what I would have said at the OBA ceremony

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1As preparation for the Oregon Book Awards ceremony, finalists are asked to prepare a few words, under two minutes, to say just in case. I gave my words a lot of thought and, though I did not win, I feel like sharing these words with you here below.

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OBA (non)acceptance speech

I first moved to Oregon in 2007. I had just battled through an MFA program and gone into one of the darkest times in my writing life. I didn’t come close to quitting, no. I came close to not sharing again, and not knowing how to share. In Eugene, where I found myself in this stew of writerly feels, I slowly reclaimed my writing life. Got into my habits of revision, into trusting my own voice and choices. I met some great writers who have become dear friends. I also got married and divorced in Eugene, but that’s another story. Read the books, ha. When I was in Ohio later, completing a PhD, I drew upon those rain soaked lessons to see me through the ups and downs of academia. Oregon, you taught me how to fight for my writing. I’ve been back here two years, and in that time I’ve seen libraries close in parts of the state. I’ve worked with public school teachers who speak of creative writing not being a priority in the curriculum. I’ve felt the pangs of grief as small colleges struggle and close. What I have to say tonight is: Oregon, fight for your writers. From a poet whose family comes from Matamoros, Mexico, and whose poems are about surviving the projects of Corpus Christi, Texas, receive my gratitude but also my respectful wish. That the writing spirit that kept me going when i needed it, keep you going, too. I want to thank everyone who has fought for me, everyone who has read my work and reached out, either via email or at a reading. Writers, we carry each other. I also want to thank everyone who fights for their poems everyday. Poetry makes it so that the fight feels nothing like a fight, but like the gift we didn’t know we could be a part of. Muchisimas gracias. No contaban con mi astucia.

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Más soon!

José

the road to a holiday video poem

The Light Between Us – José Angel Araguz

Before learning to read,
words are darkness.
What’s there
feels unseeable;
paper and ink, sure,
but nothing you feel
a part of.

The world around us
feels like this at times,
like darkness.
A harsh word, violence, pain—
we can’t read these things easily,
must wait for the darkness
to make sense.

Yet, we wait in light.
The same light
around each dark word
surges around us.

In light, we begin to hear
possibility, meaning.

A voice comes
in the light between us,
and we are surprised to learn

it is our own voice
that reads the darkness away.

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The above was written as a first attempt at a poem to accompany a holiday video being put together by Travis McGuire, Kevin Curry, and Jeff Kennel of Linfield College’s Communications and Marketing department. I had been given a brief description of the project to serve as a prompt: To visualize a crowd of people holding either phones or candles gathering, with a planned overhead shot at the end. I was also given “light” and “darkness” as key words. I worked out the above draft with this in mind.

While I can’t speak to the merits of the above, I can say that I see why I was asked for a revision. The above, while delving into some of the prompt concepts, remains very individual, the turn at the end being a gesture towards revelation, but a personal, intimate one. In further correspondence and talks with Travis, Kevin, and Jeff, it became clear that there was a sense of community missing from the original poem, something that I kept in mind as I drafted further versions.

One of the aspects of this revision process that I enjoyed was working out a sense of “poem as script.” Behind each word choice and turn of phrase, I considered what this would be like performed as a voiceover. This consideration took me into a performance mindframe, similar to how I prepare for readings as well as to the writing process I had during my years of writing slam poetry. With performance in mind in any capacity, one is thinking about how the word lands in two ways, on the air and on the page.

Below is the final draft of the poem as well as the holiday video itself. I am proud to have collaborated with the good folks from Communications and Marketing as well as student Antoine Johnson ’19 who read the poem for the video. As the year wraps up, I feel that the message of this poem and the lessons learned between drafts are worth considering moving forward.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

Holiday Poem – José Angel Araguz

The world around us
is dark at times.

Harsh words,
violence,
pain
leave us feeling alone,
isolated.

Stars, too, are isolated.
Each hangs in its own light.

The night, then, is darkness,

but when the light
from these separate,
distinct points
comes together…

When new understanding
brightens our lives,
darkness recedes.

When we come together,
we shine bright enough
to see tomorrow.

 

recap of my recent Linfield College reading!

IMG_20180911_235840_429*

Just a quick note to share this thoughtful recap of my recent poetry reading at Linfield College up at Medium!

I read on September 11th as part of the Readings at the Nick series held at Linfield’s Nicholson Library. Here’s “Alabanza” by Martín Espada, the poem I read to start things off.

Thank you to Ryan O’Dowd for this engaging detailing of the reading!

— José

new essay at Medium!

Just a quick post to share that my short essay, “The Speaking Up Mantra,” was recently published at Medium! Read it here.

This essay came about as part of a series of activities Linfield College put together to  welcome new students to campus and help them as they transition into college culture. I was asked to think of advice that would help new students, especially first generation students as they enter and try to navigate the world of the college classroom. As a first generation faculty, I find this subject fruitful and important. Even now, I still find it hard to speak up and find myself putting some of my own advice to use.

Special thanks to Travis McGuire, Director of Social Media for Linfield College, for the invite to write and share some of the insights gained throughout my first gen student and teaching experience!

— José

meditation: william stafford

This time last year found me writing about meditation in a blog post for the Cincinnati Review, about its place in both the writing and personal life. It’s one of those concepts and practices that gets lost under human error and flash, much like good poems often get lost in the error and flash of revision. Yet meditation’s troubled calm is worth reckoning with for whatever glimpse of clarity it might bring to your life; in this way, too, meditation is linked to the reading and writing of poetry.

oregon-51014_960_720One poet who I feel lived and reckoned with this troubled calm is William Stafford. In “Meditation,” Stafford adds his own take on the concept. This short lyric reveals and hides itself like a coin flipped in the air. Both an admission of defeat and of hope, it dwells right where one waits for things like memory, poems, and clarity.

Meditation – William Stafford

If I could remember all at once — but I have forgotten.
But some day, looking along a furrowed cliff, staring
Beyond the eyes’ strength, I’ll start the avalanche,
And every stone will fall separate and revealed.

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Read more about William Stafford here.

noticing with katha pollitt

I’m always surprised when a poem turns around and offers me something that opens up a whole other personal meditation. In this week’s poem “What I Understood” by Katha Pollitt, the moment happens in two lines before the end:

people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.

These two lines follow a meditation on childhood memories of “futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment” and answer that brief yet heavy list with the list of things noticed “sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.” It’s the kind of move that leaves me asking myself what things “save” me in everyday life.

Having just moved back to Oregon, Ani and I are surrounded by a whole new set of things to notice. On the walk to work, for example, there is a brief dip down a long stretch of road, the brief steepness leading to a small bridge that crosses a creek, a creek that one can only hear and smell and see if one is on the side of the road by foot, a creek that gives me moments so much like being inside a cathedral, or reading a poem, moments turned over, silent while not silent, alone yet not alone. This brief pocket of woods and water save me.

Also saving us these days is a California scrub jay who has a route by our new home. While it’s likely more than one bird passing through, we have gotten to calling each one we see “Leonard.” He passes the tree in the front yard then lands on the fence beside the house like so:20170521_172852-1.jpg

Here’s to what you may notice today and in the days to come. Like the speaker in the poem below, we may be left not understanding what we notice, but it may save us nonetheless.

What I Understood – Katha Pollitt**

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility. Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I’d ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others? I knew
about snobbery, too, and cruelty—for children
are snobbish and cruel—and loneliness: in restaurants
the dignity and shame of solitary diners
disabled me, and when my grandmother
screamed at me, “Someday you’ll know what it’s like!”
I knew she was right, the way I knew
about the single rooms my teachers went home to,
the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,
and that there was no God, and that I would die.
All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.
the only thing I didn’t understand
was how in a world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.
This year I’ll be
thirty-nine, and I still don’t understand it.

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Happy noticing!

José

**from The Mind-Body Problem (Random House, 2009)

watching with joe wilkins

One of the things poetry is able to do is help reflect the minor shifts in life after something major happens. After the election this past November, for example, I joined many others in shifting the things we paid attention to. Whether it was checking the news more regularly or vetting clear, accurate news sources, or simply noting how I am no longer able to laugh at satirists while the political climate shambles on, I find myself  not exactly jaded but rather more aware and, thus, more watchful.

This spirit of watchfulness pervades this week’s poem “Note to My Unborn Son concerning Manufacturing Economics and Courage” by Joe Wilkins, from his collection When We Were Birds. Within an address to an unborn son, Wilkins’ speaker is able to navigate the territory of job loss and its effect on lives in an intimate and direct manner. As the speaker centers a meditation on courage around the image of a family walking at evening, the poem makes a case for presence: presence as resistance, presence against the odds.

pexels-photo-249392“Watch the world, child, / it will teach you,” says the speaker, and in saying so within the conceit of this “note,” the speaker becomes part of the world to be watched. The final image of breath mirrors other things that pass (factories, time), and ends the poem on a note of human vulnerability in which the speaker’s own watching teaches him.

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Note to My Unborn Son concerning Manufacturing Economics and Courage
Joe Wilkins

Oh, now they have closed the factory.
We do not work at the factory,
so we are lucky,

which means we do not have to be brave.
It is no good having to be brave
all the time. You’ll see. I see

those ones who do. In the evenings
they walk their snuffling mutt,
smoke slowly their cigarettes.

Watch the world, child,
it will teach you. See, this is courage —
how he sets his steak-thick hand

to the small of her back,
how she bends and itches the ears
of that lucky, goddumb dog,

the way they breathe and their very breaths —
smoky, full of evening’s coming freeze —
seem to big for them to breathe.

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Happy watching!

José

new doors via richard tillinghast

A few big changes have happened in my life that I am barely catching up on enough to relate here. The first is that I have happily accepted an Assistant Professor position at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. I am really excited to be joining a stellar faculty at an institution known for cultivating a great intellectual and creative atmosphere. I am also excited to be back in Oregon, with its supportive and vibrant poetry community, bookstores, coffee (OMG, coffee!), and proximity to family.

What this big turn also means is that we’ve had to leave Cincinnati sooner than expected. The past few weeks have had us cleaning and packing and cleaning again, until we landed in Oregon last week. Hence, the catching up (with consequent catching of breath).

Along with all the moving work, I have also been working with FutureCycle Press and placing the final touches on Small Fires, which is due out next week. More details to come.

Big moves like this one always take me back to this week’s poem by Richard Tillinghast. Tillinghast’s meditative lyric hooks into the symbol of “big doors” and deftly begins to weave various narratives of “Many things never to be seen again!” The energy and clarity of this particular line does the work of bringing the reader closer to the poem, the speaker seeming to be on the level of awed gossip as they relate the rich details and images that follow. As the poem ends, the reader themselves has been on a ride, ruminating alongside the speaker, and, like them, knowing both a bit of what has passed and that there remains so much more they cannot know.

church-doors

Big Doors – Richard Tillinghast**

I have seen with my own eyes doors so massive,
two men would have been required
to push open just one of them.
Bronze, grating over stone sills, or made of wood
from trees now nearly extinct.

Many things never to be seen again!
The fury of cavalry attacking at full gallop.
Little clouds of steam rising
from horse droppings
on most of the world’s streets once.

Rooms amber with lamplight
perched above those streets.
Pilgrimage routes smoky with torchlight
from barony to principality through forests
which stood as a dark uncut authority.

A story that begins “Once upon a time.”
Messengers, brigands, heralds
in a world unmapped from village to village.
Legends and dark misinformation,
graveyards crowded with ghosts.

And when the rider from that story at last arrives,
gates open at midnight to receive him,
two men, two men we will never know,
lean into the effort of
pushing open each big door.

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Happy dooring!

José

P.S. The Influence is now considering poetry submissions. Check out the “submissions” tab to learn more.

**This poem is from The New Life (Copper Beech Press, 2008).

* travel update & some life sketches

Hello y’all!

Since I am moving this week back to Oregon and am on the road as I write this, I decided I would forgo the usual Friday Influence post and share some life sketches.  I will resume the usual astrologically-centered good times next week.  Enjoy!

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walking in Flagstaff

the folds of her blue dress

in the wind

our laughter folded there

 

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driving at night

the lights of Bakersfield

disappear behind the hill

like so many gleaming eyes

closing

 

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on the highway

in the half-light of sunset

the passing lights of trucks

like the eyes of a man

leaving

when told to go

 

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Happy driving!

J