our annual Fiction Contest through the end of the month–I thought I would take a moment to share a bit about the first issue experience.

Front-Cover
Image description: A painting of a brown man and woman with the word “Salamander” over their heads.

I am proud of the final product on a number of levels. This issue contains amazing work from poets Naomi Ayala, Francesca Bell, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Caylin Capra-Thomas, Emily Rose Cole, Brian Clifton, Jackie Craven, Chard deNiord, Alexa Doran, Moira Linehan, Nora Iuga, Adeeba Shahid Talukder, Madeleine Wattenberg, and many more. On the creative nonfiction front, this issue features pieces by Marcos Gonsalez and Rochelle Hurt, while on the fiction front this issue features stories by our 2019 Fiction Contest winner Christina Leo as well as Michael Howerton who placed second, a flash fiction by Russell Dame, and an excerpt from David Maloney’s novel-in-stories Barker House (Bloomsbury). The issue rounds out with reviews of poetry collections by Lola Haskins, Brett Foster, Fady Joudah, and Tom Sleigh as well as a short story collection by Hadley Moore.

Another outstanding part of this issue is the art portfolio by our featured artist, Karla Rosas (KARLINCHE). Her piece “La Puerta Negra” is on the cover. I’d been a fan of her art for about a year before getting this gig. Especially this being my first issue at the helm, I wanted to feature art that hits me on the intersection where I and many others exist, where the personal meets the political, and shows how one can’t be seen without the other. I feel the Latinx community has had a number of awful and unjust narratives hanging over us. Featuring Latinx artists creating strong work in the face of such narratives is vital in pushing back against those narratives.

We had the issue 49 out mid-December and were able to celebrate in February with a reading featuring two of our contributors, David Maloney and Moira Linehan, as well as acclaimed fiction writer, Sonya Larson, who joined this year as a member of our Advisory Board.

Last thing I’ll share is that I’ve had a great time getting to teach this issue this past Spring in my introduction to creative writing course. Students have enjoyed interacting with these pieces of contemporary literature and learned a lot from them. I enjoy teaching the journal both to share my enthusiasm about the work but also as a way to share insights about the editing process.

Thank you to all the contributors and all our staff and readers who have made the success of this first issue possible!

To further celebrate this first issue, I’ve created a cento based on lines from poems in this issue. Expect another issue-related post when the next one comes out. For now, enjoy the fun collage/homage below!

Popcorn-sad

by José Angel Araguz

(a cento based on lines from Salamander Magazine, issue no. 49)

The heart is a wormhole—
limited to the path
you never had to become.

But grief’s like a cat, leaving then returning
our eyes lilac-bearded, our toes-daisy rich.
Today I will polish my own damned self.

I can begin to believe that you won’t come back again. Listen,
I saw their ghosts slither with the wind,
with the blood and birth. Popcorn-sad,

I step over stones and believe
the answer was in the moths
watching from above with small black eyes.

*

To purchase a copy of issue 49, go here.

To learn more about the Fiction Contest, go here.

highlights from Pretty Owl Poetry’s #takeovertuesday

This week, I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a #takeovertuesday on Pretty Owl Poetry’s Instagram account. I posted a series of “a day in a poet’s life” posts in their stories as well as held a poetry reading via Instagram live. I also had the opportunity to field some questions ranging from the writing life to astrology.

I share the question and answers below in the spirit of community. Thank you again to the editors of Pretty Owl Poetry! Thank you as well to everyone who shared space with me on Tuesday, either by asking questions, attending the reading, or simply viewing the stories. In these times where so much of life is affected and different due to the pandemic, I am honored to be a part of such a thriving writing community!

pop takeover 1
Image description: A man drinking coffee while sitting at a table with the following question and answer imposed: What kind of question should I ask you? Answer: IDK. I know a tad about astrology and tarot. And poemtrees. And surviving systemic oppression. Y’know, light stuff.
pop takeover 2
Image description: A stack of books with the following questions and answer imposed: What is inspiring you lately? Where do you seek inspiration when you feel uninspired? Answer: Community. As an introvert, I’ve learned to redefine socializing. For me, a book review is social, a way to center community. Here are some important anthologies for me right now. On top is a book of aphorisms. I like reading and writing in fragments as silence, too, inspires.
pop takeover 3
Image description: A couch pillow which features a skull wearing a flower garland with the following questions and answers imposed: Can ghosts have astro signs? Like if a Scorpio died in Pisces season would they change or synthesize? Answer: After conferring with my astro-colleague, I’m thinking, yes – one’s passing instigates a “death chart” parallel to one’s birth chart and interacts with it much like an Instagram filter.
pop takeover 4
Image description: A journal set atop a set of loose pages with a pen laid across and the following question and answer imposed: What do you consider your best practice in revising your own poetry? Answer: My process is to fill up journals and then leave them alone for a year or two. Then I revise by hand, editing down. From there, finally, poems are typed. Once typed, poems might be revised depending if I’m working on a project or submitting. I’m not done with some poems until they’re in a book.
pop takeover 5
Image description: A collage photo of two men and two women with the following question and answer imposed: And who is the poet that you most look up to and want to emulate? Answer: Obvs couldn’t pick just one. Here are some folx who for years have been lights to follow: Bert Meyers, Juan Felipe Herrera, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Sharon Olds.
pop takeover 6
Image description: A meme half consisting of Winnie the Pooh in a red shirt next to the word “apostrophe” and the other half consisting of Pooh in a tuxedo next to the words “top comma” with the following question and answer:  Fav meme template? Answer: On the spot, the Tux Pooh one is canon.  Here’s one I came up with based on something the amazing @hcohenpoet tweeted about an inventive response when not remembering the word “apostrophe.”
pop takeover 7
Image description: A book held open to a page where some pen marks have been made on the printed words with the following questions and answer imposed: How do you know when you’re ready to share a piece of work? How do you know when it’s done? Answer: With most poems I’ll feel I’ve given everything I had to it, seen all I can. So I send it out or share it as part of testing that feeling. Sometimes I’ll just leave a poem alone for a month or so. Time is the great reviser. The final feeling of being done sometimes doesn’t happen until a poem is published (but as seen here that’s not always the case). I encourage y’all to have a fluid relationship with your work, to show it and yourselves kindness.
pop takeover 8
Image description: A book laid on a table next to a mug with a skull on it, all with the following questions and answers imposed: What are you reading now? What new book do you recommend? Answer: I wrapped up a review of this new poetry anthology from @orisonbooks! I’ll be reading a poem from it tonight along with poems from the other anths from previous stories.

 

community feature: CavanKerry Press

the_waiting_room_reader_vol_I_This particular community feature post is inspired by a recent development: I’m happy to share that I’ve been named as a member of the Board of Governors for CavanKerry Press! I’m excited to join as a new board member, along with Cornelius Eady, and help develop the already dynamic CavanKerry Press community.  Special thanks to Gabriel Cleveland and Dimitri Reyes for their enthusiasm and support in bringing me on board!

In a phone conversation with Joan Cusack Handler, publisher and senior editor of CavanKerry Press, I learned about the different ways in which the press is creating community, including sharing some of their anthologies for free online during the month of April. Both volumes of The Waiting Room Reader as well as the Words to Keep You Company anthology are being made available as free PDFs on the CavanKerry website. Writers in these anthologies include Ross Gay, PaulA Neves, Maxine Kumin, Tina Kelley, Kevin Carey, Vincent Toro, and Linda Pastan among others.

the_waiting_room_reader_vol_II_Below, I share a sample poem from The Waiting Room Reader II, “The Inheritance” by Myra Shapiro. What moves me most about this poem is how it enters into an elegiac conversation in an unexpected way. The first four lines present the logic of grapefruit-as-talking-baby doll, and then builds from there back into the reality of the moment. This quick invocation of the mother in four lines sets up the rest of the poem in which human presence is acknowledged as being available to us in the actions and habits we learn from our parents. The short lines and images allow the meditation to develop in a way that continues to be surprising precisely by not trying to be. The facts of the speaker’s experience are laid out clearly, and what makes them surprising is the juxtaposition of phrase and image. The speaker moves from the hypothetical “Mama” of the opening lines, to her own mother, to being a mother herself. Here, we see the generations pass, each different yet similar, and each evoking the next in the poem. One returns to the title’s idea of “inheritance” and sees it expanded beyond the material meaning, the speaker realizing their own inheritance in the patterns of everyday life.

Myra Shapiro

The Inheritance

Just a grapefruit
but it never fails
to make the word Mama
when I cut it,
store the half uneaten
flat against the plate,
pink meat down
so that tomorrow
when I eat it it’s as juicy
as today. Washing fruit
she taught us but never this.
She just did it. Saved
the fruit against the plate.
As I do. As I saw it done
in my daughter’s house this morning.

*

Check out more from these anthologies and learn more about CavanKerry Press here.

new publication: Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy

dear-america-529x800Just a quick post to share about the release of a new anthology: Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy edited by Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd, and Derek Sheffield and published by Trinity University Press. My own poem, “American Studies” is included along with work by Jericho Brown, Victoria Chang, Camille T. Dungy, Tarfia Faizullah, Blas Falconer, Kimiko Hahn, Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Linda Hogan, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Naomi Shihab Nye, Elena Passarello, Gary Soto, Pete Souza, Arthur Sze, and Kim Stafford among others. I am grateful to the editors for the work put into not only this anthology, but also the work they have been doing through their editorship over at Terrain.org where some of these pieces were originally published.

More on this anthology:

“Dear America reflects the evolution of a moral panic that has emerged in the nation. More importantly, it is a timely congress of the personal and the political, a clarion call to find common ground and conflict resolution, all with a particular focus on the environment, social justice, and climate change. The diverse collection features personal essays, narrative journalism, poetry, and visual art from more than 130 contributors–many pieces never before published–all literary reactions to the times we live in, with a focus on civic action and social change as we approach future elections.”

To celebrate the release of this anthology, Terrain.org has organized a Dear America Virtual Town Hall event series—the first to be conducted on Earth Day. Find out more about this event here.

My poem “American Studies” (below) was written shortly after the 2016 election. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time, in my last year of a PhD. I would go on to defend my dissertation on Trump’s inauguration day and walk out of said defense to find a pro-Trump rally happening on the university campus, complete with “Build the Wall” signs and a man (not a student) walking around armed with semi-automatic weapons. I share these details to provide context for the charged air that the poem was created in. An air of fear and despair, an air of survival. As a person from a marginalized community, I’ve been in survival mode all of my life, so it wasn’t that any of what I felt was new. What was new and dismaying was how overt intolerance had become, on campus, across the country, and also how shocked non-marginalized people were at the time. My hope is that through works like this anthology we continue to give voice and archive what it is like to survive.

José Angel Araguz

American Studies

November 22, 2016

My wife tells me of reading the Dear
America
 books as a child, those stories told
via the diaries of young women who lived

during difficult times in American history. In these
stories filled with suffering were the facts behind
the suffering. Her favorite involved the RMS Titanic,

the unsinkable ship that sank. I ask if
trying to imagine what it looked like was
what captivated, and she says no, says only

one book led to another, until she realized
she could never see it nor accept it.

                          ~

After the election, my friend explains he feels
he could manage here, but not his children.
He explains he spoke to their school director,

who comforted by talking about police presence. But
if there’s police, he asks, before anything happens,
what will happen when something does? American algebra:

Everything is x until proven y. Dear America,
if x represents what my friend feels thinking
about the police, what language do you imagine

he worries his children speaking publicly, and what
language are we speaking now? Show your work.

                          ~

Another friend writes: Here’s a verse I think
about a lot: And maybe the mirror of
the world will clear once again*. 
She shares

she’s been sick since the election, as I’ve
been. I imagine our voices trying to commiserate
between coughs. In physics, energy can neither be

created nor destroyed. What American physics happens here
as I read and hear her voice behind
the verse she sent? Are you, dear America,

afraid as I am that our faces will
no longer be there when the mirror clears?

* Faiz Ahmed Faiz


Copies of Dear America can be purchased here.

new publication: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext!

LatiNEXT Final

Just a quick post to share the release of the latest BreakBeat Poets anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext edited by Felicia Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo and published by Haymarket Books. Super-excited to share news of this release – in part because my own poem “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” is featured in its pages alongside the work of a phenomenal community of poets including Sara Borjas, Javier Zamora, Denice Frohman, Peggy Robles Alvarado, John Murillo, Janel Pineda, Juan J. Morales, Benjamin Garcia, Jasminne Mendez, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Yesenia Montilla among so many stellar writers.

I’m also excited and grateful to the editors for creating a space representative and celebratory of Latinx poetry in its multitudes. In these pages are the stories and aesthetics of “an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles, staking a claim to our cultural and civic space.” I am proud to be a part of this event and look forward to the anthology’s success and impact.

In the spirit of celebration, I am sharing mine own contribution, “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” below. I spoke with a friend recently about what this specific poem being included means to me. This poem was one of the last ones revised in time to make it into my second full length collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). So close it was to the then deadline that I never got a chance to send it out. One of four poems about La Llorona in that book, this poem had me exploring what it would be like to have her speak. The first draft was written the summer of 2004 when I lived in a house without electricity in Corpus Christi. Because it was summer in South Texas, I tried to stay out at the dollar movies for as long as I could. I ended up watching a lot movies on repeat, in particular Troy and Spiderman 2 (my book Everything We Think We Hear has the piece born from watching Spidey a bunch).

The first draft was very much heavy-handed and primarily focused as a statement against George W. Bush’s presidency and invasion of Iraq. That draft lived dated and lost for a good number of years. When it came time to work on Small Fires and its tetralogy of Llorona poems, this one came back to mind as being in conversation with that book’s statements of identity and conflicted nationalities. Letting La Llorona speak and harangue America via the actors of the movie still feels right. That the editors of this anthology saw fit to include this poem in an anthology full of similar conversations also feels right.

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José Angel Araguz

La Llorona Watches the movie ‘Troy’

 

She watches Brad Pitt leap, then land a stab
like a hammer blow down, spends time taking in
the bronze skin of the actors, the way the say ‘grass’

like ‘toss,’ ¡Todo British! She snags popcorn
by the handful watching the gods
be shrugged off by warriors. During the scene

where the Greeks scurry from the Trojan horse,
their shadows fingers pulling at string
and unraveling the night, her breath is sand

and crackling flame. When they run towards fire
in the desert, towards collapsing roofs
and digitized screaming, the montage

of faces, of bodies pushing against each other
has her whispering to no one in particular:
¡Mira Baghdad, mira Juarez! And no one

in particular hears her over the Dolby
of swords being unsheathed. She begins to hum,
letting her voice hit the same notes

as the opera singer overlaid during the carnage.
Should anyone look over, they’d see
the silhouette of a woman in the third row

treating the forty-foot screen like an altar.
When, after seeing the toppling of statues
and the scavenging through offerings

to Apollo, sun god, the one who sees everything,
the aged and fallen king staggers in defeat
and cries out: Have you no honor!

Have you no honor!, she gasps and nods,
as if watching a telenovela unfold
according to how she would want it. Truth is,

she has seen this all before, has drowned
the brown bodies, has plucked gold coins
from river water before any boatman

could make his way to her. She knows
the blonde and blue-eyed have arrived
to play both hero and love interest again,

that though Helen here is a vagabond Marilyn,
she used to have un poquito de chile
in her blood, y un puñado de lodo

 in her heart. That’s why it’s a woman
who says: If killing is your only talent,
then it is your curse, and says it

like one slapping their hand against the river,
a sting in their hands for a while. Truth is,
there will always be a Brad to leap, and hit hard,

the thud through the speakers like a heartbeat.

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Copies of The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext can be purchased from Haymarket Books.