worlding with Valerie Martinez

ddm4This week found me conducting two separate poetry workshops, one in Spanish and one in English, focused on Día de los Muertos / Day of the Dead. At this workshop, we went over some of the history of the holiday, from its indigenous roots and variations to contemporary observances. While I had students write recuerdos / poems of remembrance, I also shared examples of calaveras (short, satirical poems that are also at times political) and descanso poems.

This week’s poem, “World to World” by Valerie Martinez, is an example of a descanso poem, a tradition that combines elegy and narrative. In his introduction to Camino Del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing, editor and poet Rigoberto González describes the descanso poem as “a word version of an altar to the dead,” and cites Martinez’s poem as an example.

ddm3Reading through the poem, one can see the altar-like spirit of the poem in the way the narrative collects its details while at the same braiding the human and the natural world. When “the dead come” in the poem, for example, they come with “mouths silent as under-earth.” This metaphor pairing “mouths” with “under-earth” builds off the idea of the dead engaging with the living world and gives an exactness of feeling. The “silence” described here is tied to the absence of words. The speaker then shares that “We needn’t have any words, / the dead and I,” and continues in its details, leading us from the earth to the sky through graceful turns of enjambment and phrasing. The ending then takes a poem that is about exploring layers of outer existence and notes how these layers resemble the ones we live with inside ourselves.

Since my workshops were in two languages, I went ahead and translated Martinez’s poem. I’m sharing the translation below as well. Enjoy!

World to World – Valerie Martinez
for Tim Trujillo 1951-1991

I discover the Buddha in the backyard,
black paint on wood, head titled,
smile so tranquil. Then the dead come,
over the grass, the garden stones,
a bed of wildflowers, without sound,
mouths silent as under-earth.
We needn’t have any words,
the dead and I, just holy imagery,
the message, they come, the secret
passage under the wall, the creature
who climbs through, the sky
over the clouds over the air over the earth,
world to world, this afternoon
someone I am someone I knew,
the layers beneath the layers.

Mundo a Mundo – Valerie Martinez
traducido por José Angel Araguz, Ph.D.

for Tim Trujillo 1951-1991

Descubro al Buda en el patio trasero,
pintura negra sobre madera, cabeza inclinada,
una sonrisa tan tranquila. Luego vienen los muertos,
sobre la hierba, las piedras del jardín,
una cama de flores silvestres, sin sonido,
bocas calladas como la tierra.
No necesitamos ninguna palabra,
los muertos y yo, sólo imágenes santas,
el mensaje, ellos vienen, el paseo
secreto bajo la pared, la criatura
quien sube, el cielo
sobre las nubes sobre el aire sobre la tierra,
mundo a mundo, esta tarde
alguien que soy alguien que conocí,
los estratos debajo los estratos.

*

The original poem is from Valerie Martinez’s collection World to World (University of Arizona Press). To learn more about Martinez’s work, check out her site.

* influences, cantomundo, & the kenyon review

Just a quick post to share my contribution to Rosebud Ben-Oni’s recent guest post at the Kenyon Review blog.

Rosebud reached out to her fellow CantoMundistas – Javier Zamora, Carolina Ebeid, Yesenia Montilla, Ruben Quesada, Amy Sayre Baptista, & myself – and asked us each to write a few words on the books by Latina/os written in the 21st Century which have influenced us. Anyone familiar with this blog knows I’m a book geek, happy to dig into what I’m reading, so I relished this opportunity.

Below is my contribution to the Rosebud’s guest post. Make sure to check out the rest of the insightful contributions here.

*

“Books Written in the Twenty-first Century by Latina/o Poets That Have Made Me Braver”
by José Angel Araguz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Elegies In Blue: Written early at the turn of the century, this book stands as a living elegy for both the century that’s passed and the century that continues to grow in the echo of Sáenz’s words: “Perhaps, this year, a harvest for the poor./At last. This year. A harvest for the poor.”

Rosa Alcalá, Undocumentaries: In “Speaking of the Tree,” Alcalá brings together tree mythology, her father, hurricanes, German walds, the Texas/Mexico border, Vermont, etc. – all in a poem whose meaning keeps growing like a tree in both directions, skyward and earthward. Its song and lament holds praise for the lives touched by trees, and a lament for what passes across them. In this collection, this kind of lyrical nerve and ingenuity establishes a poetics of what goes unsaid and “undocumented.”

Rigoberto González, Red-Inked Retablos: I can’t stress enough how powerful the impact of reading the speech “To the Writer, to the Activist, to the Citizen.” From the call for Latina/os to fight with intelligence and be empowered in our public presence as well as to conduct more literary criticism, stressing that we must “generate praise for those who are [our] colleagues not [our] competition,” he makes being a Chicano writer seem like the inevitable beat of my heart.

Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth: Lastly, I keep this following excerpt from “Parts of an Autobiography” written on the first page of my writing journal as a kind of reminder of what is at stake in navigating the worlds of identity and poetry:

53. The writing is not the catharsis. The decision to excavate is the catharsis. The transformation from dreadfulness to art is the catharsis, but the art is the art.

*

Special thanks to Rosebud Ben-Oni and the good people at The Kenyon Review for this opportunity.

See you Friday!

Jose