writing prompt: found sonnet

This week’s writing prompt has me sharing something I wrote during my experience teaching in my first winter residency for the Solstice low-residency MFA program at Pine Manor College. Along with teaching a craft course on poetic authority and hybrid forms and participating in a faculty reading, I also had the privilege of leading a series of graduate workshop sessions with the great poet and educator Kathi Aguero. Together, we led folks in conversations about their respective work as well as discussions on craft, theory, and exercises.

For one exercise, Kathi had us practice writing iambs. My usual practice in freewriting is to be guided by cadence and/or some syllabic or word count concept. Writing into prosody purposefully has always been a misadventure for me; meter is in everything we write (and speak), of course, but I like noting and manipulating its nuances after I have some material written. Only after there is something to work with do I feel comfortable trusting my ear, so to speak.

I share about this mistrust of self as a way to explain my thinking (again, after the fact) of how I approached this exercise and happened upon what I’m calling a “found sonnet.” We held our workshops in the library which was featuring a variety of artwork including the piece Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright (see below). Not only was I struck by the dynamic depths and energy of the work itself, I also found myself admiring and nodding my head as I read Fortini-Wright’s statement that accompanied it.

Here’s the statement in full:

As a teacher I sometimes feel as if I’m a student. By this I mean I learn from them as much as they do from me. There is a back-and-forth dialogue which coalesces multiple perspectives in this creative community that we call the classroom. With my background of graffiti and fine arts, I blend both worlds into my teaching philosophy, balancing these two perceived opposites. From this experience of being well-versed in realism and pure abstraction, students obtain a wider bandwidth or perspective to view their work within.

I choose to work in black-and-white using the spray can and brush, and introduced this method to Antonio White, who has taken several of my classes. Spray paint is great for capturing atmospheric qualities of light, haze and distance, while the brush marks and thicker texture appear in the foreground. My black and white painting titled “Mosaic Pavement” embodies many recurring subjects and themes from past paintings: observations, abstract experimentations, passions, and spiritual teachings. The use of opposites can capture the widest range of form, contrast, and dimension, which plays into my constructs both physically and spiritually.

Teaching is legacy where information gets passed down from one generation to the next. That lesson was taught to me from Paul Goodnight, a mentor, friend, and role model to myself, and artists across the world. I met him through mentoring with Paul Rahilly, who I later found out was Paul Goodnight’s teacher, mentor, and dear friend as well. The biggest gifts of teaching are passing on information to the next generation, sharing the experiences of life, and developing long term relationships.

(Percy Fortini-Wright of Pembroke, MA for Mosaic Pavement, Spray and oil paint, 72 x 72 in. 2019)

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The artist statement for Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright.

As you can see, Fortini-Wright’s generous vision as an educator and humility in the face of both the creative and teaching task is articulated here in an engaging way. The admiration for this statement led me to naturally begin noting where iambs fell within. I then began singling out phrases in my notebook, keeping them in the order in which they appeared. Since the original exercise was to work in iambs, I decided to suss out as best I could an iambic pentameter line and work out a sonnet from the endeavor.

To try this modified exercise on your own:

  • First, find a prose text that you find dynamic. This can be anything from an artist statement as I worked with but also news articles, passages from novels, etc.
  • Then, begin noting iambs. If you’re not inclined to work out iambs, feel free to simply curate a series of words and phrases.
  • As you select your words and phrases, be sure to keep them in order. The goal is to work out a kind of “ghost” poem from the original.
  • When you have fourteen lines that work as a kind of argument, you’ll have your own found sonnet. Note: you don’t have to compose a sonnet from this necessarily. You’re welcome to work out a poem of whatever length and form you desire. The fun, as I see it, comes from working out surprising and parallel statements from the original text.
  • Bottom line: Have fun!

Enjoy mine own poem below and feel free to email me with any of your own found sonnets. Happy writing!

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A photo of Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright.

José Angel Araguz

Teaching is legacy

(found sonnet based on the artist statement for
Mosaic Pavement
by Percy Fortini-Wright)

I sometimes feel as if I’m a student;
I mean I learn from them as they from me.

There is dialogue which coalesces
in this community we call the classroom.

With my background, I blend worlds into
philosophy, balancing opposites.

From this experience of being real,
students band to view their work within.

I choose to work in qualities of light
while recurring subjects abstract passions.

Opposites can capture and construct
both physically and spiritually.

Teaching is legacy: the biggest gifts
are experiences developing.

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To learn more about the work of Percy Fortini-Wright, go here.

new review at The Bind!

Front-note: I hope everyone is staying safe out there–whether you’re protesting in person or doing activism at home. Black Lives Matter and we must do everything to push against systemic oppression.

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rosa bookAlso, just a quick post to share that my chronicle-review of Rosa Alcalá’s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem) went live earlier this week at The Bind!

Read as I divulge about writerly lateness but also about how books we carry–physically and emotionally–matter so much to our lives.

For more of Rosa Alcalá’s work, check out the poem “At Hobby Lobby” from MyOTHER TONGUE.

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Ever yours,

José

microreview: Primitivity by Amy Sayre Baptista

review by José Angel Araguz

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The flash fiction sequence that makes up Primitivity (Black Lawrence Press) by Amy Sayre Baptista explores a Southern Gothic tradition of storytelling in pieces that are voice-driven and immersive. Using voice in a near-alchemical capacity, Baptista’s characters come to life through phrasing and presence. Take this short passage from the collection’s opener, “Bait”:

This old road is a ghost. Two small plot cemeteries fenced like a crooked grin hold horse thieves that ran the stagecoach road and travelers that met death before destination. Bandits shot for robbing a man blind. Shot for doing the things men do in the dark.

The vivid imagery of the first sentence here mirrors the “crooked” nature of the landscape. The voice here presents the image in a nuanced, casual tone that contrasts the stark human nature being described. This mix of image and tone makes the narrator’s bluntness all the more tangible.

Here and in the other pieces, the poetic sits side-by-side with grit and survival. Southern Gothic tropes are subverted toward feminist and class issues in a way that is both affirming and interrogatory. Where one piece has an aunt clearing caught birds from twig traps while sharing with a child that “Be careful out a mama’s mouth don’t mean nothing ‘cept protect yourself  better than I did,” another explores the literal ghosts of a town murder through a seance, having each party involved speak for themselves. This approach to storytelling strives for compassion while remain unflinchingly true to the characters.

The flash fiction below, “Pike County Consilience,” shows a number of Baptista’s narrative skills at work. A great example of voice driving a narrative, this piece also braids in technical terminology. The juxtaposition of human voice against this terminology evokes a sense of urgency. The main character’s straightforward explanations become a form of rationalizing and re-imagining of hard truths. This impulse on the character’s part becomes relatable at different points, a testament to the power of Baptista’s empathetic approach.

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Amy Sayre Baptista

Pike County Consilience

“Proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry–multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion.”
–Scientific American, 2005

A science man studies the world to say why, say how it got made. A Pike County man ciphers the world for what it is, and how to survive it. Me? I got some science in my toolbox right alongside the wire cutters and the claw hammer. Got me a proof, and a theorem or two, just as useable as my crescent wrench. Let it be known to all: I love Jesus Christ. That said, the Son of Man never broke no barriers on the biological front. Chalk that up to Charles Darwin. Talk about loaves and fishes? No small feat, Jesus wins. But give Darwin his due.

Don’t believe in evolution? Make the acquaintance of the good damn brain God gave you, please. Humans? We scrambled up outta dark water; fin, fang, and claw. No doubt. Pretty it ain’t, we used to filter our own sewage out our gills and rip our supper off a breathing bone. Still not convinced? You must be one of them that thinks babies came to life with mother’s love and angel milk. Truth never stands a chance with the feeble-minded. But I’ve had to stare a man back on his haunches. Eye to eye, I recognized the abyss we crawled out of throbbing beneath his pupil. Gibb Delbert’s his name. Glared back at him with a blade at the end of my gaze and knew he was still gonna come for me. Not for a social call neither. That’s evolution, and Gibbs on the slow track.

Darwin was on to something with his consilience. In plain English, that’s many ways of coming to an unmistakable conclusion. For instance, Bud Rickart says to me at the Rod & Gun on a Wednesday night, “Gibb Delbert means to kill you.” That’s just one line of inquiry, as Mr. Darwin was so fond of saying. Gibb comes into said establishment not thirty minutes later with a loaded revolver, puts one in my thigh and one in my shoulder before he gets tackled. That’s conclusive proof.

Action: Gibb done shot me.

Reaction: He went to jail for two months till next Friday,

But what goes up must come down, that’s Newton not Darwin, I hope I’m not moving too fast. This evidence comes together on the quick. Last night I get a call, says, “Will you accept charges from Danville Penitentiary?” Course I decline. This morning, I got a Banty Rooster broke-necked under my windshield wiper.

Proof: Blood feathers mean blood feud.

Times was when a righteous man with a crack shot might claim feud as self-defense. Not so today. Men like me need formularies just like the fellas writing the textbooks. Solving for the unknown in my neighborhood is a high stakes control set. Trajectory of bullets and repositioning the body? Mishandling those details gets you caught. My numbers got to add up, or I might as well start posing for a county-sponsored head shot. Leave Jesus be. Houdini’s my savior. I need a disappearing act.

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Hypothesis on an Unlocatable Body

Theorem 1: Deer season, I take the firing pin outta my shotgun to give me three extra slugs. At twenty paces, I can end a man during the time of year no one questions a gun shot, or three, in quick succession. But that ain’t the difficult part. Trajectory of bullets, pin out, and a body? Too obvious and me the likely suspect.

Theorem 2: Solve for zero: where no evidence exists, there’s no proof to solve for. That’s algebra, translation, “the solving of broken parts.” Thank you Wikipedia and Arab people everywhere.

Theorem 3: No proof equals no charges. Add together the bank foreclosure of the abandoned hog operation at Nebo and property in probate. This equals a waste dumping pit both full and idle for a month. That formula births a slurry and stench to end all inquisition. A body in that slop seals the deal. By the time the farm sells, the hog pit will be no softer than concrete.

Theorem 4: A body at rest stays at rest: Gibb Delbert. A body in motion stays in motion: me. Decomposition meets destiny. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton.

Observable Conclusion: Done, son.

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Check out this interview in which Baptista shares more about Primitivity.
Copies of Primitivity can be purchased from Black Lawrence Press.