community feature: CavanKerry Press

the_waiting_room_reader_vol_I_This particular community feature post is inspired by a recent development: I’m happy to share that I’ve been named as a member of the Board of Governors for CavanKerry Press! I’m excited to join as a new board member, along with Cornelius Eady, and help develop the already dynamic CavanKerry Press community.  Special thanks to Gabriel Cleveland and Dimitri Reyes for their enthusiasm and support in bringing me on board!

In a phone conversation with Joan Cusack Handler, publisher and senior editor of CavanKerry Press, I learned about the different ways in which the press is creating community, including sharing some of their anthologies for free online during the month of April. Both volumes of The Waiting Room Reader as well as the Words to Keep You Company anthology are being made available as free PDFs on the CavanKerry website. Writers in these anthologies include Ross Gay, PaulA Neves, Maxine Kumin, Tina Kelley, Kevin Carey, Vincent Toro, and Linda Pastan among others.

the_waiting_room_reader_vol_II_Below, I share a sample poem from The Waiting Room Reader II, “The Inheritance” by Myra Shapiro. What moves me most about this poem is how it enters into an elegiac conversation in an unexpected way. The first four lines present the logic of grapefruit-as-talking-baby doll, and then builds from there back into the reality of the moment. This quick invocation of the mother in four lines sets up the rest of the poem in which human presence is acknowledged as being available to us in the actions and habits we learn from our parents. The short lines and images allow the meditation to develop in a way that continues to be surprising precisely by not trying to be. The facts of the speaker’s experience are laid out clearly, and what makes them surprising is the juxtaposition of phrase and image. The speaker moves from the hypothetical “Mama” of the opening lines, to her own mother, to being a mother herself. Here, we see the generations pass, each different yet similar, and each evoking the next in the poem. One returns to the title’s idea of “inheritance” and sees it expanded beyond the material meaning, the speaker realizing their own inheritance in the patterns of everyday life.

Myra Shapiro

The Inheritance

Just a grapefruit
but it never fails
to make the word Mama
when I cut it,
store the half uneaten
flat against the plate,
pink meat down
so that tomorrow
when I eat it it’s as juicy
as today. Washing fruit
she taught us but never this.
She just did it. Saved
the fruit against the plate.
As I do. As I saw it done
in my daughter’s house this morning.

*

Check out more from these anthologies and learn more about CavanKerry Press here.

new publication: Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy

dear-america-529x800Just a quick post to share about the release of a new anthology: Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy edited by Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd, and Derek Sheffield and published by Trinity University Press. My own poem, “American Studies” is included along with work by Jericho Brown, Victoria Chang, Camille T. Dungy, Tarfia Faizullah, Blas Falconer, Kimiko Hahn, Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Linda Hogan, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Naomi Shihab Nye, Elena Passarello, Gary Soto, Pete Souza, Arthur Sze, and Kim Stafford among others. I am grateful to the editors for the work put into not only this anthology, but also the work they have been doing through their editorship over at Terrain.org where some of these pieces were originally published.

More on this anthology:

“Dear America reflects the evolution of a moral panic that has emerged in the nation. More importantly, it is a timely congress of the personal and the political, a clarion call to find common ground and conflict resolution, all with a particular focus on the environment, social justice, and climate change. The diverse collection features personal essays, narrative journalism, poetry, and visual art from more than 130 contributors–many pieces never before published–all literary reactions to the times we live in, with a focus on civic action and social change as we approach future elections.”

To celebrate the release of this anthology, Terrain.org has organized a Dear America Virtual Town Hall event series—the first to be conducted on Earth Day. Find out more about this event here.

My poem “American Studies” (below) was written shortly after the 2016 election. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time, in my last year of a PhD. I would go on to defend my dissertation on Trump’s inauguration day and walk out of said defense to find a pro-Trump rally happening on the university campus, complete with “Build the Wall” signs and a man (not a student) walking around armed with semi-automatic weapons. I share these details to provide context for the charged air that the poem was created in. An air of fear and despair, an air of survival. As a person from a marginalized community, I’ve been in survival mode all of my life, so it wasn’t that any of what I felt was new. What was new and dismaying was how overt intolerance had become, on campus, across the country, and also how shocked non-marginalized people were at the time. My hope is that through works like this anthology we continue to give voice and archive what it is like to survive.

José Angel Araguz

American Studies

November 22, 2016

My wife tells me of reading the Dear
America
 books as a child, those stories told
via the diaries of young women who lived

during difficult times in American history. In these
stories filled with suffering were the facts behind
the suffering. Her favorite involved the RMS Titanic,

the unsinkable ship that sank. I ask if
trying to imagine what it looked like was
what captivated, and she says no, says only

one book led to another, until she realized
she could never see it nor accept it.

                          ~

After the election, my friend explains he feels
he could manage here, but not his children.
He explains he spoke to their school director,

who comforted by talking about police presence. But
if there’s police, he asks, before anything happens,
what will happen when something does? American algebra:

Everything is x until proven y. Dear America,
if x represents what my friend feels thinking
about the police, what language do you imagine

he worries his children speaking publicly, and what
language are we speaking now? Show your work.

                          ~

Another friend writes: Here’s a verse I think
about a lot: And maybe the mirror of
the world will clear once again*. 
She shares

she’s been sick since the election, as I’ve
been. I imagine our voices trying to commiserate
between coughs. In physics, energy can neither be

created nor destroyed. What American physics happens here
as I read and hear her voice behind
the verse she sent? Are you, dear America,

afraid as I am that our faces will
no longer be there when the mirror clears?

* Faiz Ahmed Faiz


Copies of Dear America can be purchased here.

new publication: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext!

LatiNEXT Final

Just a quick post to share the release of the latest BreakBeat Poets anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext edited by Felicia Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo and published by Haymarket Books. Super-excited to share news of this release – in part because my own poem “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” is featured in its pages alongside the work of a phenomenal community of poets including Sara Borjas, Javier Zamora, Denice Frohman, Peggy Robles Alvarado, John Murillo, Janel Pineda, Juan J. Morales, Benjamin Garcia, Jasminne Mendez, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Yesenia Montilla among so many stellar writers.

I’m also excited and grateful to the editors for creating a space representative and celebratory of Latinx poetry in its multitudes. In these pages are the stories and aesthetics of “an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles, staking a claim to our cultural and civic space.” I am proud to be a part of this event and look forward to the anthology’s success and impact.

In the spirit of celebration, I am sharing mine own contribution, “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” below. I spoke with a friend recently about what this specific poem being included means to me. This poem was one of the last ones revised in time to make it into my second full length collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). So close it was to the then deadline that I never got a chance to send it out. One of four poems about La Llorona in that book, this poem had me exploring what it would be like to have her speak. The first draft was written the summer of 2004 when I lived in a house without electricity in Corpus Christi. Because it was summer in South Texas, I tried to stay out at the dollar movies for as long as I could. I ended up watching a lot movies on repeat, in particular Troy and Spiderman 2 (my book Everything We Think We Hear has the piece born from watching Spidey a bunch).

The first draft was very much heavy-handed and primarily focused as a statement against George W. Bush’s presidency and invasion of Iraq. That draft lived dated and lost for a good number of years. When it came time to work on Small Fires and its tetralogy of Llorona poems, this one came back to mind as being in conversation with that book’s statements of identity and conflicted nationalities. Letting La Llorona speak and harangue America via the actors of the movie still feels right. That the editors of this anthology saw fit to include this poem in an anthology full of similar conversations also feels right.

*

José Angel Araguz

La Llorona Watches the movie ‘Troy’

 

She watches Brad Pitt leap, then land a stab
like a hammer blow down, spends time taking in
the bronze skin of the actors, the way the say ‘grass’

like ‘toss,’ ¡Todo British! She snags popcorn
by the handful watching the gods
be shrugged off by warriors. During the scene

where the Greeks scurry from the Trojan horse,
their shadows fingers pulling at string
and unraveling the night, her breath is sand

and crackling flame. When they run towards fire
in the desert, towards collapsing roofs
and digitized screaming, the montage

of faces, of bodies pushing against each other
has her whispering to no one in particular:
¡Mira Baghdad, mira Juarez! And no one

in particular hears her over the Dolby
of swords being unsheathed. She begins to hum,
letting her voice hit the same notes

as the opera singer overlaid during the carnage.
Should anyone look over, they’d see
the silhouette of a woman in the third row

treating the forty-foot screen like an altar.
When, after seeing the toppling of statues
and the scavenging through offerings

to Apollo, sun god, the one who sees everything,
the aged and fallen king staggers in defeat
and cries out: Have you no honor!

Have you no honor!, she gasps and nods,
as if watching a telenovela unfold
according to how she would want it. Truth is,

she has seen this all before, has drowned
the brown bodies, has plucked gold coins
from river water before any boatman

could make his way to her. She knows
the blonde and blue-eyed have arrived
to play both hero and love interest again,

that though Helen here is a vagabond Marilyn,
she used to have un poquito de chile
in her blood, y un puñado de lodo

 in her heart. That’s why it’s a woman
who says: If killing is your only talent,
then it is your curse, and says it

like one slapping their hand against the river,
a sting in their hands for a while. Truth is,
there will always be a Brad to leap, and hit hard,

the thud through the speakers like a heartbeat.

*

Copies of The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext can be purchased from Haymarket Books.

 

microreview: Word Has It by Ruth Danon

review by José Angel Araguz

word has it

One of the things I admire about Ruth Danon’s Word Has It (Nirala Publications) is how the collection brings together via short lyrics and prose poem sequences a vibe of being a spy of language. I say “spy” and mean specifically a sensibility able to evoke the range of curiosity, intrigue, and vigilance that is associated with the heightened awareness one might associate with a spy. In “Floridian,” for example, we have the following lines:

Unseasonable chill in the palms.
Fronds I mean, and also the cold
fingertips that touch them.

Here, the wordplay that occurs across the punctuation and line break on “palms” of the first line, and the addition and jolt of the second line’s “Fronds” emphasizes both the human and plant double meaning in the words as well as the speaker’s awareness of this connection. It’s a pun of sorts rendered in a tone that is intriguing, as the formulation of “Fronds I mean, and also” have an air of nervousness as the lines continue back to the original human sensory association of “cold / fingertips.” This back and forth of sensory and conceptual perception is engaging for the way it creates an air of heightened awareness which has us in a different place than expected given the title “Floridian.”

This engagement with the unexpected continues throughout the book. In “Domestic,” there are three moments that riff on the concept of a shot of whiskey around which the poem is developed. Here are the opening lines:

“Shot of whiskey,” she thought, from
nowhere, not because she ever drank
the stuff, but because it seemed the kind
of random association one might have at
the end of a long day.

These lines are effective in the way they intellectualize associations around taking a shot, using phrases like “drank / the stuff” and “the end of a long day” to ground the poem in a heightened sense of the familiar. This familiarity is then riffed against in moments like the following:

“Shot through with light,”
was an expression she liked. Radiance or
the idea of glowing from within seemed
a worthy aspiration.

Here, the word “shot” from the start of the poem is repeated but changed from noun to verb. This change evokes the sensibility of the “she” being described who has gone from the poem’s opening “random association” to this aspirational one. It is a moment of hope, in a way, where the interrogative tone is left for a moment. This moment is short-lived, however, as the poem quickly narrates how “Unruly she was,” and then takes us to the ending where “She looked ahead, steady / on her feet, or so she thought.” The charm of this poem is how the established heightened awareness takes the idea of a shot of whiskey at the start and through the poem’s development gestures towards inebriation as a state of being due to overthinking.

There’s a moment in the sequence “Divination” that presents an encapsulated version of this idea of heightened awareness:

Consider now that the birds scrawl their
messages and you are too far from the sky to
read their words.

What then?

It is in asking “What then?” after the logic of birds scrawling messages we can’t read that the heart of the collection pulses. The human spying we do of language, so to speak, is frustrating work. At the end of the day, we don’t know the world through words, we know only words and persist with our vague sense of the world. The act of writing in Word Has It is imbued with a charge of responsibility and need despite this frustration, however. In “Birding” (below), the poem’s play and progression of thought show how much can be seen in light of having our “stupid eyes closed.”

*

Ruth Danon

Birding

So listen, let me confess, I do not live in a world
that lends itself easily to description or evocation
or adoration. In my ordinary life I face one brick
wall on one side and another brick wall on the
other. I do not even have words to distinguish
one brick wall from another and if there are
windows in yet another wall they give over to a
wall on the far side of any small opening. I envy
those who stand quietly on shores and watch
plovers. I do not know what a plover looks like
and I do not know if it makes a sound. The word
contains the word “lover,” and also the word
“over” and that is yet another brick wall. I
believe in the power of birds, but I do not know,
not for a minute, how to describe their quivering
hearts or their flights or the mad plunge of
herons into salty marshes. A little while ago I
washed my face in clear water. I plunged right in,
my stupid eyes closed.

*

To learn more about Ruth Danon’s work, visit her site.
Copies of Word Has It can be purchased via SPD.