new review at The Bind!

Front-note: I hope everyone is staying safe out there–whether you’re protesting in person or doing activism at home. Black Lives Matter and we must do everything to push against systemic oppression.

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rosa bookAlso, just a quick post to share that my chronicle-review of Rosa Alcalá’s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem) went live earlier this week at The Bind!

Read as I divulge about writerly lateness but also about how books we carry–physically and emotionally–matter so much to our lives.

For more of Rosa Alcalá’s work, check out the poem “At Hobby Lobby” from MyOTHER TONGUE.

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Ever yours,

José

* 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.

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“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.

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

See you Friday!

Jose

* Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries

Confessional Poem – Rosa Alcalá

The girl next door had something to teach me
about what to air: On the line
somebody’s business gets told
then recounted; it’s best to thread a tale
for the neighbors, an orchestration
of sorts. But I am far from modest
in my telling of lies. There are three references
I put forward: each a past lover
who liked a different kind of underling
to his genius. You wouldn’t know it
from the delicates I roll
into the yard. It’s all the same peek-a-boo lace
and stunted imagination. Of course,
all of this is scanty truth. Who hangs anything out to dry
anymore, when invention has halved the work?

* undocumentaries *
* undocumentaries *

Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed writing reviews for The Volta Blog. My latest review is of Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries. The poem above is one example of how Alcalá digs out the complications to be found behind conventional metaphors. In my review, I break down the above poem, making connections with Sylvia Plath and the tasks (and consequences) a poet sets and works out for themselves.

Due to length considerations, I had to cut a bit of the original ending to the essay. Here’s a cut paragraph that I feel is essential in conveying my own personal connection with the collection:

“What goes unsaid in an essay like this – an essay which boils down to I read the poems, I thought about the poems – is worth considering given the Alcala’s idea of the “Undocumentary.” I read these poems for the first time in my thirty-second year of life. I am back in academia out of some sense of purpose or perhaps a need of one. I haven’t shared a house with my family for over fifteen years – in fact, it has been almost four years since I saw them. So much time apart and yet they keep coming up in my own poems. When Alcala writes about distance, I know what she means: it is the distance between family, a distance both physical and emotional, a distance of language and understanding. It is a distance one tries to cover through words because that is the only thing that is real to poets: real in its unreality.”

Check out the full review here.

Happy unrealiting!

Jose