poems, news, & audio!

Just a quick post to share that my poem “Of Breaking” can be read and heard on Toe Good Poetry’s site!

This poem is featured in my upcoming second collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), which I am happy to share has a release date of May 22nd. I’m really looking forward to its release.

I am also happy to share that the audio from my reading with Rochelle Hurt and Linwood Rumney in November at the University of Cincinnati’s Elliston Room is available to be listened to. In these tracks, you can hear me read from Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press), Reasons (not) to Dance (FutureCycle Press), and  The Divorce Suite (Red Bird Chapbooks).

Check it out the reading here!

See you Friday!

José

* remembering judith ortiz cofer

The Purpose of Nuns – Judith Ortiz Cofer

As a young girl attending Sunday mass,
I’d watch them float down the nave
in their medieval somberness, the calm
of salvation on the pink oval of their faces
framed by tight-fitting coifs. They seemed above
the tedious cycle of confession, penance
and absolution they supervised: of weekday dreams
told to a stranger on a Saturday; of Sunday sermons long
as a sickroom visit, and the paranoia of God always
watching you — that made me hide under my blanket
to read forbidden fictions.

Some of us were singled out for our plainness,
our inclination to solitude, or perhaps —
as our mothers hoped in their secret hearts —
our auras of spiritual light only these brides
of quietness could see in us. We were led to retreats,
where our uninitiated footsteps were softened,
and our heartbeats synchronized, becoming one
with the sisters’. In their midst, we sensed freedom
from the worry of flesh — the bodies of nuns
being merely spirit slips under their thick garments.
There was also the appeal of sanctuary in a spotless mansion
permeated with the smells of baked bread, polished wood
and leather-bound volumes of only good words.
And in the evenings, the choral mystery of vespers
in Latin, casting the final spell of community over us.

The purpose of nuns was to remind us
of monochrome peace in a world splashed in violent colors.
And sometimes, exhausted by the pounding demands
of adolescence, I’d let my soul alight
on the possibility of cloistered life, but once the sky
cleared, opening up like a blue highway to anywhere,
I’d resume my flight back to the world.

*

This week I am proud to feature the above poem by Puerto Rican American writer, Judith Ortiz Cofer, who recently passed away. Her work in prose and poetry helped to pave the way for a culturally infused and aware literary tradition that continues today.

The above poem works a subtle magic through the speaker’s impression of the nun figure. The stakes of the poem lie not in accurately portraying nuns, but rather in giving a sense of the strict world the speaker lived in growing up (first stanza), and then exploring how the perceived idea of the nun’s life offered relief from that strictness. There is a power to lines like: The purpose of nuns was to remind us / of monochrome peace in a world splashed in violent colors that works via contrast; if the nun is the idealized figure, then the speaker themselves lives in the world of “violent colors.” So much of life is looking for hope wherever we can find it, and sometimes a poem or a community can open up something inside you “like a blue highway to anywhere,” until you find yourself able to move, and dream, forward. Cofer’s work, here and elsewhere, made possible such empowered dreaming to happen for myself and others.

Reading the poem above the first time years ago inspired my own poem, “The Nun’s Lament,” which is included in my chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance. I remember being stunned into a new revision of what became the poem below after reading Cofer.

bird-sketch

The Nun’s Lament – José Angel Araguz

after Judith Ortiz Cofer

One night, I saw the figure of a man making his way towards my window. I had been looking across the roof of the chapel, stark in white moonlight. I closed my eyes, stood still, how long, I cannot say. The figure of the man, there behind my eyelids, flashed from shadow arms swinging, clambering across the roof, to a shadow flock of birds stirring in the air in unison, all but one taking off away from me. The one shot straight to me, past me, left me heavy, my pulse beating like wings inside. What I heard was not coming closer, was not hurting me, what I heard was restless. I had become a cloister for the heart, a space where the heart waited, idle, mid-flight. When I opened my eyes, there was the roof, clear, and a train in the distance, its whistle bursting.

*

Happy dreaming!

José

* grounding with natasha tretheway

Letter – Natasha Tretheway

At the post office, I dash a note to a friend,
tell her I’ve just moved in, gotten settled, that

I’m now rushing off on an errand—except
that I write errant, a slip between letters,

each with an upright backbone anchoring it
to the page. One has with it the fullness

of possibility, a shape almost like the O
my friend’s mouth will make when she sees

my letter in her box; the other, a mark that crosses
like the flat line of your death, the symbol

over the church house door, the ashes on your forehead
some Wednesday I barely remember.

What was I saying? I had to cross the word out,
start again, explain what I know best

because of the way you left me: how suddenly
a simple errand, a letter—everything—can go wrong.

**

native guard coverAt CantoMundo this year, I had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway speak about her work and the place of memory in her work. Her poems about her mother specifically have meant a lot to me over the years. The poem above, for example, shows how sometimes the things we write about find us, how “material” arises from the immaterial, day to day occurrences.

Poems about my father’s death and absence  in my life continue to come, and sometimes I worry about repeating myself. On the practical front, I work hard to keep the poems alive in different ways, whether through new forms or structural framework. But there is always the question: How big is grief? How long? That the poems keep coming means that I am far from knowing the answer to such questions.

One of the things that keeps me grounded is hearing about the experiences of others. Tretheway’s book, Native Guard, remains important for several reasons, the most prominent being the title poem’s engagement with history and evocation of human experience. But the poems about the poet’s mother mean something deeper for me, and it is something that I feel informs the emotional scope of the collection. There are times, as in this second poem below, where I feel I am reading a poet who understands what it means to make peace with what overwhelms you as much as you can in the moment.

At Dusk – Natasha Tretheway

At first I think she is calling a child,
my neighbor, leaning through her doorway
at dusk, street lamps just starting to hum
the backdrop of evening. Then I hear
the high-pitched wheedling we send out
to animals who know only sound, not
how they sometimes fall short.
In another yard, beyond my neighbor’s
sight, the cat lifts her ears, turns first
toward the voice, then back
to the constellation of fireflies flickering
near her head. It’s as if she can’t decide
whether to leap over the low hedge,
the neat row of flowers, and bound
onto the porch, into the steady circle
of light, or stay where she is: luminous
possibility–all that would keep her
away from home–flitting before her.
I listen as my neighbor’s voice trails off.
She’s given up calling for now, left me
to imagine her inside the house waiting,
perhaps in a chair in front of the TV,
or walking around, doing small tasks;
left me to wonder that I too might lift
my voice, sure of someone out there,
send it over the lines stitching here
to there, certain the sounds I make
are enough to call someone home.

*

Happy calling!

José

P.S. This weekend marks the last chance to enter my Goodreads Giveaway for one of ten signed copies of my prose poem chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance. Details below!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

* goodreads giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Just a quick post to announce that I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance (FutureCycle Press)! Check out the above links to find out how to enter.

I’m excited to try this kind of giveaway out! Looking forward to sharing my work further.

See you Friday!

José

* sharing some news & some tanka!

Just a quick post to officially announce that my second full length collection of poetry, Small Fires, has just been accepted for publication in 2017 from FutureCycle Press. This collection will feature the poems “Joe” and “El Rio” among others.

FutureCycle are also the same good people who published my prose poem/flash fiction chapbook, Reasons (not) to DanceI’m excited to be working with them again. Stay tuned for further news come 2017.

To celebrate the Small Fires news, I thought I’d share my contribution to the Journeys into Tanka project that’s going on via the Tanka Society of America Facebook page. Poets were asked to share a tanka as well as some words on their journey into the form, what it means for them and how. Readers are welcome to respond in the comments with their own tanka and/or tanka-related prose.

Special thanks to Marilyn Hazelton, TSA president and editor of red lights, for the invitation to contribute!

tsa journeys

See you Friday!

José

* moody mooning with stafford & gilbert

If you were a scientist, if you were an explorer who had been to the moon. . . What you said would have the force of that accumulated background of information; and any mumbles, mistakes, dithering, could be forgiven . . . But a poet – whatever you are saying, and however you are saying it, the only authority you have builds from the immediate performance, or it does not build. The moon you are describing is the one you are creating.  From the very beginning of your utterance you are creating your own authority.
(William Stafford)

trojanLast Friday, I had the pleasure of talking at Foy H. Moody High School (Go Trojans!), the high school I graduated from in Corpus Christi, Texas. My talk was structured around the above quote from William Stafford and the idea of writing as performance. Along with reading poems about the moon, I provided students with index cards where they could try their hand at describing/creating the moon. Here’s one that a student, Ashley, was kind enough to allow me to share here:

It makes me want to swallow
my tears, it makes me believe
I can forget my fears.
It gives me hope.

One of the things that moves me about this young poet’s lyric is how it reaches out to a similar sentiment as the Izumi Shikibu tanka I shared last week. Both lyrics set the solitary figure of the moon against the solitude of the self and work out of that tension a feeling of hope. Truly inspiring!

As part of my visit, I donated copies of Corpus Christi OctavesReasons (not) to Dance, and Everything We Think We Hear to the library. As I made my way through readings from Reasons and Everything, I found the moon popping up over and over again in the poems, serendipitously chiming along with the framework of my talk. It was one of those happy accidents that happen while teaching that, in a way, show your intuition paying off.

When a student asked why I thought the moon came up in the poems so much, I surprised myself again by sharing that it might have something to do with having shared a room as a child with my mother. She would work late nights, and often I would stay awake in bed staring out the window. And most nights the moon was there; when not, then the stars.

Looking back on this moment, I can’t help thinking about the following poem by Jack Gilbert, where he gives his own moon-reasoning:

Secrets of Poetry – Jack Gilbert

People complain about too many moons in my poetry.
Even my friends ask why I keep putting in the moon.
And I wish I had an answer like when Archie Moore
was asked by a reporter in the dressing room
after the fight, “Why did you keep looking in
his eyes, Archie? The whole fight you were
looking in his eyes.” And old Archie Moore said,
“Because the eyes are the windows to the soul, man.”

738px-Galileo's_sketches_of_the_moon
* mirrors to the sol *

Another “wish I could back and share” thought: It completely slipped my  mind that in the Octaves I have the following poem where I riff and hold conversation with the Stafford quote. I share it here in the spirit of belatedness:

The moon you are describing is the one you are creating
– William Stafford

How many moons between us, friend?
I meet you under circumstances
bad and good: bad, because you’re not here,
good, because I get to listen

and hear the moon you’d have me see.
Moon of my own efforts: where to start?
My questions? What are questions? Tonight,
the moon is in the shape of one.

*

Special thanks to Simon Rios and Melissa Yanez of Moody for helping set up the talks! Thanks also to Ashley, Marcos, and all the other students who participated in the talk about the moon!

Happy lunaring!

José

 

* going with rodney gomez

From the first words on, a poem begins to perform itself, establishing a logic and vision as you read. Like someone you bump into on the street, a poem wants you to go with whatever kind of interaction is happening at that moment. Sometimes it’s small talk; sometimes it’s carrying furniture out to a car and could you get that end, thanks! However it plays out, a poem wants a reader to go with it, the payoff being that you end up somewhere different than you were.

This week’s poem, “The Hand” by fellow CantoMundo poet Rodney Gomez, asks the reader to go with a story about a severed hand and its fabulistic travels. Each turn in the hand’s narrative charges the overall meaning further. From sugar cane fields to a highway of hands, the hand builds as a symbol of work and want.

This poem also made me think of the Yasunari Kawabata story “One Arm” from House of Sleeping Beauties. In that story, a young woman removes an arm and gives it to her lover to take care of for the night. This removing of self only to return to the self stranger is an act undergone repeatedly in daily life as we live in varying roles at work, at home, with others in general. Art has a way of slowing down the process of living, so that it’s understood for the life it consists of.

 

hand-898016_960_720

The Hand – Rodney Gomez

Midnight some time ago, I severed my hand & let it loose in the sugar cane fields outside my home. The next morning, being so drenched with want, I remembered how much a good hand is worth & went to find it. It was panting at a nearby well, next to a neat row of baskets filled with cane. Thinking it would easily reattach, I pressed it against my wrist – but strangely the hand didn’t fit. It scuttled away & I followed, arriving at a city of cardboard in the brush where a highway of hands flowed, swollen & tired. My true hand was there, struggling to pull a time clock into a tattered shoebox. Under the lid was a bleeding pinpoint – glowing hot, too bright for my eyes – accepting into itself all our loveless works.

from Mouth Filled with Night, winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize

***

I also want to share news of some upcoming readings next month in my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. At each of these, I will be reading from Everything We Think We Hear as well as Reasons (not) to Dance and other chapbooks:
*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Reading & Book Signing 11am
*)Wednesday, March 9th 2016 Del Mar College, White Library, Room 514: Open Mic feature
*)Thursday, March 10th 2016 Texas A&M University Corpus Christi: Opening Reader for Laurie Ann Guerrero 7pm
I’ll also be spending the afternoon doing a talk/reading at Foy H. Moody High School the Friday of that week.
Happy handing!
José

 

* another excerpt from Reasons (not) to Dance

* holy dancin' castles *
* holy dancin’ castles *

As promised, here is a second installment celebrating the release of my chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance!

Above is another of the ink paintings by Andrea Schreiber that was nominated as a possible cover. This ink painting was specifically inspired by the piece “Spinster,” the text of which is below.

Enjoy!

Spinster – José Angel Araguz 

You want me to tell you about life here. There was a castle where a woman was buried within a wall as a sacrifice. They knew nothing about her except she loved to dance. Later, there was a law against dancing. You knew when someone was breaking the law because the castle would begin to shake. Mother called the woman a saint: only someone who was pure could root out those who wronged. The night my father left, the castle crumbled down. Granted, this is only partly true. It was told to me and I tell you, not because I believe in dancing castles. I believe you have come here wanting stories, and all I have learned are reasons not to dance.

*

Copies of Reasons (not) to Dance can be purchased here.

Happy (not) dancing!

Jose

* 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