* twinklings & twinges: gwendolyn brooks

breakbeat poets coverThis week, I had the opportunity to share and discuss excerpts from The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop with my intermediate composition class. Along with the poems, we also read some of the Ars Poeticas & Essays included in the anthology. Going between poems and prose allowed me to supplement the discussion with further insights into my own poetry literacy.

The following excerpt from “Art, Artice, and Artifact” by Quraysh Ali Lansana, for example, has the poet discussing Gwendolyn Brooks and her attitude towards hip-hop:

Ms. Brooks possessed a guarded optimism toward hip-hop. She appreciated rap as poetry, or at least as lyric. But, she found most of the language unoriginal and the music mostly boisterous. Ms. Brooks never employed profanity in her work. She considered swear words a reflection of a poverty of ideas, which in turn would make most rap Fat Albert’s junkyard. However, as she shared in workshop, if there is no other word that will be as precise in communicating your concept, then use that word. She believed in “exactness” and her enduring poetry bears witness to this.

This anecdote prompted me to share this week’s poem, “The Bean Eaters,” as an example of what Lansana means when he talks of Brooks believing in “exactness.” It is the exactness of her phrasing as well as the details given of this couple’s world that make this poem the compelling work of art that it is. This exactness is present even at the level of sound; the pairing of “twinklings and twinges” strikes the exact note of bittersweet memory to move a reader to put this poem away in their heart.

The Bean Eaters – Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

*

Happy twinkling and twinging,

José

* mirroring & anthilling with garcía lorca

This week’s poem is a translation of a short lyric from Federico García Lorca’s Suite de los Espejos (Suite of the Mirrors). Reading through the suites, I was impressed again and again by García Lorca’s facility to estrange us from the everyday world, only to bring us back. His lyrics are infused with a purposeful sense of shock.

This particular poem hooked me in my first reading with its closing lines:

Me veo por los ocasos,
y un hormiguero de gente
anda por mi corazón.

(I see myself through the sunsets,
and an anthill of people
marches through my heart.)

Even in the brief space of three lines, this travel between something outside of human experience and something within it (in our very chests, to be exact) is enacted through the blended images of sunsets/anthill/people/heart. It’s something that moves beyond metaphor into an almost physical reaction while reading.

What fascinated my as I translated was the way the “mirror” theme of this specific suite leads up nicely to this ending. Through a series of questions with no answers, García Lorca develops a lyric uncertainty, only to push it further as the poem develops: …are you you / or am I me? the speaker asks, only to follow it up with a question regarding hands. It is to this physical point that the poem has led us: questions about the heart and thoughts and even stars have spiraled down to more intimate, physical terrain. With this set up, the poem tips into its final imagery as if tipped over by hand.

Stumpwork_mirror_frame_c._1630s

Confusion (from Suite of the Mirrors) – Federico García Lorca
translated by José Angel Araguz

My heart –
is it your heart?
And who reflects my thoughts?
Who lends me
this passion
without roots?
Why does my suit of colors
keep changing?
Everything is at a crossroads!
Why do you see in the sky
so many stars?
Brother, are you you
or am I me?
And these cold hands,
are they from that one?
I see myself through the sunsets,
and an anthill of people
marches through my heart.

*

Confusión (from Suite de los Espejos) – Federico García Lorca

Mi corazón
¿es tu corazón?
¿Quién me refleja pensamientos?
¿Quién me presta
esta pasión
sin raíces?
¿Por qué cambia mi traje
de colores?
¡Todo es encrucijada!
¿Por qué ves en el cielo
tanta estrella?
¿Hermano, eres tú
o soy yo?
¿Y estas manos tan frías
son de aquél?
Me veo por los ocasos,
y un hormiguero de gente
anda por mi corazón.

*

Happy espejando!

José

 

* knocking around with kenyon & meyers

The Suitor – Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show all their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

*

box elderIn the poem above, I’m moved by the way things knock into each other in the scene described, and how that knocking mirrors how the poem is working structurally. The lyric momentum here swings between the three “likes” in the poem. Each one is a simile of life: a person sleeping, a school of fish, a timid suitor.

The specificity of each, however, is what makes their presence move beyond image and metaphor. The whole poem moves through them: the suggested breath of “someone sleeping”knocks into the next line about the wind; the fish “turning all at once” turn in such a way that they knock like the mind of the speaker’s sudden understanding; and then the ending pushes things into a further understanding of silence and resilience.

This short lyric brought to mind this haiku by Bert Meyers:

I can only laugh
when my daughter spreads her arms
to catch the cold wind

Both poems, for me, reflect a bit of what this time of year feels like. May is like a hinge between spring and summer, and you can hear the seasons’ doors creaking on the leaves.

Happy creaking!

José

* unhatched with colette jonopulos

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

445186486_79a78edc68

This quote by Rilke serves as an epigraph at the beginning of Colette Jonopulos’s chapbook, Between. Reading through the poems in this chapbook, I was moved how each reflected a bit of what Rilke’s words point to, how distance can be used to see something and/or someone clearer.

I share the title poem below as an example not only of the above theme but also of a short lyric able to evoke and engage via images and phrasing. While the address to a “you” creates the air of intimacy, the meditation on the image of bird eggs evokes Rilke’s “infinite distances.” From this angle, a couple is always a “you” and an “I” (you/I), and their relationship “the fragile membrane between” them.

The ending on “hatchlings” equates unspoken words to unborn birds, a pairing that, beyond rhyme, hits home for the life waiting in both words and birds to come.

Between – Colette Jonopulos

To give you a handful of
birds still in their shells, blue
shells and slate grey, thick
shells of protection, like the
ones we’ve built up with our
silences.

What was easy has
become the gracious and
cold considered other,
boundaries set; we are
not the content or container,
but the fragile membrane
between.

As the plane lands, as I
walk into still another
strange city, I’ve saved
the shells unbroken,
inside are words I
have not said,
slick and breathless
hatchlings.

*

Happy hatching!

José

* sunsetting with gwendolyn brooks

A Sunset of the City – Gwendolyn Brooks

Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.

I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it?? Somebody wanted to joke.

One of the things that always moves me about Gwendolyn Brooks’ work is her ability to strike emotional chords down to the level of language. This is done in the above poem subtly at the beginning, as the word “gone” is in one stanza and “summer” in the next, only to be brought together in the speaker’s meditation as the compound “summer-gone.” Having this moment build up gradually allows the reader to be in the same space as the speaker, so that when “summer-gone” is repeated in one line, it is an inevitability.

A similar things happens in the line “I am cold in this cold house this house,” where the repetition of “cold” and “house” moves them from adjective and noun into the realm of an personal lexicon for this speaker. This repetition is a kind of nuanced linguistical desire and defiance that mirrors the conceptual themes of the poem, the speaker owning the experience through statement and restatement. When, later in the same stanza, the speaker says:

I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

I can’t help but marvel at the juxtaposition of the longer, more punctuated line against the shorter line that follows. Here, sentence structure mirrors the speaker’s state of mind, assessing and taking in the “affairs” around her in one line, and feeling a need to “hurry” in the next. This kind of attention to the line fills Brooks’ work with lessons for both the heart and mind.

***

As promised, here is a sneak peek at the cover of my forthcoming collection Everything We Think We Hear, set to be released next week on December 1st. Stay tuned for updates and ordering information. For now, check out “Don’t Look Now I Might Be Mexican” (with audio!) published in Blue Mesa Review which will appear in the collection.

I’ve also been revamping the site a bit, making changes to make things more navigable. The more notable changes include the layout of the “poems” tab, which is updated to include some more recent publications, as well as the creation of tabs for “prose” and “tanka & co.” Under “prose,” there are links to book reviews I’ve done as well as posts for the Cincinnati Review blog and writing I’ve done on specific poems for journals (like this one for the Tahoma Literary Review – On “Spiderman Hitches a Ride” – the piece itself to be released next Tuesday). Under “tanka & co.” there are links to my publications in various Japanese poetic forms including this sequence of 39 tanka in Atlas Poetica (PDF). I’ll be working on gussying up the other tabs as time goes on.

Happy sunsetting!

José

* Francisco X. Alarcón: poem & review

* canto hondo *
* canto hondo *

Happy to share my latest review for the Volta Blog: a meditation on Francisco X. Alarcón’s latest collection, Canto Hondo. In my review, I discuss Alarcón’s engagement with Federico García Lorca’s ideas on cante jondo (deep song). Alarcón delves into García Lorca’s homage to his Andalusian influences to create his own deep song tempered by his own distinct poetic line, a line I describe as being “as alive and intimate as a nerve or a gasp.”

The review may be read here.

To get a sense of what I mean by the above, I’ve chosen this week’s poem from Alarcón’s From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche (University of Arizona Press). Following the poet’s line breaks, I like how the reader is invited into the thought and experience of each stanza. I’m also moved by the choice of moving from a four-line stanza to a three-line stanza, right at the line “…you’re home’s/nowhere -.” This change in form mirrors a change in the drama and tone of the poem; the stanzas that follow put forth their own hope and response to the dilemma of “those who have lost everything.”

Enjoy!

To Those Who Have Lost Everything – Francisco X. Alarcón

crossed
in despair
many deserts
full of hope

carrying
their empty
fists of sorrow
everywhere

mouthing
a bitter night
of shovels
and nails

“you’re nothing
you’re shit
your home’s
nowhere”—

mountains
will speak
for you

rain
will flesh
your bones

green again
among ashes
after a long fire

started in
a fantasy island
some time ago

turning
Natives
into aliens

 ***

Happy amonging!

José

* fascination via john philip drury

Last week, I visited my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. It was a short trip, long enough to get in good talk and hugs with family as well as plenty of good taqueria food and BBQ. It was also the first chance I’ve gotten to show Ani around the city I grew up in. Unsurprisingly, we kept finding ourselves down along Ocean Drive, watching the water move. Going back this time, I realized how, in some ways, fascination is almost a reflex. If I have a natural measure, it’s in sync to the waters of Corpus Christi Bay.

This week’s poem – “A Boy’s Room” by John Philip Drury – deals with a similar spirit of fascination. The poem details a son’s fascination with insects as experienced by the father. In an email, Drury shared the following story:

I’m pleased that you’ve singled out “A Boy’s Room,” one of several poems in the book about my son Eric.  It began with his early fascination with insects and scorpions.  Whenever we went to the zoo, he wanted to visit the Insect House, but he was too little to peer into the glass enclosures (such as the big box full of leaf-cutter ants), so I had to carry him, and he hadn’t yet learned to read, so I had to recite the labels identifying every single bug in the whole place.  And that happened on every trip we made.  Man, I miss those days!

Reading the poem, I’m moved most by the connection between father and son via language. That the father is aware of both the words that fascinate and the words the son “hates.” The tension moves from the careful “fashioning” of insects paralleled with the fashioning of the poem in the first stanza, then into the second stanza’s violent undertones. The people in the house are seen as restless as the insects the son is fascinated with.

What I love about the above story is the image of John carrying his son, much as the house at the end of the poem is “carried” off.

* john's new book! *
* john’s new book! *

A Boy’s Room – John Philip Drury

With tiny wads of Play-Doh, he has fashioned
scorpions, Io moths, red velvet mites,
water spiders emerging from thick air sacs,
Japanese beetles perched upon white petals.
He places them in his secret gallery –
a Danish Modern liquor cabinet –
to let them dry. He loves assassin bugs
and Congo chafers. He listens for the sound
of hissing cockroaches and tinfoil beetles
clicking against their luminous green shells.

He hates the words “explode” and “blow” and “burst.”
He knows we have a nest of paper wasps
in the kitchen’s ventilator. He knows
we find it odd that people find it odd.
He knows that when we quarrel, the house walls hum
like glassed-in hives of honey bees at the zoo.
He hopes and fears that when the wings beat loudest,
the house will lift above the tall catalpas
and he’ll look down at miniature explosions:
fireflies rising from a darkened crater.

***

Happy rising!

Jose

* 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!

Eek!

* 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!

Jose

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

* lining up with charlotte mew

So, at one point during CantoMundo, this happened:

* this guy might be too happy *
* this guy might be too happy *

This image pretty much sums up my feelings this week in regards to the release of my new chapbook, Corpus Christi Octaves, and all the support people have shown both here on the blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. To all of you who have sent warm wishes in one form or another, thank you for making this week pretty big for me.

Like that SMILE pictured above big 🙂

Working on a project like the octaves, so focused on creating tension within specific formal parameters, makes me quick to spot other eight-liners out there. This week’s poem “Sea Love” by Charlotte Mew holds its own lessons on compactness, diction, and fluidity of line.

Thomas Hardy considered Mew an incredible artist and, along with Housman, placed her in high esteem for her way with diction and feel for people. The music here is exceptional. The third line drags out in a wonderful, rocky contrast to the other contained lines. The sea like the lover cannot be reined in. The heart breaks on the “wind” at the end.

* make it mew *
* make it mew *

Sea Love – Charlotte Mew

Tide be runnin’ the great world over:

‘Twas only last Junemonth I mind that we

Was thinkin’ the toss and the call in the breast of the lover

So everlastin’ as the sea.

Here’s the same little fishes that sputter and swim,

Wi’ the moon’s old glim on the grey, wet sand;

An’ him no more to me nor me to him

Than the wind goin’ over my hand.

***

Happy going!

Jose

p.s. I’ve revamped both the Chapbooks tab & Audio tab – the latter with a link of my reading from Corpus Christi Octaves at The Poetry Loft! Special thanks to Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for the opportunity! Check out the reading here.

* new chapbook: Corpus Christi Octaves

* new chapbook! *
* new chapbook! *

I am happy to announce that my new chapbook – Corpus Christi Octaves – is officially available from Flutter Press! Purchasing info here.

This collection is made up of two elegiac sequences and an interlude. My goal with the two sequences is to honor my friends both for what they meant to me but also for the poets they were. In discussing Donald Justice’s championing of Weldon Kees recently with a friend, I found myself saying: “We gotta keep each other alive somehow.” There’s some of that in these sequences. My model in the spirit of the poems is Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, whose eloquent series on the poet Cavafy never ceases to amaze me in its ability to pay tribute both to the poet and to the craft of poetry. The interlude delves a bit deeper both into the setting, South Texas, as well as my own role of poet/elegist. The poems here meditate on different facets of the themes brought up in the sequences.

Another thing that marks this collection is the use of syllabics. In each of the eight-line poems, I work out a syllabic pattern, the jolt and jar of which allows for surprises as well as a sense of brevity and preciousness. This project took me back to when I was in 2nd grade and someone had showed me the 5-7-5 count of haiku, which then started me on the path of sitting in silence, wagging fingers in the air, doling out each word.

Here’s a sample:

Snow

The snow today brings back the first snow,

     white like this, at turns pristine,

     then bitter like this, broken

by steps whose depths can’t be guessed like this.

 

We’ve treated one another like snow,

     watched each other fall and drift.

     You have come today like snow,

and made me pause. And like snow you leave.

***

Special thanks to Andrea Schreiber for the remarkable ink painting commissioned for the cover. She did a great job of capturing a Corpus Christi icon, the miradores which line the sea wall:

* life imitating art *
* life imitating art *

Special thanks also to John Drury, Daniel Groves, and Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for their wonderful comments on the back cover.

A very special thanks to Sandy Benitez, editor of Flutter Press, for helping me find a home for this project. Flutter Press is a micro poetry press that utilizes print on demand (POD) technology to publish modern, beautiful chapbooks, 6″ x 9″, with glossy covers. They have published collections by Howie Good and Dale Wisely. Find out more about the press here.

And thank you to everyone who has supported me along the road of doling out words!

See you Friday,

Jose