raining with Martorell & Pizarnik

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to do a small reading at Linfield College’s Miller Fine Arts Center. The Linfield Gallery is in its last week of hosting Antonio Martorell’s solo exhibit “Rain/Lluvia.” In talking about the origins of the exhibit, Martorell told Linfield Gallery: “When the opportunity came my way to bring an exhibition to Oregon, a place that I had never visited before, I candidly asked: ‘¿Qué pasa en Oregon?’ (What happens in Oregon?) I received an equally candid answer: ‘It rains every day.’”

Antonio-Martorell-Linfield-06_webIn this spirit, I selected poems from my own work that dealt with rain in one way or another, in Oregon and rains elsewhere as well. Along with “Thinking About the Poet Larry Levis One Afternoon in Late May” by Charles Wright, I read two poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, both in the original Spanish and in English translations I did specifically for this reading. I share both poems and translations below as well as a clip of my reading of “L’obscurité des eaux.” Pizarnik’s work felt appropriate for the space as it interrogates the ways meaning is made, engaging with the ephemeral nature of words.

Rain works with a similar ephemerality. There is only something we can call rain when water is in motion between sky and earth; similarly, poetry lives in the space between set words and the motion of reading.

Special thanks to Brian Winkenweder for the invitation to read and to all those who attended!


Despedida – Alejandra Pizarnik

Mata su luz un fuego abandonado.
Sube su canto un pájaro enamorado.
Tantas criaturas ávidas en mi silencio
y esta pequeña lluvia que me acompaña.


— translated by José Angel Araguz

An abandoned fire kills its light.
A bird in love raises its song.
So many avid creatures in my silence
and this little rain that accompanies me.



L’obscurité des eaux – Alejandra Pizarnik

Escucho resonar el agua que cae en mi sueño.
Las palabras caen como el agua yo caigo. Dibujo
en mis ojos la forma de mis ojos, nado en mis
aguas, me digo mis silencios. Toda la noche
espero que mi lenguaje logre configurarme. Y
pienso en el viento que viene a mí, permanece
en mí. Toda la noche he caminado bajo la lluvia
desconocida. A mí me han dado un silencio
pleno de formas y visiones (dices). Y corres desolada
como el único pájaro en el viento.


The darkness of the waters
— translated by José Angel Araguz

I hear the water that falls in my dream resound.
The words fall like water I fall. I draw
in my eyes the shape of my eyes, I swim in my
waters, I tell myself my silences. All night
I hope my language manages to configure me. And
I think about the wind that comes to me, remains
in me. All night I walked in the unknown rain.
I have been given a silence
full of forms and visions (you say). And you run desolate
as the only bird in the wind.


photo credit: Linfield Gallery

* new post for the CR blog!

William Carlos Williams Selected Poems ND
The true Carlito’s Way!

Just a quick post to share my latest installment of “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” over at the Cincinnati Review blog.

In this post I do a short survey of three Virgo poets: Charles Wright, Kay Ryan, and William Carlos Williams. Could be that working on this CR post last week is what had me with Williams on my mind for last week’s Influence.



* souling with charles wright

August always has me revisiting Charles Wright’s work as well as the work of other August babies like me.

This week’s poem is from his book Sestets in which he does marvels six lines at a time. Here, he takes us from a sunset sky to an implication of the soul as a canary and the body as “underground.” All the while, the lyric is suspended in an intimate, almost conspiratorial tone.

* soulful *
* soulful *

Yellow Wings – Charles Wright

When the sun goes down – and you happen to notice it –

And the sky is clear, there’s always a whitish light

edging the earth’s offerings.

This is the lost, impermanent light

The soul is pulled towards, and longs for, deep in its cave,

Little canary.

This is the light its wings dissolve in

if it ever gets out from underground.


Happy getting!


p.s. In coming up with the title of this week’s post, I came across an actual practice referred to as “souling,” a medieval belief “that for every piece of bread given to the poor a soul could be redeemed from the fire of Hell.” Read more from the site that schooled me here.

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!


* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins


Happy quoting!


p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* an apologetic annotated anatomy of a reading

This past Tuesday night I had the pleasure of taking part in Pretty Owl Poetry’s Online Reading Series.

The reading/interview was conducted through Google+ and was a blast despite a few technical difficulties. Because of the nature of the interview – specifically the part in which I am given permission to ramble and bumble in my own awkward way – I thought I’d share the link along with some of the highlights of the reading, so folks could navigate through my loquaciousness (as can be noted in the interview, the BIG words only come out in writing).

Follow along with the reading here.


 from 3:49 – 10:45 = 3 poems!

Here is the “reading” portion of the reading. The pieces read are “Stream” (published by Pretty Owl Poetry here) as well as “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” (published in the Acentos Review here) and “Naos and the Spirit Picture” (published in a digital chapbook here).

from 11:08 – 14:24 = craft talk!

Here I respond to a question from editor Rose Huber about the piece “Stream” which has gone through several mutations since first being drafted in 2006.


A little into the following question, I cut out both sound-wise and image-wise. Then I’m promptly replaced by this guy:

* oops *
* oops *

Despite his stern look and sudden goatee, I thank this gentleman for intervening for, because of him, folks are spared from having to deal with my teeth on camera which are HUGE.


from 19:19 – 26:33 = blog! reading! astrology!

This stretch includes Kelly Andrews asking me both about the thinking behind this blog as well as reading.

Then, after mentioning the astrological underpinnings of the blog, Gordon Buchan jumps in and I totally geek out about astrology and writers.

Writers astrologically discussed:

– Kafka, Neruda (Cancer)
– Jack Gilbert (Aquarius)
– Rilke (Sagittarius)
– Charles Simic (Taurus)
– Yeats, Garrett Hongo (Gemini)
– Borges, Charles Wright, myself (Virgo)


from 28:09 – 30:47 = mas craft talk!

Lastly, here Gordon jumps right back in and asks another question about craft which leads me to discuss ideas of lyricism and personal/generative distinctions between prose and poetry.


Special thanks again to Rose, Kelly, & Gordon for inviting me to participate!

Between this reading and the release of “Naos: an introduction,” it’s been an unexpectedly big week.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible!


Happy possibling!


* a stone’s throw memory with charles wright

This week I’d like to celebrate Charles Wright being named the new U.S. Poet Laureate.

I’ve always suspected him to be an introvert, but his reaction to the news sinches it:

At times self-effacing, Wright shies away from the public eye and was reluctant to take the post. “My wife kept nudging me to do it and also others have said, ‘You know, you should do it.’ And I hadn’t done it before when it was offered to me and I always felt sort of bad about that — that I snuck into the shadows where I am more comfortable,” Wright said to Jeffrey Brown in a phone conversation on Wednesday. “I’m going to try to pull up my socks here and see what happens.” *

The poem below is from Wright’s book, Sestets, and speaks to the feeling of the reserved, quiet kid speaking up in class that the above quote rings with.

* a Roman road, yo *
* a Roman road, yo *

It’s Sweet to be Remembered – Charles Wright

No one’s remembered much longer than a rock

is remembered beside the road

If he’s lucky or

Some tune or harsh word

uttered in childhood or back in the day.


Still how nice to imagine some kid someday

picking that rock up and holding it in his hand

Briefly before he chucks it

Deep in the woods in a sunny spot in the tall grass.


Happy chucking!


* Read the rest of the article on the big news here.

* snow! with Charles Wright

Snow is starting to become a regular thing in our neighborhood.

Ani and I remarked on (read: laughed at) our mutual inexperience earlier this week when we began to see little bits of the stuff flying about one afternoon.

What is that?  Is that fluff?  Gotta be, like cotton, or foam, something, right?

I won’t say who said what: we’re both guilty.  And the conversation – with large gaps of silence in between statements of disbelief – went on longer than it should have.

My defense: We live on the second floor so there was a buoyancy to those first flakes that seemed suspect.  Between New Mexico and blizzards in NYC, I’ve spent a good ten years moving through snow, putting on boots, bundling up, and the rest.  But that’s a matter of snow as presence.

Snow as verb, however… well, it got me this week.

The poem below by Charles Wright is fortifying given the months ahead of us.  Wright is a mystic – and in this short poem (from his collection Sestets) he conjures up what the snow itself conjures inside a person.

* they seem fine with the stuff *
* they seem fine with the stuff *

On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright

It’s dark now, the horses have had their half apple,

mist and rain,

Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.

I stand in front of the propane stove, warming my legs.

If the door were open, I’d listen to creekwater

And think I heard voices from long ago,

distinct, and calling me home.

The past becomes such a mirror – we’re in it,

and then we’re not.


Happy notting!


* Charles Wright & the friday influence

The Last Word – Charles Wright

I love to watch the swallows at sundown,
                                 swarming after invisible things to eat.
Were we so lucky,
A full gullet, and never having to look at what it is,
Sunshine all over our backs.

There are no words between my fingers
Populating the lost world.
Something, it now seems, has snapped them up
Into its speechlessness,
                                                  into its thick aphasia.

It’s got to be the Unredeemable Bird, come out
From the weight of the unbearable.
It flaps like a torn raincoat,
                                                first this side, then that side.
Words are its knot of breath,
                                                   language is what it lives on.


This week on the Influence: Charles Wright.

To get a little astrological for a moment, every poet I enjoy that falls under the Virgo sign shares a common experience in the reading of their work, namely that you must read a lot of it, really dunk in your head, before it truly becomes accessible.

This isn’t a matter of difficulty or obscurity in the poems.

Take William Carlos Williams, whose “This is just to say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow” are famously accessible and amazing.

I had enjoyed his poems for years but it wasn’t until I sat down with a copy of his selected poems and read it aloud cover to cover that I felt that I truly felt what he was doing in his poems.  About ten pages in I started to see the working of a mind, a sensibility and conviction about the world that played out in poems full of images and clear phrasing.

The true Carlito’s Way!

I have had a similar experience with the work of Charles Wright.

Every book I read of his takes me down into another level of where his poetic self lives.  It is a world of metaphysics, Li Po and other classical Chinese poets, the South, and, amongst various other things, a genuine understanding of the tenuous and precious hold we have on reality.

Also, he claims that he is the only Southerner he knows incapable of telling a story.  A true Virgo admission.

He recently did a book entitled “Sestets” where he funnels his poetic sensibilities down into six line poems that bang and spark.

In my notebook where I wrote down the above poem last December, I wrote: the shorter, more focused his work gets, the more I tune my ears to it.  Here something sensual leads to something that opens and expands in the mind.  I still feel that way.  Poetry like the sounding of a church bell, telling you the time, the sound expanding into time.


Happy sounding!


* John Ashbery, the pit & the friday influence

Uptick – John Ashbery

We were sitting there, and

I made a joke about how

it doesn’t dovetail: time,

one minute running out

faster than the one in front

it catches up to.

That way, I said,

there can be no waste.

Waste is virtually eliminated.


To come back for a few hours to

the present subject, a painting,

looking like it was seen,

half turning around, slightly apprehensive,

but it has to pay attention

to what’s up ahead: a vision.

Therefore poetry dissolves in

brilliant moisture and reads us

to us.

A faint notion.  Too many words,

but precious.


This week on The Friday Influence: John Ashbery.

I continue to be stunned by what is in this poem, about time, about painting, vision, poetry.  How it all swirls on the many meanings of the word “precious” – valuable, sentimental, etc.  The conversational tone at the beginning gets the poem underway swiftly.  This intimacy tags you into the poem.  Ashbery handles heavy things lightly and gets you thinking before you catch yourself thinking.  A good poem by him can move the furniture around in the rooms of your mind.

Ashbery is one of those poets I come back to often, dip my head in to see what I can understand, and walk away when it gets to be beyond me.  He gets a bad rep for being difficult but I don’t think it is deserved.  There’s difficult for difficult’s sake.  Then there’s what you can’t help but write.  Ashbery’s best poems – and here  I mean the ones that have meant something to me as a poet/human being – show him to be always figuring something out, always trying to surprise himself (and the reader) with the poem.

Here’s a Charles Wright quote that I keep with me that taps into this idea:

The problem with all of us as we get older is that we begin writing as though we were somebody.  One should always write as if one were nobody…We should always write out of our ignorance and desire and ambition, never out of some sense of false well-being, some tinge of success.  There is no success in poetry, there is only the next inch, the next hand-hold out of the pit… *

I keep this quote with me because of the connection I feel with what it says, that feeling of writing poetry as a ongoing thing, a horizon you walk towards that grows a little farther the closer you get.  And so you keep walking, never fully arriving, never fully satisfied, but happy to be walking, wanting to see more.  There is always another poem to write.

Happy walking!


* Paris Review interview, The Art of Poetry No. 41