Just a quick note to share my latest review for The Volta Blog. This time around, I had the honor of reviewing fellow CantoMundo poet, Yesenia Montilla. It’s an inspiring book, one that adds to the conversation of the aesthetics and cultural understanding that come from engaging with one’s family history and traditions as well as one’s poetic traditions.
of my illiterate
in a deceiving
contract for life
The death of Francisco X. Alarcón earlier this month has been on my mind as I wrap up my 3rd year reading and work through exams this week. Reviewing his book, Canto Hondo/Deep Song was a revelatory experience for me. Through following and engaging with Alarcón’s singular minimalist poetics, I learned a lot about precision with the line as well as how much weight can be carried via emphasis. But it was his commitment to representing and singing for those who suffered that moved me the most.
His death remains a constant source of conversation in the Latin@ literary community, mourning and celebration following each other in a complex cycle that would’ve pleased el maestro. As shown in the poem above, Alarcón was well aware of the contradictions to be worked with in being a Chicano; even an X in a name can be a metaphor for the multifaceted tension of identity and self.
I write this post the night before my final 3rd year exam. Diving into my own sense of tradition and identity in Latin@ poetics has been an emotional journey. I have had great community throughout – from my CantoMundistas, to readers of my poems and books, as well as those of you who stop and read these Influences. Thank you. Thank you as well to the great teachers I’ve had, in the classroom and on the page.
“Mexican” Is Not a Noun – Francisco X. Alarcón
to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for showing solidarity with two thousand striking cannery workers who were mostly Mexican women, October 27, 1985
I’m happy to announce that my new collection Everything We Think We Hear is officially available on Amazon!
As I’ve mentioned here, this project brings the prose poem and flash fiction structure of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance and takes it in a more personal direction, adds a little more guacamole and South Texas to my usual rhetorical and imagistic leanings.
Here are what some of my favorite writers had to say about the project:
“What is the meaning beyond memory’s hauntings? How does one survive the multi-faceted self fashioned from such meanings? Poet José Ángel Araguz’ unflinching collection, Everything We Think We Hear, considers these questions from all angles and gives us answers as adamantine and brilliant as the prose poems he has fashioned in his questing.”
Sarah Cortéz, Councilor, Texas Institute of Letters, Author of Cold Blue Steel
“José Ángel Araguz balances the beauty and agony of a man siphoning love from beer bottles, sparse mother-son conversations, a stern Tía’s throw, and the weathered memories of an absent father. This collection, where a boy who couldn’t dream becomes a man “making communion with all he knows,” insists you gaze on lo raro, the sour-pickled and scattered parts of a soul who refuses to ignore the song of the broken even when surrounded by splendor. “
“In José Angel Araguz’s collection, Everything We Think We Hear, todo se vale, everything goes! This book plays with our senses and forces us to consider what we think we hear, what we think we are reading. A fierce voice that shouts often and whispers now and then the many truths of life in South Texas. The poetic prose pieces startle the senses with rich images that linger in the mind like memorable dreams. Read these pieces and come away transformed.”
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.”
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.”
To Those Who Have Lost Everything – Francisco X. Alarcón
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
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.
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.
Just a quick post to share my contribution to Rosebud Ben-Oni’s recent guest post at the Kenyon Review blog.
Rosebud reached out to her fellow CantoMundistas – Javier Zamora, Carolina Ebeid, Yesenia Montilla, Ruben Quesada, Amy Sayre Baptista, & myself – and asked us each to write a few words on the books by Latina/os written in the 21st Century which have influenced us. Anyone familiar with this blog knows I’m a book geek, happy to dig into what I’m reading, so I relished this opportunity.
Below is my contribution to the Rosebud’s guest post. Make sure to check out the rest of the insightful contributions here.
“Books Written in the Twenty-first Century by Latina/o Poets That Have Made Me Braver”
by José Angel Araguz
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Elegies In Blue: Written early at the turn of the century, this book stands as a living elegy for both the century that’s passed and the century that continues to grow in the echo of Sáenz’s words: “Perhaps, this year, a harvest for the poor./At last. This year. A harvest for the poor.”
Rosa Alcalá, Undocumentaries:In “Speaking of the Tree,” Alcalá brings together tree mythology, her father, hurricanes, German walds, the Texas/Mexico border, Vermont, etc. – all in a poem whose meaning keeps growing like a tree in both directions, skyward and earthward. Its song and lament holds praise for the lives touched by trees, and a lament for what passes across them. In this collection, this kind of lyrical nerve and ingenuity establishes a poetics of what goes unsaid and “undocumented.”
Rigoberto González, Red-Inked Retablos: I can’t stress enough how powerful the impact of reading the speech “To the Writer, to the Activist, to the Citizen.” From the call for Latina/os to fight with intelligence and be empowered in our public presence as well as to conduct more literary criticism, stressing that we must “generate praise for those who are [our] colleagues not [our] competition,” he makes being a Chicano writer seem like the inevitable beat of my heart.
Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth: Lastly, I keep this following excerpt from “Parts of an Autobiography” written on the first page of my writing journal as a kind of reminder of what is at stake in navigating the worlds of identity and poetry:
53. The writing is not the catharsis. The decision to excavate is the catharsis. The transformation from dreadfulness to art is the catharsis, but the art is the art.
Special thanks to Rosebud Ben-Oni and the good people at The Kenyon Review for this opportunity.
The girl next door had something to teach me
about what to air: On the line
somebody’s business gets told
then recounted; it’s best to thread a tale
for the neighbors, an orchestration
of sorts. But I am far from modest
in my telling of lies. There are three references
I put forward: each a past lover
who liked a different kind of underling
to his genius. You wouldn’t know it
from the delicates I roll
into the yard. It’s all the same peek-a-boo lace
and stunted imagination. Of course,
all of this is scanty truth. Who hangs anything out to dry
anymore, when invention has halved the work?
Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed writing reviews for The Volta Blog. My latest review is of Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries. The poem above is one example of how Alcalá digs out the complications to be found behind conventional metaphors. In my review, I break down the above poem, making connections with Sylvia Plath and the tasks (and consequences) a poet sets and works out for themselves.
Due to length considerations, I had to cut a bit of the original ending to the essay. Here’s a cut paragraph that I feel is essential in conveying my own personal connection with the collection:
“What goes unsaid in an essay like this – an essay which boils down to I read the poems, I thought about the poems – is worth considering given the Alcala’s idea of the “Undocumentary.” I read these poems for the first time in my thirty-second year of life. I am back in academia out of some sense of purpose or perhaps a need of one. I haven’t shared a house with my family for over fifteen years – in fact, it has been almost four years since I saw them. So much time apart and yet they keep coming up in my own poems. When Alcala writes about distance, I know what she means: it is the distance between family, a distance both physical and emotional, a distance of language and understanding. It is a distance one tries to cover through words because that is the only thing that is real to poets: real in its unreality.”
We plant seeds in the ground
and dreams in the sky,
Hoping that, someday, the roots of one
Will meet the upstretched limbs of the other.
It has not happened yet. Still,
Together, we nod unafraid of strangers.
Inside us, we know something about each other:
We are all members of the secret tribe of eyes
Even as we stand on uncertain ground.
Up there, the dream is indifferent to time,
Impervious to borders, to fences, to reservations.
This sky is our greater home.
It is the place and the feeling we have in common.
This place requires no passport.
The sky will not be fenced.
Traveler, look up. Stay awhile.
Know that you always have a home here.
Happy to announce the recent release of Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Rememberance, a new anthology edited by the illustrous Sarah Cortez. The anthology includes CantoMundo fam’ Celeste Guzman Mendoza as well as Martin Espada, Jim Daniels, Larry D. Thomas, and Alberto Rios, author of this week’ poem.
I also have a poem in it 🙂
Along with poems, the anthology includes statements from each of the contributors on their relationship with Mexico. Here is mine:
My relationship to Mexico is one of leaving and looking back: my mother left my father in Matamoros and crossed the river into Texas to raise me, but would wonder aloud about him to me. My father, his mother, my mother’s father – each has died in my lifetime in Matamoros, and left in that way. My childhood was visits to Mexico, until the drug trafficking made travel dangerous, and so I look back in my writings at what is left in those visits.
To learn more about the anthology, check out Sarah’s site here.
In searching for images to accompany this week’s poem, I came across the photo below. The photo is from 1933 and is of the Metropolitan nurses home at Roosevelt Island, part of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital complex.
The image below stayed with me for the way it captured what might have been part of someone’s daily commute or walk, a scene that may have been overlooked in day to day life. The image is almost without center, or rather, the center is active, keeping the viewer staring off into the detailed distance as one would be able to should they be turning this particular corner.
This week’s poem – “Chart” by Rafael Campo (pulled from the latest issue of Poetry*) – takes on the idea of people being overlooked in a doctor’s work life. Through the detailing of the particular corners of the people that he knows, Campo keeps the reader looking into the very active center of his poem.
The Chart – Rafael Campo
Says fifty-four-year-old obese Hispanic
female — I wonder if they mean the one
with long black braids, Peruvian, who sells
tamales at the farmers’ market, tells
me I’m too thin, I better eat; or is
she the Dominican with too much rouge
and almond eyes at the dry cleaner’s who
must have been so beautiful in her youth;
or maybe she’s the Cuban lady drunk
on grief who I’ve seen half-asleep, alone
as if that bench were only hers, the park
her home at last; or else the Mexican
who hoards the littered papers she collects
and says they are her “documents”; if not,
it could be that Colombian drug addict
whose Spanish, even when she’s high, is perfect;
or maybe it’s the one who never says
exactly where she’s from, but who reminds
me of my grandmother, poor but refined,
lace handkerchief balled up in her plump hand,
who died too young from a condition that
some doctor, nose in her chart, overlooked.
* p.s. Read the rest of this month’s issue of Poetry here.