what I would have said at the OBA ceremony

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1As preparation for the Oregon Book Awards ceremony, finalists are asked to prepare a few words, under two minutes, to say just in case. I gave my words a lot of thought and, though I did not win, I feel like sharing these words with you here below.

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OBA (non)acceptance speech

I first moved to Oregon in 2007. I had just battled through an MFA program and gone into one of the darkest times in my writing life. I didn’t come close to quitting, no. I came close to not sharing again, and not knowing how to share. In Eugene, where I found myself in this stew of writerly feels, I slowly reclaimed my writing life. Got into my habits of revision, into trusting my own voice and choices. I met some great writers who have become dear friends. I also got married and divorced in Eugene, but that’s another story. Read the books, ha. When I was in Ohio later, completing a PhD, I drew upon those rain soaked lessons to see me through the ups and downs of academia. Oregon, you taught me how to fight for my writing. I’ve been back here two years, and in that time I’ve seen libraries close in parts of the state. I’ve worked with public school teachers who speak of creative writing not being a priority in the curriculum. I’ve felt the pangs of grief as small colleges struggle and close. What I have to say tonight is: Oregon, fight for your writers. From a poet whose family comes from Matamoros, Mexico, and whose poems are about surviving the projects of Corpus Christi, Texas, receive my gratitude but also my respectful wish. That the writing spirit that kept me going when i needed it, keep you going, too. I want to thank everyone who has fought for me, everyone who has read my work and reached out, either via email or at a reading. Writers, we carry each other. I also want to thank everyone who fights for their poems everyday. Poetry makes it so that the fight feels nothing like a fight, but like the gift we didn’t know we could be a part of. Muchisimas gracias. No contaban con mi astucia.

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Más soon!

José

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* translation 3/3 on the friday influence

(from Proverbios y Cantares – Antonio Machado) *

XXXII.

Oh faith of meditation!

Oh faith after deep thought!

When a heart returns to earth,

the human cup overflows, and the sea swells.

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This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

I first ran across the above poem during my first trip to Powell’s in Portland two years ago.  I spied Machado’s Poesias Completas on the shelf and immediately flipped through to these lines.

I was moved by the tension between the mind and the senses implied in these lines.  I mean, that’s what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to be interrupted and taken from thought to body.  The sea swells!  I fell in love and took the book home with me.

I see in these lines the days when I am so focused on the page that to be taken away or distracted hurts – mainly it makes me fussy.  Phil Levine once said: when a poem comes, the phone can wait, the knock at the door can wait, it all can wait.  Ignore it.  I respect the necessity for that kind of attention.  I figure: it’s my poetry – if I don’t make time for it and give it the attention it deserves, who will?

I believe this is a shade of what Keats meant when he spoke of the poet as being “the most unpoetical of any thing in existence.”

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I have enjoyed this three part stint of translating.  I guess four, if you count my riffing around with Goethe.

For this week’s post, I collaborated with Andrea Schreiber, a self-styled polyglot and linguist with a true love of language.  She is also my girlfriend.  Meaning, she puts up with me when I get fussy.  And she has seen Machado’s Spain, the roads he saw, the sea…  She helped steer my translations towards the spirit of the poems.  I thank her.

Here are a few more from Machado:

XXI.

Last night I dreamed that I saw

God and that I spoke with God;

and dreamed that God listened…

later I dreamed I had dreamed.

XXVIII.

Everyone has two

battles to fight:

in dreams, you wrestle with God;

awake, with the sea.

XLI.

It is common knowledge that cups

are used for drinking;

Sadly, it is unknown

what use we have for thirst.

XLIV.

Everything moves on, and everything stays;

it is our lot to move on,

move on making roads,

roads over the sea.

XLV.

To die…and fall like a drop

of ocean back to the ocean?

Or, be what I never could be:

a man, without shadow, without dreams,

a man that goes forward

without roads, without mirrors?

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Happy forwarding!

J

* all poems translated by Jose Angel Araguz and Andrea Schreiber.  (word to your late night conversations!)