recent writings

Been busy with life and emotional happenings, but am hoping to get back into the swing of Influence-related things. Thank you to everybody who read my latest post and would-have-been speech! I greatly appreciate it.

I continue to be grateful to have been a finalist. One of the boons has been getting to be featured in articles and interviews, such as this one by David Bates of Oregon ArtsWatch titled, “It’s not my poetry that matters, it’s poetry that matters.” Bates did a great job of funneling down my in-person digressions and written loquaciousness into readable / followable quotes. One thing I’m glad he captured was my sense of advocacy and community that drives a lot of my teaching, writing, and editorial work:

“Without a platform for one’s work, without representation and visibility of one’s culture and identity, and without a feeling that there is a space for you somewhere in the world, writers can be sent down a discouraging path, questioning the worth not only of one’s words but of one’s existence. Things aren’t perfect, but good work is being done, and good work is being honored.”

berlin-sculptures-mythical-ancient-greek-gods-11876Another recent happening has been my prose poem sequence Gods and Goddesses being published as part of Oxidant Engine’s Boxset Series. Those familiar with my prose poems in Reasons (not) to Dance (FutureCycle Press) and The Book of Flight (Essay Press) will find this sequence kindred to those poems.

This Boxset Series is awesome and includes work by Rachel Mindell, Alexa Doran, Marlin M. Jenkins, Robert Okaji, Dorothy Chan, and John Sibley Williams among other stellar writers. Purchase a copy here.

Below are two excerpts from my prose poem sequence. Enjoy!

*

Gods and Goddesses – José Angel Araguz

She told the class to imagine themselves as gods and goddesses, and to draw that. A few laughed, then grew silent, leaving the strokes of a pencil to grow louder, faster, a hand in the back of the room furious across a sheet, where teeth could be found, and the beginning lines around a mouth. Everyone waited, wanting to hear what it had to say.

First – José Angel Araguz

– and then the sun looked down upon the earth, took in how countless and unending life here seemed, saw in it something of the universe, at least what he knew of it, boundless and crowded, only what he saw was a thing that held nothing as bright as he was, nothing that aspired to take his place, nothing even to take a place beside him, and he continued in his thoughts, taking note of everything in regards to what he could not see, trying to block out his reflection which is all he saw – on the water, on the leaves – his thoughts multiplying and emptying him until he looked at the ground and saw shapes, dark, no light in them, a whole world that was not a world but a passing feeling that moved as he moved. The first shadows looked back at the sun –

one more from Susan Lewis

susan lewis zoomIn my recent microreview & interview of Zoom (The Word Works, 2018) by Susan Lewis, I discussed Lewis’ deftness with the prose poem as working through a push-pull between familiarity and distinction. The traditional structures of sentence and paragraph are subverted in the poems of Zoom with non-traditional phrasing and concepts.

In the case of “In Praise of Attention,” (below), the familiar phrasing of “in praise of” is subverted by a poem whose goal seems to be an interrogation of attention as a distinct act. Attention is first described as “that stiff upper chamber of another bloody pump,” implying a physicality to what we call attention, one that is similar to the physical heart. Yet, the poem immediately pushes against this logic by turning from the phrase “bloody pump” to “upper cut. Or cut to the quick & the dead.” In this phrasing, conceptual logic gives way to a logic of sounds, three syllable phrase replaced by another three syllable phrase, which is then further interrupted by a riff on the word “cut,” which in turns leads to a movie reference. The lyrical momentum of these lines would be inaccessible were it not for the self-awareness that runs the speaker of this and other poems in the collection.

Because the speaker shows themselves as aware of the frustrating yet fruitful fluidity of language, the reader’s own awareness of this fluidity, felt at turns as difficulty and fascination, can be grounded in faith. Faith in language as reckoning ground, as meeting place and place of obfuscation. The ending line, building off the italicized quote from physicist Werner Heisenberg, becomes a telling description of not only the prose poem form as exhibited here but of poetry itself.

In Praise of Attention,

that stiff upper chamber of another bloody pump. Or upper cut. Or cut to the quick & the dead, to be blunt, to be smooth as an animal in the grass, shooting the breeze with its salutary moods, its whispering timbre. Not so much chasing facsimilar euphoria as synthesizing with the generative wisdom of chlorophyll. Attending, nursing plus paying out my bottomless cache, that recirculating pump begging to be trimmed to droplets of uncertainty, those nemeses of finitude. That what we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Words grasping boldly at the known grasping boldly at what is.

*

from Zoom (The Word Works)

to learn more about Susan Lewis’ work, visit her site

microreview & interview: Zoom by Susan Lewis

review by José Angel Araguz

susan lewis zoom

In a recent conversation about prose poetry, I found myself tasked with defining what makes a prose poem “poetry” exactly. I fell back on my usual starting point, some riffing on Charles Simic’s idea shared in an interview that “[what] makes them poems is that they are self- contained, and once you read one you have to go back and start reading it again. That’s what a poem does.” What’s great about this quote is that it connects the reading act to the act of rereading, highlighting poetry’s ability to get things said in unique, memorable ways. I say “memorable” here, and feel the need to qualify it as not immediately memorable. That is to say, a phrasing’s distinction comes from the push-pull effect of being familiar enough to make sense, but unique enough to stand out and make us pause.

This movement between familiarity and distinction is one of the driving engines of Susan Lewis’ recent collection, Zoom (The Word Works, 2018). While the collection’s title brings to mind the film technique of zooming in, I find it also applies in terms of speed, in this case, the varying speeds of the reading act. This read on the title is invited, in a way, by the choice of having the individual titles in the collection be the first words of the poems. By having the poem begin with the title, the voice of the poem is engaged from the first words interacted. The opening poem, “Everyone Agreed,” executes this move in a self-revealing way:

Everyone Agreed

this was a thrilling catastrophe. There were the usual photo-ops & spell-checked swoons. Octopeds got the jump on the rest of us, but their webs were useless against the suck. Spare fur was exchanged for sexual favors until the water fermented and all hell broke loose. No one remembered to access their 20:20 hindsight until the razor light blinded us with its odor of inferiority. There was anger and danger beyond our wildest dreams, which stopped coming once the humdrum imploded, divesting us of our history & its discontents.

As I mentioned, having the title be the first words of a poem means the voice is there at the start of the reading act. This move creates an immediacy that propels the reader into the “thrilling catastrophe” of the poetic act. This momentum is then interrupted by Lewis’ choices in diction. The phrasing of “There were the usual photo-ops & spell-checked swoons,” for example, causes a reader to pause; the sentence is structured as a traditional sentence, but the meaning of “spell-checked swoons” causes one to pause and wonder. Yet, the decision to structure this phrase within a prose poem, which builds off the familiarity of the traditional sentence and paragraph, forces the pause to be brief. Were this poem broken into lines, the reader would be given the handhold of line break and stanza break which invite dwelling. Here, the poem marches on through the sense of a paragraph. One reads the rest of the poem propelled by this push-pull effect.

Depending on the reader, one could say that the poems of this collection are read at the mercy of this push-pull effect. Taking this perspective, however, would be to miss out on the rich difficulty available in this lane of poetry, a poetry whose linguistic ambition is to evoke through active sense-making and unmaking. The American tradition of richly difficult poetry runs from Gertrude Stein’s tender buttons to the contemporary lyrically ambitious work J. Michael Martinez. What Lewis adds to the conversation via Zoom is a sequence of poems whose fragmented sensibility become a ride where one catches glimmers of meaning tinged with gloom.

The poem “Dear Sir” continues this work of moving between familiar and distinct phrasing:

Dear Sir

or Madam, until you lose your head, mother its shred, wrapped in mystery & mead. No levity for this, your skid life. No mercy while you bilk your betters, sent flying to spy on your attempts to rise. Across the deep there are many with nary a hook to hang on. & ever & anon those lads with rainbow limbs snaking through the gloom. Another day another dolor. Not to mince woulds, but this sibilance is skilling us. & you who wish upon a stare? Where would you turn & fleetly tumble? The Burning Dervish never knows whereof he’d speak, mute as he is, spinning in his vicious circle, boring his whole through our dank & dappled gaps.

Here, idioms are approached and transformed, refreshed in a way that moves away from the typical reproach one finds in poems. Rather than turn a phrase for some argument or rhetorical stance, the transformation is executed with blunt power. For example, “Another day another dolor” is set as its own sentence, able to color both the previous and following sentence, but also standing as its own moment of distinction. This decision to let the new phrasing stand alone allows the original aphorism “Another day another dollar” to ring like an echo in the reader’s mind. Before one can fully unpack that, however, the prose paragraph structure moves the poem on to “Not to mince woulds, but this sibilance is skilling us,” another set of turns that invite both pause and movement. What is being worked out in this kind of difficulty is a poetry that points elsewhere than itself. The poem’s ending image of a dervish in a trance is telling, evoking a desire for spirituality through activity.

From the sight rhyme of “anger and danger” and the reference to Freud in the phrase “our history & its discontents” (“Everyone Agreed”), to the riffing and subverting of idiomatic phrasing (“Dear Sir”), what these poems offer is an engaged reading act where meaning is only part of the purpose. If narrative poems keep poetry connected to traditions of storytelling, then richly difficult poems like these keep poetry connected to traditions of the lyric voice, that personal, intimate, and engaged perspective whose presence alone gives it purpose and power.

*

Influence Question: What were the origins of this collection?

Susan Lewis: José, thank you so much for your interest in Zoom! The origins of this collection go back to my years-long interest in the prose poem, combined with another interest of mine, which happened to develop at the same time: in poetry as play – which is not, in my mind, inconsistent with addressing dark or serious concerns. One of the things I find interesting is how much play the prose poem allows! I’m drawn to the paradox of this form: poetry that is not lineated, that is, does not advertise itself as poetry. I love the tension this holds – the demand that the reader look beyond the obvious, and engage with what might make poetry be poetry. (A question I think is more important than any particular answer one might suggest). Writing prose poems has only deepened my love for the form: the concentrated punch of a discrete bloc of words floating in a white page; the implication that substantial things come in small packages; the impression these blocs give, of density and compression; the focused attention they ask of the reader.

However, I did not set out, ab initio, to write a book-length project, or suite. It was interesting: after writing some number of what I thought of as free-standing poems, their common concerns started to become apparent, and began guiding the development and features of the rest of the poems in the book. Some of these preoccupations are packed into the title, with its nod towards film technique, as well as velocity. Organized around the substantive and aesthetic potency of point of view, the poems in Zoom borrow from film technique to ‘zoom in’ from the objective/long shot/third person, to the medium shot/second person, to the subjective/close up/first person. All engage the ramifications of subjectivity via bricolage, parataxis, polysemy, and compression. I think of the collection as adding up to a kind of status report for our moment in this world, in which the frame narrows along with the point of view, from the global to the local to the individual. Especially concerned with the need for, and failure of, empathy and decency, as well as with how we perceive and communicate, these poems also amount to a progress report on the state of language itself. The consensus among these poems is that we’re zooming – if not to our doom, than to the brink, where we might still be able to stop ourselves from irreparably despoiling our psyches and our planet.

*

Special thanks to Susan Lewis for participating! To learn more about Lewis’ work, check out her site. Copies of Zoom can be purchased from The Word Works.

 

SONY DSC*

Susan Lewis (www.susanlewis.net) is the author of Zoom, winner of the Washington Prize, as well as nine other books and chapbooks, including Heisenberg’s Salon and This Visit. Her work has appeared in a number of anthologies, including They Said (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches Editions, 2017), and Carrying the Branch (Glass Lyre Press, 2018), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Web Conjunctions, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, The New Orleans Review, Raritan, Seneca Review, Verse, VOLT, and Verse Daily. She is the founding editor of Posit (www.positjournal.com).

* 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.

***

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!

*

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.

*

Happy policying!

Jose

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

* 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 chapbook – Reasons (not) to Dance – released!!!

* new chapbook - eek! *
* new chapbook – eek! *

I am happy to announce the release of my new chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this collection of prose poems and flash fictions imaginatively explores moments of hesitation and celebration in the tradition of the Latin American microcuento as practiced by Ana Maria Shua, Eduardo Galeano, and Agosto Monterroso.

To celebrate, I will be posting short readings throughout the summer. Along with excerpts from the chapbook, I will be sharing some of the artwork that made as well as almost made the cover.

Speaking of which, the ink painting on the cover is by Andrea Schreiber (often referred to on the blog as “Ani”). Here’s the original piece:

* looking *
* looking *

The image was inspired by the piece “Look” which I include below along with a short reading. “Look” was originally published in Blue Earth Review and earned 2nd place (along with another Reasons piece, “Relinquished”) in BER’s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest. Enjoy!

Look

after Kafka

When the afternoon light has turned to evening light and she turns to tell you this, points out the purple as the kind of purple she would want a whole room painted in, and you consider what that room would be like if you stood in it, this purple at every side, when the sky you are both looking at seems different each time you look and in your mind say look to yourself and look because she has been looking and wants you to as well, when she perhaps has even gone as far as to enter that room and close the door behind her and is standing alone with this purple at every side, when all you can do is turn from the purple glints across her eyes and look again at the sky, a deeper purple now that imbues itself on the stones of the church, on the sides of the tree, on the slick of the leaves, on the skin of the couple passing by, a purple distance between them, a purple silence and a purple expression on each of their faces – then it is time to shut the blinds and for a moment stand with her in the completely darkened room and let your eyes and hers adjust.

*

To purchase a copy of Reasons (not) to Dance go here.

Special thanks to Diane Kistner and all the good people at FutureCycle Press!

Also, I now have an author page on both Goodreads and Amazon! Feel free to stop by and share your thoughts on the new chapbook. More excerpts and readings to come throughout the summer!

Happy reasoning!

Jose

* microcuentos, new work & augusto monterroso

The Dinosaur – Augusto Monterroso

When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

*

* what hitting snooze can get you *
* what hitting snooze can get you *

The above, by the Honduran writer Augusto Monterroso, is credited as being one of the world’s shortest stories. Monterroso is one of my favorite writers in the Latin American microcuento tradition.

When I first read him, I was amazed at how much spookiness can happen in a short amount of prose. The form – which in English goes by various names: flash fiction, prose poetry, short shorts, microfiction, etc. – allows for a certain kind of sensibility to play.

Myself, I find a complicated humor in the form at times, as can bee seen in two new pieces published in Star 82 Review’s Issue 2.4.

Check out “Wisp” and “Brown” here.

Happy wisping!

Jose

* prose poem buzz & Max Jacob

Poem of the Moon

There are upon the night three mushrooms that are the moon. As brusquely as the cuckoo sings from a clock, they rearrange themselves at midnight each month. There are in the garden rare flowers that are small sleeping men, one-hundred of them. They are reflections from a mirror. There is in my dark room a luminous censer that swings, then two… phosphorescent aerostats. They are reflections from a mirror. There is in my head a bumblebee speaking.

*buzzoverkill*
*whatcha thinkin’?*

And because I like working in threes, here is one more foray into the prose poem – this time with the renown French poet Max Jacob.

In talking about prose poetry, one must always acknowledge the fact that the tradition began in French literature.  Here’s the quote from Charles Baudelaire that, if you haven’t run into it yet, will possibly make you a believer:

Which one of us has not dreamed, on ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose: musical, without rhythm or rhyme; adaptable enough and discordant enough to conform to the lyrical movements of the soul, the waves of revery, the jolts of consciousness?

Since these famous words were given to the world, many have laid open their dreams and given back their versions of poetic prose.

The poem below is one of the first prose poems I read that really had me nodding my head saying: yes, that’s it, that’s what you do in a poem.  I love the way it captures that moment of jolt when you look closer at your surroundings and see something you’ve neglected to notice.

***

The beggar woman of naples

When I lived in Naples there was always a beggar woman at the gate of my palace, to whom I would toss some coins before climbing into my carriage. One day, surprised at never being thanked, I looked at the beggar woman. Now, as I looked at her, I saw that what I had taken for a beggar woman was a wooden case painted green which contained some red earth and a few half-rotten bananas …

***

Happy bananas!

Jose

* pic found here.

* what a poem does & Russell Edson

What makes them poems is that they are self-contained, and once you read one you have to go back and start reading it again.  That’s what a poem does.
(Charles Simic)

Charles Simic said the above in regards to his own collection, The World Doesn’t End, which consists of a series of prose poems.  I love how true this idea rings – that a poem – sonnet, lyric, or prose poem – exists as a self-contained experience.

However one may feel about prose poems – and there be much controversy even these days – one cannot deny the poetry of something that fits the above.

I mean, there are things that people have said to me in passing that fit these parameters, those parts of conversation you find yourself quoting later, either to others or to yourself.

Makes me think of that George Harrison line: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there…

In the poem below, Russell Edson goes a few unexpected places.

*the not elephant in the room*
*the not elephant in the room*

The Fall – Russell Edson

There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.

To which they said the go into the yard and do not grow in the living-room as your roots may ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.

***

Happy falling!

Jose

p.s. Newstand Alert: check out my poem “Reading Hunger” published in the current issue of Gulf Coast!  Info on this issue here.

* photo found here.