heartlines

National Poetry Month is winding down and its got me remembering myself a bit. Been some deep conversations throughout–with students, fellow writers, friends old and new–as well as some struggle. I’m grateful for all of it, to still be here.

As NPM wraps up, I’d like to share my recent publication in another of Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series, this time with an excerpt from a recent project entitled Heartlines. This has me returning to a similar mode as my chapbook of lyrical aphorisms, The Book of Flight (which can be read for free at Essay Press’ site). As you’ll note in the sample below, I’m riffing on various ways of thinking about the heart, life, death, and everything in between.

I’m honored to be included in Oxidant | Engine’s recent BoxSet Series alongside some dynamic writers including: Mary Buchinger, Kathryn Cowles, Ernest O. Ògúnyemí, Devon Balwit, and Ananda Lima. Check out the sample below and then check out the rest of the volume. I’ve been making my way through it at night and keep finding more and more to admire in this confluence of writers.


José Angel Araguz

from Heartlines

A page without marks became the color of my heart.

Wrist hurting and weary even as I write this, what stubborn knocking of my fist, my heart.

The heart is a window on a summer night you do not know is open until you feel it.


The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.


The heart upset is like a door left open, banging away during a storm. Against the house. Against the hinges. The other side against the wind. Each slam and heave, one word.

Voices from another room, the heart works like that, muffled, going on with its own business, you can’t make out the details but feel what is meant.

My heart pounds and pounds, like anything else testing its usefulness—hammer, fist at the door, rain against the sea.


Happy hearting!

Pangyrus virtual reading!

Poster for Pangyrus virtual reading.

Just a quick post to share an upcoming virtual reading I’ll be participating in: Join Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, Artress Bethany White, and myself as we celebrate the release of Pangyrus eight!

Pangyrus Literary Magazine’s 8th issue launches with this reading on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30pm EST.

I’m grateful to be reading alongside such dynamic writers. At the virtual event, folks will have a chance to meet the editors and authors who’ve made Pangyrus one of Boston’s most dynamic literary journals.

To learn more about this reading and register for the event, go here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/online-launch-party-reading-for-pangyrus-8-tickets-141737389347.

in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

Poetry’s ability to connect with us in essential ways cannot be stressed enough.

This is a sentiment I share on a regular basis in my teaching and conversations with writers. As much as I repeat it, I can’t claim it. What I can claim is the evidence that fills my life and the connections my life is blessed with through the work of poetry.

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

“Right.” Not sure what I mean by that. I do know that I wanted those flies in there to keep moving beyond me. Then years later, to have them visualized like this by another poet. Well, damn. It’s an honor to connect. to have one’s work read, and to have insight into how others see it. As much as I make a life out of words, I cannot stress how important, how precarious, yet how necessary connection is.

To all of you affected by the pandemic, by life itself, I wish you kindness and strength.

To Alfonso M. Gomez, I wish rest. ¡Presente!

An art interpretation by Rodney Gomez of a poem by José Angel Araguz

in memory: Miguel Algarín

Portrait of poet Miguel Algarin, New York, New York, 1994. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of Miguel Algarín, Puerto Rican poet, writer, and co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café who died earlier this week. Algarín was the embodiment of being a poetic presence on and off the page. His poetry set precedents by holding space for political struggles and literary insights that represented the various communities he worked and taught in. His work through the Nuyorican Poets Café as well as in his teaching showed him as a model for holding space for poets from all backgrounds.

The more I teach, the more I feel that the classroom is a space of confluence, a space where the experiences of my students and those of my own all meet, eddy, and converge, a presence. A stage can be a classroom as can the page. Across these three spaces, Algarín touched a great number of lives, influencing directly through community-minded efforts as well as through a singular understanding of languages.

The poet Rich Villar in a recent set of tweets shared the following sentiments:

I think it’s good to celebrate the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It’s good to celebrate and mourn Miguel Algarín. It’s also good and important to celebrate Miguel’s IDEA of the cafe, the “poetics” of community, which is genius particularly because anyone can replicate it.

So many spaces and places defined what became known as the Nuyorican movement. None of it required official sanction or 501c3 status. It required two things: need, and audience. Even the old squat on 3rd Street wasn’t necessary at first. Any old space would do.

Villar goes on to share the example of Elisabet Velasquez who, among other things, is conducting a series of stories on Instagram highlighting poets who answer questions asked by her followers. I agree with Villar when he compares Velasquez’s use of social media to hold space in the spirit of Algarín. That when one looks outside the capitalist-driven and prejudice-strained world of literary publishing and awards, one sees that giving and honoring each other is easy. That answering a question on social media or mentoring someone through email correspondence is easy, is community. One of the great joys of running this blog is being able to connect with y’all and create community.

It is an understatement to say that Algarín’s example is not just a literary one but a human one, a political one, a socially aware one. It is one I continue to learn from. To return to teaching: it is a platitude for a teacher to say I learn from my students. But what does that really mean? It means I commune with my students. I listen to my students. I build with them. Again, all one needs to commune, to listen, to build and learn is to hold the space for it.

I encourage y’all to hold space with some of Algarín’s work as well as to share it. Share your own work. Share your voice. If you’re reading this, know that I’m glad you’re here.

2 poems
“Not Tonight but Tomorrow (1978)”
“New Year’s Eve December 31, 1975”

A write-up on Algarín’s life at The New York Times.

dispatch: last week’s events & this week’s thoughts

Just a quick post to share the recordings from last week’s events!

First up is the Far Villages Anthology Talk, “Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World.” I joined Gillian Parrish, and Kathryn Hummel for a conversation moderated by the insightful Abayomi Animashaun. Our conversation included a discussion of what we termed the “empathetic imagination” as well as working across different languages, different countries, and different practices. Check it out below! Also, check out the Far Villages anthology here.

Next up is the Salamander Issue #50 Virtual Reading with readers: Rajiv Mohabir, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Anne Kilfoyle. I had a great time hosting this first virtual event for the Salamander community. As part of my intro, I included a few words in memory of Leslie McGrath who passed away this summer. I also read her poem “Ars Poetica” which I encourage y’all to check out. Here’s the event itself!

Lastly, I am writing and posting this a little later than usual for me. Main reason being that my mind’s been overwhelmed with the election which has yet to be called. It’s been a trying year already and this seems to be taking us deeper into the crucible. Whatever the results, it shouldn’t be this close. The gravity of what it being this close truly means is crushing. I wish you all sleep and peace of mind.

new essay published: excerpt

Far-Villages_Final_CMYK-768x1187This week I’m proud to share an excerpt from my essay “Keeping the Conversation Going, or Some Stories I Can’t Tell Without Rolling My R’s: A Meditation on Latinidad, Disdentification, & Some Poems” which was recently included in the anthology Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets edited by Abayomi Animashaun and published by Black Lawrence Press.

This essay engages with the concept of disidentification as established by José Esteban Muñoz in his book Disidentifications: Queers Of Color And The Performance Of Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 1999) and uses it as a fulcrum into a meditation on my own struggles at the intersection of identity and creative life. As a writer of color, my experience has been that politics found me first; that is, that I don’t have the privilege to decide to “not get political” as it’s said. As evident from early memories of being a child and getting glared at, along with my family, while at the grocery store, I was politicized long before I knew the words that defined me in the eyes of society.

Later, I sat in political science classes and learned ideas like “living below the poverty line” and “marginalization,” words that struck me with shame as well as insight, and was left unable to theorize about such things as they were words that described who I was, where I came from. Learning, in so many ways, has been a process of piecing myself together in the face of such formative disruptions of self. The learning that I engage with in creating poetry and lyric essays is a similar piecing together.

My essay is broken up into a first half, which meditates in prose about these and similar ideas. The second half goes through a series of poems from my first two collections and engages with a dialogue after each exploring what’s in the poem and what’s left out. I offer below the closing poem and prose section. The poem “A Poco” is new and is not in any of my books. Yet, the conversation on and off the page that I experience with it grapples with the same urgent self-interrogation as the rest of the essay. I share it here now as a way to celebrate this new anthology, but also to say thank you to those of you–past, present, and future–who come here and read this blog. 

Special thanks to Abayomi Animashaun for including this essay in this landmark anthology and to Black Lawrence Press for providing a home for this communal converation! A special thanks and shout-out to poets Peggy Robles-Alvarado, Christina Olivares, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, and Lupe Mendez with whom I participated in the panel Beyond the Blueprint: a poetry reading and panel discussion on the reconstructed self at the 2017 Thinking Its Presence conference: The Ephemeral Archive hosted at the University of Arizona. It was there that I first read a draft of this essay.

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(excerpt from essay “Keeping the Conversation Going, or Some Stories I Can’t Tell Without Rolling My R’s: A Meditation on Latinidad, Disdentification, & Some Poems”)

José Angel Araguz

A Poco

for Ramon

This piece of paper is work? A poco?
I won’t believe that, ni un poco.

It’s work for me with this good eye,
one bad eye from broke glass, pero a poco

tu with two don’t struggle here?
And with books and school? A poco

you all talk about it, in class, I mean,
about what it means? That’s work. A poco,

I’m not here, you don’t write about me,
right? My bad eye? I bet you do. A poco,

no? You have nothing else? You have nothing else.
Don’t say it looks like a bruise gone white. A poco,

no? But don’t say it. Say it’s a marble, or
like my granddaughter says: A poco,

 you can’t see out of that fish eye, abuelo?
Can you see me? Nope. Ni un poco.

What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.

What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.

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Happy disidentifying!

José

new review at The Bind!

Front-note: I hope everyone is staying safe out there–whether you’re protesting in person or doing activism at home. Black Lives Matter and we must do everything to push against systemic oppression.

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rosa bookAlso, just a quick post to share that my chronicle-review of Rosa Alcalá’s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem) went live earlier this week at The Bind!

Read as I divulge about writerly lateness but also about how books we carry–physically and emotionally–matter so much to our lives.

For more of Rosa Alcalá’s work, check out the poem “At Hobby Lobby” from MyOTHER TONGUE.

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Ever yours,

José

new publication: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext!

LatiNEXT Final

Just a quick post to share the release of the latest BreakBeat Poets anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext edited by Felicia Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo and published by Haymarket Books. Super-excited to share news of this release – in part because my own poem “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” is featured in its pages alongside the work of a phenomenal community of poets including Sara Borjas, Javier Zamora, Denice Frohman, Peggy Robles Alvarado, John Murillo, Janel Pineda, Juan J. Morales, Benjamin Garcia, Jasminne Mendez, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Yesenia Montilla among so many stellar writers.

I’m also excited and grateful to the editors for creating a space representative and celebratory of Latinx poetry in its multitudes. In these pages are the stories and aesthetics of “an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles, staking a claim to our cultural and civic space.” I am proud to be a part of this event and look forward to the anthology’s success and impact.

In the spirit of celebration, I am sharing mine own contribution, “La Llorona Watches the Movie Troy” below. I spoke with a friend recently about what this specific poem being included means to me. This poem was one of the last ones revised in time to make it into my second full length collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). So close it was to the then deadline that I never got a chance to send it out. One of four poems about La Llorona in that book, this poem had me exploring what it would be like to have her speak. The first draft was written the summer of 2004 when I lived in a house without electricity in Corpus Christi. Because it was summer in South Texas, I tried to stay out at the dollar movies for as long as I could. I ended up watching a lot movies on repeat, in particular Troy and Spiderman 2 (my book Everything We Think We Hear has the piece born from watching Spidey a bunch).

The first draft was very much heavy-handed and primarily focused as a statement against George W. Bush’s presidency and invasion of Iraq. That draft lived dated and lost for a good number of years. When it came time to work on Small Fires and its tetralogy of Llorona poems, this one came back to mind as being in conversation with that book’s statements of identity and conflicted nationalities. Letting La Llorona speak and harangue America via the actors of the movie still feels right. That the editors of this anthology saw fit to include this poem in an anthology full of similar conversations also feels right.

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José Angel Araguz

La Llorona Watches the movie ‘Troy’

 

She watches Brad Pitt leap, then land a stab
like a hammer blow down, spends time taking in
the bronze skin of the actors, the way the say ‘grass’

like ‘toss,’ ¡Todo British! She snags popcorn
by the handful watching the gods
be shrugged off by warriors. During the scene

where the Greeks scurry from the Trojan horse,
their shadows fingers pulling at string
and unraveling the night, her breath is sand

and crackling flame. When they run towards fire
in the desert, towards collapsing roofs
and digitized screaming, the montage

of faces, of bodies pushing against each other
has her whispering to no one in particular:
¡Mira Baghdad, mira Juarez! And no one

in particular hears her over the Dolby
of swords being unsheathed. She begins to hum,
letting her voice hit the same notes

as the opera singer overlaid during the carnage.
Should anyone look over, they’d see
the silhouette of a woman in the third row

treating the forty-foot screen like an altar.
When, after seeing the toppling of statues
and the scavenging through offerings

to Apollo, sun god, the one who sees everything,
the aged and fallen king staggers in defeat
and cries out: Have you no honor!

Have you no honor!, she gasps and nods,
as if watching a telenovela unfold
according to how she would want it. Truth is,

she has seen this all before, has drowned
the brown bodies, has plucked gold coins
from river water before any boatman

could make his way to her. She knows
the blonde and blue-eyed have arrived
to play both hero and love interest again,

that though Helen here is a vagabond Marilyn,
she used to have un poquito de chile
in her blood, y un puñado de lodo

 in her heart. That’s why it’s a woman
who says: If killing is your only talent,
then it is your curse, and says it

like one slapping their hand against the river,
a sting in their hands for a while. Truth is,
there will always be a Brad to leap, and hit hard,

the thud through the speakers like a heartbeat.

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Copies of The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext can be purchased from Haymarket Books.

 

one more from Vincent Cooper

zarzamoracover_3_origIn my recent microreview & interview of Vincent Cooper’s Zarzamora (Jade Publishing, 2019), I spoke about Cooper’s ability to tap into lyricism that catalogues and captures through immersive narrative. When the subject is family, loss, and memory, taking one’s time with the weight of each detail is necessary and instructive. What matters ultimately, though, is what is evoked.

The poem “Sepia Boys” (below) does a great job of using narrative and poetic techniques to tell a story beyond the story being told. As the narrative develops around a photograph of the title’s “sepia boys,” a tension begins to grow around the chosen details:

Cousin plays with the ashtray lid on the door
The squeak of open. Close. Open. Close.
A slap to that hand.

This stanza is a good example of the way pacing develops through phrasing. As the details here are doled out, a sense of routine weariness is created. The juxtaposition of details, however, sharpens the narrative with tension. It’s a clear moment: the act of playing with an ashtray lid is quickly shut down by a slap. Yet, the emphasis on sound (squeak, slap) makes a simple moment haunting. This narrative push and pull is the main engine of the poem. This mix of pacing and juxtaposition evokes the restlessness behind the lives of the boys in the photograph.

As an ekphrasis, this poem aptly fulfills the job of exploring the imaginative space inspired by the photograph. The poem goes beyond that, however, by taking its time not only with memory details but also meditative ones as well. Cooper’s sense of narrative here goes beyond story in that it seeks to stir up for readers not understanding but the space to understand. In using narrative lyric to hold the lives and deaths of others, this poem holds a clear and engaging impression of the speaker’s inner work to create a space for understanding within himself.

Sepia Boys – Vincent Cooper

The kids today are gone away petitioning the dust
With no one to look up to
Because they’re looking up to us – Bad Religion

Cousins are across the street,
playing in the park.
With concrete turtles to sit on,
steel bars to climb.

A sun-scorched slide with sand at the bottom.

I have ripped jeans at the knees.
Park Police watch brown kids sweat,
laughing with friends.

Grandparents, mothers and fathers
watch their children
play rough.

A mother, concerned, clenches her fist,
yells from the screen door.

Let them learn, he says.

Lunch is on the stove.
Beans …cooking slowly.

The kids come back
holding hands,
reaching for a manguera.

Cool water from the green hose
passed over mouths.
Water dripping from chins.

Primos file into the house.
Boys pee into one toilet together,
and primas go with Ama or tía.

Fingers webbed with black ligas;
picture day for the familia.
All of us rush into the car, after.

Cousin plays with the ashtray lid on the door
The squeak of open. Close. Open. Close.
A slap to that hand.

A warning that some reward will be taken.
Later,
the sepia boys pose with two front teeth exposed.

A brown mound of hair and eyebrows styled with mother’s hands.
A smile held for a momentary snap.
An endearing image forever.

The kids grew up to be high school dropout junky hippies
while others worked hard for the city or served in the military.
And they’d still call each other from pay phones to come over and drink

To spend every second, they could together,
or drive by
with a hand gesture beer signal.

The sepia boys are mostly gone.
Toothy pictures to remember them all
and hot summers that burned the grass brown.

Chicharras in the trees
ranting their rants.
No more empty beers cans scraping across street to the curb

Or cigarette smoke that tears up eyes to a sneeze.
It all ended, and some people want to know why.
It’s because they all finally died.

We chose to let them go.
It was only their body that died that day.
Their spirit still walked the streets to a methadone clinic

–to take away their back pain.
The fellas were still out on the porch drinking.
In your mind as you drove by, memories in sepia tone.

It’s in our DNA to suffer as it is to fight.
If we choose to die, or live in the dark,
sepia tone boys and girls stay in boxes.

They go from the house to the garage,
and those pictures dust up.
They fade.

Spiders and roaches crawl over them,
their bodies in the ground.
They die again.

Do you want them to die again?

Mother is a westside original,
and part of her exists in me
as I write and as I live.

My kids look up to me.
All our kids look up to us.
In adoration.

We are their first heroes.
Their first poets.
Their guides

that try to hide the frustrations of the world.
Behind coffee sips and mass shootings,
we love them.

We find love in the cemeteries of our bellies
and hearts.
We take it all back and have more.

Don’t let them kill you too.