new prose poems & #poetsofinstagram news!

Just a quick post to announce the release of the latest issue of Pretty Owl Poetry which features three prose poems of mine from a new project. This issue includes stellar work from Ellen McGrath Smith, Chelsea Tadeyeske, and Trish Hopkinson among other great contributions.

Special thanks to Kelly Lorraine Andrews, Gordan Buchan, and everyone at POP for including me in such a great issue!

Check out the issue here.

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Also: The latest and last interview in my #poetsofinstagram series is up now at the Cincinnati Review blog! This time around John Carroll of @makeblackoutpoetry talks about his history with blackout poetry and the hope it inspires in him and others.

I had a lot of fun with these interviews and am considering continuing them on this blog. Stay tuned!

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See you Friday!

José

microreview & interview: Susan Lewis’ Heisenberg’s Salon

lewis hs

review by José Angel Araguz

Drawing inspiration from German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which “states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa,” Susan Lewis’ latest collection, Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVOX [books]), presents a prose poem collection that evokes the form’s surrealist traditions while expanding on its logic-making means.

One can see this idea of position and momentum reformulated in poetic terms in these lines from the title poem:

Every time she turned her back, the apartment rearranged itself. Each version created a home for another way of life.

From there, the reader follows the main character adapting to her constantly rearranging apartment, curling up and reading Victorian fiction when she “[discovers] the couch under the picture window,” and setting the next meal when “the dining table was there instead.” In a similar manner, the reader of this collection adapts to each poem’s engagement with and rearrangement of familiar linguistic territory. The aptly named “Indeterminacy” is a good example of adapting to rearrangement:

Indeterminacy

It was time for something, although she could not for the life of her imagine what. So she assumed her post on the stoop & waited for the future to declare itself. A tattered bird of dubious provenance landed on the banister & inspected her with his ancient gaze. She exhaled with emphasis, but otherwise managed to keep her preconceptions to herself. The old fellow cocked his head & screeched. Terrific, she said. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? Terrific, he squawked. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? I get it, she said, bravely extending her arm. I get it, he echoed, latching on with admirable decision. It was the last conversation they ever had.

Here, the first half of the poem positions two characters in places of waiting. There is a push and pull between interiority and meaning at work; because “she could not for the life of her imagine what” it was time for (keyword here being imagine, an act of interiority), she is forced to look outside herself. Thus positioned, the conversation that takes place in the second half of the poem works as momentum, giving the scene the urgency of question and response. The phrasing of a “tattered bird” also leaves things ambiguous; one can envision a parrot playing out the conversation that follows, merely echoing the other character. And yet, the choice to not be specific about the kind of bird it is leaves room for the fantastical. From this uncertainty, the imagining the other character was incapable of on her own becomes an outer moment of imagination via this “conversation” with the bird.

This transformation via uncertainty plays out for the reader much like the conversation plays out for the characters, strictly in the moment, in the rush as the pieces of the poem come together. There is a thrill in this kind of poetry that speaks of a sensibility awake to the materials at the core a poem, how to get the “tattered bird” of familiar language to say something new. As plot requires conflict, these poems point to lyricism as its pulse.

One of the ambitions of this collection is learning how to be awake to this lyric pulse. The reading act is itself a combination of position and momentum, holding words still in the mind while moving towards the sense implied. In a way, the reader of Heisenberg’s Salon is in the same position as the boy of “One Day” (below) who finds himself literally embodying change, watching the world evolve as the poem develops. Certainty and uncertainty, this collection posits, both happen suddenly and simultaneously. As in the uncertainty principle, one is reckoning with ideas of position and momentum in these poems. Yet, because they are poems – poems whose essence can only be located within the act of reading and being heard, thus, in motion – the interplay leads the reader to a fruitful uncertainty, and, one could say, a lyric certainty.

One Day

grass started growing form the young man’s chest. Everybody changes, said his mother, surreptitiously dabbing at her eyes. But the boy, who was wise beyond his years, felt delicate roots tickling his sternum & knew it was a matter of time before they’d probe his lungs & entwine his heart, crowding the space it needed to expand & contract in its steadfast commitment to preserving his options. As the weeks passed, graceful green strands sprung from his armpits, between his legs, & even, in the finest possible wisps, from his upper lip. One morning he awoke from a luxurious dream of water glossing boulders as smooth & warm as flesh to find a starry sprinkle of tiny yellow blossoms adorning his burgeoning tufts. He had only to be still & tiger swallowtails floated around him, sipping his nectar. Unable to deny the inexorable slowing of his breath, he was content to observe himself contemplate the ramifications of his personal evolution without emitting a watt of excess heat or other sign of agitation.

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Susan-LewisInfluence Question: How does this collection reflect your relationships/history with the prose poem? What writers have influenced your sense of sentence and story?

Susan Lewis: I love the prose poem! Brevity and density are its challenge and its promise. To paraphrase Whitman, it contains multitudes — like the power to embrace or eschew narrative, meter, syntax, and even the sentence itself.

I began working with the more narratively driven poems in Heisenberg’s Salon as a kind of emotional and intellectual R & R after being immersed in another collection of prose poems (currently called Zoom) which are far more abstract, fragmented, and entangled on the lexical meta-level. This was not my first time exploring this sub-genre: my book, How to be Another, gathered a group of tale-like creatures in the section called e.g. (reflecting my notion that narrative proffers examples, rather than, say, arguments, restatements, or prescriptions — like the other poems assembled under the headings vis, i.e., and Rx).

The rhythms, architecture, and verbal texture of these poems, however, are quite different than those earlier pieces. And my critique of categories, boundaries, and borders has intensified (in the geopolitical context as well). A fish confined to a small container stays a small fish. The same can be said for a psyche. Any insistence on us vs them deprives ‘us’ of the (sometimes challenging) benefit of ‘their’ company and perspective. For this book, I found a kind of metaphorical support for this principle of inclusivity in quantum indeterminacy.

My love of the prose poem dates back to my introduction (thanks to my friend and mentor Chuck Wachtel) to Julio Cortázar’s seminal The Lines of the Hand, and Russell Edson’s Dinner Time, both of which can be relied upon, in a pinch, as complete guides to writing of any kind — be it short story, novel, or poem. (Which is to inveigh, once again, against the unhelpful constraints of such categories).

Cortázar’s other very short works, like many in Cronopios and Famas, and all of Edson’s oeuvre, have wormed their way into my sense of timing and ‘turn.’ Their compressed journeys draw an arc from premise, to ramification and extrapolation, to conclusion — which in different pieces might be more or less conclusive, and more or less shocking, or absurd. They model a kind of imaginative and investigatory digging — deeper, absolutely, but also laterally, towards new terrain — which ends up yielding a skewed and oddly clearer view of their starting positions.

The poems in Heisenberg are also deeply indebted to the work of Lydia Davis and James Tate, both of whom transform the ordinary into the extraordinary by penetrating, judicious, and genuinely inspired elisions, containments, and departures. And Kafka looms over all of us who touch on the surreal in the hope of exposing the tragic absurdity of the real.

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Special thanks to Susan Lewis for participating! Find out more about her work at her siteHeisenberg’s Salon can be purchased from BlazeVOX [books].

* revisiting everything

This week, I had the opportunity to talk poetry at the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat which is held at Adelphi University. We wrote about the moon a la William Stafford’s qoute, and used that exercise’s focus on performance and attention to talk about various approaches to lyrical prose.

It was a great group who asked me questions ranging from what kind of sandwich I would be and why (the answer: French dip, because it’s a plain sandwich, just bread and meat, but it’s transformed in the eating, the dip into the au jus sauce before taking a bite making it a little funky, as I try to do to mine own plain words and self), to what role does place have in my process. The answer to this latter question is complicated. I mean, when by the mountains in New Mexico, my poems tried to stretch like a range across the horizon; when in NYC, my poems tried to match the heights of skyscrapers. But when it comes to my books, there’s a little bit of everywhere and everything in each. We carry our places with us as much as our stories.

I thought of this as Rob Linne, who was kind enough to invite me to talk at the retreat, introduced me by saying that I was from Corpus Christi, calling the city one of his many hometowns. Something about that phrasing and sentiment continues to feel right to me days later.

Much of the talk revolved around me reading poems from my book Everything We Think We Hear, and then tying in the little lessons each poem gave me as I worked towards a final draft, lessons about lyrical prose as much as life.

One poem from the book I had planned to but didn’t get a chance to read is “Old Love.” This poem’s first draft came from a dream where I heard the final lines in my head and lived out the final image of talking into a baby carriage. I literally stumbled out of bed and those lines down, but it took a few years to really to where the poem wanted to go. While a lesson in waiting, this poem also became a lesson in honesty,  which requires its own waiting sometimes.

Old Love

 

When I dream of an old love, I let it ride, having already broken off what connected us, and not wanting to go through it all again. I drink my coffee the way they would remember me taking it, for some light and sweet, for others black and with a comment on how I can’t believe how long it took me to take it this way, undiluted, untampered, bitter. With a heat on my tongue, I listen to old love, let my mind wander more than I did when I was with them, knowing I have had this conversation, feeling the answers give over as accommodating as leaves to sunlight. With a green on my tongue, I inevitably mix up the conversations: ask after the father of one whose father was never around; whisper an inside joke I realize too late I never shared. When old love looks at me lost, I ask, Where did you get those, and point sometimes to a set of bow and arrow earrings, sometimes a pair of toucans tattooed on the inside of an arm. Stories of boutiques I paced politely. Stories of a childhood fascination with colorful birds. Don’t you remember? When we run out of small talk, I find myself pushing a baby carriage in which old love has fallen in. Helpless, I look down, only to hear myself doing baby talk, shaking my head, waving my hands, emphatically repeating words, and, in general, speaking in such a way I know I cannot ever make myself understood.

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This weekend is CantoMundo. I’ll be participating in one of two CantoMundo readings in Austin, TX, details below. If you happen to be in town, stop on by – it promises to be a great time! I’ll be part of the group reading on Saturday.

Screenshot_2016-07-21-17-45-54-1

Happy everthinging!

José

* 2015 end of year reading

Time once again for my end of year reading – which technically this year is more of a first of year reading – so however you feel fit to see it, please do. See it, that is.

I have been busy the past 3 weeks reading through the last leg of my reading list for my exams later this month. Here be the last stack(s) of books:

last leg

If you’re like me and can’t see a photo of books without scanning to see who’s in the “crowd,” here’s a short list of what’s visible:

a book on haiku poetics; Borges’ DreamtigersA Sense of Regard (essays); By Word of Mouth (William Carlos Williams’ translations); Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture IndustryWithout a Net by Ana Maria Shua; two books by Octavio Paz; Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy (sans-book jacket, esta frio!); La Otra Mirada (microrrelato anthology); William Carlos William’s PatersonComplete Works and Other Stories by Augosto Monterroso; Takuboku Ishikawa’s Romaji Diary/Sad ToysConversations with Mexican American Writers (interviews); Sandra Cisneros’ My Wicked, Wicked Ways; Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries; Pat Mora’s Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints; & flanking the stacks: William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook; Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World in Light.

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I took a break last week to record a few readings from Everything We Think We Hear by the Ohio river after eating our annual Christmas Eve Eli’s BBQ. Below is the video and text of “Jalapeños” and “Holiday Policy.”

Looking back, I realize these two poems are a good example of the kind of range I was going for in this collection. “Jalapeños”is a kind of homage not only to the chili pepper but also to Yeats, family, and Corpus Christi, all refracted via nonlinear, lyrical momentum. “Holiday Policy,” on the other hand, is driven by a more linear narrative, but is subverted in its story within a story framework.

Enjoy!

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Jalapeños – José Angel Araguz 

Pickled, you gleam, a smile hiding its teeth. Photo negative from Picture Day, money missing from my pockets, that smile. I can live without money; without food, I’m useless. Hunger is a tide: I walk down when it is low and see more. Over time, you’ve taught me to fashion sensibilities after what I can tolerate. When I am old and gray, and have eaten enough, I will tolerate everyone. When your darkness first cracked, did everyone go silent as you spilled out your many, tiny moons? And did he think himself a sky, the first to place your moons upon his tongue? Or was it only later, after biting into your body, thinking his own body turned water, that the first looked down and found, piled in his hand, the dunes of ellipsis you keep inside? You are commas, keep each bite separate. You are semicolons, a tip of the hat to greet the day. Shape suggestive of the J in my name. Shape suggestive, period. My aunt threatening with you if I ever cussed. Sting of I should’ve known better than to. Without you, I am useless. Corpus Christi Bay begins to glisten with you. You keep riding on the color of the waves, mocking, many and mocking. Family pickled. Family sharp with vinegar. Family broken with bites. Hunger is a tide: when it is high, I remember I cannot swim. Through skin and seed, my filthy existence resumes, after the sting.

Holiday Policy – José Angel Araguz 

My friend, who with his white beard and wide chest looks like Santa Claus, tells me of working at a liquor store and having to take polaroids of people paying with a check. He did this when he was my age, but because I am my age, my friend becomes Santa with a camera and nametag, standing as straight as steel bars on windows, watching me buy my liquor. He laughs telling the story, but the Santa whose eyes are hard on me is silent. Under white eyebrows, I see myself already doubled, following the motions of the story: white flash, pen collapsing on the counter, bottles pointing fingers from brown paper bags, fluorescence hum below the words: Holiday policy. The photo hangs like a tongue out of the camera’s mouth, my face slowly appearing from gray-white to a grainy, blurred reflection. It was enough to put cash in their pockets, as if it had been there all along, says my friend in the story, who himself dissolves into the friend in the room, grown quiet, as if he could hear himself speaking in the memory I would later have of him after he died, and disappointed that there isn’t more to him than stories like this one.

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Happy policying!

Jose

P.S. Check out my Instagram account (joseangelaraguz) for two more shorter readings!

* 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.

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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

 

* a revisit, prose poem thoughts, & thanks

Footnote – James Schuyler

 

The bluet is a small flower, creamy-throated, that grows in patches in New England lawns. The bluet (French pronunciation) is the shaggy cornflower, growing wild in France. “The Bluet” is a poem I wrote. The Bluet is a painting of Joan Mitchell’s. The thick blue runs and holds. All of them, broken-up pieces of sky, hard sky, soft sky. Today I’ll take Joan’s giant vision, running and holding, staring you down with beauty. Though I need reject none. Bluet. “Bloo-ay.”

Tiny_Bluets

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about James Schuyler’s “The Bluet” which he references in the prose poem above. I just discovered the above poem in a prose poem anthology I’m reading for my exams. I marvel at how much of Schuyler’s human fascination comes through in both his poem and “footnote.” The added information here, both of pronunciation (I’ve been saying it “blue-it” as in I really blew it with that pronunciation) and of Mitchell’s artwork, adds layers to Schuyler’s ongoing meditation on the bluet. Both in lyric and in prose, the flower is turned over, “running and holding” for both Schuyler and reader.

Earlier this week, I posted about the release of my collection Everything We Think We Hear (available for purchase on Amazon). In discussing the project with friend and poet John Sibley Williams on Facebook, I found myself realizing something about the ambition of the project in its turns between prose poetry and microfiction. At one point, I wrote:

So much of what we do in a poem, prose or lineated, is about what’s unspoken, while microfiction lends itself to more narrative completion. The most apt metaphor I can think of at the moment is those jeans and hoodies that come pre-scuffed up and torn, a narrative holding but frayed.

There’s a great quote from Robert Frost about poetry books where he says that if a book of poems has 25 poems, the book as a whole should stand as the 26th. This quote has long been an inspiration behind the strategies I use in putting a manuscript together. This quote also points to the way projects can have pockets of the same idea, varying shades of the same color. In the spirit of Schuyler’s takes on the bluet, I hope variations in form and intent work out an added layer to the reading experience in Everything We Think We Hear.

Thank you to all who have reached out with kind words and good wishes on the recent publication! Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy or plans on doing so (you totally should)! And lastly, thank you to John for getting my brain thinking 🙂

Happy bluet-ing!

Jose

P.S. After all that, it’s still a painting command in my head: “blue it!”

* new collection released!!!

I’m happy to announce that my new collection Everything We Think We Hear is officially available on Amazon!

As I’ve mentioned here, this project brings the prose poem and flash fiction structure of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance and takes it in a more personal direction, adds a little more guacamole and South Texas to my usual rhetorical and imagistic leanings.

Here are what some of my favorite writers had to say about the project:

“What is the meaning beyond memory’s hauntings? How does one survive the multi-faceted self fashioned from such meanings? Poet José Ángel Araguz’ unflinching collection, Everything We Think We Hear, considers these questions from all angles and gives us answers as adamantine and brilliant as the prose poems he has fashioned in his questing.”

Sarah Cortéz, Councilor, Texas Institute of Letters, Author of Cold Blue Steel

“José Ángel Araguz balances the beauty and agony of a man siphoning love from beer bottles, sparse mother-son conversations, a stern Tía’s throw, and the weathered memories of an absent father. This collection, where a boy who couldn’t dream becomes a man “making communion with all he knows,” insists you gaze on lo raro, the sour-pickled and scattered parts of a soul who refuses to ignore the song of the broken even when surrounded by splendor. “

Peggy Robles-Alvarado, author of Homenaje a las guerreras

“In José Angel Araguz’s collection, Everything We Think We Hear, todo se vale, everything goes! This book plays with our senses and forces us to consider what we think we hear, what we think we are reading. A fierce voice that shouts often and whispers now and then the many truths of life in South Texas. The poetic prose pieces startle the senses with rich images that linger in the mind like memorable dreams. Read these pieces and come away transformed.”

Norma E. Cantú, author of Canícula

Anyone interested in a copy for review, I can make a PDF available. Feel free to contact me: thefridayinfluence@gmail.com

Thank you to Sarah, Peggy, and Norma for their wonderful words of support for this project!

Special thanks as well to Roberto Cabello-Argandoña of Floricanto Press for working with me during this process!

See you Friday!

Jose

* on the vine with denise levertov

Aware – Denise Levertov

When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.

* uninvineted *
* uninvineted *

This week’s poem is by Denise Levertov, someone whose work I feel inspires the same kind of “cautious sunlight” approach to life and writing as is described above. Throughout the years, I’ve come back to her poems to learn again how to more inhabit my lines and line breaks. Note above the “abundance” of the third line, and how it scraps down to the one word “whispers.”

I have a friend who says that if you’re going to have one word stand alone on a line it better be the most important word in the poem. For me, “whispers” is a strong candidate for most important word, specifically because of what it means after I’ve read the poem and look at the words again. Structurally, my eye is drawn back to “whispers” and its two-syllable one line buddy “I liked.” The brevity of these two lines, how they are tucked into themselves much like the vine leaves of the poem, moves me to contemplate the whole poem further.

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As I mentioned earlier this week, the release date for my upcoming collection, Everything We Think We Hear, is officially December 1st. I’ve got a couple of things in mind to share as we get closer to the date. Mas soon!

I’m also happy to announce that my chapbook The Divorce Suite will be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2016. More news on this project as it develops!

Happy vining!

José

* new work up at compose journal & news

* raro, in red and orange *
* raro, in red and orange *

Just a quick note to announce the release of Compose Journal’s Fall 2015 issue which includes my piece “Raro.” Read it here.

Compose Journal was also kind enough to let me contribute to their “The Story Behind (the Story)” feature. Find out about the origins of “Raro” – with specific insights into growing up in South Texas – here.

Special thanks to Suzannah Windsor for including my work in this issue! Check out the rest of the stellar issue – including work from Julie Brooks Barbour and Elizabeth Tannen – here. 

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As for the news this week, I am excited to announce that my full length collection of prose poems and flash fictions, Everything We Think We Hear, is officially set to be released on December 1st from Floricanto Press. Stay tuned for updates (including a sneak peak at the cover soon)! “Raro” is a good example of the kind personal focus dipped into in this upcoming collection.

See you Friday!

José

* traveling with sei shonagon

* pillow talk *
* pillow talk *

Last week, I made my way to Warrensburg, MO to participate in the Creative Writing and Innovative Pedagogies (CWIPs) conference sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Central Missouri. While there, I was part of the panel “Teaching Strange: The Impossible Art of Poetic Weirdness” along with Michelene Maylor, Alyse Bensel, Ryler Dustin, and chaired by Hadara Bar-Nadav. I presented my paper “Teaching the Fragmented Self from Sappho to Twitter” which briefly details the literature course I taught this past Spring that centered around fragmentary writing.

One of the texts we engaged with in the course was The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon pictured aboveI brought this book filled with lists, personal musings and observations of 11th Century Heian Japan along with me for the trip. Sei’s project was to write focused on every day things. Despite this outward ambition, much of her sensibility comes through, as can be seen in the following:

84.  I Remember a Clear Morning

I remember a clear morning in the Ninth Month when it had been raining all night. Despite the bright sun, dew was still dripping from the chrysanthemums in the garden. On the bamboo fences and criss-cross hedges I saw tatters of spider webs; and where the threads were broken the raindrops hung on them like strings of white pearls. I was greatly moved and delighted.

As it became sunnier, the dew gradually vanished from the clover and the other plants where it had lain so heavily; the branches began to stir, then suddenly sprang up of their own accord. Later I described to people how beautiful it all was. What most impressed me was that they were not at all impressed.

The attention to detail as well as how those details strike one’s person as opposed to others is what made Sei’s book a perfect travel companion. As I finished rereading the book, I found Sei joining the ranks of my personal poet tribe that I carry around in my heart.

* carry on luggage *
* carry on luggage *

Speaking of travel companions, Spoot somehow made his way into my luggage and joined as I familiarized myself with Warrensburg. Here is Spoot hanging out with me at the Old Drum Coffeehouse and Bakery. Other, non-beluga related sights included:

* dragon! *
* dragon! *

This surprise dragon painting found further down Holden Street;

* con verse *
* con verse *

the requisite #ihavethisthingwithfloors photo;

and this piece from Devin Mitchell’s Veteran Vision Project which was on display at UCM’s Gallery of Art and Design. The exhibit focuses on the multiple identites veterans, young and old, live with. Find out more about this project here.

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Special thanks to Phong Nguyen, Kathryn Nuernberger and everyone else involved in making the CWIPs conference a wonderful experience!

Happy Warrensburging!

José