news: Oregon Book Award finalist!

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1This week I’d like to share the good news that Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press) has been named as a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry category!

I am extremely honored and grateful to have my work in the running alongside the work of other great writers. The awards ceremony is April 22nd and final decisions will be made public then.

I want to quickly thank everyone who has taken part in celebrating the book into the world, from friends who read early drafts and shared insightful comments, to the reviewers who took the time to sit with the finished product and share their read of it. Special thanks to Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press for giving my work a chance and giving this project a home!

To celebrate, I’d like to share “Late,” one of the poems in the first section of Until We Are Level Again. In my recent post about running workshops at the Fire Writers Conference, I spoke about the power of naming as a way of seeing. I was excited to have this poem in particular in this book because it makes use of this kind of seeing. Here, I name a restaurant my mother used to work at as well as the street it used to be on; the restaurant has since closed down. Yet, naming gone places in poems gives them another presence, brings the reader closer to the world of the poem.

Late – José Angel Araguz

In the dresses she wore for work,
my mother became the front yard
we went without. Their dense fabric
stitched with bright designs,

flowers and leaves arranged to greet
the customers of Rosita’s on Baldwin,
not there anymore, but I know,
as dense as I’ve become, nothing

matters beyond first impressions:
the apron hanging off the door;
the iron hissing in her hand,
late, but insistent to look good;

my mother’s face bright, steadfast
as light through a threadbare sheet
held over the face of a child
pretending to be asleep.


Here’s the official list of finalists on the Literary Arts site.

And here’s a press release courtesy of Linfield College.

new review of Until We Are Level Again

Just a quick post to share the most recent review of my book Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press) by Valerie Duff-Strautmann over at Salamander. Duff-Strautmann reviews my book alongside Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon Press). Please check it out!

Thank you to Valerie Duff-Strautmann for spending time with my work and for all the support throughout the years!

See y’all Friday!


family & language

Tonight I have a reading at The Book Bin in Salem, Oregon. This reading will be my first official reading from my new book, Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press).

until 3_300In honor of the reading, I am sharing the poem below which inspired the cover art by Ani Schreiber. Birds figure heavily in the new book, landing and taking flight like the few things I know about my father; their movement of coming and going also mirror the guesswork his absence puts into my hand.

I once worried about writing too many poems about my father’s absence, and family in general. This book – along with Small Fires (FutureCycle Press) and a newer, unpublished manuscript – serve as a kind of trilogy answer to this worry. Every poem serves as another moment in a large conversation about language and family, one in which family is language I am trying to understand. When a family member is missing in this world, the feeling is like a misplaced word. I write to turn over words for the family they show.

The Story of the Prisoner Who Made Friends with a Sparrow – José Angel Araguz

My father digging
for grubs and snails, eating
his bread only enough
to leave crumbs on his palm,
his hand out each morning
through the bars, holding out
whatever he has found
for the flutter that knows him,
the eyes that never meet his,
that look around him,
for him, a child’s eyes
almost, unable to place
or name a father,
only take
what he can spare,
and move on.


time travel & W. S. Merwin

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1In the spirit of the syllabic breakthrough I mentioned last week in the poem that inspired the title for my latest collection, Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press), I share “A Letter to Su T’ung Po” by W. S. Merwin. Merwin has been an inspiration for over a decade. His lyric insight and meditative verve worked through in syllabics made me ambitious and had me counting mine own syllables regularly. The poem below is a fine example of how sometimes the words fall into place how we need them.

Revising from old journals earlier this week, I discovered the following note I made underneath where I had written out Merwin’s poem by hand. I share it now as a way to mingle with the time travel implied in the title and content of the poem:

I heard Merwin read this poem a week after filing for divorce from my first marriage. Ani was with me , both of us full of questions. This poem is a river in itself. The last line crosses centuries in a gasp, like one stepping away from the face of a river.

A Letter to Su T’ung Po – W. S. Merwin 

Almost a thousand years later
I am asking the same questions
you did the ones you kept finding
yourself returning to as though
nothing had changed except the tone
of their echo growing deeper
and what you knew of the coming
of age before you had grown old
I do not know any more now
than you did then about what you
were asking as I sit at night
above the hushed valley thinking
of you on your river that one
bright sheet of moonlight in the dream
of the water birds and I hear
the silence after your questions
how old are the questions tonight

from The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)

new book released!


I’m happy to share that my third poetry collection, Until We Are Level Again, is officially out from Mongrel Empire Press! It’s available for purchase here.

This collection incorporates excerpts from my first chapbook, The Wall (Tiger’s Eye Press), into a sequence of poems that engages further with ideas of language, identity, family, work, and death. I am excited to have it out in the world and hope you check it out!

Special thanks to MEP editor Jeanetta Calhoun Mish for working with me on this project and to Anthony Frame, Robin Carstensen, and Octavio Quintanilla for their wonderful blurbs. Thanks as well to Adeeba Shahid Talukder and Brian Clifton for close reads of the manuscript in its final stages. Thanks also to Ani Schreiber for the digital sketch that adorns the cover.

To celebrate the book’s release, I want to share the poem from which the book title comes from. This poem means a lot to me on a formal and conceptual level: formally, it is one of my breakthroughs in my work with syllabics, a poem where all the experimenting feels like it pays off (at least to me). Conceptually, there is a clarity to what the poem says that remains complex. I’m not trying to praise my own work; rather, the last line was one that surprised me when I revised into it. It appeared on the page as if I had placed it there in another life.

The Broken Escalator at the Train Platform – José Angel Araguz

When something like this breaks, it means
we must swarm around the narrow
stairway, our steps slower, the pace
set according to our sighs. Each
glance and gesture becomes a word.
My looking down and waiting speaks
to the old woman next to me:
after you. All the stars left in
the sky, all the calls and blinking
messages, the wintered sorrow
of all passing thoughts must now wait
until we are level again –
wait as we take turns returning
to our lives. When something like this
breaks, it means the words I wanted
to write before are different from
the ones I have got down for you.
These words are older than you think.

originally published in The Boiler


Happy until-ing!


new work & book news!

Just a quick post to share two things:

ONE: I am honored to be the January featured poet over at A Dozen Nothing. I’m especially excited to have these particular poems out in the world as they deal with some of the personal and political aftermath of last year’s election.

Thank you to editors Jeff & Pete for allowing the space for this work!

Check out the new work here.until 3_300

TWO: I want to officially announce the forthcoming release of Until We Are Level Again, my third full length poetry collection, to be published by Mongrel Empire Press later this Spring.

Thank you to editor Jeanetta Calhoun Mish for giving a home to this manuscript!

I’ll be sharing more news closer to publication. For now, here’s a peek at the cover art, a digital art piece by Ani Schreiber.

Happy new year to all of you!

See you Friday!


Alan Berecka, dichotomy, and a change

My brother-in-law tells me

often, poems once rhymed.

(from The Evolving Case for De-evolution)


The above lines are from the book Remembering the Body (Mongrel Empire Press) by poet Alan Berecka.  The book, as hinted by these lines, takes on the preconceived notions of both poetry and life.

Dichotomy is the name of the game.  In “The Priestly Poet”, Berecka writes of “Father Gerard” and “the poet Hopkins”, taking on the split Gerard Manley Hopkins must have faced in his life as poet Jesuit priest, the tension of believing in both The Word and in words.  It is a dichotomy Berecka himself wrestles with in other poems.

Hopkins comes up again in “Throwing the Morning News” where he talks of delivering papers at 3 a.m. and how:

“In this darkness I turned from Nightingale

on to Kingfisher when my lights beaming

low, caught two blocks of taillights, grills,

bumpers, reflectors, hydrant markers,

and stray cats’ eyes.  Jewels of light —

the spectrum given light — danced,

filling empty space.  The creation

stunned me and I stopped

but not for long.”

There is a part of my youth that is forever awake at 3 a.m. on my way to work.  I know the world of early hours.  When one is moved to speak about them, it is not for long.


Berecka writes the kind of narrative poems that are a joy to read, real life leading to real moments of lift in words.

Back to dichotomy.  Berecka is a poet’s poet, praising those who have influenced him, and defending the art as diplomatically as possible.

In the poem below, he is able to hold an argument against pure imagist thinking while sneaking in imagery into his narrative to take the poem into that higher level of lyric revelation the whole poem, and whole book, argue for.

This kind of thing is slick in all the good ways.  Like a trick shot at a pool hall, you can’t help but applaud.

In Defense of the Narrative

for Rick Sale

Slipping past the desk, at times

he would stand in our beer-filled places,

a welcomed guest – a fugitive

from ordered space.  He volunteered

for battle in our war and fought

well at my side that one night

when two imagists argued that good

poetry did not tell a story but created

visions that intrigued more than meant.

They held their own through the first

few downed pitchers, but when we moved

to the pinball machine to defend our

Miss Bishop, we humbled them.

With each shot they evoked Pound,

swore in Chinese and sweated

faces in the Station Metro,

but how could they win,

piling up the bells and flashes,

not the points, not knowing the trick

to scoring well was putting

the shots together to clean a rack,

earning the bonus, ignoring

the lights and playing the game.


Happy playing!



p.s.  So after much deliberation, the name of this blog will be officially changed this week to: The Friday Influence.  Those familiar will know that this is a reference to my Friday posts.  I will still post about various thoughts or books read, and always focused on the lyric poem for its intensity and ability to charge words with life and charge life with words.   The change is aimed at achieving a focus for the blog and to keep people from having to type up my ostentatiously long, very Mexican name.

Also, The Friday Influence sounds like a totally cool hipster band name: you know, obscure, underground.  You probably haven’t heard of them.