* grounding with natasha tretheway

Letter – Natasha Tretheway

At the post office, I dash a note to a friend,
tell her I’ve just moved in, gotten settled, that

I’m now rushing off on an errand—except
that I write errant, a slip between letters,

each with an upright backbone anchoring it
to the page. One has with it the fullness

of possibility, a shape almost like the O
my friend’s mouth will make when she sees

my letter in her box; the other, a mark that crosses
like the flat line of your death, the symbol

over the church house door, the ashes on your forehead
some Wednesday I barely remember.

What was I saying? I had to cross the word out,
start again, explain what I know best

because of the way you left me: how suddenly
a simple errand, a letter—everything—can go wrong.

**

native guard coverAt CantoMundo this year, I had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway speak about her work and the place of memory in her work. Her poems about her mother specifically have meant a lot to me over the years. The poem above, for example, shows how sometimes the things we write about find us, how “material” arises from the immaterial, day to day occurrences.

Poems about my father’s death and absence  in my life continue to come, and sometimes I worry about repeating myself. On the practical front, I work hard to keep the poems alive in different ways, whether through new forms or structural framework. But there is always the question: How big is grief? How long? That the poems keep coming means that I am far from knowing the answer to such questions.

One of the things that keeps me grounded is hearing about the experiences of others. Tretheway’s book, Native Guard, remains important for several reasons, the most prominent being the title poem’s engagement with history and evocation of human experience. But the poems about the poet’s mother mean something deeper for me, and it is something that I feel informs the emotional scope of the collection. There are times, as in this second poem below, where I feel I am reading a poet who understands what it means to make peace with what overwhelms you as much as you can in the moment.

At Dusk – Natasha Tretheway

At first I think she is calling a child,
my neighbor, leaning through her doorway
at dusk, street lamps just starting to hum
the backdrop of evening. Then I hear
the high-pitched wheedling we send out
to animals who know only sound, not
how they sometimes fall short.
In another yard, beyond my neighbor’s
sight, the cat lifts her ears, turns first
toward the voice, then back
to the constellation of fireflies flickering
near her head. It’s as if she can’t decide
whether to leap over the low hedge,
the neat row of flowers, and bound
onto the porch, into the steady circle
of light, or stay where she is: luminous
possibility–all that would keep her
away from home–flitting before her.
I listen as my neighbor’s voice trails off.
She’s given up calling for now, left me
to imagine her inside the house waiting,
perhaps in a chair in front of the TV,
or walking around, doing small tasks;
left me to wonder that I too might lift
my voice, sure of someone out there,
send it over the lines stitching here
to there, certain the sounds I make
are enough to call someone home.

*

Happy calling!

José

P.S. This weekend marks the last chance to enter my Goodreads Giveaway for one of ten signed copies of my prose poem chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance. Details below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

*resonating with josé antonio rodriguez

adelphinotes

 

Last week had me both at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, as well as in Austin, Texas for the CantoMundo conference. It’s a little more rocknroll that I’m used to, but I had a blast!

Here’s a pic of one of the nice surprises from last week: a collection of personal notes from the young writers I worked with at Adelphi. I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel at being given the opportunity to share my work and talk poetry with others. Thank you to all who attended my talk on lyrical prose and who have since reached out since then! Keep the words coming, for yourself and for others!

Each year, CantoMundo hosts a poetry workshop for Latina/o poets that provides a space for the creation, documentation, and critical analysis of Latina/o poetry. This year was the conference’s last time in Austin, and it was nothing short of spectacular! I was able to be in workshops led by Texas State Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla one day, and one led by the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera. Both poets presented themselves as forces of nature as well as generous guides. Highlights included the readings on Friday and Saturday at the Spider House Ballroom. I read on Saturday, specifically “Drinking at Home” and “Directions” from Everything We Think We Hear.

Sunflowers,_Merritt,_California,_27_June_2013One of my favorite things to do at CantoMundo is to geek out about my favorite poems by the poets who wrote them and who happen to attend the conference. The poem below by José Antonio Rodriguez originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Poetry magazine. I remember copying it out by hand at a bookstore and marveling at the raw imagery, from like a thousand ticks turning their backs to the “halos” at the end. What continues to move me even now in reading is how the imagery is packed with so much emotional resonance, pointing to things hidden as well as things almost there.

***

Sunflowers – José Antonio Rodriguez

No pitying/”Ah” for this one – Alan Shapiro

No, nor a fierce hurrah
for what it does without choice,
for following the light
for the same reason the light follows it.

Just a thing rough to the touch, a face
like a thousand ticks turning their backs,
suckling at something you can’t see,
and a body like a tag off the earth

so that my child hands couldn’t tear it out
from the overgrown lot next door.
………………………….My palms raw with the shock
of quills and spines. Its hold like spite, and ugly

except when seen from a distance—
a whole field of them by the highway,
an 80-mile-per-hour view
…………………………..like a camera’s flash.
All of them like halos
without saints to weigh them down.

*

Happy halo-ing!

José

p.s. One week left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Reasons (not) to Dance! Details below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

* revisiting everything

This week, I had the opportunity to talk poetry at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat which is held at Adelphi University. We wrote about the moon a la William Stafford’s qoute, and used that exercise’s focus on performance and attention to talk about various approaches to lyrical prose.

It was a great group who asked me questions ranging from what kind of sandwich I would be and why (the answer: French dip, because it’s a plain sandwich, just bread and meat, but it’s transformed in the eating, the dip into the au jus sauce before taking a bite making it a little funky, as I try to do to mine own plain words and self), to what role does place have in my process. The answer to this latter question is complicated. I mean, when by the mountains in New Mexico, my poems tried to stretch like a range across the horizon; when in NYC, my poems tried to match the heights of skyscrapers. But when it comes to my books, there’s a little bit of everywhere and everything in each. We carry our places with us as much as our stories.

I thought of this as Rob Linne, who was kind enough to invite me to talk at the retreat, introduced me by saying that I was from Corpus Christi, calling the city one of his many hometowns. Something about that phrasing and sentiment continues to feel right to me days later.

Much of the talk revolved around me reading poems from my book Everything We Think We Hear, and then tying in the little lessons each poem gave me as I worked towards a final draft, lessons about lyrical prose as much as life.

One poem from the book I had planned to but didn’t get a chance to read is “Old Love.” This poem’s first draft came from a dream where I heard the final lines in my head and lived out the final image of talking into a baby carriage. I literally stumbled out of bed and those lines down, but it took a few years to really to where the poem wanted to go. While a lesson in waiting, this poem also became a lesson in honesty,  which requires its own waiting sometimes.

Old Love

 

When I dream of an old love, I let it ride, having already broken off what connected us, and not wanting to go through it all again. I drink my coffee the way they would remember me taking it, for some light and sweet, for others black and with a comment on how I can’t believe how long it took me to take it this way, undiluted, untampered, bitter. With a heat on my tongue, I listen to old love, let my mind wander more than I did when I was with them, knowing I have had this conversation, feeling the answers give over as accommodating as leaves to sunlight. With a green on my tongue, I inevitably mix up the conversations: ask after the father of one whose father was never around; whisper an inside joke I realize too late I never shared. When old love looks at me lost, I ask, Where did you get those, and point sometimes to a set of bow and arrow earrings, sometimes a pair of toucans tattooed on the inside of an arm. Stories of boutiques I paced politely. Stories of a childhood fascination with colorful birds. Don’t you remember? When we run out of small talk, I find myself pushing a baby carriage in which old love has fallen in. Helpless, I look down, only to hear myself doing baby talk, shaking my head, waving my hands, emphatically repeating words, and, in general, speaking in such a way I know I cannot ever make myself understood.

*

This weekend is CantoMundo. I’ll be participating in one of two CantoMundo readings in Austin, TX, details below. If you happen to be in town, stop on by – it promises to be a great time! I’ll be part of the group reading on Saturday.

Screenshot_2016-07-21-17-45-54-1

Happy everthinging!

José

* new poem up at Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review!

Just a quick post to share my poem “About Languages” originally published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review Issue 42.

Borderlands has also made available poems by Joshua Gage, Eric Fisher Stone, Celeste Guzmán Mendoza and Rosebud Ben-Oni.

Check them all out here.

Borderlands Issue 44 (pictured here) features my poem “Fisherman” and is available for purchase here.

Special thanks to Ryan Sharp and everyone at Borderlands for their continued support and community!

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

* ¡presente! with anne sexton

The Truth the Dead Know – Anne Sexton

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

***

Dia de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday focused on praying for and celebrating the dead – occurred this past Sunday and Monday, and I found myself moved for the first time to build an altar in honor of my father. Here’s what it looked like:

* dia de los muertos altar *
* dia de los muertos altar *

Included on the altar are a copy of my first chapbook, The Wall, and a pencil sketch of my father done by Andrea Schreiber. Also, I have my stones in a J formation to symbolize my being his namesake. I am unclear even now, days after, how to articulate what this meant for me. All I know is that the conversation that began with my poem “Gloves”, included i the chapbook, continues to this day, on the page and, now, in ritual and observance.

In the Sexton poem above, what moves me is how the speaker states she is “tired of being brave” as she moves from human action to human action, all the while emphasizing what it means to her to feel human. That being human means feeling “touch entirely.” This concept is contrasted with the stone-like state of the dead. The poems is called “The Truth the Dead Know,” and the speaker’s words come from an awareness, fascination, and even fear of not being able to share in that truth. And the dead, as represented in that stone-like description, are seemingly everywhere, even in the wind.

This meditation on Sexton’s poem and my own experience this week makes me think of something Norma Elia Cantu introduced me to at CantoMundo as she spoke before a reading. As she asked us to think of and express gratitude for those Latin@ writers and artists that came before us, she began to name them. Each name spoken was then followed by the exclamation of ¡Presente! As Norma went on calling names, others joined her, shouting out ¡Presente! I marveled at the act: this simple word, which is what one answers with during roll call, suddenly felt charged each time it was repeated. The very air became heated by the summoned presences everyone in the room was the conduit of.

Names, and words in general, have a power in recitation and reading. A poem can be where other voices and other truths cross over each other and mingle. As Norma and Sexton show us, whether it’s on a stage or on the page, words can be a place where we can “touch entirely.”

***

As I mentioned last week, the countdown to the December 1st release of my full-length collection, Everything We Think We Hear, has begun! Along with prose poems and flash fictions, the collection includes two haibuns, the Japanese poetic form that combines poetry and prose. As a kind of preview, here are links for “Birthdays” and “Walks” as published in Contemporary Haibun Online.

Happy presente-ing!

José

* review of natalie scenters-zapico’s the verging cities

 

* the verging cities *
* the verging cities *

This week’s poem, “After I Read Your Obituary,” is by fellow CantoMundista Natalie Scenters-Zapico. The poem comes from her collection The Verging Cities which I was fortunate enough to get to review for The Volta Blog. In my review, I focus on the phrase “Let me learn you how” (found early in the collection) as a key to open up the powerful reading experience Scenters-Zapico has worked out for us.

This week’s poem provides an example of what I mean in the way the speaker’s experience with reading an obituary comes to life for her and the reader through an expanding conceit and attention to detail. As the poem develops, so does the speaker’s engagement with the reality of the dead and the worlds that engagement creates.

Read my review of Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities here.

After I Read Your Obituary – Natalie Scenters-Zapico

you crawl into bed with my husband
and me. Your body is smaller
than I remember; I hush your voice

when you complain: the aloe-vera
in the pot is made of plastic.
Your breathing grows, a weed

in monsoon—you whisper: mother,
father, and sister fell open as birds
in their chairs when they were shot

at dinner. You show me how
you dove under the table, felt specks
of their blood on your lips before

seeing the scuffs on your father’s leather
shoes. You tell me, you buried
your family in the walls of an abandoned

restaurant, so you could travel to my home
to measure the depth of my new weather-proof
windows. With the tip of the plastic

succulent I rub your swollen ears.
I tell you: in this new country I am worse
than the city of thousands dead,

I am a wound red with iodine. My husband
wakes and I beg him for water
I’ve never known to taste so clean.

***

See you next Friday!

José

* influences, cantomundo, & the kenyon review

Just a quick post to share my contribution to Rosebud Ben-Oni’s recent guest post at the Kenyon Review blog.

Rosebud reached out to her fellow CantoMundistas – Javier Zamora, Carolina Ebeid, Yesenia Montilla, Ruben Quesada, Amy Sayre Baptista, & myself – and asked us each to write a few words on the books by Latina/os written in the 21st Century which have influenced us. Anyone familiar with this blog knows I’m a book geek, happy to dig into what I’m reading, so I relished this opportunity.

Below is my contribution to the Rosebud’s guest post. Make sure to check out the rest of the insightful contributions here.

*

“Books Written in the Twenty-first Century by Latina/o Poets That Have Made Me Braver”
by José Angel Araguz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Elegies In Blue: Written early at the turn of the century, this book stands as a living elegy for both the century that’s passed and the century that continues to grow in the echo of Sáenz’s words: “Perhaps, this year, a harvest for the poor./At last. This year. A harvest for the poor.”

Rosa Alcalá, Undocumentaries: In “Speaking of the Tree,” Alcalá brings together tree mythology, her father, hurricanes, German walds, the Texas/Mexico border, Vermont, etc. – all in a poem whose meaning keeps growing like a tree in both directions, skyward and earthward. Its song and lament holds praise for the lives touched by trees, and a lament for what passes across them. In this collection, this kind of lyrical nerve and ingenuity establishes a poetics of what goes unsaid and “undocumented.”

Rigoberto González, Red-Inked Retablos: I can’t stress enough how powerful the impact of reading the speech “To the Writer, to the Activist, to the Citizen.” From the call for Latina/os to fight with intelligence and be empowered in our public presence as well as to conduct more literary criticism, stressing that we must “generate praise for those who are [our] colleagues not [our] competition,” he makes being a Chicano writer seem like the inevitable beat of my heart.

Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth: Lastly, I keep this following excerpt from “Parts of an Autobiography” written on the first page of my writing journal as a kind of reminder of what is at stake in navigating the worlds of identity and poetry:

53. The writing is not the catharsis. The decision to excavate is the catharsis. The transformation from dreadfulness to art is the catharsis, but the art is the art.

*

Special thanks to Rosebud Ben-Oni and the good people at The Kenyon Review for this opportunity.

See you Friday!

Jose

* new anthology: Goodbye, Mexico

We Are Of A Tribe – Alberto Rios

We plant seeds in the ground
and dreams in the sky,

Hoping that, someday, the roots of one
Will meet the upstretched limbs of the other.

It has not happened yet. Still,
Together, we nod unafraid of strangers.

Inside us, we know something about each other:
We are all members of the secret tribe of eyes

Looking upward,
Even as we stand on uncertain ground.

Up there, the dream is indifferent to time,
Impervious to borders, to fences, to reservations.

This sky is our greater home.
It is the place and the feeling we have in common.

This place requires no passport.
The sky will not be fenced.

Traveler, look up. Stay awhile.
Know that you always have a home here.

***

* new anthology! *
* new anthology! *

Happy to announce the recent release of Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Rememberance, a new anthology edited by the illustrous Sarah Cortez. The anthology includes CantoMundo fam’ Celeste Guzman Mendoza as well as Martin Espada, Jim Daniels, Larry D. Thomas, and Alberto Rios, author of this week’ poem.

I also have a poem in it 🙂

Along with poems, the anthology includes statements from each of the contributors on their relationship with Mexico. Here is mine:

My relationship to Mexico is one of leaving and looking back: my mother left my father in Matamoros and crossed the river into Texas to raise me, but would wonder aloud about him to me. My father, his mother, my mother’s father – each has died in my lifetime in Matamoros, and left in that way. My childhood was visits to Mexico, until the drug trafficking made travel dangerous, and so I look back in my writings at what is left in those visits.

To learn more about the anthology, check out Sarah’s site here.

Happy remembrancing!

Jose