* all’s misalliance with robert lowell

The more time you spend around words, the more they keep moving around.

When I first read this week’s poem, “Epilogue” by Robert Lowell, I focused on the line: Yet why not say what happened? This line gave me permission and nerve at a time when I needed it.

Reading the poem again years later, a shorter sentence strikes me: All’s misalliance. I’m moved by the way the word “all” is in there twice, once mostly solitary, and then immediately crowded in, the letters playing out the concept of the line.

As I’m sure is clear by now, I’m awfully in my head this week.

I come back to this poem every time I do a long stretch of revisions, a stretch that usually involves some sort of paradigm shift, a change in outlook in my approach to the line.

There’s so much in here that is good. The poem throughout has the feel of advice given between conspirators. The conspiracy is the finding out and articulating of “living names.” Which is why we revise, to say it better.

You must revise your life, Rilke says in a poem, at least in one translation. In another translation, the same line reads: You must change your life. See what I mean? Words keep moving, and you must keep moving words.

I’ll try and be a little more grounded next week 🙂

* Vermeer's veneer *
* Vermeer’s veneer *

Epilogue – Robert Lowell

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.


Happy moving!



* sharing toys with Takuboku Ishikawa

Tanka are my sad toys.

Takuboku Ishikawa

Takuboku Ishikawa (1886 – 1912) said the above statement at the end of an essay, explaining how he approached the form with the intimacy of a diary.  They were “sad” because he wrote them while unhappy – they were “toys” because they were useless to society.

This outlook is better understood within the context of Ishikawa’s short life which was burdened with illness and poverty as well as a frustrated ambition to be a novelist.  He felt his gift for tanka was useless and felt his novels and essays were of more value.  This misplaced ambition opened up in him the possibility to really give himself to his tanka.  Despite his outlook, he is known to have said that on “unhappy days…[there is] no greater satisfaction than to write tanka.” *

* luchadores, yo *
* these were my sad toys *

Since landing in Cincinnati, I have been busy revising poems and putting together a new manuscript.  In working through this notebook from two years ago I came across my notes from first reading Ishikawa’s work.  His ability to channel restlessness and desperation into short lyrics moves me to this day.

There is also that spirit, that high, of going on a good writing jag .  Ishikawa had a famous three day writing spree where he only stopped to walk through graveyards.

The  poems I wrote after reading him delve a bit into the past – into childhood – back when I would play with the toys above – little luchadores I would keep in a box under the kitchen sink.  His directness with the line – which can be grasped in the lyrics below – helped me wrestle past myself towards a clearer line.


excerpts from “Sad Toys” – Takuboku Ishikawa

like a stone
that rolls down a hill,
I have come to this day.


Fallen leaves of late autumn, destined to decay!
Following them in sympathy, I hurried to start my journey.


Not knowing where the wind has gone that blew it from its twig,
This stray leaf, bewildered and lost, has fallen on my sleeve.


her black pupils
absorbing only the light of this world
remain in my eyes


as boys born in mountains
yearn for mountains,
I think of you when in sorrow


waiting til I was dead drunk,
she whispered to me
those many sad things!


these poor thin hands
without power
to grasp and grasp hard!


bristling over the way
my moustache droops,
so like the man’s I now hate!


Happy drooping!


* I found some useful information on Ishikawa for this post here.

* Onions & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Onions!

Seriously: in keeping with last week’s post, I have decided to share this poem of mine, “Onions”, which was also revised after publication.  The original of this poem found a home at The Windward Review.  It came out of a writing exercise where I wrote about something I hated.  The original focused mainly on the graphic nature of chopping up onions.

What I feel is better in this revision is how the poem takes on a human element by becoming an elegy.

The line “dish I was told you liked” was in the original but wasn’t fully developed.  In looking back, I realized – Whoa, there’s a person in this poem completely unacknowledged.

Another revision: I have since made my peace with onions.  Bring on the pico de gallo!

split personality...totally
split personality…totally

Onions – Jose Angel Araguz *

The bulb, hard and heavy as a fist,
The slivers that unravel like the wings
And body of an albino cockroach,

The sharp stink
Of its flesh spitting
Against the blade —

I could do without
This unwelcome act of reducing
A ghost to paper shavings

For a dish I was told you liked,
That I persist in making
Despite your absence,

Except that I believe
That what gathers
And falls from my eyes

Is a part of you
Hungry to come back
To this table.


Happy tabling!


* originally published in The Windward Review.

* missing Corpus Christi

mi sea wall es su sea wall...
mi sea wall es su sea wall…

The above image is from the Sea Wall in my hometown of Corpus Christi Texas.  It stretches up and down Ocean Drive, down past the Whataburger by the Bay, down into the palm-trees lining downtown.

Go a little further and you’ll end up at the old site of the factory I used to work at.  We made equipment for oil rigs.  We worked in open-air garages, so close to the water we could look out in the mornings during summer – hurricane season – and watch as little whirlwinds funneled up and over the water, appearing and disappearing against a peach sky.

This week’s poem is one of my own from that time.  An earlier version of the poem was published in Blue Collar Review.  What I feel I finally got right in the present version has everything to do with the word “hands” – how it opens and ends the poem, holds it in place, a young man’s angst funneling up and down in between.

It’s the holidays and I can’t help but get sentimental.  I look at photos like these and hear the water.  Straight up.

Here’s another view, followed by my poem:

cuanto quieres por el downtown?
cuanto quieres por el downtown?

Escape Ropes – Jose Angel Araguz *

Hands raw from setting knots
The few inches apart it takes
For a leg to imagine a ladder,
Ropes designed for escape from a fire
On an oil rig squatted on the gulf,
My mind would work out
Images of men with only the open water
To swim, to march across if they could,
To bob and pray for miracles.

Those knotted afternoons,
The sun made an oven of the warehouse.
The foreman stood me in the back
While other men sat on stools
And looked over, faces worn,
Fingernails yellowed from smoking.
There, I held my tongue,
Grunted against each wince,
And felt fire in my hands.


Happy escaping!


* published originally in Blue Collar Review.

* a little bit on process

Smile at them. You know you want to.

Just finished a batch of 200+ poems and am sorting through them with the help of my editor/first reader/manager/lady in order to see if there’s a book in there.

My process is simply to fill up a journal (those sleek/cliche Moleskines) and leave that journal alone for at least a year.  When I come back to it, Older Jose judges the misadventures of Younger Jose to no end.  Well, to some end.  Hopefully – poems!

What is significant about this recent batch is that I feel there is something special in them.  I can tell because of the very scientific proof of how I can’t stop smiling over some of them.  I believe I said recently that working on poems for hours on end feels kinda like plotting a world domination campaign.

Inner-world domination campaign, for sure.

Why do I share all this?

Because I can’t stop smiling.


Happy smiling,