walking working with juan felipe herrera

Some good news: I am happy to report that last Friday, 1/20, I successfully defended my dissertation! This event marks the culmination of four years of effort, doubt, more effort, and study.

After I defended my dissertation, I found myself amidst a crowd protesting the inauguration, which was encouraging, until I saw at the top of the stairs one white student with a BUILD THE WALL poster, and another white student standing there angrily shouting out Trump’s MAGA slogan. I’d had a Skype interview at 9am, then the defense at 10:30am. I was stressed and disoriented, and made my way home in a daze.

The jarring/threatening-vibe continues this week with the executive orders put into place by the new president. There’s also an armed activist (non-student) on campus carrying four guns talking about the second amendment and asking students if he scares them. He’s been here since inauguration day.

What does this have to do with poetry? I share these stories to document what makes up the crucible in which my poems are presently being written in and my life is being led. I look forward to continuing making use of this knowledge and experience (of the PhD, of living in Ohio in 2017) in the service of others. People are made up of a complexity that cannot be simplified or diminished by slogans. Reading and writing poetry, teaching it in the classroom, all of it helps us to read in between the lines.

This week’s poem reflects the work of being “in-between.” The lyric is able to carry various stories via language that moves and challenges the reader to do some of the “walking working” themselves. The poem is at times song and narrative, but always human. By “walking working,” we make meaning out of words; by “walking working,” we persist, resist, and evolve beyond the narratives others would have us live by.

cedarwaxwingeatingberries09

Everyday We Get More Illegal – Juan Felipe Herrera*

Yet the peach tree
still rises
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
our desert
*
            burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
*
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells   husband
                           with the son
                        the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen
they stay behind broken slashed
*
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
             & the puzzles
another law then   another
Mexican
          Indian
                      spirit exile
*
migration                     sky
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine  sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
peers
down  — from
an abandoned wooden dome
                       an empty field
*
it is all in-between the light
every day this     changes a little
*
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers                  Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
*
walking working
under the silver darkness
            walking   working
with our mind
our life
*
*
Happy life-ing!
*
José
*
* Poem published at Poets.org. Here’s a link to a reading of it by Herrera himself.

*resonating with josé antonio rodriguez

adelphinotes

 

Last week had me both at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, as well as in Austin, Texas for the CantoMundo conference. It’s a little more rocknroll that I’m used to, but I had a blast!

Here’s a pic of one of the nice surprises from last week: a collection of personal notes from the young writers I worked with at Adelphi. I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel at being given the opportunity to share my work and talk poetry with others. Thank you to all who attended my talk on lyrical prose and who have since reached out since then! Keep the words coming, for yourself and for others!

Each year, CantoMundo hosts a poetry workshop for Latina/o poets that provides a space for the creation, documentation, and critical analysis of Latina/o poetry. This year was the conference’s last time in Austin, and it was nothing short of spectacular! I was able to be in workshops led by Texas State Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla one day, and one led by the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera. Both poets presented themselves as forces of nature as well as generous guides. Highlights included the readings on Friday and Saturday at the Spider House Ballroom. I read on Saturday, specifically “Drinking at Home” and “Directions” from Everything We Think We Hear.

Sunflowers,_Merritt,_California,_27_June_2013One of my favorite things to do at CantoMundo is to geek out about my favorite poems by the poets who wrote them and who happen to attend the conference. The poem below by José Antonio Rodriguez originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Poetry magazine. I remember copying it out by hand at a bookstore and marveling at the raw imagery, from like a thousand ticks turning their backs to the “halos” at the end. What continues to move me even now in reading is how the imagery is packed with so much emotional resonance, pointing to things hidden as well as things almost there.

***

Sunflowers – José Antonio Rodriguez

No pitying/”Ah” for this one – Alan Shapiro

No, nor a fierce hurrah
for what it does without choice,
for following the light
for the same reason the light follows it.

Just a thing rough to the touch, a face
like a thousand ticks turning their backs,
suckling at something you can’t see,
and a body like a tag off the earth

so that my child hands couldn’t tear it out
from the overgrown lot next door.
………………………….My palms raw with the shock
of quills and spines. Its hold like spite, and ugly

except when seen from a distance—
a whole field of them by the highway,
an 80-mile-per-hour view
…………………………..like a camera’s flash.
All of them like halos
without saints to weigh them down.

*

Happy halo-ing!

José

p.s. One week left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Reasons (not) to Dance! Details below!

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

* beginning with juan felipe herrera & some news

This week’s poem by Juan Felipe Herrera (recently appointed as the first Chicana/o U.S. Poet Laureate) caught me towards the end the first time I read it. The way the details come together. The turn and return at the end to the image of something dark around the neck. Each reading of it since that first helps me appreciate the lyrical nerve at work.

The words about the grandmother had me in my memories of my own grandmother who passed when I was nineteen. I’ve been in a similar space as the poem describes, “inventing her memory.” For me, “black sparkles” is ink, each word more of the “leash” the poet writes of.

Cimabue, Goya, Beginnings – Juan Felipe Herrera

I carry a dark necklace around my neck.
It’s painted on.

No one has taken notice.

They think it’s an outline or an odd shadow.
No one has stared longer than a few seconds.

I’ll tell you.

I didn’t know where to put all the fragments of the novel
that family never finished. It had such sweet beginnings,
but it grew umber with a one-eyed madonna hovering
over the lampshade.

So many years, I whispered to her
come to me,
listen to me
I understand.

She would appear to me with gold-leaf
around her braids and seven daggers erect over the heart;

perhaps the last desire; the first real words
escaping from my grandmother’s grave, trying to touch
my hair as I sat at seventeen, writing,
inventing her memory.

Her voice was so loving,
now, all that remains is this broken leash
of black sparkles.

Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue
Frescoes in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi, southern transept, scene: Apocalypse, Detail by Cimabue

I’d also like to announce that my full-length microfiction collection Everything We Think We Hear has just been accepted for publication by Floricanto Press!!!

This manuscript has gone through several incarnations since 2012. The move towards microfiction happened in the last year. Something conceptually clicked about these pieces as I was working with FutureCycle Press on the finishing touches of my recent chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance. FutureCycle’s belief in one project breathed life into another.

I’ll be sharing more updates on the project as the book comes together.

Happy everything!

Jose