virtual reading: Salamander issue #52

Just a quick post to share that Salamander is hosting a virtual reading on Thursday, October 21st from 6-7 PM EST, featuring readings from three contributors from Issue #52: Andy Smart, Stephanie Burt, and Ananda Lima.

This event is free and open to the public; registration is required. Register here, and after registering, you will receive a confirmation email allowing you to join the reading.

In the meantime, I encourage y’all to spend time with Ananda Lima’s poem “Rapunzel” as well as other excerpts from our current issue.

We look forward to seeing you next Thursday and celebrating the remarkable work from this issue!

Also: writers please take note that submissions for Salamander are currently open–would love to see what y’all are working on!

And apologies for the radio silence the past month or so.

Más soon!

microreview & interview: The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

review by José Angel Araguz

Book cover for The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

Reading through The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021) by Yun Wang, I find myself marveling again and again at her facility with the poetic image. Across poems ranging in theme from feminism, dreams, literary figures, motherhood, and the universe, Wang’s use of the image is nothing short of illuminating while also being instructive. Note how even in this one line from “Sapphire” creates a whole world:

White swans in flight dissolve into a dark sea punctured by stars.

This inversion of color in the move from “white swans” to “dark sea” is masterful and moves imagery beyond mere description. Across the collection’s four sections, Wang incorporates images to suggest, provoke, interrogate, narrate, and elegize the experiences of living in a world where one only has what they can sense and intuit to guide them forward. A good example can be seen in the short lyric “Regret”:

If I were a tree
I would never have shed
all my leaves
for the caress of sunset

and stepped naked
into that moonless
starless night

A trap embraced me
I had no voice

Here, the logic and mutability implied by the word “If” is pursued through descriptions of tree life, a move that juxtaposes the experiences of tree and being human. Through this proximity, tree and human are seen in stark contrast while also embodying distinct vulnerabilities. The poem implies that while the fixed and voiceless tree would naturally be thought of as the more vulnerable of the two, it is the human decisions made by the speaker that have left her, ultimately, “trapped” with “no voice” despite having one. One feels distinctly the weight of the title and how much of it stems from conscious human awareness and human error.

A similar interrogative use of image and binaries can be seen at work in “The Mirror’s Edge.” In this poem, the reader is presented with the narrative of a woman who:

slept with a bear to relieve herself of the burden of purity
to travel the world alone with only a backpack.

The poem develops its narrative, one where the woman is subjugated, and as it does the bear/lover is described more and more in terms of a human man, until the final stanza where we’re told:

Bears do not turn into handsome princes. He turned into a half bald man with a leather bound journal, in which he noted her various imperfections.

The poem’s opening logic of a woman sleeping with a bear already implies a sense of transition, and because the poem alternates between couplets and single imagistic lines (lines such as “White petals were trampled into mud” which precedes the above closing stanza) the idea of transition is already in our minds. This layered sense of transition, then, sets us up for this final transition of bear to man, and of human desire to scrutiny and emotional abuse.

The theme of lovers continues throughout the second section of the collection, imagery playing a role in engaging with figures such as Romeo and Juliet, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The collection moves into its third section engaged further with the blurred lines of history and storytelling, as evident in “The Visitation”:

The doctor said it was nerve disorder
that caused noises in the ears
Schumann listened and went mad

The voices chose him because of his music
A thousand fairies dancing in shoes of flame

It created a riot in their world
They wanted him to stop

They came through the piano’s
black and white doors
They stitched his mind into a maze

Here, we see image as a fabulistic engine. Through the choice of fantastical imagery, Wang is able to juxtapose the history of Schumann with the story and world implied by his music. Yet another binary, it is one that startles and presents a human experience beyond fact. There is also the moving “Children’s Game in Baghdad,” inspired by a news story:

A small boy jumped off corpses for fun. He explained to his mother that they were nothing. Dogs ate them. She told him that every dead man had a mother waiting for him to come home. He fell asleep in her arms.

The sun bled into charred gum trees.

She brought him to work. Photographed the green zone for a newspaper. A bomb sprayed them with shrapnel. She couldn’t stop shaking. He said it’s OK, not his first bomb. His school was shelled the week before.

Once upon a time rose petals rained down.

She couldn’t stop thinking of his lack of feelings. He whispered that all his friends jumped off dead bodies. In her dream, her husband handed her the Sumerian tablet he died protecting. The cuneiforms shifted into a pair of wings.

Here, one can see the use of image doing the work of empathy and reconciliation in the face of recent history’s irreconcilable atrocities. Housed in prose, this poem’s formal shape is that of information, of narrative, no line breaks to interrupt or fancify the narrative. The human content of the story, a mother trying to understand her son, is also straightforward. The inhuman content–war and its human damages–stands between what would be a straightforward act of empathy. The mother and son speak across the distance of different interpretations of the same experiences and facts. Image comes into play not to close the distance to shine light on it. The way, for example, the bomb exploding in the third stanza is followed by the standalone image “Once upon a time rose petals rained down” evokes a stunning image parallel to the shrapnel from the bomb while striking an emotional chord of loss and grief, feelings that both characters in the poem are unable to express. The image here is showing us the limits of the human capacity to reconcile everything the world shows us, while at the same time serving as a space where this limitation can be honored. That the closing image of a tablet whose “cuneiforms shifted into a pair of wings” happens in a dream is telling; even in dreams, another space where one’s capacity for reconciliation and understanding is tested, the only answer–and here I mean answer not as solution but more response to a call–is image.

In the collection’s final section, the speaker of these poems engages the theme of family. It is here where Wang’s use of imagery is put to, perhaps, its most reaffirming purpose, hope. In a series of poems about her son, Wang gifts us with the part spell, part prayer of “Supermoon”:

Pearl eye of the cloud dragon
kindles pink lanterns on the orchid tree

My son’s arms around me
In a beam of liquid light

We are immortals to mayflies
Let this be enough

In these six lines lies the pulse of this collection. The opening couplet’s vivid imagery is active, the image of one line “kindles” the image of the next. Then the second couplet brings together human and nature, binds them in image. Then the voice of the final couplet strides forth to the brink of what can be expressed–that while our life feels fleeting to us, to other creatures we may appear “immortals”–before expressing that “this be enough.” In the rich worlds presented in The Book of Mirrors, this final conviction of hope is more than enough.


Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Yun Wang: This collection reflects my idea of poetry as a unique way of perceiving reality and interacting with the world. It’s a mode of existence so essential to me that I would find life meaningless without it.

I grew up breathing poetry — my father recited ancient Chinese poems to me to calm me when I cried as a baby. We were poor, and my father was a persecuted political dissident who was banished and seldom came home. Fortunately, however, our humble home was located in a breathtakingly beautiful place, surrounded by blue mountains, on a rural plain green with crops and a crystal river running across it.

When I was a child, I went running on a path by the river each dawn. One morning, I was mesmerized by the clouds blooming from the mountains, the mist rising from the river, and the open green field shimmering with early light. I composed my very first poem in my head, in the ancient style. I was twelve. I think I became me that moment. A lot has happened since then, but I remain that child who connected with nature, and nature made her a poet, changing her forever.

Question: There seems to be a distinct conversation happening through your engagement with the image. What would you say is your relationship with the image?

A new poem usually begins as an image to me, an image so compelling that it haunts me, drawing me into it, in which I find an irresistible narrative, or even an entire lifetime unimagined before. The image sometimes comes from nature, as an epiphany when everything snaps into focus, and I can suddenly see beyond the confines of space and time. Sometimes it’s a mental image, which somehow has occupied my mind, and refuses to go away until I address it by writing the poem, which excavates its hidden emotions and makes sense of its larger meaning.

I am also a dreamer who has very vivid dreams, some of which have ended up in my poems. I interpret my dreams based on my own intuition, trying to explain them somehow. This may have something to do with my training as a scientist. I like searching for answers, and finding solutions to seemly impossible problems. In poetry, this makes me adventurous in exploring an alternative level of existence, one that transcends life, yet is a mirror of it.

Perhaps I see an image as a mirror, in which there is always something new and even exhilarating, if I dare to look, and keep on looking until it makes sense. I insist that my poems make sense, at least on some level. This again has to do with my dual identity as poet and scientist.


Special thanks to Yun Wang for participating! To keep up with Yun’s work, check out her Author Central page. Copies of The Book of Mirrors can be purchased from Amazon.

Yun Wang is the author of poetry books The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021), The Book of Totality (Salmon Poetry Press, 2015), The Book of Jade (Winner of the 15th Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, Story Line Press, 2002), and the book of poetry translations, Dreaming of Fallen Blossoms: Tune Poems of Su Dong-Po (White Pine Press, 2019). Wang’s poems have been published in numerous literary journals, including The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Salamander Magazine, Cimarron Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, and International Quarterly. Wang is an astrophysicist at California Institute of Technology, currently focusing on developing NASA space missions to explore the Universe.

microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

review by José Angel Araguz

The book cover for Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock.

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

In her essay, “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics,” Hunt articulates further:

One troubling aspect of privileging language as the primary site to torque new meaning and possibility is that it is severed from the political question of for whom new meaning is produced. The ideal reader is an endangered species, the committed reader has an ideological agenda both open and closed, flawed and acute, that we do not address directly. On one level the lack of address is a problem of the dispersed character of the social movements in this country at present; on another level it is the general difficulty of looking squarely at the roles we play as writers in forming social consciousness

Erica Hunt, “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics”

There is an instructive empathy in these words as well as in Hunt’s poems. That a poem can and perhaps should endeavor to connect but not persuade, to persevere beyond difficulty not stunt with it. In the poem “Verse” (below) one can see some of these ideas at play.

The “you” addressed here is intimate. The line breaks and phrasing trouble expectations in a way that brings a reader closer to the page. The break, for example, across the two lines “When pushed to the wall / paper our habits seem trivial” offer up a jolt of reckoning. The first line takes a common phrase “pushed to the wall” and refreshes it by enjambing into “paper.” Doing so makes the phrasing hold a noun and action in the word “paper” (that it is “wall-paper” we are pushed against; that we “paper our habits”). In light of this jolt one can feel the earnestness of the question just before these lines: “Can you see?” Hunt risks linguistic difficulty for the sake of others to “see.”

Seeing, which is to say connecting, ultimately, is at the heart of Hunt’s poetic endeavors. One sees this in the travel of the last stanza from the line “Light is composed by experience” to the line “The / light in the brain is you,” which closes the poem. This travel from statement to inward declaration holds an invitation and reaffirmation to the reader. That this act of reading and engaging with a poem is in fact within our grasps. Hunt here, and elsewhere, presents difficulty with love, and our lives are richer for it.


Erica Hunt

Verse

It’s all in profile
what the shadows cast
on the floor. Can you see?
When pushed to the wall
paper our habits seem trivial,
a record of the body’s lost accidents.

We found that we could not be strangers
anymore, nor could we pose
randomly in our affection ducking
behind a turn of mood.
Instead we carried ourselves

unrehearsed into the arms of the unexpected
Continuity, using our sense to head
where we are going.
Every story has its campaign to win.
Missing numbers, interfering digits.
We work from the beginning to the back
end tracing where the author left her
prints on the text, her surplus

divinity. And when the right word
appears out of nowhere
it leads back here.
What word were we looking for?
Fire. In this light we appear

To be doing what we want, waving
the baton with the mind. If you want
to move your feet find something
there over the bridge of your
nose to attract you. Choose your
own words to hear yourself speak.

Light is composed by experience. Without correction it stands still
and is almost invisible collecting dust. Without it, we tend to see
lumps, and not the landscape the voices of people fall out of. The
light in the brain is you.

*

Jump the Clock is available for purchase from Nightboat Books.

writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.


Dimitri Reyes

3rd Generation

after Marina Carreira’s poem, “First Generation”

We are grass cracked cement.
Dollar store chalk breaking on rough sidewalk.
Dust kissing our jeans when children cross streets
watching out for buses code switching between
careful, bus is turning and
cuidado, autobús están virando.
We are empanadas for breakfast and white rice for dinner.
We are C&C sodas and sunflower seeds
tucked into our Chucks, New Balances, SB Dunks, or Retro 4’s.
Our countries are our minds.
The megapixels of palms, grass, and sands
seen on the walls of barbershops and bodegas come in 4K.
We are change the channel on our IO Triple Play.
We don’t know how to respond to its-your-heritage month
because every month should be our month.
Someone says for what? Our forehead wrinkles in repeat.
For what. What. Qué. For. What. For. Qué?
We is 4K and our last names leave us naked.
We know there are more of us,
never think there are too many of us.
In America,
we’re included if we see us in America
until they don’t see us in America.
We are raised by our grandparents
(here or not)
while our parents figure it out.
They are still figuring it out.
We are a part of the same gene pool
until a different one is uncovered. 
We are the equivalent
of standing in the wrong line at the DMV
understanding English faster than we forget Spanish
and that still doesn’t license us star spangled freedom.
We are at-the-friend’s-house-with-the-clear-enough-pool
and say
damn, if only we can live in weather like this year round
where that friend reaches across 4 generations to say
you wildin’…
we’re not on the island…
I don’t even like the heat.


Short Statement, Dimitri Reyes: 3rd generation means a lot to Every First & Fifteenth because it is a celebratory poem that recognizes the arbitrariness of both the familiar threads of “La Isla” and the learned experiences of “American” English-speaking culture. The intersectionality of these two spaces is where this third “in-between” space (hence, “3rd Generation”) is discovered and explored where the speaker savors language and the different interactions amongst several generations. This poem is the urbanite’s need to learn through community engagement. Though the poem is a mouthpiece of a generation, the individual is aware of the optics of those around him, and therefore has permission to view and express different parts of his landscape with the help of others inhabiting the same space.


Author photo of Dimitri Reyes, photo credit Ananda Lima

Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, content creator, organizer, and educator from Newark, NJ. He has organized poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRico and has read at The Dodge Poetry Festival, Split This Rock, and the American Poetry Museum. His forthcoming book, Every First and Fifteenth won the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award. Some of his work is published in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press and an Artist-in-Residence with NJPAC.

community feature: Through These Realities (call for submissions)

This week I’m taking a moment to highlight a current opportunity for Boston area poets and photographers of color via a project called Through These Realities. Check out the details, links, and posters below.

Also, speaking of collaborative work, here’s a link to “Our Lady of Sorrow” by Brenda Cárdenas, a stunning ekphrasis poem inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. This poem is part of the dynamic PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio which continues to inspire me.

On to the call!


The project, called Through These Realities, centers around racial social justice, poetry, and photography.  For this project, local photographers of color will create a series of images inspired by new, prompt-guided poetry from local poets of color (preference is given to Somerville affiliated poets and photographers).

This project will culminate in a public art installation in Somerville featuring the photography and poetry. The poetry will also be published in Spry Literary Journal. Here’s the link to the site and call to learn more. 


A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

recent news + upcoming event!

Just a quick post to share some recent happenings as well as information on an upcoming event:

A photograph of poets Kim Stafford, Elizabeth Dodd, and José Angel Araguz.
  • First, I’m excited to share that I was recently interviewed as part of Frontier Poetry’s “In Class” series of profiles of creative writing professors. Check out the interview here. Many thanks to Jose Hernandez Diaz for the invite and for the folks at Frontier Poetry for having me share my thoughts on teaching!
  • Also, I’m honored to have some of my blackout poems included in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Check the poems out here as well as editor Dana Delibovi’s engaging editor’s note here–then click through at the bottom to see all the illuminating works! Special thanks to Dana for including my work!
  • Lastly, I am ecstatic to share that I will be participating as a poetry reader alongside Elizabeth Dodd and Kim Stafford as part of Terrain.org’s online reading series on July 26th at 8pm ET. The reading will feature a Q+A and will be moderated by Terrain.org assistant poetry editor Anne Haven McDonnell and held in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) biennial conference: Emergence/y, with Zoom hosting provided by the University of Arizona. Registration for this virtual event is required and can be accessed here along with info on the event.

Hope everyone’s well in their respective worlds!

Abrazos,

José

   

not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

Photograph of weeds by Shelagh Murphy on Pexels.com

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

Abrazos,

José

book news & co.

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2020! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Photo of a pair of traffic lights on green by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

One last thing to share: I’ve begun reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and have been floored by how much I’m connecting with the book. It helps to see someone else do work in the classroom that I have felt self-conscious about, like connecting and wanting to reflect and honor the knowledge students bring with them.

’til next time,

José

exhaustingly onward

Photo white grapes by Tolga Ahmetler on Pexels.com

Since my last post in April, there’s been a lot of life. The short of it is that I’m writing this after moving to a new city. Along with the move, there was wrapping up teaching for two semesters as well as production for the spring/summer issue of Salamander. All of this is exciting but also exhausting, haha.

As I jump back into posting, I want to share a few things that have been on my mind along with associated readings:

  • The current conversation around and banning of critical race theory in some states has me worried. As a professor of color, my mere presence in a classroom is a political act. When I mentor future educators of color, I make sure to share that there is a lot of extra emotional labor and what I would call POC-specific “teaching” moments–like having to answer the misguided question of “What nationality are you?” in the middle of a session. Alongside personal worry, there is the bigger picture of how this conversation is playing out. Many of CRT’s current critics are using the term as a catch-all phrase for whatever conservative agenda they are pushing. The actual theory, however, is simple and fact-based, which this article makes clear enough. It comes down to acknowledging and reckoning with facts, something marginalized communities have been forced to become accustomed to as a part of navigating existence.
  • Another source of concern has been how a majority of folx seem ready to go “back to normal” and speaking in terms of things being “post-pandemic” ignoring the facts that 1) the pandemic is still raging (along with anti-vaxxers on the homefront, see also world numbers); and 2) there is a large group of people, specifically disabled and immunocompromised folx, that are not being taken into consideration. This article breaks down some of who is being overlooked and lost in the rush back to the “meatspace” (an awesome phrase that I have writer and friend Barrett Bowlin to thank for).
  • Lastly, been spending time with the work of poet Steven Leyva. Check out “Boy Talking Back to Houston,” a poem whose range of history, wordplay, and naming are delivered through a speaker whose voice lets us in on a conversation between self and city both intimate and epic.

Take care of yourselves and each other out there. More soon.

José

heartlines

National Poetry Month is winding down and its got me remembering myself a bit. Been some deep conversations throughout–with students, fellow writers, friends old and new–as well as some struggle. I’m grateful for all of it, to still be here.

As NPM wraps up, I’d like to share my recent publication in another of Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series, this time with an excerpt from a recent project entitled Heartlines. This has me returning to a similar mode as my chapbook of lyrical aphorisms, The Book of Flight (which can be read for free at Essay Press’ site). As you’ll note in the sample below, I’m riffing on various ways of thinking about the heart, life, death, and everything in between.

I’m honored to be included in Oxidant | Engine’s recent BoxSet Series alongside some dynamic writers including: Mary Buchinger, Kathryn Cowles, Ernest O. Ògúnyemí, Devon Balwit, and Ananda Lima. Check out the sample below and then check out the rest of the volume. I’ve been making my way through it at night and keep finding more and more to admire in this confluence of writers.


José Angel Araguz

from Heartlines

A page without marks became the color of my heart.

Wrist hurting and weary even as I write this, what stubborn knocking of my fist, my heart.

The heart is a window on a summer night you do not know is open until you feel it.


The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.


The heart upset is like a door left open, banging away during a storm. Against the house. Against the hinges. The other side against the wind. Each slam and heave, one word.

Voices from another room, the heart works like that, muffled, going on with its own business, you can’t make out the details but feel what is meant.

My heart pounds and pounds, like anything else testing its usefulness—hammer, fist at the door, rain against the sea.


Happy hearting!