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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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:
Janel Pineda’sLineage 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.
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, Fossilson a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.
–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness
This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survivalarrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.
On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.
In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.
About this poem, Collins states:
“This is Where You Belong” introduces the landscape of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival. The collection exists because of the setting, which is a Chicago suburb that derives much of its culture from the city. I like to describe it as a watered-down diet Coke version of Chicago. Following white flight and the destruction of certain projects in the city, we had a lot of transplants from the city throughout my childhood. Plus, even those of us from the area originally had a lot family with deep roots in the city. So I wanted to capture the intersection of suburb and city, as well as the shifting demographics, mundane sights, childhood joys, and a bit of the ethos of the late 90s/early 2000s.
This is Where You Belong
Where the Sears Tower casts a shadow across the land, this is twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago. A wheat field cleared for a billboard that announces an outlet mall that never broke ground.
& this is the Zenon J. Sykuta Elementary School playground where kids broke skin against mulch. Splinters swam in blood, boys kissed girls, lips wetted with dares.
& this is Atkin Park, where a sock-swaddled padlock swung an eviction notice to an eye. Blood speckled hopscotch squares.
& this is Chris’ backyard, where concrete chipped knuckles, where boys chased a jump ball, shared sweat, put up shots for games of twenty-one, wobbled defenders.
& this is the creek ditch where victims emptied pockets of a few bills, Pokémon cards, & Frooties. Big Moe peddled away on someone’s Mongoose. He always said he was coming back.
& this is Kostner Avenue where kids flew downhill on the same bike, arms extended, wind coasted over palms.
& this is another U-Haul truck going. & this is another U-Haul truck coming. & this is another U-Haul truck with a belly full of furniture, engine idled for arrival or departure.
& this is a For Sale sign. & this is a For Rent sign. & this is a For Rent Sign.
& this is the streetlight on 180th, outside St. Emeric, where Keith’s mom whooped him in front of all of his friends because sunset then stars beat him to his doorstep.
& this is a Cutlass Supreme with 24-inch rims that rippled bass down Ravisloe Terrace, up Idlewild Drive.
& this is Country Pantry. That’s the AMC Loews. That’s the Walmart where teens posted up in the parking lot, loitered around their mother’s sedans, revved their hips to summer hits.
This is Country Club Hills, where I-57 & I-80 lace like fingers interlocked over the city. The American flag, two hundred fifty pounds of polyester, flaps over the land.
Also, check out this event where Collins will read from this collection later this month along with poets Meg Kearney and Chloe Martinez.
Quintin Collins (he/him) is a writer, editor, and Solstice MFA Program assistant director. His work appears in many print and online publications, and his first full-length collection of poems is The Dandelion Speaks of Survival (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021). His second collection of poems, Claim Tickets for Stolen People, selected by Marcus Jackson as winner of The Journal‘s 2020 Charles B. Wheeler Prize, is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books in 2022. See more of his work on qcollinswriter.com.
One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.
Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:
I am the waterer of the night garden. I can hardly see. I water what I remember being there.
In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.
Radiant Obstacles is threaded with such moments of intimacy that acknowledge what lies beyond language. Whether it’s empathy felt by a son for his father with whom he shares a phobia of enclosed spaces and, despite it, accompanies his father on an elevator, or the acknowledged humanity shared between a bartender and her regulars, Hankins’ work is able to meet the concrete world with its rough edges and linger long enough so that new meanings give over.
This work after the various intimacies implied in language is approached at times indirectly via formal choices. The poems in this collection range from prose poems, short lyrics, and indented open field experiences across the page. One dynamic outlier in this vein is “That Than Which” which finds Hankins taking a quote from Anselm of Canterbury and repeating it over and over, each repetition shuffling the order of words and adding to them. The experience created in this experiment is dramatic. Where the epigraph holds as a solid construction of sense, the statement’s reconfiguring via the poem works away from that sense and into other senses. This approach on the part of Hankins evokes another type of intimacy, that of language as something both shared and constructed, able to adhere to and diffuse meaning not just in his handling but in our being along for the ride. What makes the poem remarkable is that the experiment, rather than shutting us out, welcomes the reader into its wrestling with meaning.
And yet, “wrestling” may not be the right word here. Through a kind of lyrical volley and parry, Hankins invokes the idea of language as a “radiant obstacle” in and of itself. As language fails to connect fully yet consistently draws us to it despite this failure, each poem is an endeavor on both the part of poet and reader toward exploring what can be found through being thwarted thus. “Tree Rings” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Here, the speaker meditates on both language and trees; by doing so, he explores the ways humans imbue themselves on the world, and vice versa. The difference being, however, that it all remains a one-sided conversation. Much like prayer, these ruminations ultimately lay bare the richness and sorrow to be found in the human want for a connection beyond ourselves.
Here is a history that does not concern you, a making apart without the imposition of form, a shapely patient expansion, except not patient because it is mindless. But you cannot help regarding the sawn trunk allegorically (devoted becoming, then the desolate crash through other limbs). Do we not also expand ourselves and thus can speak of the slow sorrow of the trees even though we know they are not sad, not slow, except in our perceiving? It is enough to perceive a thing for it to bear the force of truth. So, the hillside stands of trees driving minutely upward through mindless centuries. Their jagged symmetries unerringly perpetuate and the soft new leaves, the supple branches giving way to the wind seem just like us, though they are not.
Question:How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?
Luke Hankins: My poems have frequently been criticized—especially in an academic setting—for being “overly” abstract. But many of the poems, both historical and contemporary, that impact me most profoundly share a deep engagement with abstract idea and reasoning. That’s not to say that those poems don’t usually engage with the concrete as well, but that they clearly revel in and deeply depend on idea in a way that, say, an Imagist poem does not.
Concretion has for decades been the accepted American poetic doctrine—and, yes, it is an important tool that novice poets typically need to learn. But it’s emphasized to such an extent that our poetry gets bled of complex thought, and consequently we risk losing our very ability to engage with abstract thought.
T. S. Eliot wrote that for John Donne an idea was as immediate as the scent of a rose. I worry that we stand to lose that capacity of mind. My poems attempt to revalorize idea and the ways that language can operate in the abstract. My poems are not devoid of concretion by any means—and some are entirely concrete. But as a whole they intentionally lean on abstract constructs.
Question:There seems to be a distinct conversation happening through the range of formal choices across individual poems—some lean toward direct narrative, others evoke rapturous undertones via indented lines, while still others engage with repetition. Was this intentional? What formal aesthetics do you see this book reflecting?
Luke Hankins: The variety of stylistic and formal approaches my poems take is certainly intentional. I could discuss the thinking underpinning the different approaches, but I prefer for readers to form their own opinions and reactions in that regard. What I will say is that I often tire of poets who write poems, year after year, that are essentially interchangeable in terms of voice, stylistics, and formal characteristics. Naming names is generally frowned upon, but he’ll keep making money, so here I go: Does the world need another Billy Collins poem?
I don’t intend to settle into a formulaic approach to writing poems. Each poem, for me, must be a venture into uncertainty—of voice, of idea, of form.
Special thanks to Luke Hankins for participating! To keep up with Luke’s work, check out his site. Copies of Radiant Obstacles can be purchased from Wipf & Stock.
Luke Hankins‘ most recent poetry collection is Radiant Obstacles (2020). A volume of his translations from the French of Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, A Cry in the Snow & Other Poems, was released in 2019. He is the founder and editor of Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.
Just a quick post to share that Salamander is hosting a virtual reading on Friday, March 26, from 6-7 PM EST, featuring readings from three contributors from Issue #51: Jinwoo Chong, Natalie Shapero, and B.M. Owens.
This event is free and open to the public; registration is required. Register here, and after registering, you will receive a confirmation email allowing you to join the reading.
Checking in this week after being absent last week due to spraining my ankle while going downstairs doing the laundry. Been describing my foot as looking like rotten meat. Like, Charles Baudelaire would’ve written about it rotten. Like, Upton Sinclair would’ve seen in it a metaphor to use in The Jungle rotten.
But I’m back at it, life. Last night, I had a blast reading as part of the Pangyrus issue 8 reading alongside Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, and Artress Bethany White. Highlights included White’s poem “Outlander Blues” and Granados’ essay “Love Letter to My Soon to Be 13-Year-Old Black Son.” We also had a lovely conversation among the readers afterward, moderated by Greg Harris. At one point, I took a shot at the Norton anthology and suggested that lit mags hold the real lively canons of our times. Do with that what you will.
Another highlight of my week was sharing the work of J. Jennifer Espinoza with my literature students. Espinoza’s “Makeup Ritual” (second poem at the link) in particular led to some engaging conversations about human experience and the value of daily rituals to provide grounding in a world constantly upended.
I wish y’all happy reading. May you (pues, tambien yo) continue on the mend in our respective ways.
Just a quick post to share an upcoming virtual reading I’ll be participating in: Join Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, Artress Bethany White, and myself as we celebrate the release of Pangyrus eight!
PangyrusLiterary Magazine’s 8th issue launches with this reading on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30pm EST.
I’m grateful to be reading alongside such dynamic writers. At the virtual event, folks will have a chance to meet the editors and authors who’ve made Pangyrus one of Boston’s most dynamic literary journals.
It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.
These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?
I also caught up with Aurielle Marie’s latest letter for The Offing and their efforts to engage their literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within their respective organizations. In “The Other Side of Imagination,” Aurielle Marie details their experiences and realities in the wake of the January 6th insurrection. Some moments that hit for me:
On that violent Wednesday, some of my community organizer friends were checking in with one another in group messages. A good friend remarked with fatigue that he believed we were being out-organized. I disagreed. “White supremacy means we out-organize our oppressors, word-for-word, bar-for-bar… it means in the heat of battle we don’t miss… and we STILL lose,” I offered, “because our oppressors do not need intention or strategy to have their ultimate political goals met.”
Black people have always had to prepare themselves, their children, their communities for the impact of state violence. This, too, is an imagination of some kind, the preservation of the very people being hunted by the State. My partner and I, like many Black and Brown folks across the country, spent the 6th and the days following planning against some of the terrible possibilities that could find us as two Black queer femmes in a Southern state. This imaginative genius, this survival is exhausting, and this month, I have only that: my exhaustion.
I appreciate Aurielle Marie’s honesty about this event and personal aftermath. Part of me has been working non-stop, another part of me remains shaken and beside myself. If you’re reading this, I wish you deep, necessary reflection as well as rest.
This week I’m delighted to feature friend and poet Saddiq Dzukogi whose book, Your Crib, My Qibla, is currently available for pre-order from University of Nebraska Press. Here’s a bit about the book:
Your Crib, My Qibla interrogates loss, the death of a child, and a father’s pursuit of language able to articulate grief. In these poems, the language of memory functions as a space of mourning, connecting the dead with the world of the living. Culminating in an imagined dialogue between the father and his deceased daughter in the intricate space of the family, Your Crib, My Qibla explores grief, the fleeting nature of healing, and the constant obsession of memory as a language to reach the dead. (book description by University of Nebraska Press).
I have had the pleasure of knowing Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.
“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.
When your mother found strands of your hair hung up in the teeth of your comb, your father squirreled them into a wineglass. It bites him hard that your life happened
like an hourglass with only a handful of sand— this split to the seam of his body, a split of darkness that won’t kill him but squeezes adrenaline into his veins, so he lives
through the pain of your absence. He’s not alright to speak. His voice rims with bereavement, and he wants to sing by your grave, child, now that birds blow songs through
the window—counts sadness on the prayer beads necklaced around his collar. If he had known the sky would inhale you out of him so quickly, he would have stayed with your toes forever
in his hands. Your face is still everywhere, even in the places he is not looking. He presses a deep kiss on your grave, on your forehead.
Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave, as if on your tender skin. The distance he feels is more
than the 400 kilometers that often stands between you. He will travel this far to hold you against the moon. They say you are like his reflection
pulled out of the mirror he stares into. To pull you out he plunges his hand inside himself and pulls.
Saddiq Dzukogi holds a degree in mass communication from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (Nigeria), and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A 2017 finalist of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, he is the author of Inside the Flower Room, selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the New Generation African Poets Chapbook series. Dzukogi’s poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, World Literature Today, New Orleans Review, Oxford Poetry, African American Review, Best American Experimental Writing, and elsewhere.