* the influence wrecking ball via Robinson Jeffers

To the Stone-cutters – Robinson Jeffers

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain.  The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years,
and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.

* a rocky poet *
* rockin’ poet *

If that don’t wake you up on a Friday morning I don’t know what will!

I’ve been wanting to do a post on Jeffers for a while.  He’s definitely been an influence.  I first got into his work back during my MFA – which resulted in my poor workshopmates being inundated with a Jose poem that was needlessly dark and unnecessarily long.

To keep it short, the influence wrecked me for a bit.

Which is the way it works sometimes.  So much of writing is born out of reading, and sometimes we walk away from things we read with only a glimpse of how the writer got there but fully convinced we can get there too.  I want to believe it’s a youthful hubris but I would be kidding myself.

To get back to Jeffers: he is famous for his longer works, but there is a lot of heart and insight in his shorter poems.  After getting over my initial impulse to take after his way with the line (and getting away from myself in the process), I spent some time with the shorter lyrics learning a thing or two about compression and conciseness.

The poem below is a rare note not only in its brevity but also in his use of another’s voice.

Cremation – Robinson Jeffers

It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation.  To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had great joy of my body.  Scatter the ashes.

***

Happy scattering!

Jose

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

***

This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J

* strange week & a poem

It’s been a strange week here in my world.  I promise to be back with a more regular post next week.  For now, please enjoy this poem of mine published originally in Hanging Loose, a great magazine out of Brooklyn.  More info on them can be found here.  The poem comes from my time working at Oren’s Daily Roast at Grand Central Station.
Grand Central, yo.
Directions – Jose Angel Araguz

The man asking for directions sighs when I answer him in Spanish, shakes my hand, almost hugs me. He tells me I look more Puerto Rican than Mexican but we are not all hermanos, primos, and maybe that is why I excuse him like a brother or a cousin when he points to my books and asks what I am studying and hears “la policia.” Before I can correct him, he releases another sigh and says alright, says he knew he could trust me when he saw me, says that is the best thing for a man, to be strong, to stand for something, that in this country it is like money to be a police officer, the girls love it, family approves, and your boys know they can trust you, and as he goes on about parking tickets and handcuffs, I think about all the nice things being said and whether he would say them about “la poesia” and how the thing I do study is made up of everything we think we hear.

(published originally in Hanging Loose No. 98)

Happy hearing!

J

* picture found here.

* w. s. merwin & the friday influence

Dusk in Winter – W. S. Merwin

The sun sets in the cold without friends
Without reproaches after all it has done for us
It goes down believing in nothing
When it has gone I hear the stream running after it
It has brought its flute it is a long way

***

 This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!

What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines.  Not only the brevity but the subject matter.

We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity.  Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.

What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.

That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem.  It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.

Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke.  The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.

***

rains, yo

The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene.  In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:

To the Rain – W. S. Merwin

You reach me out of the age of the air
clear
falling toward me
each one new
if any of you has a name
it is unknown

but waited for you here
that long
for you to fall through it knowing nothing

hem of the garment
do not wait
until I can love all that I am to know
for maybe that will never be

touch me this time
let me love what I cannot know
as the man born blind may love color
until all that he loves
fills him with color

***

Happy filling!

J

(photograph found on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2008/sep/26/poster.poems.rain.poetry)

* Beautiful & Pointless by David Orr – a quick review

Just finished reading David Orr’s lovely book: Beautiful & Pointless, a marvelous and sly book.

now to think of another title for my autobiography

Marvelous because Orr is able to navigate through the realm of contemporary poetry – both the writing of it and the living of it – in a charming and knowledgeable manner.

Sly because his essays have forced me to take a long, hard look at myself and my aspirations as a poet while making me chuckle.

Damn.

David Orr is the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review.  I have been enjoying his columns for years now.

The biggest risk taken in this book is Orr’s breaking down of the mystique surrounding the business and writing of poetry while at the same time showing how the public and private realms are inseparable and *gasp* often beneficial to each other.

(*gasp* because I am a bit of a poet hermit in terms of the outside poetry world.  I mean, it’s scary.  They should send chocolate with rejection letters.)

The charm of the book is how, by breaking down the mystique, Orr makes a fair argument for how poetry is like sports or travel or any other activity that gives pleasure and meaning on an individual level, first and foremost.  By putting it in this context, poetry’s mystique – the revelations, the idiosyncratic fascinations, its intimate tones – is simply part of its appeal.  It is an art not for everyone, but no less worthwhile and valuable to people.

Overall, it is a reaffirming book and worth checking out.

Here’s a sample of why:

…much of life is devoted to things that in the don’t matter very much, except to us.  Time passes whether we like it or not, and its too-quick progress is measured out in private longings and solitary trivialities as much as in choices we might defend to a skeptical audience…I can’t tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead,  that choice can be meaningful.  There’s little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident…

Check out more from David Orr at his website: http://davidorr.com/

Happy evidenting!

J

* Fanny Howe & the friday influence

(poem from Robeson Street) – Fanny Howe

Pushing children in plaid & silver prams

us mothers were dumpy,

                                           hunched in the damp

 

and our redlipped infants

   sucked on their strange fingers

      eyes stung by the gunny-strong

           grass on the hills

 

I wanted to sit near sweet water, not salt

in the fuzz of extreme weather,

           but we’re not here to

 

Like women who love the Lord on hills

what for what for,  we cawed outside

   as in bare trees, too plain to see

 

***

I have spent the past few weeks smitten and humbled by the work of Fanny Howe.  This poem holds much of what I find fascinating in her work.

There is the touch of William Carlos Williams in the phrasing of the line “us mothers were dumpy” – some of that American language he prized so much.

Then there’s her way with the line, as in “but we’re not here to” – the way the phrasing cuts off the sentence at just the point where it has its meaning complete as well as visually plays out the concept of “we’re not here”.

In this poem about disappearance of sense of self, those last two lines swallow the people in the poem and turn them into birds – all of it done in careful phrasing.  I turn the last two lines here over and over in my head to watch the meanings gleam and hold.

***

birds, yo.

***

Happy gleaming!

J

* out to sea on the friday influence

Sea-weed – D.H. Lawrence

Sea-weed sways and sways and swirls

as if swaying were its form of stillness;

and if it flushes against fierce rock

it slips over it as shadows do, without hurting itself.

***

seaweed, yo.

This week on the Influence: an explanation!

This past few days have been kind of rough in my world.  Nothing major, just life.

What that means for you kind readers is that I was not able to do my usual type of post this week.  Things should be back up and running next week, both blog-wise and life-wise.

Until then, enjoy these sea themed poems.

This next one by Greek poet George Seferis makes me hear things.

**

haiku – George Seferis

You write;

the ink lessened

the sea increases.

**

the increasing sea

And one from yours truly:

Correspondence – Jose Angel Araguz

Sin palabras

el mar viene y se va

viene y se va

*

Without words

the sea comes and goes

comes and goes

**

Happy coming and going!

J

* the Borges/Araguz haiku challenge & the friday influence

3 Haiku – Jorge Luis Borges *

They have said something to me,

the afternoon and the mountain.

Already, it is lost.

**

The antique sword

dreams of its battles.

Another is my dream.

**

Is it an empire

that light dying down

or a firefly?

**

luciernaga – much cooler word than firefly.


This week on the Influence – Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges has been a kind of spiritual/writing mentor for me the past couple of years.  He prided himself in being a better reader than writer, and prized the pleasure of reading above any fame and notoriety to be gained in the writing world.

In the introduction to a book of prose poems, he defended himself from those who would bicker over whether the pieces in the book were poems or not, that they were poems to him, some of which took their form in prose.

I took this as permission to take on the prose poem in my own fashion.  But more than that, it gave me permission to own my sense of what a poem is, that it could be many forms aspiring to one spirit.

Which is how I take on haiku.

You take on a form and keep writing until you have a relationship with it, until it is yours.  Whatever gets it out of you, gets you writing, gets it written.

My challenge today is more of an homage.  Here’s to Borges and getting it written.

***

3 Haiku – Jose Angel Araguz

shadow of a branch

across the page

writing

**

the tension

between two

buttons

**

down moon-paved roads

cold morning

walks

**

Happy walking!

J

* translation by Jose Angel Araguz (word to your Obra Poetica!).

* re-acquaintances & memory lane

I recently reconnected with an aunt of mine.

On the surface, this is no big deal.  Except the nice lady in question is the last living blood relative I have connected with my father.  I mean, she might know his actual birthday.

The last time Pilar, my aunt, and I saw each other, my grandmother – mother to her and my father – had died.  I spent the day with her and her family going around the neighborhood collecting stories about him.

Then she handed me what photographs she had of him.  I had never seen these photos, never seen so much of my father.

We lost touch after that visit.  It’s been eight years.

Finding each other again is a big deal because my father’s side of the family is riddled with men who leave or go missing.

In honor of our re-acquaintance, I have decided to share a poem I wrote a little after my grandmother’s death.

The line about the whispers of tough gossip is Pilar wondering after her brother.

***

Two Years *

 

In a house with only a front and back door,

The rooms separated by bed sheets,

A television that only worked at night,

When it wasn’t windy,

When it didn’t rain,

And a crucifix above the kitchen sink,

My grandmother would fill bottles with water and sugar

And watch over me as I ate in my sleep,

My mouth chewing dreams that would never fill me up.

 

Eyes puddled with dark rings would look down,

Bags the color of beaten and bruised fruit;

Her hands, brown and thin with veins

Like cross hatched branches,

A tree named Augustina

Would hold me, pour water over me

In the same place she peeled potatoes.

 

I never knew her name til I was eight.

On the phone, there was more static than I knew words in Spanish.

There was a photograph, paper swollen and smooth,

Picture blurry and dull,

A smile the color of headlights at night.

 

What face did I make as she passed me around,

Miren Angel, look at my son’s boy,

My father, the fisherman

Who let his son grow up not knowing how to swim,

His footsteps on the whispers of tough gossip,

Like dust being swept across the floor,

No longer the imprint of a foot,

No longer there.

 

Tina, I have seen buildings fall and the morning grow gray with smoke,

I have seen deserts explode through the green eye of the television,

I have seen a man hit in the mouth with his own gun,

I have seen women scream because men with broken bottles in their hands

            Don’t know better or don’t care,

I have seen love in a bruised face,

A pair of heavy eyes,

Your eyes —

 

Skin crinkling like burning leaves —

 

And I wish the metaphors could stop,

I wish I was Jesus,

That when I laid my hand down

It meant more to me than words,

More to you than an unfamiliar tongue,

Sounds you can’t understand

Stretched out in scribbles, curled

Like hair on a newborn’s head.

***

Happy scribbling!

J

* an earlier version of this poem appeared in Glyph, the literary journal of the College of Santa Fe

* Kay Ryan chills on the friday influence

Say Uncle – Kay Ryan

Every day

you say,

Just one

more try.

Then another

irrecoverable

day slips by.

You will

say ankle,

you will

say knuckle;

why won’t

you why

won’t you

say uncle?

***

This week on the Influence: Kay Ryan.

When I go back to this poem, I’m always taken in by the speed of it.  It is deceptive how short the poem is because of how much is in it – humor, rhyme, a certain emotional urgency that I can’t after years of reading the poem seem to find a source for.

It’s just there.

In the tight lines, in the way the word “irrecoverable” takes up its own line and damn you can feel the weight of loss in one word, one word long and wide like open arms.

When asked why she avoids the self-revealing emotions typically identified with contemporary poetry, she responded: If you put ice on your skin, your skin turns pink. Your body sends blood there. If you think about that in terms of writing, cool writing draws us, draws our heat. *

Words like ice.  Nice.

cubes…for now.

***

Here’s one more by Ryan:

Atlas – Kay Ryan

Extreme exertion

isolates a person

from help,

discovered Atlas.

Once a certain

shoulder-to-burden

ratio collapses,

there is so little

others can do:

they can’t

lend a hand

with Brazil

and not stand

on Peru.

***

Happy standing!

J

***


* great interview!  http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5889/the-art-of-poetry-no-94-kay-ryan