* 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.

HIGHLIGHTS

 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!

Jose

* hare-brained with yeats

Memory – W. B. Yeats

One had a lovely face,
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.

***

I’ve spent the past week reading through the Collected Poems of Yeats. He’s been a go-to guy since high school; each reading reveals him to be a darker writer than his more famous poems allow.

In the above, not one but three of the women of his life are summed up in a six line poem. And not even summed up, but rather quickly evoked, and just as quickly dissolved into an image. The reader is left looking at an impression of life, which is what the speaker is left with as well.

Without going into the details, I’ll say Yeats was a lonely boy, wronged and wronging in love in his respective way. Being sensitive and bookish has its consequences, good and bad.

On the one hand, Yeats is a technical master. But then there’s the hares, who, in truth, merit the greatest sympathy.

In the poem below, Yeats presents a speaker who would learn to change loves “while dancing,” but finds he can only imagine what that might be like. That it can only happen, even hypothetically, in a mythological realm is the first clue to Yeats’ bluff: for all the dancing and laughing, the speaker remains rather pathetic – both in terms of pathos and general sadness, and pathetic like the kid standing against the wall during a dance.

That the means through which the speaker spies this other realm is the bone of a hare – a collar-bone no less, the bone between the throat (where, in us, the voice lives) and the heart – the bone of a simple if fretful creature, means that something simple in him has died as well.

* say what now? *
* say what now? *

The Collar-Bone of a Hare – W. B. Yeats

Would I could cast a sail on the water
Where many a king has gone
And many a king’s daughter,
And alight at the comely trees and the lawn,
The playing upon pipes and the dancing,
And learn that the best thing is
To change my loves while dancing
And pay but a kiss for a kiss.

I would find by the edge of that water
The collar-bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet, and stare
At the old bitter world where they marry in churches,
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches,
Through the thin white bone of a hare.

***

Happy haring!

Jose

p.s. Please check out the latest issue of Right Hand Pointing – a celebration of 10 years of bringing (Right)eous poetry to the people, starring such riff raff as fellow poets Laura M. Kaminski and Marc Vincenz (and yours truly) – here.

Special thanks to editor & fine poet Dale Wisely!

* a more passionate saying with joel oppenheimer

I don’t revise much these days…except in the interest of a more passionate syntax

(Yeats)

These words by Yeats were said later in his life to poet John Berryman on their one and only meeting. The idea in them is fascinating, the great poet having gotten to a point where the technical matters got down to phrasing, which is saying.

a more passionate saying

This is something I aspire to in my own writing, but also in my own reading. Weekly, I strive to find things that stop me for one reason or another.

In this week’s poem “Leave It To Me Blues” by Joel Oppenheimer, he goes about his particular saying through straightforward language and a lyric subtlety that disarms as much as surprises.

* blushing moon *
* this week’s round and round *

Leave It To Me Blues – Joel Oppenheimer

from the heart of a flower
a stalk emerges; in each fruit
there are seeds. we turn our
backs on each other so often,
we destroy any community of
interest. yet our hearts are
seeded with love and care sticks
out of our ears. but there is no
bridge unless it is the wind which
whistles our bare house, tearing
the slipcovers apart and constantly
removing the tablecloth covering
it (the table) like a shroud (the
shroud of what the table could mean,
if only we were hungry enough to
care), and we cut ourselves off
because we discovered each man is
an island, detached. man, the
mainland is flipped over the moon.
all i have to depend on is effort,
and the moon goes round and round
in the evening sky. my sons will
make it if they ever reach age,
but how to take care i dont know.
it doesn’t get better. on the other
hand, even with answers, where
would we be, out in the cold, with
an old torn blanket, and no one
around us to cry

***

Happy arounding!

Jose

*poem found in the anthology A Controversy of Poets.

* bangin’ on the kitchen table with Jay-Z & Linda Pastan

* reading between the reading between the lines *

The above example of scansion is a good example of where my mind’s been at past few days.  I’ve been and will be writing with an eye (and ear and heart) towards meter, mainly for a class, but more than the class, there is an inner drive to grow stronger in this regard.

Throughout the fourteen years I’ve written seriously (meaning at its most simply the years I’ve written and typed something up: typing up means business!) I have read several books on prosody.  The most I’ve taken from my readings is a sense of how to work with the stresses of each line.

This usually plays out with me absentmindedly banging my fist on a table or tapping my foot – I say “tapping” but if you see me do it, there is a heave of my head forward as well, so that I constantly look like I’m about to get up and leave.

My take on it leaves me looking silly, but it does get me going.  And that’s the point.

There is a moment in one of my favorite Jay-Z songs where he says:

Kitchen table – that’s where I honed my skills

At the same time he says the line, the music stops, and all you hear is the beat of a fist hitting a table.

It blows my mind every time I hear it.  Something clicks in me each time in regards to process and what it means to work with words.  Do anything to get the words out.

Linda Pastan’s poem below takes on the issue of prosody on her own terms as well.  Like her, I believe that the work of the poem has lessons beyond the page.

Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan

When they taught me that what mattered most
was not the strict iambic line goose-stepping
over the page but the variations
in that line and the tension produced
on the ear by the surprise of difference,
I understood yet didn’t understand
exactly, until just now, years later
in spring, with the trees already lacy
and camellias blowsy with middle age,
I looked out and saw what a cold front had done
to the garden, sweeping in like common language,
unexpected in the sensuous
extravagance of a Maryland spring.
There was a dark edge around each flower
as if it had been outlined in ink
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
between the expected and actual
was like that time I came to you, ready
to say goodbye for good, for you had been
a cold front yourself lately, and as I walked in
you laughed and lifted me up in your arms
as if I too were lacy with spring
instead of middle aged like the camellias,
and I thought: so this is Poetry!

**

Happy prosoding!

Jose

* learning to Howl with Allen Ginsberg

Had to read and discuss Allen Ginsberg’s Howl this week in one of my classes.  Kinda went like this:

* Angelheadedwhatnow? *
* From Howl to Huh? *

I have gone back and forth on the poem Howl since I first read it at eighteen.  I shared with my classmates how I went to San Diego on spring break once and spent five days straight following this routine: wake up, do tai chi, read Howl aloud.

All.  Three.  Parts.

I was young and weird, to say the least.

The whole time I did this I felt like I was throwing myself upon the poem and asking: why is this considered such a great poem?  what can I learn from it?  did Ginsberg really have as much peyote/sex as he says he did?

Borges said that Walt Whitman the man spent his writing life wanting to be more and more like the Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.  Both Ginsberg and Whitman were larger than life.

Both were also very diplomatic and American.  Our professor shared with us that, while in Spain, he would run into people who, though they knew nothing of American poetry, they knew Howl.

And that’s Ginsberg accomplishment.  Not everybody loves The Wasteland, but it is a mountain between Leaves of Grass and Howl (this is in keeping with American poetry being a mountain range which is something I realize now may only make sense in my head).

Howl is one of those poems that is in the blood of American poetry like it or not, it is that family member that crashes the party with great stories but bad breath.

I won’t excerpt Howl here – you gotta take that ride yourself, y’all – but instead will share a poem that has much of what I love about Ginsberg – the humor and the heart.

**

A Supermarket in California – Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be
lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Berkeley, 1955

***

Happy disappearing!

Jose

* juggling with Eduardo Galeano

Update on the PhD front: First day of classes/First day of teaching is Monday, August 26th…my birthday!

That’s right: I’ll be up bright and early – as I have been most of this week, what with orientation and syllabustering like crazy.

Wish me luck.

On that note, expect the Influences to become a bit looser, and more informal while I juggle chainsaws students.

* wish me luck *
* wish me luck *

As I mentioned last week, my birthday has me asking questions.  Like: what would my friend Dennis – who passed away three summers ago – think of where I am headed?  He told me once during a bout of undergrad existential angst: Get it together – only women can freak out AND still get things done.  You can freak out later.

The prose poem below by Eduardo Galeano speaks to how that good man stood (stands) in my life.

***

Grandparents – Eduardo Galeano

For many peoples of black Africa, ancestors are the spirits that live in the tree beside your house or in the cow grazing in the field.  The great-grandfather of your great-great-grandfather is now that stream snaking down the mountainside.  Your ancestor could also be any spirit that decides to accompany you on your voyage through the world, even if he or she was never a relative or an acquaintance.

The family has no borders, explains Soboufu Some of the Dagara people: “Our children have many mothers and many fathers.  As many as they wish.”

And the ancestral spirits, the ones that help you make your way, are the many grandparents that each of you has.  As many as you wish.

***

Happy freaking out later!

Jose

* Linda Pastan, apples & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Linda Pastan!

What moves me about the lyric below is how it follows the turns of simple tone and lets the subtleties gleam.

What does that mean?

Peep the line: maybe the wind would wind itself – with its alliterative w’s, but also how the word wind turns over in meaning and pronunciations from noun to verb, seamlessly.

I’ve always marveled at Pastan’s way with the line.  Not every poem has to go for the jugular.  This one gets you at the sinew of mortality.

*manzanas*
*manzanas*

In the Orchard – Linda Pastan *

Why are these old, gnarled trees
so beautiful, while I am merely
old and gnarled?

If I had leaves, perhaps, or apples…
if I had bark instead
of this lined skin,

maybe the wind would wind itself
around my limbs
in its old sinuous dance.

I shall bite into an apple
and swallow the seeds.
I shall come back as a tree.

***

Happy appling!

Jose

p.s.  Be sure to check out the latest Stirring: a literary collection featuring work from past Influence feature Adeeba Talukder and a series of poems by yours truly.  Check out the work here.

* originally published in Plume.

** photo found here.

* Sharon Olds, newspapers & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Sharon Olds!

Just read through Olds’ latest book, Stag’s Leap, a powerful collection of poems – for which she recently was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize – centering on the story of her divorce.

The poems take on the separation with the nerve and lyrical litheness that are characteristic of Olds.  (Also: at one point she parts the Red Sea – seriously: check that out!)

I chose the poem below because it embodies much of what I admire in her skill as a poet.  There is the opening up of a moment, the digging into the details in words that put the subject – in this case, handling the newspaper – right in your hands, words like mineral-odored and greyish speckle.  She does it all with a straightforward energy that takes you along for the ride, evoking every nuance of the emotion felt.

There is a great awe in her work – a sense of awe of the world, of being a part of it, and being able to put it into words.  Few can go to this place of awe like she does.

As an American poet, I feel indebted to Sharon Olds for how she manages to stay grounded while still taking flight.  I see her in line with Whitman as well as Elizabeth Bishop – all poets of finding and feeling exuberance where you don’t expect it.

*periodico*
*periodico*

On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult – Sharon Olds

By evening, I am down to the last,
almost weightless, mineral-odored
pages of the morning paper, and as I am
letting fall what I have read,
and creasing what’s left lengthwise, the crackly
rustle and the feathery grease remind me that
what I am doing is what my then husband
did, that sitting waltz with the paper,
undressing its layers, blowsing it,
opening and closing its delicate bellows,
folding till only a single column is un-
taken in, a bone of print then
gnawed from the top down, until
the layers of the paper-wasp nest lay around him by the
couch in a greyish speckle dishevel.  I left him to it,
the closest I wanted to get to the news was to
start to sleep with him, slowly, while he was
reading, the clouds of printed words
gradually becoming bedsheets around us.
When he left me, I thought, If only I had read
the paper, 
and vowed, In two years,
I will have the Times delivered,
so here
I am, leaning back on the couch, in the smell of ink’s
oil, its molecules like chipped bits of
ammonites suspended in shale,
lead’s dust silvering me.
I have a finger, now, in the pie –
count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip.
I weep to feel how I love to be like
my guy.  I taste what he tastes each morning
without moving my lips.

***

Happy tasting!

Jose

* photo found here

* some origins, manu chao & the friday influence

In regards to the question “When did you start writing?” I give several answers depending on context.

If it’s a professional context, I say seventeen, that being the year that I first typed up, printed, and sent off poems to a real lit mag.  I call it the year I began to take my writing seriously, the act of sending my poems out into the world for consideration an act of considering them worth, uhm, considering.  (Two got published on that first try – bless those forgiving editors!)

If it’s more of the “When did you know you were a writer?” kind of question, then I go a little farther back.  I talk about how as a kid I used to rewrite lyrics to songs I heard on the radio, how I filled up notebooks with various takes on other people’s melodies.

I look back and realize that putting my words into other people’s songs probably taught me something about form, about structure and rhyme.  What exactly I learned, I don’t know.  (I’m a terrible rhymer in poems!)

The core of the experience, though, cultivated an obsession with words – sounds, meaning, phrasing – of saying something and saying it concisely, aptly.  Inevitably.

I threw away those notebooks sometime in middle school – a friend found me scribbling in one of them and asked what I wrote.  I said homework, tucked it away, and later that night tossed them all into the garbage.  Not a scrap remains.

words, yo
words, yo

What has stayed with me through the years is a distinct respect and fascination with song lyrics.

In this spirit, let me share some of the lyrics of French singer Manu Chao!

I have been listening to his first album “Clandestino” non-stop this week.  Manu Chao, after being in a few other bands, took to travelling and picking up different influences from the various street music he encountered to create a hybrid sound that is as much diverse as it is simple.  His songs remind me of Garcia Lorca being influenced by the folk culture of Andalusia.  His travelling manifests itself in his writing songs in French, Spanish,Italian Galician, Arabic, and Portuguese.

Here’s a line that I keep turning over my head:

El hambre viene, el hombre se va –

(Hunger comes, man leaves)

This is a fine line – more than that, you see in the words themselves how one letter changing (hambre = hombre) evokes so much of the meaning of the line.  Now, take the line within its context in the song “El Viento (The Wind)”:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera

El viento viene
El viento se va

El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin mas razon…

(The wind comes
The wind goes
Across the frontier

The wind comes
The wind goes

Hunger comes
Man leaves
Without a reason…)
***

Suddenly the words take on a whole other meaning.  That change from ‘a’ to ‘o’ in the words (hambre/hombre) seem almost a trick of the wind itself, the same wind that is being sung about.

Part of my general fascination with song lyrics is how you can do certain things in a song that you can’t do in a poem.  I say this not to discredit one side or the other but to show them both as the formidable modes of expression that they are.

In his lyrics, the wordplay of hambre/hombre play out concisely the theme of vagabond that Manu Chao explores throughout his whole first album.  Taken solely as words, the line is simply a proverb.  But put to music, put within the larger context of musing on wind and then the even larger context of an album about transiency and the line becomes downright mythic.

Cool.  You can listen to the song here.

And a fun one can be found here.

Happy bongoing!!!

jose

* photo found here.

* thistleburrs & the friday influence

Song of the Barren Orange Tree – Federico Garcia Lorca *

 Woodcutter.

Cut my shadow from me.

Free me from the torment

of seeing myself without fruit.

 

Why was I born among mirrors?

The day walks in circles around me,

and the night copies me

in all its stars.

 

I want to live without seeing myself.

And I will dream that ants

and thistleburrs are my

leaves and my birds.

 

Woodcutter.

Cut my shadow from me.

Free me from the torment

of seeing myself without fruit.

 

***

 

This week’s Friday Influence presents this lovely poem by the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

One of the great things about lyric poetry  is how the personal nature that moves behind it can be either implicit or explicit.  Here, so much is implied through the character of an orange tree.  Desolation and loss are evoked in the repeated first and last stanza.  There is also desire – the “ants/and thistleburrs” of the third stanza come alive and send shivers through me.

There is something  to a poem like this, the way it works within a context and makes use of the image of a barren orange tree to make you feel something, make you consider things you never could otherwise.  “Why was I born among mirrors?”  I would never have asked myself that before.  It all lies in the use of “I”.

To go back Rimbaud’s idea of “I is an other” – the “I” here is literally “an other”, but it reflects the “I” who I am all the more.

Yes.  I  just wrote that sentence.

 

***

 

In other news, I got my job back at the bookstore here.  I come home smelling of old books.  The smell is like cantnip to my lady.

Happy thistleburring!

J

 

* translated by W.S. Merwin