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)

IMG_20200110_112238
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!

IMG_20200110_112300
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.

*

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

* a colorful lyrical alignment

This week’s post features a lyrical alignment of an excerpt from Victoria Finlay’s book Color: A Natural History of the Palette. This is the kind of nonfiction book that tries to break down information through story and personal recollections. Finlay writes of her travels to the places where particular colors are made and goes into the details of their physical and historical make-up.

I read this book back in 2012 and still find myself citing several of its jewels of knowledge with people. One particular moment in the book lends itself to being read on its own like a poem. In the excerpt (lyrically aligned below), Finlay recounts one scientist’s metaphorical explanation of the color of the sky. Enjoy!

The Color of the Sky

a lyrical alignment 

“…to explain the color of the sky, [John Tyndall, nineteenth century British scientist] would use an image of the sea.” (from Color – Victoria Finlay)

Think of the ocean, he would say,
and think of the waves
crashing against the land.

If they came across
a huge cliff
then all the waves would stop;

if they met a rock
then only the smaller waves
would be affected;

while a pebble
would change the course
of only the tiniest waves

washing against the beach.
This is what happens
with light from the sun.

Going through the atmosphere
the biggest wave lengths –
the red ones –

are usually unaffected,
and it is only the smallest ones –
the blue and violet ones –

which are scattered by the tiny
pebble-like molecules
in the sky,

giving the human eye
the sensation of blue.
Tyndall thought

it was particles of dust
which did it;
Einstein later proved

that even molecules
of oxygen and hydrogen
are big enough to scatter

the blue rays
and leave the rest alone.

***

Happy scattering!

José

* gabriel garcia marquez: a lyrical alignment

This week’s poem is a lyrical alignment from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s prologue to his short story collection Strange Pilgrims.

In his prologue – entitled “Why Twelve, Why Stories, Why Pilgrims” – Marquez details the journey of his stories, how some have traveled with him for years and others arrived unexpected. I remember marveling at the openness with which he shared his patience with the ineffable act of writing as well as the depth of his memory. He finishes this “story behind the stories” with a short account of a dream he had. It is this account that I’ve decided to lyrically aligned. What moves me most about Marquez’s account of his dream is the innocence of the revelation on mortality he arrives at by the end.

I had a similar revelation while watching Terminator 2 as a kid. Another dream, this one on film: the main character, Sarah Connor, imagines herself standing at a chain-link fence, watching kids play. The entire scene is without sound. Then a nuclear explosion goes off in the distance, which she seems to be the only one aware of. The viewer watches as the blast from the explosion lays waste first to the playground, kids,  and then to Sarah, who screams to herself in silence. Young, I replayed this scene over and over before I slept, each time trying to imagine the nothing implied by the silence and black screen at the scene’s end.

Looking back on it, Marquez’s dream of a party is a better scenario 🙂

* cosas de rosas *
* cosas de rosas *

“…I dreamed I was attending my own funeral,” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

a lyrical alignment from Marquez’s “Strange Pilgrims”

walking with a group of friends
dressed in solemn mourning
but in a festive mood. We all
seemed happy to be together.
And I more than anyone else,
because of the wonderful
opportunity that death afforded me
to be with my friends from Latin America,
my oldest and dearest, the ones
I had not seen in so long. At the end
of the service, when they began to disperse,
I attempted to leave too, but one of them
made me see
with decisive finality
that as far as I was concerned,
the party was over. – You’re the only one
who can’t go – he said. Only then
did I understand
that dying
means never being
with friends again.

***

Happy againing!

Jose

* borges: a lyrical alignment

This past week, I found myself reading the essay “Verbiage for Poems” by Jorge Luis Borges (found in On Writing, Penguin Classics), and coming across a marvelous paragraph – emphasis on the ‘marvel,’ something of strange weather patterns moving across the sky in the middle of an ordinary afternoon about this paragraph.

In my enthusiasm, I found myself reading the words aloud to myself as I would a poem, which naturally led to my writing them out in my notebook. I pushed my fascination further by rewriting the prose into lines (loose iambics).

I present the fruits of my efforts below, calling it a lyrical alignment, something of what chiropractors do to backs – but hopefully less painful 🙂

There is a tradition of this kind of thing, a branch of ‘found’ poetry (Jose Garcia Villa immediately comes to mind as an early ‘aligner’). I enjoy reworking prose in this manner both for the way it keeps my ear sharp as well as for how it allows me to sink into the diction and phrasing of a writer.

I hope to share more of these as they come up in my reading and note-taking. For now, enjoy how Borges redefines the way you look at nouns.

* a rainbowhurricanehailstorm of a writer *
* a rainbowhurricanehailstorm of a writer *

“The world of appearances…” – Jorge Luis Borges

The world of appearances is a jumble
of shifting perceptions. The vision of a rustic
sky, that persistent aroma sweeping the fields,
the bitter taste of tobacco burning one’s
throat, the long wind lashing the road,
the submissive rectitude of the cane
around which we wrap our fingers, all fit together
in our consciousness, almost all at once.
Language is an efficient ordering of the world’s
enigmatic abundance. Or, in other words,
we invent nouns to fit reality.
We touch a sphere, see a small heap
of dawn-colored light, our mouths enjoy
a tingling sensation, and we lie to ourselves
that those three disparate things are only
one thing called an orange. The moon itself
is a fiction. Outside of astronomical
conventions, which should not concern us here,
there is no similarity whatsoever
between the yellow sphere now rising clearly
over the wall of the Recoleta cemetery
and the pink slice I saw in the sky above
the Plaza de Mayo many nights ago.
All nouns are abbreviations. Instead of saying
cold, sharp, burning, unbreakable,
shining, pointy, we utter “dagger”; for
the receding of the sun and oncoming darkness,
we say “twilight.”

***

Happy twilighting!

Jose

p.s. Please check out my poem “De Soto National Memorial Park” in the latest issue of the Rappahannock Review here.