* 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

* arguing & anniversarying

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The photo above is of my work desk at the Cincinnati Review office. The moon painting featured here was one of the first my wife worked on during our time living in Cincinnati. Her artwork inspires me, which is one of the reasons why it is featured on the covers of four of my chapbooks as well as on the cover of Everything We Think We Hear. Having an artist in the family means I get to come home to paintings mid-process on her desk. When this happens, the idea of “work-in-progress” becomes a physical metaphor in our living room. This definitely influences my thoughts as I work at my own desk.

I share this photo because I wanted to make the most of the fact that my wedding anniversary falls on a Friday this year. This week’s poem was also chosen in this spirit. Below is my poem “Arguing for the Stars,” which was originally published in Kansas City Voices in 2015.

We never really settled on a solid reason why we chose to get married right around the beginning of autumn. Could be all the stirring elements and changing weather. This poem, I like to think, has some of that as well.

*

Arguing for the Stars – José Angel Araguz

for ani

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead
there are those who believed the night sky
to be an iron plate, stars torches
hung over the world,

and those who believed the night to be
a goddess adorned in stars. Between
torches and jewelry believers
argued, side by side,

their voices dying down as the dark
grew, leaving only silence and those
points of light above them holding still.
There are nights you point

out a star, and without looking I
say it is a plane, a satellite,
something other than what you say. Such
is my disbelief,

not in stars, but in being able
to see anything clearly from here.
You argue for your stars, and your words
help me. The night sky

fills again with what
you would have me see.

*

Happy stars-ing!

José

* meditating with yannis ritsos

In my recent interview as part of my Distinguished Poet feature for The Inflectionist Review, I spend some time talking about the poet Yannis Ritsos and his poem “Protection” which I wrote about two years ago here.

I feel that ever since discovering Ritsos’s work years ago I keep coming back. The most recent return has come in the form of my morning meditations which consist of my reading poems aloud for about 5-10 minutes. I discovered this practice in talking with Ani about some of the physical struggles with meditation, how sitting in one spot and focusing on breathing can sometimes bring more anxiety and pain than, say, reading poems aloud.

Because of the role poetry has played in my life, reading poems aloud for the sheer focused pleasure of it feels like returning home. Approaching it like meditation, I let myself read as I used to growing up, sinking into the words, not worrying about exacting meaning, rather, the meaning instead rising from the active engagement with words. Giving myself over in this way, I believe, takes me to a similar place of selflessness as meditation – though I wouldn’t exactly call it a substitute or equivalent, more a cousin activity, closer to prayer.

book-glasses-letters-paper-study_defaultI made it through most of Spring reading through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems and have moved on to Ritsos recently. In the interview, I speak of a fateful vividness in the work of Crane and Ritsos, a characteristic that can be found in the poem below. The poem’s narrative moves from a childhood scene observed from a distance, the details moving in the first two stanzas with a similar distance. The third stanza, on the other hand, zooms in and in four lines gives a fateful image that lifts the lyric beyond words on the page.

A Myopic Child – Yannis Ritsos

The other kids romped around the playground: their voices
rose up to the roofs of the quarter, also the “splock” of their ball
like a globular world, all joy and impertinence.

But he was reading the whole time, there in the spring window,
within a rectangle of bitter silence,
until he finally fell asleep on the window sill in the afternoon,
oblivious to the voices of those his own age
and to premature fears of his own superiority.

The glasses on his nose looked like
a little bike left leaning against a tree,
off in a far-flung, light-flooded countryside,
a bike of some child who had died.

*

Happy meditating!

José

* knocking around with kenyon & meyers

The Suitor – Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show all their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

*

box elderIn the poem above, I’m moved by the way things knock into each other in the scene described, and how that knocking mirrors how the poem is working structurally. The lyric momentum here swings between the three “likes” in the poem. Each one is a simile of life: a person sleeping, a school of fish, a timid suitor.

The specificity of each, however, is what makes their presence move beyond image and metaphor. The whole poem moves through them: the suggested breath of “someone sleeping”knocks into the next line about the wind; the fish “turning all at once” turn in such a way that they knock like the mind of the speaker’s sudden understanding; and then the ending pushes things into a further understanding of silence and resilience.

This short lyric brought to mind this haiku by Bert Meyers:

I can only laugh
when my daughter spreads her arms
to catch the cold wind

Both poems, for me, reflect a bit of what this time of year feels like. May is like a hinge between spring and summer, and you can hear the seasons’ doors creaking on the leaves.

Happy creaking!

José

* 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

* short lyrics: (pre)spring mix

As I am on the road – in Corpus Christi, Texas promoting Everything We Think We Hear to be exact – I thought I would do a short, fun post of some seasonal short lyrics. Could be that the winters in Cincinnati are tough that I’ve got spring on my mind already.

I’d like to say a special thanks to everyone who made it out to my readings this week. Thank you for braving a rather stormy week in Corpus Christi. A very special thanks as well to Alan Berecka and Tom Murphy for the opportunity to read at Del Mar College and TAMUCC, respectively.

Below are poems by Kay Ryan, Issa, Izumi Shikibu, and Edward Thomas. The Shikibu tanka is an old favorite of mine. I ran into it almost ten years ago in an essay by its translator, poet Jane Hirshfield. In writing about doing the translations for her book The Ink Dark Moon, Hirshfield’s essay broke down how in five lines Shikibu is able to present an image of enlightment (“moonlight”) reaching through to even the most materially impoverished life (“ruined house”).

Enjoy!

***

Spring – Kay Ryan

It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as
new.

*
*
*

    The snow is melting
and the village is flooded

    with children.

Issa*
*
*
*
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu**
*
*
*
The Cherry Trees – Edward Thomas
***
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
*
*
Weeping-cherry-tree-arlington-cemetery-dc_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander.jpg
*
Happy (pre)springing!
*
*
José
*
*
*translated by Robert Hass
**translated by Jane Hirshfield & Mariko Aratani

* walking ash with bert meyers

The Poets – Bert Meyers

There he sat among them
(his old friends) a walking ash
that knows how to smile.
And he still dreamed of a style
so clear it could wash a face,
or make a dry mouth sing.
But they laughed, having found
themselves more astonishing.

They would drive their minds
prismatic, strange, each wrapped
in his own ecstatic wires,
over a cliff for language,
while he remained to raise
a few birds from a blank page.

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* spot the heart & ohio in the ash *

This continues to be one of my favorite Bert Meyers poems. Not only does it contain the characteristic Meyers’ eye for images capable of performing their own narrative while adding to the poem’s (“a walking ash/that knows how to smile”) but there is also something prayer-like to the focus of the lyric.

Through telling the story of one of “the poets,” the poem presents two sides and approaches to poetry. One side is that of the “he” who “dreamed a style/so clear it could wash a face,” while the other side is that of the other poets who “drive their minds/prismatic.”

In describing both sides, the speaker speaks in the clear manner that is dreamed of by the “he,” and does so with the effortlessness that is the opposite of the “prismatic” poets. When the poem gets to its last line, I can’t help but believe in the “few birds” rising from the poem before me.

Next week will bring me to back to my hometown, Corpus Christi, Texas for readings at Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I’m really looking forward to these readings. It’ll be the first time in over 10 years that I’ll be reading in my hometown and I’m excited to share the work I’ve done so far. I’ll be reading from Everything We Think We Hear along with selections from the chapbooks. Here’s the info:

*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Reading & Book Signing 11am

*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Open Mic feature 7pm

*)Thursday, March 10th 2016 Texas A&M University Corpus Christi: Opening Reader for Laurie Ann Guerrero 7pm

I’ll also be spending the afternoon doing a talk/reading at Foy H. Moody High School the Friday of next week.

I’ll be reaching out to folks on Facebook but feel free to contact me if you have any questions: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com

*

Happy ashing!

José

* in memory of francisco x. alarcón

The X in My Name – Francisco X. Alarcón

the poor
signature
of my illiterate
and peasant
self
giving away
all rights
in a deceiving
contract for life

alarcón4The death of Francisco X. Alarcón earlier this month has been on my mind as I wrap up my 3rd year reading and work through exams this week. Reviewing his book, Canto Hondo/Deep Song was a revelatory experience for me. Through following and engaging with Alarcón’s singular minimalist poetics, I learned a lot about precision with the line as well as how much weight can be carried via emphasis. But it was his commitment to representing and singing for those who suffered that moved me the most.

His death remains a constant source of conversation in the Latin@ literary community, mourning and celebration following each other in a complex cycle that would’ve pleased el maestro. As shown in the poem above, Alarcón was well aware of the contradictions to be worked with in being a Chicano; even an X in a name can be a metaphor for the multifaceted tension of identity and self.

I write this post the night before my final 3rd year exam. Diving into my own sense of tradition and identity in Latin@ poetics has been an emotional journey. I have had great community throughout – from my CantoMundistas, to readers of my poems and books, as well as those of you who stop and read these Influences. Thank you. Thank you as well to the great teachers I’ve had, in the classroom and on the page.

“Mexican” Is Not a Noun – Francisco X. Alarcón

  to forty-six UC Santa Cruz students and
   seven faculty arrested in Watsonville for
   showing solidarity with two thousand
   striking cannery workers who were mostly
   Mexican women, October 27, 1985

“Mexican”
is not
a noun
or an
adjective

“Mexican”
is a life
long
low-paying
job

a check
mark on
a welfare
police
form

more than
a word
a nail in
the soul
but

it hurts
it points
it dreams
it offends
it cries

it moves
it strikes
it burns
just like
a verb

*

Happy verbing!

José

p.s. Here is Rigoberto González’s tribute to Alarcón.

* salvaging with kay ryan

Salvage – Kay Ryan

The wreck
is a fact.
The worst
has happened.
The salvage trucks
back in and
the salvage men
begin to sort
and stack,
whistling as
they work.
Thanks be
to god—again—
for extractable elements
which are not
carriers of pain,
for this periodic
table at which
the self-taught
salvagers disassemble
the unthinkable
to the unthought.

20151211_234610

What I love about the lyric above by Kay Ryan is how much complication it holds in its short lines. Between casual observation and straight fact, there are worlds living side by side. The “unthinkable” happens, then others get to “whistling as/they work.” Poems like these show the necessary work of poets and their asbestos gloves, able to hold volatile and conflicting materials via imagery and metaphor, and make from them a flash and foundation of understanding.

***

Ani and I have been going through our own process of “salvaging” what we can from the “unthinkable” for about a week now. Last Friday evening, round-the-clock construction began at the intersection near us. Above is a photo taken around midnight Saturday. That’s a spotlight lighting the way for the poor guys out there doing their job. There was a brief respite from Sunday night til Tuesday morning, when work started up again. By Tuesday afternoon, we had this scene:

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Count’em: that’s three heavy-duty machines moving around, rattling the apartment building, making us feel like dinosaurs are roving outside our window. This stage of construction is only from 8:30am til 5:30pm each day. At night, steel plates are lined up along the street which sound like thunder every time a car passes over them. THOSE we hear at night.

Each of us is coping as best we can. Ani’s begun coming up with stories about “Mr. Scoopy” and I keep wondering if these guys will get the holiday off next week. We’re told the work should be done by Christmas Eve. We’ll be in “salvaging” mode til then.

***

Speaking of things under construction, things have cleared up regarding my new book, Everything We Think We Hear. It is officially available on Amazon (again)!

I’ll keep bookending the Friday posts with book info throughout December. I’m happy to report that I have booked a few readings in my hometown Corpus Christi, TX in March. Also, I have some news about things coming up in Spring 2016. More details on all of this soon!

Happy salvaging!

Jose

* new blog post at Cincinnati Review blog

Just a quick note to share my latest post for my Cincinnati Review blog column “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” Read the new post here.

This time around I discuss astrology, focusing on Pisces and Sei Shonagon. Along with expanding on ideas on astrology I’ve shared here on the Influence, this post can be seen as a kind of part 2 to my earlier Sei Shonagon post.

See you tomorrow!

Best,

José