* unhatched with colette jonopulos

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

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This quote by Rilke serves as an epigraph at the beginning of Colette Jonopulos’s chapbook, Between. Reading through the poems in this chapbook, I was moved how each reflected a bit of what Rilke’s words point to, how distance can be used to see something and/or someone clearer.

I share the title poem below as an example not only of the above theme but also of a short lyric able to evoke and engage via images and phrasing. While the address to a “you” creates the air of intimacy, the meditation on the image of bird eggs evokes Rilke’s “infinite distances.” From this angle, a couple is always a “you” and an “I” (you/I), and their relationship “the fragile membrane between” them.

The ending on “hatchlings” equates unspoken words to unborn birds, a pairing that, beyond rhyme, hits home for the life waiting in both words and birds to come.

Between – Colette Jonopulos

To give you a handful of
birds still in their shells, blue
shells and slate grey, thick
shells of protection, like the
ones we’ve built up with our
silences.

What was easy has
become the gracious and
cold considered other,
boundaries set; we are
not the content or container,
but the fragile membrane
between.

As the plane lands, as I
walk into still another
strange city, I’ve saved
the shells unbroken,
inside are words I
have not said,
slick and breathless
hatchlings.

*

Happy hatching!

José

* solituding with james schuyler

One of the most moving things about being a poet and sharing the work I do has been hearing feedback from people. I remember years ago after performing at a poetry slam, I had a woman come up to me and quote a line from one of the poems I’d read: “Why are men only honest during the slow songs?” Then she hugged me and said, That’s it, that’s exactly it.

Another time I was working at a coffee shop and had posted some poems (my own and by others) on the community board in celebration of National Poetry Month. It was a lovely surprise to hand off a latte to a young man as he smiled and said: “Solitude feels like fire sometimes.” Did you write that? That’s a good line.

My reaction in both situations was a mix of smiling and mumbling, eventually landing on a thank you.

In the three years of running this blog, I have been moved to similar moments of smiling and mumbling gratitude by comments made here, Facebook, Twitter, and email by those of you kind enough to read and reach out. While writing and reading may be solitary acts, there is a special kind of communion that happens in those moments of sharing lines and insights. Thank you for making me feel heard!

This week’s poem – “The Bluet” by James Schuyler – connects this type of communion via poetry with that available in the natural world. In those moments of reading a line and considering it, we read with the kind of attention and listening that “breaks/[us] up.”

* quaking *
* quaking *


The Bluet – James Schuyler

 And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.
***
The countdown to the December 1st release of my full-length collection, Everything We Think We Hear, continues. Here is a link to my poem “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” published in The Acentos Review in 2010. It’s the piece where the “solitude” line quoted above appears.
Happy solituding!
José

* the 200th post: a cento

Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!

To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.

200 posts = 20 lines!

Eek!

* a mouse *
* a mouse *

Some finer points:

To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.

I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).

Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.

And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!

Cento for the 200th post

I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins

***

Happy quoting!

Jose

p.s. Sources for the Cento:

  1. Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
  2. Brown Penny – WB Yeats
  3. Willow – Anna Akhmatova
  4. XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
  5. An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
  6. Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
  7. “on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
  8. The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
  9. “from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
  10. Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
  11. “Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
  12. On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
  13. Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
  14. “quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
  15. Epilogue – Robert Lowell
  16. If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
  17. Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
  18. Going Home – Phoebe Tsang
  19. A Winter Night – Tomas Tranströmer
  20. Evening in Matamoros – Jose Angel Araguz

* all’s misalliance with robert lowell

The more time you spend around words, the more they keep moving around.

When I first read this week’s poem, “Epilogue” by Robert Lowell, I focused on the line: Yet why not say what happened? This line gave me permission and nerve at a time when I needed it.

Reading the poem again years later, a shorter sentence strikes me: All’s misalliance. I’m moved by the way the word “all” is in there twice, once mostly solitary, and then immediately crowded in, the letters playing out the concept of the line.

As I’m sure is clear by now, I’m awfully in my head this week.

I come back to this poem every time I do a long stretch of revisions, a stretch that usually involves some sort of paradigm shift, a change in outlook in my approach to the line.

There’s so much in here that is good. The poem throughout has the feel of advice given between conspirators. The conspiracy is the finding out and articulating of “living names.” Which is why we revise, to say it better.

You must revise your life, Rilke says in a poem, at least in one translation. In another translation, the same line reads: You must change your life. See what I mean? Words keep moving, and you must keep moving words.

I’ll try and be a little more grounded next week 🙂

* Vermeer's veneer *
* Vermeer’s veneer *

Epilogue – Robert Lowell

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

***

Happy moving!

Jose

* the 100th post

Bright star – would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores…

(John Keats, Bright Star)

With those six lines there, poetry had me.

I read those as a kid and was floored.  I mean, first there’s the language: what’s an Eremite?  Steadfa- que?  But you go down into the words waters, priestlike task, ablution, shores and they take you into the ocean with their sounds.  I was hooked.  I didn’t know what I was looking at but I wanted to be around it, be part of it.

Of course, I didn’t realize this til much later, when I returned to Keats in an official I AM NOW GOING TO READ POETRY adolescent way.  Coming across this poem again, I went back to that silence of being a kid with something – can’t name it, don’t know what it is – but something there in these words is soooo cooool.

Eloquent I am not.

That said, I wanted to do a more personal post for this, the 100th post.

And what’s more personal than stars:

* insert crickets sound here *
* insert crickets sound here *

Sure, they’re all the way up there and on a completely different timeframe than us.  Yet, when you look up – or rather, when you let yourself look up and really look up – there’s something…I don’t know, nice about it.

Again, eloquence.

Here’s me trying to say it better:

To a star in Texas – Jose Angel Araguz

Little light weaving through, I cannot
make out much tonight, and I know this here
means nothing to you, so

skin, tell my stories; heart, fill the sky.

**

I don’t know exactly what that last line means but I’ve been kinda living by it ever since I wrote it years ago.  Something about how just being here is enough.

Stars.  The word, plural or singular, is so riddled with cliche, you could be talking about nothing.  And in a way you are.

Stars are, for me, things of persistence, pseudo-Venn diagrams of presence and absence.  They are one of the few things that people will – nearly universally – stop and let me themselves be awed by.

How do I know this?  Through reading poems.

Here’s Rilke’s take on it:

Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke

Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road…
When did it start?…
I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
long ago,
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is —
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city…

(trans. Stephen Mitchell)

**

Happy standing!

Jose

* Rilke, winter & the friday influence

I am almost done with The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.  Fascinating stuff.  Rilke wrote something like 400 poems in French towards the end of his life.  Basically a whole Collected Works in another language.  He approached his poems in French in the spirit of starting over in a way that he couldn’t in his native German.

What does it mean to start over?  Focusing on details.

Case in point, here’s one poem from his series The Roses:

II. *

I see you, rose, half-open book

filled with so many pages

of that detailed happiness

we will never read.  Magus-book,

opened by the wind and read

with our eyes closed…,

butterflies fly out of you, stunned

for having had the same ideas.

***

Those last four lines contain within them so much sensation – so much surprise – you read them and go back into yourself, recognizing an experience there in the words.

Rilke’s French poems are where he goes for it and basically becomes a modern version of Rumi – he sings within his praise for the world.

winter, yo
winter, yo

Continuing with last week’s theme of winter, here is Rilke’s take on it.

In the same spirit of starting over, Rilke also left some of his French poems imperfect.  The poem below is such an example.

The last line almost takes me out of the poem.  It is an unfinished thought.  But, read after so many lines of yearning and remembering, the line leaves us lost in as much thought as the speaker.

***

Winter – Rainer Maria Rilke *

I love those former winters that still weren’t meant for sports.

We feared them a little, they were so hard and sharp;

we confronted them with a bit of courage,

to return into our house, white, sparkling wise-men.

And the fire, that great fire consoling us against them,

was a strong and living fire, a real fire.

We wrote badly, our fingers were all stiff,

but what joy to dream and entertain whatever

helps escaping memories delay a while…

They came so close, we saw them better

than in summer…, we proposed colors to them.

Inside, all was painting,

while outside all became engraving.

And the trees, who worked at home, in lamplight…

***

Happy working!

jose

* as translated by A. Poulin in The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.