poems, news, & audio!

Just a quick post to share that my poem “Of Breaking” can be read and heard on Toe Good Poetry’s site!

This poem is featured in my upcoming second collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), which I am happy to share has a release date of May 22nd. I’m really looking forward to its release.

I am also happy to share that the audio from my reading with Rochelle Hurt and Linwood Rumney in November at the University of Cincinnati’s Elliston Room is available to be listened to. In these tracks, you can hear me read from Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), Reasons (not) to Dance (FutureCycle Press), and  The Divorce Suite (Red Bird Chapbooks).

Check it out the reading here!

See you Friday!

José

* remembering judith ortiz cofer

The Purpose of Nuns – Judith Ortiz Cofer

As a young girl attending Sunday mass,
I’d watch them float down the nave
in their medieval somberness, the calm
of salvation on the pink oval of their faces
framed by tight-fitting coifs. They seemed above
the tedious cycle of confession, penance
and absolution they supervised: of weekday dreams
told to a stranger on a Saturday; of Sunday sermons long
as a sickroom visit, and the paranoia of God always
watching you — that made me hide under my blanket
to read forbidden fictions.

Some of us were singled out for our plainness,
our inclination to solitude, or perhaps —
as our mothers hoped in their secret hearts —
our auras of spiritual light only these brides
of quietness could see in us. We were led to retreats,
where our uninitiated footsteps were softened,
and our heartbeats synchronized, becoming one
with the sisters’. In their midst, we sensed freedom
from the worry of flesh — the bodies of nuns
being merely spirit slips under their thick garments.
There was also the appeal of sanctuary in a spotless mansion
permeated with the smells of baked bread, polished wood
and leather-bound volumes of only good words.
And in the evenings, the choral mystery of vespers
in Latin, casting the final spell of community over us.

The purpose of nuns was to remind us
of monochrome peace in a world splashed in violent colors.
And sometimes, exhausted by the pounding demands
of adolescence, I’d let my soul alight
on the possibility of cloistered life, but once the sky
cleared, opening up like a blue highway to anywhere,
I’d resume my flight back to the world.

*

This week I am proud to feature the above poem by Puerto Rican American writer, Judith Ortiz Cofer, who recently passed away. Her work in prose and poetry helped to pave the way for a culturally infused and aware literary tradition that continues today.

The above poem works a subtle magic through the speaker’s impression of the nun figure. The stakes of the poem lie not in accurately portraying nuns, but rather in giving a sense of the strict world the speaker lived in growing up (first stanza), and then exploring how the perceived idea of the nun’s life offered relief from that strictness. There is a power to lines like: The purpose of nuns was to remind us / of monochrome peace in a world splashed in violent colors that works via contrast; if the nun is the idealized figure, then the speaker themselves lives in the world of “violent colors.” So much of life is looking for hope wherever we can find it, and sometimes a poem or a community can open up something inside you “like a blue highway to anywhere,” until you find yourself able to move, and dream, forward. Cofer’s work, here and elsewhere, made possible such empowered dreaming to happen for myself and others.

Reading the poem above the first time years ago inspired my own poem, “The Nun’s Lament,” which is included in my chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance. I remember being stunned into a new revision of what became the poem below after reading Cofer.

bird-sketch

The Nun’s Lament – José Angel Araguz

after Judith Ortiz Cofer

One night, I saw the figure of a man making his way towards my window. I had been looking across the roof of the chapel, stark in white moonlight. I closed my eyes, stood still, how long, I cannot say. The figure of the man, there behind my eyelids, flashed from shadow arms swinging, clambering across the roof, to a shadow flock of birds stirring in the air in unison, all but one taking off away from me. The one shot straight to me, past me, left me heavy, my pulse beating like wings inside. What I heard was not coming closer, was not hurting me, what I heard was restless. I had become a cloister for the heart, a space where the heart waited, idle, mid-flight. When I opened my eyes, there was the roof, clear, and a train in the distance, its whistle bursting.

*

Happy dreaming!

José

* new work & nomination!

Just a quick post to share that my poem, “Cazar Means to Hunt Not to Marry,” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by December Magazine. This poem is part of my second collection, Small Fires, forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

This poem can be read at December Magazine’s site along with the other stellar nominees here.

Thank you to December Magazine for the support and community!

See you Friday!

José

* new work online & monopoem giveaway!

Just a quick post to announce some recent publications available online & to give a small reminder of my current Monopoem Giveaway:

!) I’m happy to announce that my poems “On Being Called Jorge” and “Freckles” are featured in the current issue of The Indianola Review! This issue features work by Angela Morales, E. Kristin Anderson, & Lena Khalaf Tuffaha among other great writers. Check out the rest of the issue here.

@) I’m also happy to share that Crab Creek Review was kind enough to feature my poem “Alien” on their blog! This poem along with “On Being Called Jorge” are both in my upcoming collection, Small Fires, forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

#) Lastly, I am doing a MONOPOEM GIVEAWAY as a thank you to all of you who read my blog. In order to participate, simply leave a comment below stating your interest in receiving a monopoem. I will keep track of who comments and will pick winners at random. The announcement of winners will be on Wednesday, December 14th! Feel free to comment on this post for a chance to win.

A monopoem is a poem and a drawing on a folded sheet of paper. Essentially one of the most mini of self publications. This is the second I’m doing in this series. Here’s a peek at this season’s cover:

2016-12-08-10-06-12

Be sure to comment  below and enter by Wednesday!

Abrazos,

José

* heartening with jm miller

Paper Sparrows (At the Museum) – JM Miller

a slip of paper no larger than a dollar
records the scale of value for a slave.

Rows of age and rows of worth, the black
body’s gains & losses over time.

You see the paper is degrading, yellowing
tree fibers from an oily thumb nearly enough

to erase the pencil’s mark.

At the next exhibit white poets
read paper sparrows to sleep —

a stiff wind in their feathers — still
love in their curated bodies of paper.

They lean in until a black fly in the bird’s eye
tires, eating away the carrion into sight,

& they see suddenly a boy,
his invisible hands raised, opening his heart

to a country refusing to remember him.
Some keep the dead alongside them,

feathers in the cap, the bittersweet blues
of fairy tales, while others open & close

the birds’ beaks to hear
the price of a spirit, the labor of a body,

a hundred dollars for each year of your life,
the value of a dead boy in the street.

*

wilderness-lessons-book-coverI’m proud to share another round of poems from JM Miller’s collection, Wilderness Lessons (FutureCycle Press), which I did a microreview & interview of earlier this week.

This week has been tough for me. The election has left me devastated and fearful. I say this without any exaggeration, nor with any malice toward anyone. I speak primarily to share how I wake up feeling hyperaware of the color of my skin, what it might mean for my wife and I in public, and how people I love and care for from different backgrounds and communities are having to reckon with similar emotions and worries. Thank you to everyone who has reached out regarding our safety. Thank you for everyone who has shared some of their story and allowed me to carry some of the pain for them. If any of this hits home for you, please know you are not alone.

I return to the work of JM Miller this week with greater gratitude for the mixing of worlds and insights therein. In “Paper Sparrows (At the Museum),” I am moved by the way poetry can show how an abstract concept like history can be affected by “an oily thumb,” and is thus able to evoke the human pulse behind artifacts in a museum. With the metaphor of “paper sparrows,” Miller’s poem pushes against the museum narrative further, plunging into bird imagery until the reader is taken to a more contemporary moment. In a deft series of couplets, history and today’s fraught political climate are juxtaposed in a way that brings out the human element of exhibits and headlines.

This engagement with the human element is one of the many wonders of Wilderness Lessons. Miller’s poems present the world under our animal eyes in a way that reminds us what there is to value in it. I read the poem below this week and am heartened, able to recall that: It is good to be in this body, scrubbing the planet // from our hands, then reaching for more.

*

Equinox – JM Miller

The bus fills with apple slices of sun
on the burnt crest of equinox.

My love is at home lifting the last
golden beet from our tiny plot,

rinsing cool dirt from its roots, setting
aside its greens for dinner.

Here our bodies pinch slightly for balance
as our minds move sluggishly through time,

the hours pushing downward now, tender
rose hips wrinkling into pungent syrup

that leaves a river of stain on our fingers.
It is good to be in this body, scrubbing the planet

from our hands, then reaching for more.
The granite lid over Washington shadows in

from the southwest & we are none the worse
for loving, for losing horizon for so long.

Hunger is neither shame nor enough when
our bodies pull together in stillness.

*

Happy heartening!

José

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

* microreview & interview: jm miller

For this microreview & interview, I present close readings of two poems from JM Miller’s collection Wilderness Lessons (FutureCycle Press, 2016), as well as share some insights from the poet on the work in their own words.

wilderness-lessons-book-cover

Field Notes (The Arcade Poem) – JM Miller

For fifty cents you can sharpen a fang,
sink your claw around the rifle’s trigger.

Take cover behind the bush, resist the rosemary’s
aroma, and sidle the plastic butt firmly to your shoulder.

Programmed sunset drips in the background, breathe
an arrow down the gun’s sight, you’ve been here before.

A deer hops through the pasture, nibbles oat straw,
looks straight up the rifle’s barrel.

Confess you love the composition, the way
it eases your senses into a finely tuned fork

banging against flawless crystal.
Confess you loved that talented seal on TV who gripped

drum sticks, beat Sweet Caroline into trash can lids
in David Letterman’s uptown studio.

The seal’s name was Henrietta and you wanted to accompany her
with your bamboo recorder like the solo performance

in the lunchroom when you were ten. All red-faced,
asphyxiated, and wanting to die. We were all dreams then.

Shoot the deer. You shoot the deer, drop the rifle,
and leave the bar. Who knew she’d come prancing out—first right to left

then so innocently left to right, begging to be seen.
The landscape drew you in, made a promise.

You became the animal you were meant to be.

*

Miller’s speaker here wastes no time in bringing the reader into the details of the scene. Yet, it is the diction and the subsequent character of narration where the scene comes to life. The phrasing of “sharpen a fang” and “sink your claw” frames a casual first person shooter at an arcade into animalistic transformation. In doing so, the poem amplifies the reality being replicated in the arcade game and immediately points to its problematic nature.

This high stakes approach is pursued as the poem goes on describing the “Programmed sunset…in the background.” The vividness of description is echoed in the speaker’s statement, “Confess you love the composition,” making use of the intimacy of narration to highlight the seduction inherent not only in the play of the arcade game but in the images as well. If “fifty cents” allows one to tap into a more animalistic state, then it is a (re)turn to something already inside human nature, something as tied to human experience as a childhood memory. From the pixellated scene of the game to a pixellated scene of a seal drumming on late night TV, the poem shifts into a parallel that further complicates its meditation on play and performance. Here, the line “The seal’s name was Henrietta and you wanted to accompany her” is telling; in one line, the speaker both humanizes the seal-turned-spectacle but also lays bare a feeling of being caught up in the spectacle (much as the speaker is caught up in the game early in the poem).

Thus, the speaker’s narrative is charged with a mix of culpability and innocence which points to an awareness of the stakes behind man-made “games” and “shows,” and what they trigger inside. In this light, the speaker’s admission that “We were all dreams then,” feels both like an explanation and an excuse. When the speaker admits, “You became the animal you were meant to be,” a note of betrayal and conscience is struck that rings out beyond any pixellated screen.

This note of mortal reckoning is picked up at several points throughout the collection. In the poem “Desert Autopsy (2012),” Miller announces that “the poets have arrived…[to] stand here in the hollowed tree, / language unfolding like children.” The phrase “language unfolding like children” speaks to the sense of witness that poets seem capable of, a witnessing that keeps things new and fresh. An example of this “unfolding language” can be seen mid-poem when the speaker states:

What is the effect of drought?
ask the government buildings
drawing blueprints to save the world,

while a pinyon tree simmers in its bark behind a plexi tower.
It shrivels, starves, lets its branches down.

By placing the question in the mouth of the concrete, inorganic presence of “the government buildings,” Miller is able to work a startling juxtaposition into human terms. While the question’s rhetoric places drought in the realm of the abstract and theoretical, the poem’s emphasis on the pinyon tree image brings us back to solid, living material. In these two stanzas, the image of government buildings and trees sound out the physical absence of humans as well as the full presence of human development.

As in the previous poem, the speaker here is aware of their implied role in this scene. Yet, in this poem, the speaker is able to point to the possibility of expanding their role as witness when they answer the question regarding drought with their own: “I can’t climb this picture, but can you imagine it?”

This second question is a compelling and engaging moment in a poem, and collection, that shows the value and power of such imagining.

*

Desert Autopsy (2012) – JM Miller

The harbor pulls in, pulls its sheet tight, pulling
the ground under.

Wintering conifers lean over the banks examining
barnacle-pendant, seaweed-swimsuit.

I, too, bend my body in the lean
for wild. To walk away from the sea
is to be naked at wartime,
a gazing body.

I remember the wrecked season, white bone
of drought, fire opening its giant jaws in the west,
gypsy moths spinning cocoons of sorrow.

On the last day of the year, pinyons and junipers are dying.
Fences in Los Alamos still breathe fire.

What is the effect of drought?
ask the government buildings
drawing blueprints to save the world,

while a pinyon tree simmers in its bark behind a plexi tower.
It shrivels, starves, lets its branches down.

I can’t climb this picture, but can you imagine it?
You’ve seen the pinyon grow, twisting like wet laundry
devoted to the wind sculpting mesa and valley.

I’ve heard the trees roam at night, calling with their voices.
What was it, the solemn whisper,
What calling rubbed the wind, combed the wintering
pencils of grass, laid bare the open spaces. And then I knew

it wasn’t for me, not me on the wind, not for me
were the long shadows, invisible xylem of veins,
not mine the forged silver, fortune of stars.

Army, the poets have arrived, call your horses, call
the cavalry. Lick your feathers, stick them to the dying.

We stand here in the hollowed tree,
language unfolding like children.

*

 

jm-headshot-2016

Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Poetry is an invitation to walk into an empty space of being. I wanted Wilderness Lessons to feel like an opportunity for a reader to walk into their own space and find themselves: their purest, most vulnerable self.

As a trans-writer, it is urgent for me to find myself in my work, it is a form of survival. I am looking for the self beyond labels and projections – the one free from attachments. When I started writing Wilderness Lessons several years ago I discovered a liminal space for existence. This would become known as the “Unbetween” – a place without relationality. I had been immersed in Brenda Hillman’s collection, Loose Sugar, and the poem “Unbetween” was a way for me to have a conversation with her work.

My hope is that “Unbetween” – which is not a space between things, but a liminal space, a nothing space, a no space – invites a reader’s pure spirit and phenomenology to the surface.

I remember reading a phrase from Adrienne Rich, that “poetry is not a healing balm,” nor many other things. But it does heal. It heals through a unique listening, an absolute presence. And it is my belief that as we heal ourselves, we gain the power to heal others, to heal the broken systems of our civilizations that enact oppression and violence against marginalized people and the planet and its beings.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

I got in my own way a lot throughout the writing of Wilderness Lessons, and most of that had to do with the need to dismantle the restrictions of what a poem can be or do. For instance, I admire ecstatic imagery and rational rhetoric, and I looked for ways to use them together in a lyric poem. Also, it seems like Round 7 of “End of the World” was the background hum to this collection. I was nearing a poetics of urgency, but still trying to have faith in representation and the lyric.

This book also marks a time of profound transformation in my life: getting comfortable with my trans identity, beginning to dismantle my white privilege, getting married, dedicating myself to teaching, living in a city and finding my way toward becoming an environmental activist. It was an urgent time, one of immense uncertainty. These poems were my way through the times in one’s life in which everything shows up and could be lost. These poems held; they found me and held on.

***

Special thanks to JM Miller for participating! Find out more about Miller’s work at their site. Wilderness Lessons can be purchased from FutureCycle Press.

*

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

 

* Q&A up at Carve Magazine blog!

Happy to share this recent Q&A session focusing on my poem “Hails from Corpus Christi” from my forthcoming collection Small Fires (FutureCycle Press, 2017).

In this short session, I discuss this poem in terms of “soundscape” and measure as well as go into some of the themes of the upcoming collection.

There might also be a brief reference to the Ninja Turtles.

Just sayin’.

Special thanks to Ellie Francis Breivogel for her insightful questions as well as to everyone at Carve Magazine!

“Hails from Corpus Christi” will be published in CM’s next issue which is available for pre-order!

Happy hailing!

José

* new post @ North American Review blog!

Just a quick note to share a post I did for the North American Review blog.

The post, “Happiness and the Tough Stuff,” has me sharing some background about my poem “Stitched” which was published in the Summer 2016 issue of NAR (I have provided the poem below for reference).

“Stitched” will be in my second full length poetry collection, Small Fires, forthcoming in 2017 from FutureCycle Press. It’s a good example of the measure and subject matter of the collection.

Special thanks to Matt Manley who provided the awesome artwork that accompanies my blog post! Thanks also to everyone at the North American Review for this opportunity! Copies of the issue can be bought at NAR’s site.

*

Stitched – José Angel Araguz

Shopping after the accident,
my aunt said: See anything
you like and we can take it,
just have you mother open
her stomach there, then pointed
as my mother laughed,
and I recalled the black
smile stitched into
her side, the lines to me
not healing her, holding
her shut instead, like the door
of the hospital room
I was kept out of when
she wasn’t awake – the accident
from the other night,
how her boyfriend insisted
that he wasn’t drunk
and drove her car into
a tree, how she had felt
safe with him before,
how she really needed that,
looked to each man in her life
for the father she’d lost faith in,
for the man her father failed
to be so early on she
was a child when she left,
how her boyfriend now wouldn’t
visit, had come out of the wreck
unharmed while she kept falling
out of herself – all of this needing
to be held in, sewn up
so she would not hurt,
and me then not wanting
to want anything,
so she would not hurt.

*

See you Friday!

José

* goodreads giveaway!

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

Just a quick post to announce that I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance (FutureCycle Press)! Check out the above links to find out how to enter.

I’m excited to try this kind of giveaway out! Looking forward to sharing my work further.

See you Friday!

José

* tom murphy & moving adelante

tom murphy

The poem above comes from Tom Murphy’s chapbook horizon to horizon. One of the things I’m moved by in the poem is the way the form mimics the conceptual space the speaker is contemplating. Standing before the  mirror on the “First mother’s day without ma,” the speaker positions themselves in a new place, a blank page of sorts. What follows then is the completion of a simile started on one side of the page/mirror, a simile that finds the speaker detailing into “gnawed” and “cracked” imagery, feeling age as sunlight through a “clapboard barn,” as well as feeling it down to the earth. From new awareness to the complicated meaning of awareness, this lands on the page in a visceral way.

*

I want to say a thank you to everyone for their kind words and good wishes in regards to the news of my second poetry collection, Small Fires, being accepted for publication by FutureCycle Press. The tentative release date is May 2017.

To further celebrate, here is a poem from the upcoming book (originally published in Luna Luna Magazine). I share it specifically because, as with Tom’s poem above, it takes on the theme of mothers and their impact on our lives. My own mother’s story is one of survival and persistence. One of her favorite words in our talks is adelante, a fact that I’m forever charmed by given that the word contains her name within.

Quinceañera – José Angel Araguz

The women of the house shook her from sleep,
and began to serenade, trying to mark
the air of another rite that seemed to come

too soon, the song her father should have sung
instead of barking, running her off, a song
with the momentum of a hand ready to skip

a stone across water, a hand which would
fall away soon as the song was done,
but not before a stone danced,

lifting and lifting off the face of water,
each time as if it’d never drop – past midnight,
the women sang, without ceremony,

without food, without a sense of how
to ready a girl to skip into the current
of her life, could only sing,

their voices cracked and strained, trying
not to wake her son who slept beside her,
a son who would grow up and dream of the night

these voices broke the air and raised a song
for the little girl his mother was,
for the woman she now had to become.

*

Happy becoming!

José