*resonating with josé antonio rodriguez

adelphinotes

 

Last week had me both at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, as well as in Austin, Texas for the CantoMundo conference. It’s a little more rocknroll that I’m used to, but I had a blast!

Here’s a pic of one of the nice surprises from last week: a collection of personal notes from the young writers I worked with at Adelphi. I can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel at being given the opportunity to share my work and talk poetry with others. Thank you to all who attended my talk on lyrical prose and who have since reached out since then! Keep the words coming, for yourself and for others!

Each year, CantoMundo hosts a poetry workshop for Latina/o poets that provides a space for the creation, documentation, and critical analysis of Latina/o poetry. This year was the conference’s last time in Austin, and it was nothing short of spectacular! I was able to be in workshops led by Texas State Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla one day, and one led by the current Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera. Both poets presented themselves as forces of nature as well as generous guides. Highlights included the readings on Friday and Saturday at the Spider House Ballroom. I read on Saturday, specifically “Drinking at Home” and “Directions” from Everything We Think We Hear.

Sunflowers,_Merritt,_California,_27_June_2013One of my favorite things to do at CantoMundo is to geek out about my favorite poems by the poets who wrote them and who happen to attend the conference. The poem below by José Antonio Rodriguez originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Poetry magazine. I remember copying it out by hand at a bookstore and marveling at the raw imagery, from like a thousand ticks turning their backs to the “halos” at the end. What continues to move me even now in reading is how the imagery is packed with so much emotional resonance, pointing to things hidden as well as things almost there.

***

Sunflowers – José Antonio Rodriguez

No pitying/”Ah” for this one – Alan Shapiro

No, nor a fierce hurrah
for what it does without choice,
for following the light
for the same reason the light follows it.

Just a thing rough to the touch, a face
like a thousand ticks turning their backs,
suckling at something you can’t see,
and a body like a tag off the earth

so that my child hands couldn’t tear it out
from the overgrown lot next door.
………………………….My palms raw with the shock
of quills and spines. Its hold like spite, and ugly

except when seen from a distance—
a whole field of them by the highway,
an 80-mile-per-hour view
…………………………..like a camera’s flash.
All of them like halos
without saints to weigh them down.

*

Happy halo-ing!

José

p.s. One week left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Reasons (not) to Dance! Details below!

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

* existing with gisela kraft & an update

 

five-story house in laleli – Gisela Kraft

one lies in rags on the street
and his stomach is empty
and he wishes for death

one sits with friends at tea and backgammon
and his mind is empty
and he wishes for death

one sits in a straight-backed chair at a desk
and his bank account is empty
and he wishes for death

one lies in bed staring out to sea
and the place next to him in bed is empty
and he wishes for death

one flies back with food in its beak
and its nest is empty
and only this one says
we should give it another try

(trans. Laura Leichum)

This short lyric has quickly become a favorite of mine in the past few weeks. I’m charmed by the way the seemingly simple refrain quickly enters into allegory. The repetitions of “empty” and “death” build up an atmosphere of dejection and set up the turn at the end of the poem. The impersonal and non-specific nature of “one” as an address allows for the final stanza’s change in perspective; something “flies” in the heart of the reader and defies the preceding stanzas of emptiness and death, and gives further impetus to exist. There’s also a structural charm to the poem in the way the “five-story house” is played out in the five stanzas of the poem.

***

It has been a week since the official release of my collection Everything We Think We Hear. Since then, I have been humbled and moved by the warm reception and good wishes people have shown the new book. Thank you to all who have shown interest and bought the book!

After some minor issues, the book is available for order on Amazon!

As part of a partly superstitious and partly practical (or so I tell myself) process, I went ahead and ordered myself a copy. Here’s a pic that shows that my little book does indeed exist:

This copy is going straight to mom in Texas. I’ll make sure to post an update here when I receive my own copies for sale.

Happy existing!

José

 

* tanka & short post

* my window, for now *
* my window, for now *

from the 8th floor
a gray mist
over Cincinnati
what holds all of this
together?

— Jose Angel Araguz

*

Keeping it short due to being hospitalized earlier this week for some stomach issues. I’m writing this on Thursday,  still in my hospital room. More news to come.

I hope all of you are well. Thanks to everyone who has helped me through this difficult time. It is with sincere honesty that I say I am happy to be alive.

See you next Friday!

José

* pennies counting with wolfgang wright

Remember, words are the enemy of poetry.
– Russell Edson

Sometimes what’s being said has little to do with the words saying it.

This week’s piece – “Pennies” by Wolfgang Wright – is a flash fiction that develops its emotional pull subtly. The word “pennies” gathers weight throughout the short piece until it literally comes alive.

* it's all about the abrahams, baby *
* it’s all about the abrahams *

*Pennies – Wolfgang Wright

When the boy began collecting pennies in order to build a statue of his departed mother, Penny, his father did not object. When the father decided to join him, adding pennies from his collection, his friends implored him to see a psychiatrist. When the friends brought over glue to hold the statue together, they told their wives that they were going to watch the game. And when, together, they finished the statue and it came to life, sounding and behaving just like the mother, wife, and friend who was dead, they all knew that what they had done was good.

(* found in the Nostalgia issue of 5×5 – check out the rest of the issue here.)

***

Quick sidenote: Much of the fun I have writing this blog comes out of finding relevant images to juxtapose with the pieces. Here’s one I found fascinating and that kinda works as its own art piece. It’s a British coin from during the Suffragette movement era:

Happy pennying!

Jose

* some words from Ram Dass & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: some words from world renown American spiritual teacher Ram Dass!

But first, a confession: there isn’t much that I read – be it novels, essays, cereal boxes, texts, etc. – that doesn’t get filtered through my how-does-can-this-relate-to-poetry filter.  I read everything with eyes looking for a symbol, a metaphor, or simply a set of words that captivates.  I end up thinking (and saying) some goofy things but ultimately I am kept engaged and interested.

I say this as preface to today’s post in order to make it clear that I am no expert on the works of Ram Dass or meditation – I have simply read through his book on mediation, Journey of Awakening, and found in it many things that relate to poetry.  Or at least my sense of it.

Dude, c'mon: there'll be chicken wings!
Dude, c’mon: there’ll be chicken wings!

In his book, Ram Dass exhibits a great gift for sampling works from various cultures and beliefs.  W.H. Auden once said that a sign of a writer’s strength as an essayist isn’t what he says but what he quotes.  In this spirit, Ram Dass rocks.  Case in point:

There is a story that as God and Satan were walking down the street one day, the Lord bent down and picked something up.  He gazed at it glowing radiantly in His hand.  Satan, curious, asked: “What’s that?”  “This,” answered the Lord, “is Truth.”  “Here,” replied Satan as he reached for it, “let me have that – I’ll organize it for you.”

I read the above as a parable on poetry workshops as I have experienced them at times.  There are at times two kinds of readers in a group: one willing to be astonished in their consideration of the words before them, and another who feels compelled to say something, to fix, to organize.

Ultimately, both kinds of readers, like the ideas of good and evil, help make the world go ’round.

Here are two more:

If you do not get it from yourself

Where will you go for it?

(Zenrin, The Gospel According to Zen)

*
It is all an open secret
(Ramana Maharshi)

*

I see the last two quotes as having to do with generating work: the first, an idea Philip Levine shared once: It won’t get written if you don’t write it.  The second, how inspiration is seemingly endless while at the same time being impossible at times to get at – but once you tap into it, that thrill, like learning a secret if only for a moment, a few lines.

*

Happy secrets!

Jose

* some origins, manu chao & the friday influence

In regards to the question “When did you start writing?” I give several answers depending on context.

If it’s a professional context, I say seventeen, that being the year that I first typed up, printed, and sent off poems to a real lit mag.  I call it the year I began to take my writing seriously, the act of sending my poems out into the world for consideration an act of considering them worth, uhm, considering.  (Two got published on that first try – bless those forgiving editors!)

If it’s more of the “When did you know you were a writer?” kind of question, then I go a little farther back.  I talk about how as a kid I used to rewrite lyrics to songs I heard on the radio, how I filled up notebooks with various takes on other people’s melodies.

I look back and realize that putting my words into other people’s songs probably taught me something about form, about structure and rhyme.  What exactly I learned, I don’t know.  (I’m a terrible rhymer in poems!)

The core of the experience, though, cultivated an obsession with words – sounds, meaning, phrasing – of saying something and saying it concisely, aptly.  Inevitably.

I threw away those notebooks sometime in middle school – a friend found me scribbling in one of them and asked what I wrote.  I said homework, tucked it away, and later that night tossed them all into the garbage.  Not a scrap remains.

words, yo
words, yo

What has stayed with me through the years is a distinct respect and fascination with song lyrics.

In this spirit, let me share some of the lyrics of French singer Manu Chao!

I have been listening to his first album “Clandestino” non-stop this week.  Manu Chao, after being in a few other bands, took to travelling and picking up different influences from the various street music he encountered to create a hybrid sound that is as much diverse as it is simple.  His songs remind me of Garcia Lorca being influenced by the folk culture of Andalusia.  His travelling manifests itself in his writing songs in French, Spanish,Italian Galician, Arabic, and Portuguese.

Here’s a line that I keep turning over my head:

El hambre viene, el hombre se va –

(Hunger comes, man leaves)

This is a fine line – more than that, you see in the words themselves how one letter changing (hambre = hombre) evokes so much of the meaning of the line.  Now, take the line within its context in the song “El Viento (The Wind)”:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera

El viento viene
El viento se va

El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin mas razon…

(The wind comes
The wind goes
Across the frontier

The wind comes
The wind goes

Hunger comes
Man leaves
Without a reason…)
***

Suddenly the words take on a whole other meaning.  That change from ‘a’ to ‘o’ in the words (hambre/hombre) seem almost a trick of the wind itself, the same wind that is being sung about.

Part of my general fascination with song lyrics is how you can do certain things in a song that you can’t do in a poem.  I say this not to discredit one side or the other but to show them both as the formidable modes of expression that they are.

In his lyrics, the wordplay of hambre/hombre play out concisely the theme of vagabond that Manu Chao explores throughout his whole first album.  Taken solely as words, the line is simply a proverb.  But put to music, put within the larger context of musing on wind and then the even larger context of an album about transiency and the line becomes downright mythic.

Cool.  You can listen to the song here.

And a fun one can be found here.

Happy bongoing!!!

jose

* photo found here.

* quick update

Hey y’all!

Just a quick post to announce an upcoming reading:

Tuesday, February 19th

5:30pm

@ the Eugene Public Library

I will be reading alongside fellow Eugene writer Eliot Treichel.

It will be my first official reading for my chapbook, The Wall.  I look forward to putting some of these poems in the air.

For more info on the reading, please check out the Lane Literary Guild’s website here.

I’ll post more updates on prep for the reading as it gets closer to the date.

***

In other news,  I cut my hair.  Check it out:

nothing's wrong - I'm shorn...
nothing’s wrong – I’m shorn…

You can’t really see it well cuz I’m scared to take a photo.  I haven’t rocked a goatee in a minute either.  We’ll see how long this lasts.

Please note: that IS my writing blanket on my shoulders there.

Ani knit it last summer as a sort of lap blanket.

I, being twelve, wear it across my shoulders like a cape.

So I guess I have a writing cape.

This way I feel like I’m fighting crime when I submit poems.

I am the goddamn poet!!!

Peace,

jose

* missing Corpus Christi

mi sea wall es su sea wall...
mi sea wall es su sea wall…

The above image is from the Sea Wall in my hometown of Corpus Christi Texas.  It stretches up and down Ocean Drive, down past the Whataburger by the Bay, down into the palm-trees lining downtown.

Go a little further and you’ll end up at the old site of the factory I used to work at.  We made equipment for oil rigs.  We worked in open-air garages, so close to the water we could look out in the mornings during summer – hurricane season – and watch as little whirlwinds funneled up and over the water, appearing and disappearing against a peach sky.

This week’s poem is one of my own from that time.  An earlier version of the poem was published in Blue Collar Review.  What I feel I finally got right in the present version has everything to do with the word “hands” – how it opens and ends the poem, holds it in place, a young man’s angst funneling up and down in between.

It’s the holidays and I can’t help but get sentimental.  I look at photos like these and hear the water.  Straight up.

Here’s another view, followed by my poem:

cuanto quieres por el downtown?
cuanto quieres por el downtown?

Escape Ropes – Jose Angel Araguz *

Hands raw from setting knots
The few inches apart it takes
For a leg to imagine a ladder,
Ropes designed for escape from a fire
On an oil rig squatted on the gulf,
My mind would work out
Images of men with only the open water
To swim, to march across if they could,
To bob and pray for miracles.

Those knotted afternoons,
The sun made an oven of the warehouse.
The foreman stood me in the back
While other men sat on stools
And looked over, faces worn,
Fingernails yellowed from smoking.
There, I held my tongue,
Grunted against each wince,
And felt fire in my hands.

***

Happy escaping!

jose

* published originally in Blue Collar Review.

* strange week 2: tree yoga & cinquains

So: another strange week has come upon us.

(No – nothing to do with the election.  Well, not really.)

There has been some construction going on in our house these past two weeks, much of it occurring on my days off – which are the days that I sit down to formulate the good thoughts for my usual Friday posts.  However, I believe this week will be the last of it.  Next week, be ready for something more familiar from the Friday Influence.  This week, I have three things to share.

First: this tree.

tree yoga?

This is a tree just around the corner from the bookstore where I work.  The city boy in me marvels at the way a tree will shape itself to its surroundings.  Gives me hope – a sort of symbol for adjusting to the world while still being yourself.

***

Secondly: I am happy to report that my chapbook, The Wall, has gone into a second printing.  Thanks to all who put in orders for your support and consideration.  Thank you as well to the good folk at Tiger’s Eye Press.

***

…and lastly: some cinquains!

*

Fabric

Like the
Stitching of a
Shirt-seam when you stretch it
To see the crossing thread – so are
The clouds.

 

 

Heart

Not the
Throbbing thing in
Each of us, but something
As alive lingers in this bee’s
Dying.

 

 

Hope

A stone
Thrown and hitting
The bottom of the sea,
Where colors grow from dark – so one
Believes.

***

Happy believing!

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.