writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.


Dimitri Reyes

3rd Generation

after Marina Carreira’s poem, “First Generation”

We are grass cracked cement.
Dollar store chalk breaking on rough sidewalk.
Dust kissing our jeans when children cross streets
watching out for buses code switching between
careful, bus is turning and
cuidado, autobús están virando.
We are empanadas for breakfast and white rice for dinner.
We are C&C sodas and sunflower seeds
tucked into our Chucks, New Balances, SB Dunks, or Retro 4’s.
Our countries are our minds.
The megapixels of palms, grass, and sands
seen on the walls of barbershops and bodegas come in 4K.
We are change the channel on our IO Triple Play.
We don’t know how to respond to its-your-heritage month
because every month should be our month.
Someone says for what? Our forehead wrinkles in repeat.
For what. What. Qué. For. What. For. Qué?
We is 4K and our last names leave us naked.
We know there are more of us,
never think there are too many of us.
In America,
we’re included if we see us in America
until they don’t see us in America.
We are raised by our grandparents
(here or not)
while our parents figure it out.
They are still figuring it out.
We are a part of the same gene pool
until a different one is uncovered. 
We are the equivalent
of standing in the wrong line at the DMV
understanding English faster than we forget Spanish
and that still doesn’t license us star spangled freedom.
We are at-the-friend’s-house-with-the-clear-enough-pool
and say
damn, if only we can live in weather like this year round
where that friend reaches across 4 generations to say
you wildin’…
we’re not on the island…
I don’t even like the heat.


Short Statement, Dimitri Reyes: 3rd generation means a lot to Every First & Fifteenth because it is a celebratory poem that recognizes the arbitrariness of both the familiar threads of “La Isla” and the learned experiences of “American” English-speaking culture. The intersectionality of these two spaces is where this third “in-between” space (hence, “3rd Generation”) is discovered and explored where the speaker savors language and the different interactions amongst several generations. This poem is the urbanite’s need to learn through community engagement. Though the poem is a mouthpiece of a generation, the individual is aware of the optics of those around him, and therefore has permission to view and express different parts of his landscape with the help of others inhabiting the same space.


Author photo of Dimitri Reyes, photo credit Ananda Lima

Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, content creator, organizer, and educator from Newark, NJ. He has organized poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRico and has read at The Dodge Poetry Festival, Split This Rock, and the American Poetry Museum. His forthcoming book, Every First and Fifteenth won the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award. Some of his work is published in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press and an Artist-in-Residence with NJPAC.

community feature: Through These Realities (call for submissions)

This week I’m taking a moment to highlight a current opportunity for Boston area poets and photographers of color via a project called Through These Realities. Check out the details, links, and posters below.

Also, speaking of collaborative work, here’s a link to “Our Lady of Sorrow” by Brenda Cárdenas, a stunning ekphrasis poem inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. This poem is part of the dynamic PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio which continues to inspire me.

On to the call!


The project, called Through These Realities, centers around racial social justice, poetry, and photography.  For this project, local photographers of color will create a series of images inspired by new, prompt-guided poetry from local poets of color (preference is given to Somerville affiliated poets and photographers).

This project will culminate in a public art installation in Somerville featuring the photography and poetry. The poetry will also be published in Spry Literary Journal. Here’s the link to the site and call to learn more. 


A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

recent news + upcoming event!

Just a quick post to share some recent happenings as well as information on an upcoming event:

A photograph of poets Kim Stafford, Elizabeth Dodd, and José Angel Araguz.
  • First, I’m excited to share that I was recently interviewed as part of Frontier Poetry’s “In Class” series of profiles of creative writing professors. Check out the interview here. Many thanks to Jose Hernandez Diaz for the invite and for the folks at Frontier Poetry for having me share my thoughts on teaching!
  • Also, I’m honored to have some of my blackout poems included in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Check the poems out here as well as editor Dana Delibovi’s engaging editor’s note here–then click through at the bottom to see all the illuminating works! Special thanks to Dana for including my work!
  • Lastly, I am ecstatic to share that I will be participating as a poetry reader alongside Elizabeth Dodd and Kim Stafford as part of Terrain.org’s online reading series on July 26th at 8pm ET. The reading will feature a Q+A and will be moderated by Terrain.org assistant poetry editor Anne Haven McDonnell and held in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) biennial conference: Emergence/y, with Zoom hosting provided by the University of Arizona. Registration for this virtual event is required and can be accessed here along with info on the event.

Hope everyone’s well in their respective worlds!

Abrazos,

José

   

not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

Photograph of weeds by Shelagh Murphy on Pexels.com

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

Abrazos,

José

new Salamander issue!

This week I’d like to highlight the recent release of the latest issue of Salamander! If I’m being honest, it’s still surreal to me be in the position of Editor-in-chief. A literary magazine is a confluence and meeting ground; it is also a lot of work, often in solitude.

I ruminate and say as much in my editor’s note, excerpted in part here:


I have lived and worked in Boston longer under the pandemic than not.

This means, I have edited more issues of Salamander under the pandemic than not. I share these details in order to give an impression of how my experience of Salamander has been framed. The emphasis on survival and perseverance that colors and shapes my personal, teaching, and writing life also has its place in the work represented by these pages. The hours of reading submissions, followed by the hours it takes to organize and order the contents of an issue, and then more hours in front of the computer working out the layout and design, these hours have happened across a wide range of moments of my life. Hours talking and writing with friends and loved ones affected by Covid-19 as well as grieving for those lost; hours of preparing lesson plans and answering emails to students navigating their own unpredictable lives; hours poring over the news for updates about vaccines—these hours all blur together and live around the work put into this issue.

The fraught nature of these hours is one of the reasons I’m excited to share the artwork of Shannon Miguela Dillon. Her piece “Begin Again” featured on our cover struck me right away for its balance of vibrancy and depth. In the colors of the flowers there is a feeling of life and hope, of flourishing. Such sentiments are currently running parallel at the moment in the U.S. as folks think of returning “back to normal.” But under the flowers are the human hands that are a stark contrast in their shades of gray and black. This contrast brings me back to the title, how the flowers feel like they represent the word “begin” and the implied promise it comes with, while the hands represent “again” which has the implication of time and effort. The word “again” reminds me that we have been here before, that life is not new but continuing. This nuance reflects further the nuance of human life. While some are eagerly removing masks and setting aside protocols, others remain vigilant and brace themselves, still living lives of compromise without the privilege of any concept of “normal.”

Dillon’s work is also a celebration of the body and the self, of presence. And really, this is what I am hoping to emphasize in these opening words. By asking that we not forget the lessons of the pandemic—a pandemic that is ongoing and which continues to affect lives in irrevocable ways—that we not forget the power and necessity of protest in the face of systemic racism and oppression, I am asking that we remember what is at stake, that we exercise the search for nuance through art so that we do not miss out on it in ourselves and each other.


Writing such things in my role as EIC, much like my time in the classroom, has me practicing what it means to speak authentically. In the face of the capitalistic framework of literary publishing, I feel it’s important to always underscore the humanity and heart behind the work done. If any of this matters, it’s because we matter–our emotions, trauma, happiness, obsessions, presence, insights–matter.

I encourage y’all to check out the issue. On the site at the moment we have poems by Cortney Lamar Charleston, Alixen Pham, Maria Zoccola, Sarah Marquez, Leila Chatti, and Leah Umansky; a creative nonfiction essay by Andy Smart; fiction by Jake Maynard; as well as reviews and more artwork by Shannon Miguela Dillon. Check out the issue to read more!

José

book news & co.

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2020! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Photo of a pair of traffic lights on green by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

One last thing to share: I’ve begun reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and have been floored by how much I’m connecting with the book. It helps to see someone else do work in the classroom that I have felt self-conscious about, like connecting and wanting to reflect and honor the knowledge students bring with them.

’til next time,

José

exhaustingly onward

Photo white grapes by Tolga Ahmetler on Pexels.com

Since my last post in April, there’s been a lot of life. The short of it is that I’m writing this after moving to a new city. Along with the move, there was wrapping up teaching for two semesters as well as production for the spring/summer issue of Salamander. All of this is exciting but also exhausting, haha.

As I jump back into posting, I want to share a few things that have been on my mind along with associated readings:

  • The current conversation around and banning of critical race theory in some states has me worried. As a professor of color, my mere presence in a classroom is a political act. When I mentor future educators of color, I make sure to share that there is a lot of extra emotional labor and what I would call POC-specific “teaching” moments–like having to answer the misguided question of “What nationality are you?” in the middle of a session. Alongside personal worry, there is the bigger picture of how this conversation is playing out. Many of CRT’s current critics are using the term as a catch-all phrase for whatever conservative agenda they are pushing. The actual theory, however, is simple and fact-based, which this article makes clear enough. It comes down to acknowledging and reckoning with facts, something marginalized communities have been forced to become accustomed to as a part of navigating existence.
  • Another source of concern has been how a majority of folx seem ready to go “back to normal” and speaking in terms of things being “post-pandemic” ignoring the facts that 1) the pandemic is still raging (along with anti-vaxxers on the homefront, see also world numbers); and 2) there is a large group of people, specifically disabled and immunocompromised folx, that are not being taken into consideration. This article breaks down some of who is being overlooked and lost in the rush back to the “meatspace” (an awesome phrase that I have writer and friend Barrett Bowlin to thank for).
  • Lastly, been spending time with the work of poet Steven Leyva. Check out “Boy Talking Back to Houston,” a poem whose range of history, wordplay, and naming are delivered through a speaker whose voice lets us in on a conversation between self and city both intimate and epic.

Take care of yourselves and each other out there. More soon.

José

heartlines

National Poetry Month is winding down and its got me remembering myself a bit. Been some deep conversations throughout–with students, fellow writers, friends old and new–as well as some struggle. I’m grateful for all of it, to still be here.

As NPM wraps up, I’d like to share my recent publication in another of Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series, this time with an excerpt from a recent project entitled Heartlines. This has me returning to a similar mode as my chapbook of lyrical aphorisms, The Book of Flight (which can be read for free at Essay Press’ site). As you’ll note in the sample below, I’m riffing on various ways of thinking about the heart, life, death, and everything in between.

I’m honored to be included in Oxidant | Engine’s recent BoxSet Series alongside some dynamic writers including: Mary Buchinger, Kathryn Cowles, Ernest O. Ògúnyemí, Devon Balwit, and Ananda Lima. Check out the sample below and then check out the rest of the volume. I’ve been making my way through it at night and keep finding more and more to admire in this confluence of writers.


José Angel Araguz

from Heartlines

A page without marks became the color of my heart.

Wrist hurting and weary even as I write this, what stubborn knocking of my fist, my heart.

The heart is a window on a summer night you do not know is open until you feel it.


The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.


The heart upset is like a door left open, banging away during a storm. Against the house. Against the hinges. The other side against the wind. Each slam and heave, one word.

Voices from another room, the heart works like that, muffled, going on with its own business, you can’t make out the details but feel what is meant.

My heart pounds and pounds, like anything else testing its usefulness—hammer, fist at the door, rain against the sea.


Happy hearting!

virtual reading preview

Flyer for this Saturday’s National Poetry Month virtual reading.

Just a quick post to share some of the work from the poets who will be reading at this Saturday’s event. Here are the details for the event including the link to register:

Event: A Virtual Celebration of National Poetry Month with Readings by Julia Koets, Meg Day, and Jenny Johnson
Date & Time: Saturday, April 24th, 6-7pm EST
Registration Link: https://suffolk.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAodO-sqD4uH9y_aL0QrfL_Rq9ELsQ9oonQ
Note about accessibility: ASL interpretation will be provided by Emily Phipps

I do hope you consider joining us. As a sort of sneak peek, here are poems from each of the featured readers. Looking forward to seeing y’all there!


Julia Koets

A Villanelle for Jodie Foster

In Contact, you wait for sound. Radio
            static in deep space keeps you awake
long into the night. How small this globe,

Ellie Arroway thinks. Miniscule, close
            to insignificant.  It’ll likely take
lifetimes to hear the farthest star, radio

frequencies scientists debate. History’s slow,
            the way some satellites in space
appear to stand still, orbiting the globe.

Small moves, small moves, your father’s canto.
            They should’ve sent a poet, you say,
witness to another galaxy. Without radio

proof, no one believes what you saw. No
            future, they say, is quite so opaque.
When you come out at the Golden Globes,

your silver dress glittering, all the stars aglow
            in the audience, you speak about privacy,
but also wish, in your own brave voice, a radio
            wave, to be not so very lonely on this globe.


Meg Day

Once All the Hounds Had Been Called Home

When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
                                    If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small?  Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
                                         & lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
                                         & turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.


Jenny Johnson

Late Bloom       

The name of the spotted apple
on the leafy floor in the woods

outside the white-walled bedroom
where the FM stereo was always

tuned to the same country
station my girl crush loved

was gall, name for an outgrowth,
a shell withering under leaf rot

near a spot where the surprise lilies
might remember, might

forget to bloom. Touch a weevil
and it will fall, legs and antennae tucked.

Blink and the artic fox becomes snow.
The gecko, toes spread wide

on a tree trunk, passes for lichen.
Of all the ways a creature can conceal itself,

I must have relied on denial.
There were the Confederate bumper stickers,

pressures from seniors to tailgate,
the spindly legs of a freshman

scissoring out of a trash can,
how just the smell of Old Spice

could make my muscles contract
like a moth, wings folded

the color of a dead leaf in October.
So that she might hear her favorite song

my voice would drop, and if the DJ answered
I would be Tim, Charlie, Luke, Jason

every name but my own.
Truer than gold.

Wasn’t I the stripe in a tiger’s eye?
The dapple in the flanks of an Appaloosa?

In daylight, how could I possibly explain:
A heart hunting after a body?

shoutouts

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Photograph of a page with handwritten text.

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness

Check out Ettinger’s poems at Grand Little Things.

Happy NPM-ing!