* William Meredith on the friday influence

This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.

This one is a favorite.  I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.

The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive.  It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.

The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.

I won’t say too much  more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.

Enjoy.

letter-proud *
letter-proud *

The Illiterate – William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man

Who turns a letter over in his hand

And you might think this was because the hand

was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man

Has never had a letter from anyone;

And now he is both afraid of what it means

And ashamed because he has no other means

To find out what it says than to ask someone.

 

His uncle could have left the farm to him,

Or his parents died before he sent them word,

Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.

Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.

What would you call his feeling for the words

That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

***

Happy keeping!

jose

* image found here.

* Rilke, winter & the friday influence

I am almost done with The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.  Fascinating stuff.  Rilke wrote something like 400 poems in French towards the end of his life.  Basically a whole Collected Works in another language.  He approached his poems in French in the spirit of starting over in a way that he couldn’t in his native German.

What does it mean to start over?  Focusing on details.

Case in point, here’s one poem from his series The Roses:

II. *

I see you, rose, half-open book

filled with so many pages

of that detailed happiness

we will never read.  Magus-book,

opened by the wind and read

with our eyes closed…,

butterflies fly out of you, stunned

for having had the same ideas.

***

Those last four lines contain within them so much sensation – so much surprise – you read them and go back into yourself, recognizing an experience there in the words.

Rilke’s French poems are where he goes for it and basically becomes a modern version of Rumi – he sings within his praise for the world.

winter, yo
winter, yo

Continuing with last week’s theme of winter, here is Rilke’s take on it.

In the same spirit of starting over, Rilke also left some of his French poems imperfect.  The poem below is such an example.

The last line almost takes me out of the poem.  It is an unfinished thought.  But, read after so many lines of yearning and remembering, the line leaves us lost in as much thought as the speaker.

***

Winter – Rainer Maria Rilke *

I love those former winters that still weren’t meant for sports.

We feared them a little, they were so hard and sharp;

we confronted them with a bit of courage,

to return into our house, white, sparkling wise-men.

And the fire, that great fire consoling us against them,

was a strong and living fire, a real fire.

We wrote badly, our fingers were all stiff,

but what joy to dream and entertain whatever

helps escaping memories delay a while…

They came so close, we saw them better

than in summer…, we proposed colors to them.

Inside, all was painting,

while outside all became engraving.

And the trees, who worked at home, in lamplight…

***

Happy working!

jose

* as translated by A. Poulin in The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –

* update & holiday greetings

This week on the Influence: an update!

I have been busy the past two months applying to PhD programs.  The past two weeks especially were a crunch.  Preparing writing samples, writing soul-baring personal statements that also sound professional and career-oriented, the GREs – all of that plus the daily back and forth in my head about whether this is the right thing to do with my life and so on…

For these reasons, I’ve taken a more personal approach to the Friday posts during this time.

Expect a more familiar post next week.

For this week, here is my poem “These Streets” originally published in Tiger’s Eye Journal, the good folks who publish my chapbook, “The Wall”.

This poem is the first solid poem I wrote when I landed here in Oregon back in 2007.  You can see the young Jose face to face with the Pacific Northwest for the first time.

It’s also a ghazal, a form which you can find more about here.

Check it out:

***

These Streets – Jose Angel Araguz *

I know I am not the first to walk these streets;
Why, then, do I feel alone when I walk these streets?

Leaves shuffle and whisper overhead, trash cackles in the gutter;
What cold things would they say if they could talk, these streets?

The river roils against black, stripped banks;
What do they take, shift, shame and rock, these streets?

There are colors and lines that show the way for cars;
Why, then, my unmarked path? I, guideless, stalk these streets.

José — why shed questions like tears about these streets?
Sorrow, like oil, leaves its stain; blackness and iridescence mark these streets.

***

This past Wednesday I wrapped up the last of the applications – and suddenly it’s Christmas.  I’ve been to two holiday parties so far this month, which should have been a clue as to the time of season.  In the holiday spirit, here’s a sweet photo:

double shot of yin & yang
double shot of yin & yang

That’s me and my girl at a coffee shop.

As you can see, I’ve very much warmed up to the Pacific Northwest.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

– jose

* originally published in Tiger’s Eye Journal.

* missing Corpus Christi

mi sea wall es su sea wall...
mi sea wall es su sea wall…

The above image is from the Sea Wall in my hometown of Corpus Christi Texas.  It stretches up and down Ocean Drive, down past the Whataburger by the Bay, down into the palm-trees lining downtown.

Go a little further and you’ll end up at the old site of the factory I used to work at.  We made equipment for oil rigs.  We worked in open-air garages, so close to the water we could look out in the mornings during summer – hurricane season – and watch as little whirlwinds funneled up and over the water, appearing and disappearing against a peach sky.

This week’s poem is one of my own from that time.  An earlier version of the poem was published in Blue Collar Review.  What I feel I finally got right in the present version has everything to do with the word “hands” – how it opens and ends the poem, holds it in place, a young man’s angst funneling up and down in between.

It’s the holidays and I can’t help but get sentimental.  I look at photos like these and hear the water.  Straight up.

Here’s another view, followed by my poem:

cuanto quieres por el downtown?
cuanto quieres por el downtown?

Escape Ropes – Jose Angel Araguz *

Hands raw from setting knots
The few inches apart it takes
For a leg to imagine a ladder,
Ropes designed for escape from a fire
On an oil rig squatted on the gulf,
My mind would work out
Images of men with only the open water
To swim, to march across if they could,
To bob and pray for miracles.

Those knotted afternoons,
The sun made an oven of the warehouse.
The foreman stood me in the back
While other men sat on stools
And looked over, faces worn,
Fingernails yellowed from smoking.
There, I held my tongue,
Grunted against each wince,
And felt fire in my hands.

***

Happy escaping!

jose

* published originally in Blue Collar Review.

* some words from Basho & the friday influence

This week The Friday Influence introduces the “some words from” feature – on the last Friday of each month expect a quote or two from poets that have and are presently influencing my work or simply blowing my mind.

Our first feature: haiku poet Matsuo Basho!

Sabes sabi?

Here he is talking about the idea of sabi:

“Sabi is in the colour of a poem. It does not necessarily refer to the poem that describes a lonely scene.  If a man goes to war wearing a stout armour or to a party dressed up in gay clothes, and if this man happens to be an old man, there is something lonely about him.  Sabi is something like that.  It is in the poem regardless of the scene it describes – whether it is lonely or gay.  In the following poem, for example, I find a great deal of sabi.” *

                        Under the cherry

                        Flower guards have assembled

                        To chatter –

                        Their hoary heads together. 

In citing this poem (by one of his disciples), Basho illustrates sabi as something to be experienced, a thing to be completed through the engagement of the reader.

This attention to not only what goes in a poem but what it does in each of us is part of the reason is why I return to Basho’s work often.  He gets this poetry thing in a way that expands it, gets it in a way that shows the way for others.

He is one of the great travelers, both on the road and the word.

Here’s an excerpt from Basho’s travel journal, The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel:

“In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind.  This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when i was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others.  Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another.  At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry.  The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly.”

***

Happy hanging!

jose

* all quotes in this post come from Nobuyuki Yuasa’s translation of Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and other travel sketches.

** photos snagged from here and here, respectively.

* special feature: Kenneth P. Gurney

This week The Friday Influence is proud to feature the work of Kenneth P. Gurney!

Ken and I struck up a friendship during my brief time in Albuquerque.  He runs the Adobe Walls Open Mic out of Page 1 Books, the used bookstore where I worked.  Once a month – while helping clean up and close – I would get to overhear the great community of poets he fosters there.

His poetry is marked by his background in art – surrealistic images abound – yet, there is always some of his sense of awe and humor throughout his work, something altogether his own.

Find out more about Ken and his poetry here.

Since moving, we have sent poems on postcards to each other.  I am happy to share some of the poems that have made getting the mail – where bills and rejection letters abound – a bit of a treat.

Missive

Missive – Kenneth P. Gurney

I wrote a letter to the earth

on the bottom of my bare feet

then walked five miles

on grassy lanes that ran

adjacent to greening fields

and two wood lots.

While resting

under the broad shade

of a century oak

I checked my soles and determined

the blue ink to be all gone

& I considered my letter delivered.

Catastrophe

Catastrophe – Kenneth P. Gurney

Spring fails to create the perfect green

as the cat laps chartreuse spilled

from the dropped shot glass

where a trail of mucky pawprints

scub across the sparkling kitchen tile

like so many clouds

unable to congregate

and expel a healthy Albuquerque rain.

***

Happy congregating!

* jose

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

***

This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J

* strange week 2: tree yoga & cinquains

So: another strange week has come upon us.

(No – nothing to do with the election.  Well, not really.)

There has been some construction going on in our house these past two weeks, much of it occurring on my days off – which are the days that I sit down to formulate the good thoughts for my usual Friday posts.  However, I believe this week will be the last of it.  Next week, be ready for something more familiar from the Friday Influence.  This week, I have three things to share.

First: this tree.

tree yoga?

This is a tree just around the corner from the bookstore where I work.  The city boy in me marvels at the way a tree will shape itself to its surroundings.  Gives me hope – a sort of symbol for adjusting to the world while still being yourself.

***

Secondly: I am happy to report that my chapbook, The Wall, has gone into a second printing.  Thanks to all who put in orders for your support and consideration.  Thank you as well to the good folk at Tiger’s Eye Press.

***

…and lastly: some cinquains!

*

Fabric

Like the
Stitching of a
Shirt-seam when you stretch it
To see the crossing thread – so are
The clouds.

 

 

Heart

Not the
Throbbing thing in
Each of us, but something
As alive lingers in this bee’s
Dying.

 

 

Hope

A stone
Thrown and hitting
The bottom of the sea,
Where colors grow from dark – so one
Believes.

***

Happy believing!

J

* strange week & a poem

It’s been a strange week here in my world.  I promise to be back with a more regular post next week.  For now, please enjoy this poem of mine published originally in Hanging Loose, a great magazine out of Brooklyn.  More info on them can be found here.  The poem comes from my time working at Oren’s Daily Roast at Grand Central Station.
Grand Central, yo.
Directions – Jose Angel Araguz

The man asking for directions sighs when I answer him in Spanish, shakes my hand, almost hugs me. He tells me I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican but we are not all hermanos, primos, and maybe that is why I excuse him like a brother or a cousin when he points to my books and asks what I am studying and hears “la policia.” Before I can correct him, he releases another sigh and says alright, says he knew he could trust me when he saw me, says that is the best thing for a man, to be strong, to stand for something, that in this country it is like money to be a police officer, the girls love it, family approves, and your boys know they can trust you, and as he goes on about parking tickets and handcuffs, I think about all the nice things being said and whether he would say them about “la poesia” and how the thing I do study is made up of everything we think we hear.

(published originally in Hanging Loose No. 98)

Happy hearing!

J

* picture found here.