new doors via richard tillinghast

A few big changes have happened in my life that I am barely catching up on enough to relate here. The first is that I have happily accepted an Assistant Professor position at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. I am really excited to be joining a stellar faculty at an institution known for cultivating a great intellectual and creative atmosphere. I am also excited to be back in Oregon, with its supportive and vibrant poetry community, bookstores, coffee (OMG, coffee!), and proximity to family.

What this big turn also means is that we’ve had to leave Cincinnati sooner than expected. The past few weeks have had us cleaning and packing and cleaning again, until we landed in Oregon last week. Hence, the catching up (with consequent catching of breath).

Along with all the moving work, I have also been working with FutureCycle Press and placing the final touches on Small Fires, which is due out next week. More details to come.

Big moves like this one always take me back to this week’s poem by Richard Tillinghast. Tillinghast’s meditative lyric hooks into the symbol of “big doors” and deftly begins to weave various narratives of “Many things never to be seen again!” The energy and clarity of this particular line does the work of bringing the reader closer to the poem, the speaker seeming to be on the level of awed gossip as they relate the rich details and images that follow. As the poem ends, the reader themselves has been on a ride, ruminating alongside the speaker, and, like them, knowing both a bit of what has passed and that there remains so much more they cannot know.

church-doors

Big Doors – Richard Tillinghast**

I have seen with my own eyes doors so massive,
two men would have been required
to push open just one of them.
Bronze, grating over stone sills, or made of wood
from trees now nearly extinct.

Many things never to be seen again!
The fury of cavalry attacking at full gallop.
Little clouds of steam rising
from horse droppings
on most of the world’s streets once.

Rooms amber with lamplight
perched above those streets.
Pilgrimage routes smoky with torchlight
from barony to principality through forests
which stood as a dark uncut authority.

A story that begins “Once upon a time.”
Messengers, brigands, heralds
in a world unmapped from village to village.
Legends and dark misinformation,
graveyards crowded with ghosts.

And when the rider from that story at last arrives,
gates open at midnight to receive him,
two men, two men we will never know,
lean into the effort of
pushing open each big door.

*

Happy dooring!

José

P.S. The Influence is now considering poetry submissions. Check out the “submissions” tab to learn more.

**This poem is from The New Life (Copper Beech Press, 2008).

revisiting spiderman

1605831838_351eab12ed_bAs the release date of my next poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), approaches, I want to quickly revisit one of the key poems from my book Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press).

Below is the piece “Spiderman Hitches a Ride” along with a short essay about the origins of the piece. The short essay was originally written for the Tahoma Literary Review blog when this piece was published in issue 5.

*

Spiderman Hitches a Ride – José Angel Araguz

My mother compares me to Spiderman, and for a second I like it.

I mean, it’s what I’ve always wanted: to be viewed in the glory of courage and costume; to be super tough and just, a city like a little brother needing me to battle bullies and take back lunch money, a villain defining me by default as a hero, his crooked eyebrows and overheated plans carnival mirror to my calm and valiant stance; to push out of paper bag clothes; to leave my shoes untied, their mouths open in awe; to slip on the muscles and dreams of tomorrow’s headlines; to leave a woman breathless, with a single kiss amazed, her heart pounding at the thought of being in love with a man – in tights – who leaves her without a name or number with which to follow him into the fire.

He is like me, my mother says, because he too wants to do good things for people, but he gets beat up, can’t find a job and his girl ends up dating someone else. He saves people’s lives but is always flaco y vago, vagabond skinny with luck and life.

Is this what it meant for her when at seventeen I boarded a plane and soared out of this city, where if she couldn’t see into my head she could at least put a roof over it. Those years I disappeared into the phone, and was ok in Santa Fe, ok in San Diego, ok in New York but still short and small in words.

M’ijo, no te preocupes, don’t worry. She smiles, then slips off her seatbelt to reach over and wrap an arm around my neck, the other dropping a twenty into my lap. The green paper is wrinkled in waves that shudder and blur as I blink fast, trying once again to be heroic.

*

On “Spiderman Hitches a Ride”
originally published in Tahoma Literary Review issue 5)

This piece is part of my collection, Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), whose pieces deal primarily with what it meant for me to grow up in and out of South Texas.

The first draft of “Spiderman” was written during the summer of 2004 during which I lived in a house that had no electricity. The house belonged to a dear friend of mine who offered me a place to stay when he heard I was coming back to my hometown, Corpus Christi. “There’s no electricity,” he warned, “but you’ll have plenty of room to sit and write.” Having no job prospects that summer, I happily took him up on it.

Without a job, there was plenty of time to write as well. I spent most days that summer selling my personal library one sad stack at a time at a used bookstore and using the few dollars raised from that to buy coffee. I would take over a table at a café and write and write and write. At night, I would make my way over to the dollar movies and watch just about anything just to be in the air conditioned theater. Corpus Christi summers stay in the high 90s, low 100s, on average, with the nights carrying the heat via humidity.

That summer, I watched a lot of bad movies, keeping my notebook open on my lap and my pen to paper. I blame that summer for the fondness that remains for the train wreck of a movie, Troy, lines from which still come to me when thinking about the Iliad. Similarly, I must’ve watched Spiderman 2 close to a hundred times. Writing in the dark of the theater felt like dreaming; the various narratives and worlds around me began to blur. Peter Parker’s bumbling yet charming bad luck never felt too far off from my own. And while I may never have saved a city from destruction, only myself (barely), you never saw Peter open a letter from Sallie Mae and keep down his lunch.

Going back and forth in (anti)heroic comparisons at night kept me writing at a time when each day I woke to the reality of being young, college-educated, and broke. Broken, too, my ego, my sense of self and of the future. Only poetry braced me; and only family buoyed me.

*

See you Friday!

José

a robert okaji triptych

Mirror – Robert Okaji

The attraction is not
unexpected. We see

what is placed
before us, not

what may be.
The mirror is empty

until approached.

*

Italian_Baroque_MirrorThis week’s poems were originally published as part of the Origami Poems Project who create free, downloadable microchaps. “Mirror” and “Earth” (below) come from You Break What Falls, and “Sheng-yu’s Lament” (also below) comes from No Eye But the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese. Both microchaps are availabe for free on Okaji’s Origami Poems author page.

What I enjoy about “Mirror” is how it engages the symbol of a mirror lyrically, so that the metaphysical connotations don’t weigh the poem down. Instead, the short lyric passes as quickly as a reflection, while its insights linger like light.

A similar engine is at the heart of “Earth.” Both poems deal with human presence and their implications. Where one fills the “empty” mirror, one “breaks” the earth by being here. It feels natural to pair these poems because each takes the reader into a meditative state with koan-like directness.

Earth – Robert Okaji

Tremor and
stone

beset upon the calm.

Now water
lines the road’s

bed, and we see
no means to pass.

Even so
you break what falls.

*

3375190476_26b1cbc344_bTo complement these two poems, I present this third poem, “Sheng-yu’s Lament,” an adaptation from the Chinese. Okaji states in the microchap that he calls it an adaptation rather than translations “because I neither read nor speak Chinese, and have used transliterations to produce these versions.”

Reading below, one can easily that part of what is brought into the adaptation process is Okaji’s lyric sensibility. One can see the handling and navigating of the older poet’s meaning done with reverence not rivalry. Bringing these poems together, one can see how in this poem by another poet we return to “earth” and “mirror,” and can glimpse a bit of what these words might further mean for Okaji as well as ourselves.

Sheng-yu’s Lament
(after Mei Yao-ch’en)
–adapted by Robert Okaji

First heaven took my wife,
and now, my son.
These eyes will never dry
and my heart slowly turns to ash.
Rain seeps far into the earth
like a pearl droped into the sea.
Swim deep and you’ll see the pearl,
dig in the earth and you’ll find water.
But when people return to the source,
we know they’re gone forever.
I touch my empty chest and ask, who
is that withered ghost in the mirror?

*

Be sure to check out Robert Okaji’s blog, O at the Edges, to learn more about his work.

Happy triptyching!

Jose

new microreview & interview at the CR blog!

5759df779b8f9Just a quick post to share my latest and last microreview & interview for the Cincinnati Review blog!

This time around I spend time with Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape With Headless Mama (Pleiades Press).

I’ve had a blast writing for the CR blog and plan to continue the microreview & interviews here on the Influence (check out the Submissions tab for more details).

See you Friday!

José

some influence & book news!

influence news

This month marks five years of blogging on The Friday Influence! Over the years, this space has been a great source of community for me. Thank you to all of you who stop by regularly or just pop in at random looking for a poem. I continue learning much from interacting with you, either in the comments or elsewhere, including my Instagram poetry project poetryamano.

As the Influence enters its fifth year, I’d like to go further and reach out to readers and fellow writers in the hopes of having the blog be a bit more interactive. Above, you’ll see that there is a new “Submissions” tab with information on current calls. You’ll see that there are two specific calls, one for those interested in participating in a microreview & interview, and one for a montly haiku/tanka feature.

For the haiku/tanka feature, I’d like to do a monthly post of a variety of haiku and tanka, in whatever variations you are inspired to write. From traditional, nature-centered three line poems, to one line haiku, prose haiku or tanka, or even a blackout / erasure haiku or tanka. Check the Submissions tab for how to send your words and images.

book news

mask with frameIn other news, we’re about a month away from the release of my next book, Small Fires, which will be published by FutureCycle Press. As a bit of a preview, I am sharing the artwork that will be incorporated into the final cover, an ink painting by Andrea Schreiber.

This painting was inspired by the poem “Luchadores” (originally published in Waxwing) which I share below. Thank you all again for a great five years and stay tuned for the release of Small Fires in May!

*

Luchadores

after Cathy Park Hong

They were the only men in the house,
and stood firm, one hand raised
saying farewell, the other idle.
I’d make each bed, wash dishes,
set chairs back in place, then dig
under the sink where their masked faces
waited to be pulled out. I fought
with them all afternoon, took turns
playing villain, playing good,
letting each one win, then starting
over. The light in the garage apartment
turned all summer, flickered
light and dark across the floor
as on the leaves outside.

*

Happy anniversarying!

José

 

new prose poems & #poetsofinstagram news!

Just a quick post to announce the release of the latest issue of Pretty Owl Poetry which features three prose poems of mine from a new project. This issue includes stellar work from Ellen McGrath Smith, Chelsea Tadeyeske, and Trish Hopkinson among other great contributions.

Special thanks to Kelly Lorraine Andrews, Gordan Buchan, and everyone at POP for including me in such a great issue!

Check out the issue here.

*

Also: The latest and last interview in my #poetsofinstagram series is up now at the Cincinnati Review blog! This time around John Carroll of @makeblackoutpoetry talks about his history with blackout poetry and the hope it inspires in him and others.

I had a lot of fun with these interviews and am considering continuing them on this blog. Stay tuned!

*

See you Friday!

José

fallacying with susan lewis

lewis hsIn my recent microreview & interview of Susan Lewis’ Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVox [books]), I discuss the ways in which the poems in the collection engage with the uncertainty principle and its take on the relation between position and momentum. My own crude, working definition of the concept takes me back to my reading into Zen, ideas like how we are always in motion; how all we have is the present; and the contradictory thought that there is no now because the now that is now…is different from the now now.

Luckily, Lewis’ book delivers insights via strong prose poems and not half-remembered readings 🙂

In this week’s poem, Lewis engages the concept of pathetic fallacy, which occurs when we attribute human feelings and responses to nature and inanimate objects. With this term as the premise, the poem quickly develops a narrative in which humans talk to nature, only to find nature talking back. Here, the position of humans as the ones doing the addressing is made uncertain by the momentum of some rather chatty flora. What develops is a scenario that pushes back on the pathetic fallacy that is the premise of the poem. By the end, the humans are revealed by the suddenly-more-humanlike flora to be not less human, but more, at least in their eagerness to turn “a deaf ear” and place distance between themselves and their new found partners in conversation.

*

Pathetic Fallacy (III) – Susan Lewis

Having fled their native urban clamor, the newcomers greeted the residents of their rural refuge with indiscriminate geniality. To everything living they offered a smile & a friendly word. To the astonishment of the locals, first to respond to this promiscuous bonhomie were the birches. Then why, a farmer asked a grove whose dappled shade he had often preferred to his own domestic complications, did you never speak up before? & why, replied the tree with the stoutest trunk, didn’t you? When the farmer took the question in silent stride, the rest of the grove rustled, their judgment confirmed. Before long, the attention of the new residents was met with a flurry of expression from the long-repressed vegetation. At first it was enough for the naive humans to attend respectfully to the widespread resentment of the thistles, the meandering narratives of the frost grapes, the magisterial pronouncements of the oaks — turning for respite to the sweet & supportive maples, with their generous supply of sap. Soon they permitted themselves to be probed by the delicate tendrils of the man-root — until offspring were generated, giving the lie to the insuperable separation of the phyla. In time, the proud but challenged bipedal parents were overwhelmed by their intimates’ new-found urge to connect. Desperate for peace & quiet, they retreated to the urban jungle, where they felt less guilty turning a deaf ear to that other onslaught of revelations & demands.

*

Happy fallacying!

José

new #poetsofinstagram interview!

Just a quick post to share my latest interview in my #poetsofinstagram series over at the Cincinnati Review blog! Read it here.

This time around @colette.lh shares some of her stunning work as well as insights into what motivates and inspires her writing.

Be sure to check out my own @poetryamano account, a poetry project focused on poems made by hand. I’ve been working a lot with erasures recently!

See you Friday!

José

microreview & interview: Susan Lewis’ Heisenberg’s Salon

lewis hs

review by José Angel Araguz

Drawing inspiration from German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which “states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa,” Susan Lewis’ latest collection, Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVOX [books]), presents a prose poem collection that evokes the form’s surrealist traditions while expanding on its logic-making means.

One can see this idea of position and momentum reformulated in poetic terms in these lines from the title poem:

Every time she turned her back, the apartment rearranged itself. Each version created a home for another way of life.

From there, the reader follows the main character adapting to her constantly rearranging apartment, curling up and reading Victorian fiction when she “[discovers] the couch under the picture window,” and setting the next meal when “the dining table was there instead.” In a similar manner, the reader of this collection adapts to each poem’s engagement with and rearrangement of familiar linguistic territory. The aptly named “Indeterminacy” is a good example of adapting to rearrangement:

Indeterminacy

It was time for something, although she could not for the life of her imagine what. So she assumed her post on the stoop & waited for the future to declare itself. A tattered bird of dubious provenance landed on the banister & inspected her with his ancient gaze. She exhaled with emphasis, but otherwise managed to keep her preconceptions to herself. The old fellow cocked his head & screeched. Terrific, she said. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? Terrific, he squawked. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? I get it, she said, bravely extending her arm. I get it, he echoed, latching on with admirable decision. It was the last conversation they ever had.

Here, the first half of the poem positions two characters in places of waiting. There is a push and pull between interiority and meaning at work; because “she could not for the life of her imagine what” it was time for (keyword here being imagine, an act of interiority), she is forced to look outside herself. Thus positioned, the conversation that takes place in the second half of the poem works as momentum, giving the scene the urgency of question and response. The phrasing of a “tattered bird” also leaves things ambiguous; one can envision a parrot playing out the conversation that follows, merely echoing the other character. And yet, the choice to not be specific about the kind of bird it is leaves room for the fantastical. From this uncertainty, the imagining the other character was incapable of on her own becomes an outer moment of imagination via this “conversation” with the bird.

This transformation via uncertainty plays out for the reader much like the conversation plays out for the characters, strictly in the moment, in the rush as the pieces of the poem come together. There is a thrill in this kind of poetry that speaks of a sensibility awake to the materials at the core a poem, how to get the “tattered bird” of familiar language to say something new. As plot requires conflict, these poems point to lyricism as its pulse.

One of the ambitions of this collection is learning how to be awake to this lyric pulse. The reading act is itself a combination of position and momentum, holding words still in the mind while moving towards the sense implied. In a way, the reader of Heisenberg’s Salon is in the same position as the boy of “One Day” (below) who finds himself literally embodying change, watching the world evolve as the poem develops. Certainty and uncertainty, this collection posits, both happen suddenly and simultaneously. As in the uncertainty principle, one is reckoning with ideas of position and momentum in these poems. Yet, because they are poems – poems whose essence can only be located within the act of reading and being heard, thus, in motion – the interplay leads the reader to a fruitful uncertainty, and, one could say, a lyric certainty.

One Day

grass started growing form the young man’s chest. Everybody changes, said his mother, surreptitiously dabbing at her eyes. But the boy, who was wise beyond his years, felt delicate roots tickling his sternum & knew it was a matter of time before they’d probe his lungs & entwine his heart, crowding the space it needed to expand & contract in its steadfast commitment to preserving his options. As the weeks passed, graceful green strands sprung from his armpits, between his legs, & even, in the finest possible wisps, from his upper lip. One morning he awoke from a luxurious dream of water glossing boulders as smooth & warm as flesh to find a starry sprinkle of tiny yellow blossoms adorning his burgeoning tufts. He had only to be still & tiger swallowtails floated around him, sipping his nectar. Unable to deny the inexorable slowing of his breath, he was content to observe himself contemplate the ramifications of his personal evolution without emitting a watt of excess heat or other sign of agitation.

*

Susan-LewisInfluence Question: How does this collection reflect your relationships/history with the prose poem? What writers have influenced your sense of sentence and story?

Susan Lewis: I love the prose poem! Brevity and density are its challenge and its promise. To paraphrase Whitman, it contains multitudes — like the power to embrace or eschew narrative, meter, syntax, and even the sentence itself.

I began working with the more narratively driven poems in Heisenberg’s Salon as a kind of emotional and intellectual R & R after being immersed in another collection of prose poems (currently called Zoom) which are far more abstract, fragmented, and entangled on the lexical meta-level. This was not my first time exploring this sub-genre: my book, How to be Another, gathered a group of tale-like creatures in the section called e.g. (reflecting my notion that narrative proffers examples, rather than, say, arguments, restatements, or prescriptions — like the other poems assembled under the headings vis, i.e., and Rx).

The rhythms, architecture, and verbal texture of these poems, however, are quite different than those earlier pieces. And my critique of categories, boundaries, and borders has intensified (in the geopolitical context as well). A fish confined to a small container stays a small fish. The same can be said for a psyche. Any insistence on us vs them deprives ‘us’ of the (sometimes challenging) benefit of ‘their’ company and perspective. For this book, I found a kind of metaphorical support for this principle of inclusivity in quantum indeterminacy.

My love of the prose poem dates back to my introduction (thanks to my friend and mentor Chuck Wachtel) to Julio Cortázar’s seminal The Lines of the Hand, and Russell Edson’s Dinner Time, both of which can be relied upon, in a pinch, as complete guides to writing of any kind — be it short story, novel, or poem. (Which is to inveigh, once again, against the unhelpful constraints of such categories).

Cortázar’s other very short works, like many in Cronopios and Famas, and all of Edson’s oeuvre, have wormed their way into my sense of timing and ‘turn.’ Their compressed journeys draw an arc from premise, to ramification and extrapolation, to conclusion — which in different pieces might be more or less conclusive, and more or less shocking, or absurd. They model a kind of imaginative and investigatory digging — deeper, absolutely, but also laterally, towards new terrain — which ends up yielding a skewed and oddly clearer view of their starting positions.

The poems in Heisenberg are also deeply indebted to the work of Lydia Davis and James Tate, both of whom transform the ordinary into the extraordinary by penetrating, judicious, and genuinely inspired elisions, containments, and departures. And Kafka looms over all of us who touch on the surreal in the hope of exposing the tragic absurdity of the real.

*

Special thanks to Susan Lewis for participating! Find out more about her work at her siteHeisenberg’s Salon can be purchased from BlazeVOX [books].