articulating with millicent borges accardi

accardiThis week’s poem comes from Millicent Borges Accardi’s latest collection Only More So (Salmon Poetry) which I recently reviewed for Queen Mob’s Tea House.

My reading process for book reviews (or most books in general, except for novels) is to read with an index card nearby on which I jot down page numbers and key words that I can come back to for either note-taking or review ideas. This practice came out of trying not to write in the margins of books, which is all I did during my twenties, or so it feels like. Sad to say, other than a lot of underlining and the rare sharp observation, the margins of my books were primarily filled with the word “Wow!” written in various sizes. With the index cards, I’m able to have a cursory map of my reading with which to reflect upon.

I share this bit about my review process because I had a pretty strong in-the-moment/on-the-index-card reaction to its ending. While the poem deals with survival, a recurring theme in Accardi’s powerful collection, the way this specific kind of survival is articulated had for me some strong connotations beyond the poem. My note in the margin read: how poems work. I remember feeling that the way the speaker’s directions on “shaking off” the PSP have a person “curled up” and hiding, waiting for the right moment to head back, mirrors the way a poem can wait inside a person until it (and the poet) are ready for it to be expressed. I’m not sure if this makes sense, or if I can articulate the feeling any better (hence this thought isn’t in the review), but it’s a feeling that will always be a part of my memory of this poem.

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How to Shake off the Políciade Segurança Pública Circa 1970
Millicent Borges Accardi

Walk home
determined, neither
urgent nor pokey.
Make clear cut
turns and hold
your head up high.
Carry an ordinary
briefcase. Dress
in shades of brown,
as if you could fold
up and turn back
into dirt if you
needed to. Do not
stop or pause except
to honor street lights
and stop signs. Stay
in the shadows,
but do not hug them
or stay tight
to the overhangs.
Do no pause
to peer into windows,
or look as if you are
waiting for someone
like Salazar.
Disappear. Disappear.
Disappear, as best you can
into traffic
or the pulse of Lisboa.
Do not hesitate
when the men draw
closer, turn into the nearest
side street, that is dimly lighted.
Find a building
where people are entering
easily. Go up the stairs
as if you have business
there, or as if this is your
own home, which it isn’t.
Do not look back even
cautiously at the PSP,
glance down, step with surety
into the unfamiliar lobby.
Find the stairs. Sit
in the darkness under
until you have
become the earth. Hold
your breath
until the men have gone
by. Tell yourself you are safe
and everything
is fine. Remain curled up
longer than you have to,
longer than you imagine might
be necessary before
you regroup and head back.

*

Happy articulating!

José

new book reviews!

Just a quick post to share my latest published book reviews!

accardi

First up is my review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s collection Only More So (Salmon Poetry) which can be read at Queen Mob’s Tea House. In it, I discuss the use of lists as an engine behind a number of Accardi’s powerful poems.

Also, my review of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press) by Ashley M. Jones is available to be read at Fjords Review. In this review, I focus on the ways Jones reckons with history on a personal level to pay homage to Birmingham, Alabama.

magic-city-gospel-cover

See you Friday!

José

* new review up at The Volta Blog!

ouremotions_bJust a quick post to announce my latest book review up at The Volta Blog!

This time around I spend time with Danielle Cadena Deulen’s second collection, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us (Barrow Street Press).

This review will be my last for The Volta Blog as they are closing shop. I learned a lot and had fun supporting some great books.

Reviewing for them made me brave enough to do my own microreviews & interviews for this blog (see: “Categories”).

Special thanks to Sally Whittier McCallum and Housten Donham for being great to work with.

See you Friday!

José

P.S. Also: check out the details of the new giveaway below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Everything We Think We Hear by Jose Angel Araguz

Everything We Think We Hear

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends December 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

* new review at The Volta Blog!

this-visit-295Just a quick note to share the publication of my review of This Visit by Susan Lewis. Check it out at The Volta Blog!

Here’s a link to “Dear Dear” (published at Ink Node) a poem from the second section of This Visit.

To find out more about Susan’s work, check out the poet’s site.

Happy Dear-ing!

José

 

* microreview & interview: jeff sirkin’s travelers aid society

After having done a couple of “microreview & interviews” for the Cincinnati Review blog, I have decided to incorporate the form into The Friday Influence. Essentially, I’ll highlight a couple of poems as well as responses from the poet to a question or two specifically about influences. My goal remains centered on sharing things I’ve read and want to share with the community of readers of this blog, as well as to promote specific poets and be a poetry ambassador in general.

I plan to do one microreview & interview about every two months, posting on Mondays typically, except for this first one which I wanted to highlight today.

Below is the first official TFI microreview & interview featuring Jeff Sirkin’s Traveler’s Aid Society.

suitcase

Another Repair – Jeff Sirkin

How long will I wait at the garage
knowing the seals are shot
and thinking about the plumber
again with his hand out
always on his way?

We’re entering a dark place
but can’t we just stand
with the company to whom
we’ve committed ourselves?

And someone turns up
the ever-present television
(a bad plot device I think),
Cable News like an epidemic
blaring the failure of the new
administration to eliminate Mexico
The mechanic wiping his hands
Maybe if you changed the filter
every once in a while, he shrugs,
you’d have a chance

But I’m not, I assure him,
one to play the odds
unless you count the Folger’s coffee
burning away in its pot all morning
a product of Proctor and Gamble
my hometown’s biggest employer
a source of pride and soap.
They’ve kept the city afloat
for a century.

You must realize, he continues,
it’s hopeless. Meaning “No future,”
I translate, eyes on the TV footage
of another immigration crisis.

I’ve heard it before
and seeing as I’m not going anywhere anytime soon
I’ll hear it again.

What do you think? I ask.

Well, he offers, the coffee’s always terrible.

No, man, try to keep up,
Will I make it home?

*

I chose this poem specifically from the book because it serves as a good example of the way Sirkin is able to blend intimate intellectual insights with moments from day to day life throughout Travelers Aid Society. The language and phrasing of the second stanza, for example, is the kind of poetically charged statement that points beyond its meaning within a narrative. The words “a dark place” and “company” have their place in terms of politically conscious tone of the poem, but implied also is human company as well as the corporate type (like Proctor and Gamble mentioned later). A collection whose “home” ranges from the poet’s experiences in El Paso, Buffalo, and Cincinnati, this kind of linguistic friction works to humanize where the poet is at, mentally as much as geographically.

Waiting in the garage for something to be fixed, this speaker’s meditation is quickly colored by the “bad plot device” of a TV in the background. This self-aware move on the part of the poet does two things: 1) shows an awareness of the kind of narrative his speaker has entered, but also 2) serves to reach after a way to control and subvert that narrative. I read the way each narrative element in the poem – the waiting, the TV, the small talk between mechanic and speaker – end up tumbling together by the end as making this kind of subverting necessary. Through juxtaposition of thought, detail, and dialogue, the poem itself seems to be trying to respond to the urgency behind the speaker’s words at the end when he says, “try to keep up.”

This feeling of trying to keep up via poetic means remains constant throughout the collection. What the poems try to keep up with for the most part is history, both in terms of personal memory and the history forgotten/neglected in documents and archives. The title poem, included below, is a good example of the way these two sides of history can be in dialogue in a poem. In the crucible of the poem, memory and archives help create a space outside themselves that allows for history to move beyond its own established narratives.

Travelers Aid Society – Jeff Sirkin

The hill falls, the daily paper shrinks.
In the kitchen Dad laments the collapse
of state funding for public institutions
and calls out headlines over morning
cereal. “Smog Alert in Effect.” “Streetcar
Called Waste of Taxpayer Money.”
We chew on our toasted oats
and pretend the coffee’s better
because of the new machine.

I remark on the efficiency of the
shower drain, the empty gates
at the shuttered airport terminal, my research
plan for the Historical Society library.

The coffee demands empathy.
The meteorologist predicts
more of the same. Dad claims
he speaks from self-interest.

“Youth Police Cadets in Training.”
“Drought Cited in Fireworks Ban.”
“Bankrupt Airline asks Fed to Assume Responsibility
for Pension Promises.”

Call it my empire of repurposed
paper. My network of convenience packaging.
My ruin in reverse.

At the research library I search for traces
of Jeff Davis, the self-proclaimed King of the Hoboes,
but find outdated property maps and lectures
lamenting the great surplus of excellent projects
seeking capital.

I search for The Jungle Scout. The Hobo News Review.
The Travelers Aid Society.

I find a scale model of the old baseball stadium
and snap a photo from high-above the left field fence,
but no one cares to comment.

I read about railroad speed, railroad case,
and railroad convenience. I find notes
from shareholders meetings
of a hundred defunct railroad companies.
Danville and Pottsville. Greenville and Miami.
Sunbury and Erie. Hillsborough and Cincinnati.

The first in the West is the Little Miami,
incorporated 1836, completed 1846. It runs
along its namesake river on the east side of town
north to Springfield, surviving
as a corporation until 1981, when it is
merged out of existence, the dormant rails ripped
from their beds, the right-of-way developed
into a bike trail.

The museum laughs. The archive
pleads for mercy. I make an offer
to the stationary loop
of the evening commute.

Billie Holiday sings,
“I’ve been around the world in a plane,
settled revolutions in Spain,
the north pole I have charted,
but can’t get started with you.”

Out on the interstate
three black me balance
against the highway embankment
hacking weeds and sowing seed aggregate
to arrest the sliding soil.

Over their heads the sagging fence beckons,
the family-friendly chain restaurant glowing
just out of reach.

*

Influence Question: There is an interest in the title poem and elsewhere with researching hobo culture. Can you speak a little about this interest as well as the overall political framework of this book?

toddler-town-bw-smallJeff Sirkin: “My interest in hobo culture emerged from several things. One of these was Kerouac’s On the Road, which I’ve taught a number of times over the past several years, and which, despite its flaws, I continue to find compelling. Among other things, the novel creates a spectrum of different character types found “on the road” (from commuters, to tourists, to college students on summer adventures, to itinerant workers). Of these, hoboes are regarded as the most pure, having achieved almost a state of grace in their rootless wandering. As if, having committed themselves to the road (and thus movement) instead of some tenuous dream of property and “home,” they’ve separated themselves from the consumer capital/ industrial/ modern world, and thus exist almost as holy ghosts, skirting the edges of our reality and perception, visible only to those open to seeing beyond the reality of workaday life. Free, in a sense of the ideological frames and boundaries refracted in and through our bodies as our daily lives and dreams.

“Secondly, in April 2011, just as I was really getting started on this book, a friend of mine from Cincinnati—a musician and wanderer and free spirit—was shot and killed by a police officer in Cincinnati under confused and suspicious circumstances. I discovered only after his murder that he had lived as a hobo at one time. The idea of the hobo had already come up in some of the poems, but this incident brought to the fore some of the issues and themes I was already starting to think about: frames and boundaries; property; what “inside” is and means; what it might mean to be “outside” and what the cost to transgress that border; the structures of power that create and hold us as subjects. And this is not to forget what the cost for those who by virtue of the color of their skin or nationality or background or sexual orientation or identity or expression aren’t given the option to ‘choose’ their own relationship to culture, whose status as “outlaw” is imposed upon them from the start.

“Finally, early on as I was researching both hobo history and Cincinnati, I discovered that Cincinnati was, in the early part of the 20th century, an important locus for hoboes and hobo history. Jeff Davis—self-styled “King of the Hoboes” and founder of a chain of cheap lodging houses in cities across the U.S. called “Hotel de Gink” (“established, ran by, and for hoboes”)—was born in Cincinnati in 1883. He hit the road at the age of 13, traveled the world as a hobo, and was a leader in hobo culture, working tirelessly for hobo rights (and labor rights), founding and leading the Hoboes of America organization for many years. He died in his hometown of Cincinnati in 1968, at the age of 84. It remains curious to me, having grown up in Cincinnati and having lived there as an adult for many years, and then returning to do research there, not only that I’d never heard about Cincinnati’s hobo history, but that I couldn’t find a trace of it. Maybe it was never recorded; maybe it’s been forgotten; maybe intentionally erased. For me, it became a ghost whispering about a city that may or may not exist in the shadows of the one I think I know.

“There is a mythology surrounding hoboes and hobo culture dating back to their heyday, the turn of the last century (at least), in which hoboes represent freedom, escape, and living a heretofore unrecognized alternative existence. I was interested in that mythology, as well as its real connections to the city I was writing about. In the book it becomes a kind of limit, I think, or maybe a faulty utopian dream, a big rock candy mountain that, despite its romantic appeal, might also function to mystify us to alternative ways of thinking freedom.”

*

Final thoughts: Reading this collection, I admired how the layers of memory and fact kept being acknowledged and explored throughout. One of the poetry’s responsibilities, according to these poems, would seem to be listening in on and recording what we can of the ghosts around us. Poetry, then, can be seen as one way to resist settling for the prescribed narratives expected of us and also a means to finding one’s own path to the rest of the story.

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Travelers Aid Society can be purchased from Veliz Books. Special thanks to Jeff Sirkin for participating in this microreview & interview! To find out more about his work, visit his site.

Happy aiding!

José

* new review at queen mob’s tea house

Just a quick post announcing my review of Dark as a Hazel Eye Coffee & Chocolate Poems which can be read at Queen Mob’s Tea House.

Reviewing this particular anthology allowed me to do a little memory lane, recalling some brief episodes in my life as a barista, and using them as a preface into talking about the book.

Special thanks to Ruben Quesada and Erik Kennedy of QMTH for their editorial guidance. A big thanks as well to Vasiliki Katsarou, Editor-at-Large of Ragged Sky Press, for making a copy of the anthology available to me.

See you Friday!

José!

* new book review

Just a quick post to announce my review of fellow CantoMundo poet Juan J. Morales’s powerful book, The Siren World!

Thanks to Sally & Housten at The Volta Blog for their continued support! Thanks also to Juan for writing such an engaging and heartfelt book!

To read a poem from The Siren World, check out this previous post on the Influence!

See you Friday!

José

* new review up at the volta blog

pink box

Just a quick note to share my latest review for The Volta Blog. This time around, I had the honor of reviewing fellow CantoMundo poet, Yesenia Montilla. It’s an inspiring book, one that adds to the conversation of the aesthetics and cultural understanding that come from engaging with one’s family history and traditions as well as one’s poetic traditions.

Also, two of Montilla’s poems – “Ode to a Dominican Breakfast” & “The Day I Realized We Were Black” – can be read at The Wide Shore.

See you Friday!

José