turn, volta, turn

Some quick thoughts and sharings from this week:

  • As many of you know, I’m a board member of CavanKerry Press, and I’m excited about the work done by this literary organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve managed to maintain their staff and publishing schedule, while conducting various community outreach events virtually. They are currently doing a fundraiser which I encourage y’all to check out at their site along with their current collections. They also have some of their literary anthologies available for free electronically.
  • One win for the week was getting the laundry done just before the machines were replaced in our building. And when I say just before, I mean JUST before–like, I came back to get things out of the dryer and the washers were gone. And if this doesn’t seem like a win to you, we’re not living in the same pandemic.
  • Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think 🙂

Been sharing the meme below with students. I share it with you hoping that if you feel called out, know that you matter. Let’s keep keeping it together together.

A meme with a crowd of Spidermans on one side and one solo Spiderman on the other, each are pointing across at each other in recognition. Over the crowd it says “Students barely keeping it together this semester” and over the solo it says “Professor barely keeping it together this semester.”

* reading from The Divorce Suite!

September ended up being such a busy month that I never got around to sharing more excerpts from The Divorce Suite (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016). Luckily, a recent outing to the Spring Grove Cemetery provided a nice background and inspiration for a reading. Below are the poems “Gift” and “The Accordion Heart” along with a clip of my reading them.

I chose these two poems because they are both what I term “makeshift sonnets.” There was a year (2006, I believe) when I wrote a sonnet a day; terribly rhymed creatures they were, all sorts of misguided phrasing. I then took a break from writing in the form for a few years, returning to the form after learning about William Carlos Williams and his idea of the sonnet as simply the shape of an argument.

With that framework to brace me, I wrote my way back into the fourteen line form, feeling out an argument or sense of argument. Both of these poems work out their own sense of argument, and strike their separate notes that compliment the overall project of The Divorce Suite.

*

Gift – José Angel Araguz

A man with a heavy German accent
handed me a book by Brigitte Reimann,
said he had bought it but had to leave
suddenly, and wanted to gift it
to the store. He walked off then.
Gift it, I kept repeating, telling
the story to anyone who’d listen.
Do you know how great that is?

The front photo was the color of smoke,
the author, young, and holding a cigarette.
It looked as if by standing there,
she colored everything around her.
When I looked it up, I found the title
translated to: Everything tastes like farewell.

*

The Accordion Heart – José Angel Araguz (*)

The accordion heart is hard to carry.
There are no hands for it. To play,
you go from face to face and wait
to see who wakes it up. You’ll feel
the air inside you pull and stretch.
You’ll feel awkward and loud, and yet
each movement could be music. You
can see where this could lead to something.

Sometimes the face won’t want to play.
Sometimes the face will play too long.
Either way, you’ll feel worn out.
You’ll want to punch and tear a hole,
and prove the accordion heart is useless.
There are no hands for it. You wait.

*

The Divorce Suite can be purchased from Red Bird Chapbooks.

Happy accordioning!

José

(*) “The Accordion Heart” was originally published in Foothill: a journal of poetry.

* new work up at salamander magazine!

runes-947831_960_720Just a quick post to share my poem “Odin and the Runes” recently published and made available by Salamander Magazine!

I have several “unofficial” sonnets throughout my manuscripts, but this one is one of my favorites due to how I came to write it. I was reading heavily into Norse mythology at the time and came across the story of Odin who willingly hung himself from a tree for nine days only to come back with the rune alphabet. I spent hours afterwards on the running trails of Eugene, Oregon standing under large trees and looking up, trying to imagine what nine days of only branches and sky must have felt like.

See you Friday!

José

* clepsydrally musing & borges

Found myself recently turning back to a sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges for an epigraph for a new poem. Below is the original poem in Spanish, followed by my own modest translation.

Two things stood out to me in translating. First, the word clepsydra which, after much maneuvering and reading through information, turns out to refer to a long history of water clocks. The clepsydra of the poem is both clock and music box, and so the gotas/drops work both on a physical level as well as on an aural one (music notes as water drops). So fascinating and strange a word it is, I decided to keep it in the poem, if only to have folks go and do some searching themselves. If you do, you’ll see stuff like this:

* water clock tower *
* water clock tower *

The other thing that stood out to me revisiting this sonnet is the long question in the second half of the poem. It is traditional for sonnets to have a turn, and here Borges takes up six lines for an epic, wide turn of argument, amping up the rhetoric and emotional power as he goes.

Caja de Música – Jorge Luis Borges

Música del Japón. Avaramente
De la clepsidra se desprenden gotas
De lenta miel o de invisible oro
Que en el tiempo repiten una trama
Eterna y frágil, misteriosa y clara.
Temo que cada una sea la última.
Son un ayer que vuelve. ¿De qué templo,
De qué leve jardín en la montaña,
De qué vigilias ante un mar que ignoro,
De qué pudor de la melancolía,
De qué perdida y rescatada tarde,
Llegan a mí, su porvenir remoto?
No lo sabré. No importa. En esa música
Yo soy. Yo quiero ser. Yo me desangro.

 ***

Music Box – Jorge Luis Borges

Music from Japan. Reluctantly,
the drops from the clepsydra fall
in a slow honey, made of an invisible gold
whose pattern over time repeats
eternal, fragile, mysterious and clear.
I fear that each drop will be the last.
They are a yesterday returning. From what temple,
from what meager garden on the mountain,
from what vigils before a sea I’ve never seen,
from what modest melancholy, from what lost
and recollected afternoon do they come to me,
their remote future? I do not know.
It does not matter. In that music
I am. I want to be. I bleed away.

***

Happy desangrandose!

Jose

p.s. Check out a far more competent and eloquent translation by Tony Barnstone here.

* one for Bill Knott

Bill Knott’s death last week had me digging through my journals to find this week’s poem. It’s a sonnet I wrote in homage to the man after reading his book The Unsubscriber.

I did a post on his work last November (which can be checked out here) in which I shared some of my sketches. Bill was kind enough to stop by the blog and say some encouraging words. This gesture moved me for many reasons, not the least of which is the nature of blogs and communities online.

I share this week’s poem (along with my impromptu sketch of the man) as a tribute to the poet as well as to all of you kind enough to stop by and read.

* knott bad, but knott great either *
* knott bad, but knott great either *

to Bill Knott – Jose Angel Araguz

He had time on his hands,
he could feel it – seconds itch
like you wouldn’t believe – really, bitch
all you want of boredom: lands

of it exist in every story.
Heroes bored until heroic, villains bored
until dead. He was never bored.
All that living, heroic or gory,

passed him by like a wind,
and like a wind left him
nothing. Seconds itch, minutes sting. He
would hold a pen for hours. Find
a clock: that ticking, that’s him.
Pulse is the man. Time, he.

***

Happy Knotting!

Jose

p.s. a fine article on Knott (and the inspiration for my sketch) here.

* sketchiness with Bill Knott

* Domino Effect *
* Domino Effect *

The above is a snapshot of where I’m at in my sketching.  While I would love – and will continue to aspire to – sketch nice scenes of trees (really, just trees, nothing too fancy) I keep coming back to these little efforts that make me smirk.

Do people groan at visual puns?  I’d really like to know.

I’ve been doodling things like the above for years but never put one in my sketchbook til this week.  I was sitting there thinking: Be inspired.  Be inspired.  When some other part of me spoke up and said: Y’know, it’d be funny if…

A few years ago, I came across William Steig’s book The Lonely Ones in which he draws caricatures of emotions like greed and envy.  Totally kindred spirits.  A sort of visual poetry, a bit campier than Magritte.

Here is a drawing inspired by this week’s poem by Bill Knott.

* To Be Continued *
* To Be Continued *

As Usual – Bill Knott *

Immediately I’m dead
Body laid out straight
Please don’t hesitate
Just cut off my head

Lift it and lay it a foot
Or so below my feet
Shift it till I look like
An exclamation mark

Overt sign of joy pain
Surprise consternation
Despair exuberance

As usual a metaphor
Meant to  make up for
My lack of coherence

***

Happy cohering!

Jose

* from his book The Unsubscriber

* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:

I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear.  Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”  That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.

That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it.  We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.

Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.

There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame.  I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.

Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.

* you let the meat fall where? *
* you let the meat fall where? *

When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to  be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.

***

Happy sinking!

Jose

* 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.

* William Meredith on the friday influence

This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.

This one is a favorite.  I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.

The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive.  It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.

The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.

I won’t say too much  more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.

Enjoy.

letter-proud *
letter-proud *

The Illiterate – William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man

Who turns a letter over in his hand

And you might think this was because the hand

was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man

Has never had a letter from anyone;

And now he is both afraid of what it means

And ashamed because he has no other means

To find out what it says than to ask someone.

 

His uncle could have left the farm to him,

Or his parents died before he sent them word,

Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.

Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.

What would you call his feeling for the words

That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

***

Happy keeping!

jose

* image found here.

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –