writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.


Dimitri Reyes

3rd Generation

after Marina Carreira’s poem, “First Generation”

We are grass cracked cement.
Dollar store chalk breaking on rough sidewalk.
Dust kissing our jeans when children cross streets
watching out for buses code switching between
careful, bus is turning and
cuidado, autobús están virando.
We are empanadas for breakfast and white rice for dinner.
We are C&C sodas and sunflower seeds
tucked into our Chucks, New Balances, SB Dunks, or Retro 4’s.
Our countries are our minds.
The megapixels of palms, grass, and sands
seen on the walls of barbershops and bodegas come in 4K.
We are change the channel on our IO Triple Play.
We don’t know how to respond to its-your-heritage month
because every month should be our month.
Someone says for what? Our forehead wrinkles in repeat.
For what. What. Qué. For. What. For. Qué?
We is 4K and our last names leave us naked.
We know there are more of us,
never think there are too many of us.
In America,
we’re included if we see us in America
until they don’t see us in America.
We are raised by our grandparents
(here or not)
while our parents figure it out.
They are still figuring it out.
We are a part of the same gene pool
until a different one is uncovered. 
We are the equivalent
of standing in the wrong line at the DMV
understanding English faster than we forget Spanish
and that still doesn’t license us star spangled freedom.
We are at-the-friend’s-house-with-the-clear-enough-pool
and say
damn, if only we can live in weather like this year round
where that friend reaches across 4 generations to say
you wildin’…
we’re not on the island…
I don’t even like the heat.


Short Statement, Dimitri Reyes: 3rd generation means a lot to Every First & Fifteenth because it is a celebratory poem that recognizes the arbitrariness of both the familiar threads of “La Isla” and the learned experiences of “American” English-speaking culture. The intersectionality of these two spaces is where this third “in-between” space (hence, “3rd Generation”) is discovered and explored where the speaker savors language and the different interactions amongst several generations. This poem is the urbanite’s need to learn through community engagement. Though the poem is a mouthpiece of a generation, the individual is aware of the optics of those around him, and therefore has permission to view and express different parts of his landscape with the help of others inhabiting the same space.


Author photo of Dimitri Reyes, photo credit Ananda Lima

Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, content creator, organizer, and educator from Newark, NJ. He has organized poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRico and has read at The Dodge Poetry Festival, Split This Rock, and the American Poetry Museum. His forthcoming book, Every First and Fifteenth won the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award. Some of his work is published in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press and an Artist-in-Residence with NJPAC.

book news & co.

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2020! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Photo of a pair of traffic lights on green by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

One last thing to share: I’ve begun reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and have been floored by how much I’m connecting with the book. It helps to see someone else do work in the classroom that I have felt self-conscious about, like connecting and wanting to reflect and honor the knowledge students bring with them.

’til next time,

José

exhaustingly onward

Photo white grapes by Tolga Ahmetler on Pexels.com

Since my last post in April, there’s been a lot of life. The short of it is that I’m writing this after moving to a new city. Along with the move, there was wrapping up teaching for two semesters as well as production for the spring/summer issue of Salamander. All of this is exciting but also exhausting, haha.

As I jump back into posting, I want to share a few things that have been on my mind along with associated readings:

  • The current conversation around and banning of critical race theory in some states has me worried. As a professor of color, my mere presence in a classroom is a political act. When I mentor future educators of color, I make sure to share that there is a lot of extra emotional labor and what I would call POC-specific “teaching” moments–like having to answer the misguided question of “What nationality are you?” in the middle of a session. Alongside personal worry, there is the bigger picture of how this conversation is playing out. Many of CRT’s current critics are using the term as a catch-all phrase for whatever conservative agenda they are pushing. The actual theory, however, is simple and fact-based, which this article makes clear enough. It comes down to acknowledging and reckoning with facts, something marginalized communities have been forced to become accustomed to as a part of navigating existence.
  • Another source of concern has been how a majority of folx seem ready to go “back to normal” and speaking in terms of things being “post-pandemic” ignoring the facts that 1) the pandemic is still raging (along with anti-vaxxers on the homefront, see also world numbers); and 2) there is a large group of people, specifically disabled and immunocompromised folx, that are not being taken into consideration. This article breaks down some of who is being overlooked and lost in the rush back to the “meatspace” (an awesome phrase that I have writer and friend Barrett Bowlin to thank for).
  • Lastly, been spending time with the work of poet Steven Leyva. Check out “Boy Talking Back to Houston,” a poem whose range of history, wordplay, and naming are delivered through a speaker whose voice lets us in on a conversation between self and city both intimate and epic.

Take care of yourselves and each other out there. More soon.

José

shoutouts

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Photograph of a page with handwritten text.

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness

Check out Ettinger’s poems at Grand Little Things.

Happy NPM-ing!

survival & understanding

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

I also caught up with Aurielle Marie’s latest letter for The Offing and their efforts to engage their literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within their respective organizations. In “The Other Side of Imagination,” Aurielle Marie details their experiences and realities in the wake of the January 6th insurrection. Some moments that hit for me:

Photograph of the U.S. Capitol Building as seen through a security fence with a soldier standing guard.

On that violent Wednesday, some of my community organizer friends were checking in with one another in group messages. A good friend remarked with fatigue that he believed we were being out-organized. I disagreed. “White supremacy means we out-organize our oppressors, word-for-word, bar-for-bar… it means in the heat of battle we don’t miss… and we STILL lose,” I offered, “because our oppressors do not need intention or strategy to have their ultimate political goals met.”

*

Black people have always had to prepare themselves, their children, their communities for the impact of state violence. This, too, is an imagination of some kind, the preservation of the very people being hunted by the State. My partner and I, like many Black and Brown folks across the country, spent the 6th and the days following planning against some of the terrible possibilities that could find us as two Black queer femmes in a Southern state. This imaginative genius, this survival is exhausting, and this month, I have only that: my exhaustion. 

I appreciate Aurielle Marie’s honesty about this event and personal aftermath. Part of me has been working non-stop, another part of me remains shaken and beside myself. If you’re reading this, I wish you deep, necessary reflection as well as rest.

virtual reading this thursday :)

Just a quick post to announce a virtual poetry reading I’m doing this Thursday with poet Megan Alpert! Here are the deets:

Virtual Event: Megan Alpert and José Angel Araguz
presenting An Empty Pot’s Darkness and The Animal at Your Side

Harvard Book Store’s virtual event series welcomes poets MEGAN ALPERT and JOSÉ ANGEL ARAGUZ for a discussion of their poetry collections The Animal at Your Side and An Empty Pot’s Darkness.

Date: Thursday, January 7
Event Start Time: 7:00pm
Registration: folks can register at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1gDiz-wzQTe0yC4U-jesAA

For more information on the event, check out the Harvard Book Store site.

Looking forward to seeing folks there!

ending & starting: shiki masaoka

Photo by Marta Wave of a bench by a building with snow-covered grass.

I’m writing this not feeling great on the last day of the year to be posted on the first day of the year. Feels like I should have something grand to say but I don’t. 2020 had me heart-sick for most of it. Here’s to 2021, may you deserve us. Enjoy some life sketches by Shiki Masaoka. May you sketch out newness from the old you bring with you.

life sketches by Shiki Masaoka

in the evening glow
as they range in a vast sky,
these huge pillared clouds,
each radiant on one radiant side,
all crumbling, all dissolving
together

*

on this long long day
in which the shoots of young pines
have lengthened
my fever has come out
toward evening

*

on these pine needles
thousands of raindrops
all trembling, all swaying,
and still not one,
not a single one, falls

*

beyond this pane
of the closed window
in my sick room,
that pole for drying clothes
and on it a crow crying out

*

my wish:
to be carried
in a glass palanquin
through fields
piled silver with snow

(trans. Sanford Goldstein & Seishi Shinoda)

turn, volta, turn

Some quick thoughts and sharings from this week:

  • As many of you know, I’m a board member of CavanKerry Press, and I’m excited about the work done by this literary organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve managed to maintain their staff and publishing schedule, while conducting various community outreach events virtually. They are currently doing a fundraiser which I encourage y’all to check out at their site along with their current collections. They also have some of their literary anthologies available for free electronically.
  • One win for the week was getting the laundry done just before the machines were replaced in our building. And when I say just before, I mean JUST before–like, I came back to get things out of the dryer and the washers were gone. And if this doesn’t seem like a win to you, we’re not living in the same pandemic.
  • Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think 🙂

Been sharing the meme below with students. I share it with you hoping that if you feel called out, know that you matter. Let’s keep keeping it together together.

A meme with a crowd of Spidermans on one side and one solo Spiderman on the other, each are pointing across at each other in recognition. Over the crowd it says “Students barely keeping it together this semester” and over the solo it says “Professor barely keeping it together this semester.”

exhausted seltzer

Image description: A black square with the following written in white letters: “Your quarantine nickname is: How you feel right now + The last thing you ate”

Ran across this square in one of R.O. Kwon’s tweets (her novel The Incendiaries is dope, btw!!!) and due to the moment time of time I came across it, “exhausted seltzer” is what you can call me. In true poet luck, I’m charmed by the combination of words. I mean, seltzer when exhausted is flat, technically–which applies to how I’ve been feeling lately. Mind, I’m not feeling this when doing readings or when teaching–those are spaces where the energy I put out is given back, conversations and events that give back some of the fizz (oof, rough metaphor, I know). Rather, it’s the weight of ALL THE THINGS going on, all at once, and constantly happening.

If you can at all relate, please be kind to yourselves. Maybe have a seltzer, ha.

Rembrandt’s painting, “Head of an Old Man in a Cap”

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

Virtual Poetry Readings this weekend!

Hi y’all,

Just a quick post to share about two virtual poetry readings I’ll be a part of this weekend!

Friday, October 9th @8pm EST: 
“A Virtual Reading to Celebrate Adeeba Shahid Talukder’s ‘Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved’ featuring José Angel Araguz, r. erica doyle, and Adeeba Shahid Talukder

Register for this event here: https://nyu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwoduusrT8qHtSJXOMbf-III24bIYzAi9ma

*

Saturday, October 10th @6pm EST:
Suffolk Intertextuals Poetry Reading in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month: José Angel Araguz (w/ Q&A)

(To receive the link for this event, please email me directly at: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com — thank you!)

Here below are the flyers for the events–hope you’re safe and well in your respective worlds (más soon)!!!