testamenting with Carolyn M. Rodgers

Over the summer, I got a chance to add to my forthcoming poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness, which will be published in 2019 by Airlie Press. This book is an expansion of my chapbook Corpus Christi Octaves (Flutter Press) and its series of lyric sequences about two late friends from my hometown in Texas. This new collection builds on the theme of mortality, the latest addition being a “testament” poem.

testamentTestament poems tend to be a mix of a poet’s last will in verse (a la Francois Villon) and a catalogue of wishes and hopes (a la Pablo Neruda). This particular mode of lyric meditation, for me, ended up feeling expansive. I was surprised by how I ended up writing less about the life live and more about the act of writing as living and survival.

I see a similar emphasis on survival in the poem below by Carolyn M. Rodgers. The poem begins by immediately departing from the testament’s focus on the self and instead addressing the poem to another. By doing so, connection becomes part of the survival act. The poem moves in its declarations and images of hardship, creating a narrative that reaffirms life through active survival. Speaking of how “we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here),” Rodgers honors this survival as the undeniable fact of who we are. 

Testament – Carolyn M. Rodgers

child,
in the august of your life
you come barefoot to me
the blisters of events
having worn through to the
soles of your shoes.

it is not the time
this is not the time

there is no such time
to tell you
that some pains ease away
on the ebb & toll of
themselves.
there is no such dream that
can not fail, nor is hope our
only conquest.
we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here)
in our blunderings, our bloomings
our palms, flattened upward or pressed,
an unyielding down.

from The Heart as Ever Green (Anchor Press)

new review at Poetry International!

Just a quick post to share my review of Zeina Hashem Beck’s latest poetry collection, Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, LLC, 2017) up now at Poetry International!

In this review, I go into Beck’s own engagement with the work of Pablo Neruda and how her singular braiding of political awareness and personal intimacy creates compelling and necessary poetry. Check it out here.

Thank you to editor Ilya Kaminsky for the opportunity!

— José

* autumning with jane hirshfield

Oyes en medio del otoño
detonaciones amarillas?

(In the middle of autumn
do you hear yellow explosions?)

— Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

*
yellow-leaves

Neruda’s lines above evoke a pleasing moment of synesthesia, blurring the sight of yellow leaves with the sound of explosions. As the season changes, I can’t help but see such blurred moments more and more in life.

This week’s poem, “The Heat of Autumn” by Jane Hirshfield, works its materials on a similar level as Neruda’s question above. Housed under the concept of “heat,” the narrative of the poem draws its details together in a way that imbues meaning, connecting things in an active way.

The third line, for example, refers to the “apples” of one season becoming the “cider” of another. In doing so,  the first of the poem’s many little dramas is enacted. By the end, enough details and imbued meanings have piled upon each other (like leaves), that the “heat” of the title becomes a sensation on both a physical and emotional level.

*

The Heat of Autumn – Jane Hirshfield

The heat of autumn
is different from the heat of summer.
One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.
One is a dock you walk out on,
the other the spine of a thin swimming horse
and the river each day a full measure colder.
A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
Before he goes she straightens his belts in the closet,
rearranges the socks and sweaters inside the dresser
by color. That’s autumn heat:
her hand placing silver buckles with silver,
gold buckles with gold, setting each
on the hook it belongs on in a closet soon to be empty,
and calling it pleasure.

(from Hirshfield’s collection After, 2006)

*

Happy autumning!

José

* singing with jim ferris

Poet of Cripples – Jim Ferris

Let me be a poet of cripples,
of hollow men and boys groping
to be whole, of girls limping toward
womanhood and women reaching back,
all slipping and falling toward the cavern
we carry within, our hidden void,
a place for each to become full, whole,
room of our own, space to grow in ways
unimaginable to the straight
and the narrow, the small and similar,
the poor, normal ones who do not know
their poverty. Look with care, look deep.
Know that you are a cripple too.
I sing for cripples; I sing for you.

*

beauty is a verbOne of the highlights of teaching composition this summer has been engaging with excerpts from the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. There is a wealth of great poetry in this anthology, which includes the work of Ona Gritz, Hal Sirowitz, and the writer of this week’s poem, Jim Ferris.

What I love about this week’s poem, “Poet of Cripples,” is how Ferris takes a singular experience and sings it in such a way that it becomes personal for the reader. The stakes engaged with via the poem quickly become familiar; the speaker’s intimate address of Look with care, look deep, is in the tradition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Poetry becomes, for Ferris as it was for Whitman, a way to access our hidden void and push ourselves to what we would become.

This poem’s momentum makes me think of another Whitman-influenced poet, Pablo Neruda, specifically his lines at the end of “Alianza (Sonata)” where so much intangible and conceptual feeling is evoked through language that is felt in the body:

Screenshot_2016-07-14-20-51-34-1

…I feel your lap’s heat and the transit of your kisses
creating fresh swallows in my dreams.

At times the fate of your tears rises
like age up to my forehead, and there
the waves keep breaking, destroyed by death:
its movement is damp, decayed, final.

Both poets meet at the place where language and the body meet to affect each other, like waves making and unmaking the shore.

Happy singing!

José

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

* skimming with kelli russell agodon

Reading through Kelli Russell Agodon’s collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, I was moved again and again by the kinship evoked between speaker and the poets addressed throughout the poems, but also between poet and craft, and poet to poet. In this week’s poem, “Yakima Ferry at Sunset,” this idea of kinship is there for me from the first line’s declaration:

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read . . .

This line brings to mind a line from Pablo Neruda:

Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche . . .
(Tonight I can write the saddest lines . . .)

This kind of lyric echo speaks to the poet in me, or, rather the poets in me. At times I am the poet of Neruda’s line, lost in reverie and sorrow; at other times, I am the poet of Agodon’s line, possessed by writing, the sheer event of it inspired by the immediacy of a given moment and place.

I often go with my wife to look at fabric or yarn for the projects she’s working on. Walking through the aisles of material, I imagine the possibilities closed to me, but open to anyone who knows how to sew or knit. I can only compare it to the surge of feeling I get when I walk around the woods or body of water in just the right mood, or sit by a window at a café that happens to be in the right light, a feeling of: Today I could write . . . 

There’s no guarantee, only a glimpse. One can’t recreate this feeling, one can only acknowledge it for the call to words that it is, and get down what one can, “skimming the edges like every poet.”

sunset_mount1

Yakima Ferry at Sunset – Kelli Russell Agodon

Tonight I could write a thousand poems
no one should have to read.

All around me are hippie grandmothers
and grey-haired men with dreamcatchers

hanging from the rearview mirrors of their
Hondas. Everyone is irresistable tonight:

the man in his NRA t-shirt, the child
on the upper deck screaming about licorice,

the woman who cut in front of me to buy a latte.
I am skimming the edges like every poet

on this boat, starting my sentences
with the easiest words – I love, I love, I love

to travel home by ferry, the women
who smile at the men they don’t know,

how my tongue feels in my mouth,
a sort of heaviness that never leaves.

*

Happy ferrying!

José

* new online chapbook released!!!

“In the book of flight, plastic bags are brought in to do the work of clouds.

Dead leaves rest in the margins.

Grass clippings, eyelashes, fingernails: errata in the book of flight.”

(José Angel Araguz from The Book of Flight)

book of flight cover

Happy to announce the release of my latest online chapbook The Book of Flight published by Essay Press! Read it free online or download the chap in PDF here.

The Book of Flight is one of twelve winners in Essay Press’s first Digital Chapbook Contest. For this contest, Essay Press asked 12 recent Essay authors each to select and introduce a manuscript extending and/or challenging the formal possibilities of prose. I am honored to have my manuscript selected and eloquently introduced by the innovative author Misha Pam Dick.

Here is a brief description of the chapbook:

“José Angel Araguz’s The Book of Flight is a chapbook of aphoristic, fragmentary writings in the style of Ramon Gomez de la Serna’s greguerías and Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Described by Misha Pam Dick as “a four-part microtreatise-poem. Like aphorisms that don’t preen, or fragments that don’t mourn,” The Book of Flight lives somewhere between the insight of haiku, the personal heat of tanka, and the everyday tone of a poet’s notebook.”

This project is especially meaningful to me as it represents the culmination of many of the ideas and insights I have followed and exercised throughout various notebooks and other projects over the past ten years. “Clock Ode” in Reasons (not) to Dance as well as “Zoot Suit Riot” and “Moth Season” in Everything We Think We Hear are good examples of precursors to the sensibility that is in full force in this project.

Please read and share this free chapbook and stay tuned for the other eleven selections from Essay Press!

Thanks to Andy Fitch, Maria Anderson, and Aimee Harrison for all the hard work in putting together the chapbook. Thanks toAndrea Schreiber for the cover art and Courtney Mandryk for the cover design. And an extra special thanks to Misha Pam Dick for selecting the manuscript and writing the introduction!

See you Friday!

José

* questions with Pablo Neruda & Mary Oliver

XXXIII.

And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?

And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?

Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?

Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?

Pablo Neruda, from the Book of Questions

* sunsetular *
* sunsetular *

The above excerpts from Neruda are from a post I did last summer having some translation fun (see here).

It is my birthday month and so I am in question mode all sorts.  I believe questions can be their own genre of literature (ask Neruda).

There is the story of the Rabbi being asked by his son: What is the meaning of life? – to which the Rabbi responded with: Why would you ruin such a great question with an answer?  

The poem below by Mary Oliver turns on its questions, creates from a desire to know, a knowing.

***

Some Questions You Might Ask – Mary Oliver

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape?  Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

***

Happy grassing!

Jose

* 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)

* translation 2/3 on the friday influence

(from Greguerias – Ramon Gomez de la Serna) *

Curious about the earth, the sky keeps opening and closing the clouds.

*

The hour differs throughout the stars.  In some it is yesterday, in others today, and in others centuries have passed.

*

He had a keyring so dusty, he looked like a fisherman of keys.

*

The socks tucked into the little shoes of the sleeping child wrinkle with his dreams.

***

This week The Friday Influence is proud to present the work of the Spanish poet Ramon Gomez de la Serna (1888-1963).

First, some reviews: “For me he is the great Spanish writer: the Writer, or rather, Writing…I also would have learned Spanish just to read him” (Octavio Paz).  “…the major figure of surrealism, in any country, has been Ramon” (Pablo Neruda). **

I share these quotes to show the range of influence Ramon (as he liked to be called)  had in his day.  Neruda’s Book of Questions (excerpts of which I translated last week) would not have been possible without the work of Ramon.  He wrote novels as well as stories and essays, but it is in his Greguerias that I feel his singular personality truly shines.

These sentences are packed with images and humor.  They take a little and expand it in the mind.  They do the work of haiku and aphorisms but with a distinct flavor.  I spoke last week of how a poet’s job is partly to see how much they can get away with.  In his Greguerias, Ramon gets (carried) away with himself.

Also, any writer who seriously writes about the stars after the Romantic period endears themselves to me.  Ramon’s work gave me permission to work out some single line poems of my own.  He has opened up to me what a sentence or two can offer lyric poetry.

I discovered his work two years ago by accident, working out my own ideas of prose poems.  His name came up in an essay and I made my way to his poems.  Seeing as he has stayed with me, I have decided to periodically sit down with his Greguerias and translate a few pages at a time.  If I get through the whole book in this manner, I’ll let you know.

Here’s a few more from Ramon:

The night lies there between blue eyelashes.

*

In autumn, the butterflies come out in the same red as the dry leaves, and the same wind sweeps up the one as the other.

*

After a while, the sound of the typewriter fills our thoughts with gravel.

*

Pinocchio opens books with his nose.

***

Happy gregueriando!

J

* translated by Jose Angel Araguz (word to vosotros!)

** quotes from Paz and Neruda found on Wikipedia (word to citations!)

* translation 1/3 on the friday influence

(from The Book of Questions – Pablo Neruda) *

 

IV.

How many churches in Heaven?

 

Why does the shark not attack
the indifferent sirens?

 

Does smoke chat with the clouds?

 

Is it true that all hopes
should be watered with dew?

 

XXIV.

 

Is 4 the same 4 for all?
Are all sevens equal?

 

When the prisoner thinks of sunlight
is it the same that lights your way?

 

Have you ever considered what color
the April of the infirm might be?

 

What occidental kingdom
flies these flags of poppies?

 

***

This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

The above excerpts are from The Book of Questions, a charming book in which Neruda riffs on various subjects, always grasping for and breaking into image as well as various profundities.

For example: “Does smoke chat with the clouds?” places “smoke” and “cloud” in the same line, a visual already, and then goes deeper with “chat” – I see smoke rising into a sky and hovering, kinda like you do when you’re waiting for your place of work to be unlocked, a situation which leads to small talk amongst people who might normally not talk much.

The whole book is literally filled with questions, no answers.  Why ruin a good question with an answer?  What Neruda gets away with – and here I will avow that much of a poet’s job is to see what they can get away with – is both inspiring and engaging.  The power of a good question like a coin in your hand.

***

As the title of this post suggests, I am trying my hand at translation.  I literally grabbed the book off my shelf and went for it.  I plan to share two more sets of translation in the weeks ahead.

***

In other news, there have been some rejection letters from poetry magazines.

What the hell is that about?

***

Here’s one last bit from Neruda:

 

XXXIII.

 

And why is the sun such a bad friend
to someone walking in the desert?

 

And why is the sun so friendly
in the hospital garden?

 

Are these birds or fish here
in nets of moonlight?

 

Was it where they lost me
that I was able to find myself?

 

***

Happy questioning?

J

* translated by Jose Angel Araguz (word to your Spanish-English dictionary.)