into the octaves part three

araguz coverThis post is the third and last of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD (check out the first post here and the second here).

For this final post, I’m sharing a sequence that did not make it into the book. It’s a sequence strictly written around the life of E. A. Robinson, with some braiding of my own narrative in there. I share them, flaws and all, in the spirit of craft lessons as well as a kind of fan fiction among poets.

On the craft side, one can see the moves I was trying out. The word “untriangulated” comes into play, for example. There are distinct syllabic patterns throughout these as well. As for fan fiction, I do borrow from Robinson’s own mythic Tilbury town and mention a number of his characters. Even if you haven’t read his poems, however, there is at least a sense of a lonely dude being written about.

This last bit might be at the heart of both these posts and my book. Facing and acknowledging the loneliness that the death of others leaves us in. And also the loneliness of mortality, of living on. In conversation with a friend, I surprised myself by calling this my most vulnerable book, mainly due to how stripped the poems are, eight lines per page, no title even. Whatever flaws in the lyrics below, what I hope comes through is the effort to push beyond sentimentality into clear sentiment and human gesture. Ultimately, in lyric poetry, and especially when it comes to elegiac material, human gesture is what we’re after.

Octaves for E. A. Robinson

His medicine was stronger than any
supplied to him.  It waited for him to sit
alone, and drew from him its strength the way
the sun and moon divide the sky, pulling
the light between.  The days of sun would burn.
The days of moon returned to count the hours,
the body for him especially a thing
irreparable: grit turned on itself.

*

He stood with them in the moonlight as though
walking on air – that’s how it comes to me
at least, this poet of images like rare and vague
Bible curses slipped through codes and tongues,
and only registered by some to have
a cursing power.  Many read his words
and puzzled, but never called it puzzle: the air
in which they read, the moonlight he stood in.

*

No readings, talks or lectures: no voice, then,
one would think, reading on the poet.
Time was always set aside for words,
for words and drink.  He drank the words, the words
drank him.  His writing like water passing
from one glass to another, the same volume
kept, the same clear substance moving.
A restlessness you could almost see.

*

I walk the city where you stumbled, stumble
myself a few  times. I do not have
your untriangulated stars only
a vague idea where they are. The lights
I walk under are different from the ones
that lit your way. You stumbled in the dark.
I am blinded on my way between
the page and working for the page, the stars.

*

They dropped names into a hat
and picked yours out. The winner
was from Arlington, so there
your middle name. The words came
slowly. Whatever the sun
did to the sand, whatever
filled the air that day: laughter,
broken waves: each has named you.

*

You gave them drink, Win,
gave them Tilbury,
the house on the hill,
the mill and no one
there anymore, gave
Flood and Stark, Bright tore
down the slaughterhouse,
you did not give, Win.

*

Had I your nerve South Texas
would be riddled out, riddled
with faces over bottles,
riddled with birds, wingspans wide
as palm trees. I’d follow down
each crack on the face the Sphinx
sits there holding, be part of
the wearing wind howling through.

*

Black diphtheria: two words
to end a life your mother’s
body left for her sons to
care after to carry out
past the porch where the preacher
prayed at a distance down to
where two brothers dug and you
clung to life you’re supposed to

*

you loved your brother’s wife like
Lancelot loved Guinevere
you fell into your stories
drank Tilbury dry drank Flood
would’ve drunk the moon could you
see straight into yourself as
the bullet through the head which
has not landed since it shot

*

just a person in the crowd
or in Hood’s sketch a man too
busy reading to look up
every curve and shade around
the pages made them seem set
for flight but not yet one more
turn of phrase what sentence then
for the silence you’re drawn in?

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

into the octaves part two

araguz coverThis post is the second of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD (check out the first post here).

Around the time of putting the early drafts of these sequences together, I remember having a conversation with a friend about Donald Justice and the work he put into having Weldon Kees’ poetry be more well-known. I remember saying that it’s what we do as writers: carry each other forward, whether in memories, stories, or creative work. Always advocating for presence on some level.

This thought shaped the collection in a lot of ways. An influence and example of this type of carrying each other work is the sequence “Twelve Poems for Cavafy” by Yannis Ritsos. In this powerful sequence, Ritsos pays homage to the poet Cavafy through distinct lyric meditations. The ones that move me the most are the ones that focus on the every day life of the poet, honoring the things that lived around the poet and his poems.

The poem “His Lamp” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Ritsos uses Cavafy’s lamp as a jumping off point into a meditation on mortality. Similarly, the sequence “for Dennis Flinn” in An Empty Pot’s Darkness chronicles moments of my friendship with Flinn, specifically during a summer in which I lived at his house. He lived without electricity, and offered me a room during a tough period in my life. We survived in the dark together, often talking or writing by the light of kerosene lamps ourselves. In the excerpts below, I do my best to honor Flinn’s armchair. It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize plays a large part of the experience of living with someone until that person is gone.

excerpt from “Twelve Poems for Cavafy”
by Yannis Ritsos

2. His Lamp

The lamp is peaceful, serviceable; he prefers it
to any other lighting. He adjusts his light
to the needs of the moment, to the age-old
unavowable desire. And always
this odor of kerosene, this subtle presence,
very unobtrusive, at night, when he returns alone
with so much fatigue in his limbs, so much futility
in the texture of his coat, in the seams of the pockets,
that every movement seems useless, unendurable —
once more, to distract him, here’s the lamp — the wick,
the match, the flickering flame (with its shadows
on the bed, on the desk, on the walls), but especially
the glass cover — its fragile transparency
which, in a simple and human gesture,
once more involves you: in saving yourself or in saving.

**

excerpts from “for Dennis Flinn” sequence — José Angel Araguz

You spent afternoons in your armchair,
in and out of sleep. You’d call my name
to see if I was around. Evenings,
you’d go housesit, leaving me the dark.

Since you died in someone else’s house,
no one’s explained it to your armchair:
He is sleeping in another life.
When he wakes, you’ll know it when you creak.

*

No plot then, no arc, no denouement.

The day you turned ash, I wasn’t there.
I can only tell it like you might
through white, gray words: You rest in pieces.
Perhaps you’d laugh. You merely left scraps.
A chuckle. A crackle in your throat.
You left life as broke as you had lived.

I can almost hear your armchair creak.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

into the octaves part one

araguz coverThis will be the first of a short series of posts discussing some of the thinking and inspirations behind my latest poetry collection, An Empty Pot’s Darkness (Airlie Press), which is available on SPD as of this week!

Back when I started experimenting with the octave form, I drew inspiration from a series of poems by Edward Arlington Robinson also entitled “octaves”:

XI – Edward Arlington Robinson

STILL through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

I wrote about this particular octave once in a previous post, and noted how much I admired how Robinson gets away with the highly syllabic words “unermunerative” and “untriangulated.” As my own experiments at the time had me working around intuitive syllabic phrasing, I took it as a challenge to include highly syllabic words throughout the sequences of An Empty Pot’s Darkness.

The octave below is from the sequence “for Christine Maloy” which pays elegiac tribute to a young poet from my hometown Corpus Christi who was living with lupus, a serious autoimmune condition, until she died one winter due to flu. Her death was discussed in the local news in a way that glossed over how vulnerable people who are immunocompromised actually are to things like the flu which are summarily dismissed or made light of in society. In writing about her passing and our friendship, I found myself at turns angry and lost to these attitudes and how they overlook the real human lives affected by them.

In this sequence dedicated to my friend I try to work out poems that are examples of how formal strategies can be subverted and brought into conversation with personal and political stakes, all in the effort to represent the human life we carry in memory.

excerpt from “for Christine Maloy” sequence – José Angel Araguz

On Facebook, people still seek you out.
This last face, pixelated,
thumbnail hitchhiking to now,
gives a grin, lends small glints to your eyes,
constellates them to sharp points of light.
Is this the shape of your myth?
A held look, a look away
I cannot triangulate.

*

Copies of An Empty Pot’s Darkness can be purchased from SPD and Airlie Press.

new book released!

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1

I’m happy to share that my third poetry collection, Until We Are Level Again, is officially out from Mongrel Empire Press! It’s available for purchase here.

This collection incorporates excerpts from my first chapbook, The Wall (Tiger’s Eye Press), into a sequence of poems that engages further with ideas of language, identity, family, work, and death. I am excited to have it out in the world and hope you check it out!

Special thanks to MEP editor Jeanetta Calhoun Mish for working with me on this project and to Anthony Frame, Robin Carstensen, and Octavio Quintanilla for their wonderful blurbs. Thanks as well to Adeeba Shahid Talukder and Brian Clifton for close reads of the manuscript in its final stages. Thanks also to Ani Schreiber for the digital sketch that adorns the cover.

To celebrate the book’s release, I want to share the poem from which the book title comes from. This poem means a lot to me on a formal and conceptual level: formally, it is one of my breakthroughs in my work with syllabics, a poem where all the experimenting feels like it pays off (at least to me). Conceptually, there is a clarity to what the poem says that remains complex. I’m not trying to praise my own work; rather, the last line was one that surprised me when I revised into it. It appeared on the page as if I had placed it there in another life.

The Broken Escalator at the Train Platform – José Angel Araguz

When something like this breaks, it means
we must swarm around the narrow
stairway, our steps slower, the pace
set according to our sighs. Each
glance and gesture becomes a word.
My looking down and waiting speaks
to the old woman next to me:
after you. All the stars left in
the sky, all the calls and blinking
messages, the wintered sorrow
of all passing thoughts must now wait
until we are level again –
wait as we take turns returning
to our lives. When something like this
breaks, it means the words I wanted
to write before are different from
the ones I have got down for you.
These words are older than you think.

originally published in The Boiler

*

Happy until-ing!

José

* new chapbook: Corpus Christi Octaves

* new chapbook! *
* new chapbook! *

I am happy to announce that my new chapbook – Corpus Christi Octaves – is officially available from Flutter Press! Purchasing info here.

This collection is made up of two elegiac sequences and an interlude. My goal with the two sequences is to honor my friends both for what they meant to me but also for the poets they were. In discussing Donald Justice’s championing of Weldon Kees recently with a friend, I found myself saying: “We gotta keep each other alive somehow.” There’s some of that in these sequences. My model in the spirit of the poems is Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, whose eloquent series on the poet Cavafy never ceases to amaze me in its ability to pay tribute both to the poet and to the craft of poetry. The interlude delves a bit deeper both into the setting, South Texas, as well as my own role of poet/elegist. The poems here meditate on different facets of the themes brought up in the sequences.

Another thing that marks this collection is the use of syllabics. In each of the eight-line poems, I work out a syllabic pattern, the jolt and jar of which allows for surprises as well as a sense of brevity and preciousness. This project took me back to when I was in 2nd grade and someone had showed me the 5-7-5 count of haiku, which then started me on the path of sitting in silence, wagging fingers in the air, doling out each word.

Here’s a sample:

Snow

The snow today brings back the first snow,

     white like this, at turns pristine,

     then bitter like this, broken

by steps whose depths can’t be guessed like this.

 

We’ve treated one another like snow,

     watched each other fall and drift.

     You have come today like snow,

and made me pause. And like snow you leave.

***

Special thanks to Andrea Schreiber for the remarkable ink painting commissioned for the cover. She did a great job of capturing a Corpus Christi icon, the miradores which line the sea wall:

* life imitating art *
* life imitating art *

Special thanks also to John Drury, Daniel Groves, and Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua for their wonderful comments on the back cover.

A very special thanks to Sandy Benitez, editor of Flutter Press, for helping me find a home for this project. Flutter Press is a micro poetry press that utilizes print on demand (POD) technology to publish modern, beautiful chapbooks, 6″ x 9″, with glossy covers. They have published collections by Howie Good and Dale Wisely. Find out more about the press here.

And thank you to everyone who has supported me along the road of doling out words!

See you Friday,

Jose

* digital chapbook released!

I am happy to announce that my digital chapbook “Naos: an introduction” is officially out on the Right Hand Pointing site!

Here’s the “Introduction to an Introduction”:

Once again, Anne Rice is at fault. The VHS copy I had of Interview with the Vampire came with an introduction by the author in which she spoke of the character Lestat in terms of persona: how he was her devil, her dark lover, her alter ego, and possibly her conscience. The character Naos is none of these things for me. But I have gone back to the memory often over the years, and thought of Anne breaking down a persona as a fulcrum to get at other facets of self. The word naos comes from the Greek, and means sanctuary, the innermost chamber of a temple. I came across the word in a dictionary of forgotten words, read it, put it in my pocket. I reached for this word when I found myself working on poems I wasn’t sure were mine, poems that made me feel as though I had stumbled upon an innermost chamber of a thought. Which is where Naos lives. Not the brain, more like the mind, or a poem. Things that hold, only as long as we do.

Read the rest of the chapbook here.

I’m so excited, I’ve gone transparent!

* it's transparently so *
* it’s transparently so *

Special thanks to Dale Wisely for giving me this opportunity & to Laura Kaminski for editorial feedback!

Part of the fun of the project beyond persona-ing was working out some formal games. Each poem follows a pattern of 5 in one way or another: either in the poem being five lines or being in five couplets (and sometimes a combination of the two). I also noodled around a bit with syllabics, each lyric having its own measure.

*

One more update: I’ve recently revamped the Poems tab and included some more recent publications including flash fiction and book reviews as well as recent publications in Pretty Owl Poetry, Short, Fast, and Deadly and Prick of the Spindle – the latter of which includes 3 more poems in the Naos series.

*

I believe this is now officially longer than most of my regular Friday posts. Excitement = loquaciousness!

See you Friday!

Jose

* Ink brush drawing by Ani!

* organizing the world with Donald Justice

This week’s poem “Bus Stop” by Donald Justice rounds out the recent syllabic kick on the Influence.

I recently read an illuminating essay by Justice where he breaks down some of the thinking that went into the poem, both the conceptual thinking and the structural.

He describes walking his dog around his neighborhood in California around the same time when people would be coming home from work. His sense of the memory is that everything was already there for the poem, the world of it just had to be organized.

I remarked to someone just this week that Justice’s work always surprises me. An undisputed technical master, he makes you forget all about technique by earning such moments as the one below where he fills a line with: Black flowers, black flowers.

* whatcha waitin' for *
* Bus Stop with Chola *

Bus Stop – Donald Justice

Lights are burning
In quiet rooms
Where lives go on
Resembling ours.

The quiet lives
That follow us—
These lives we lead
But do not own—

Stand in the rain
So quietly
When we are gone,
So quietly . . .

And the last bus
Comes letting dark
Umbrellas out—
Black flowers, black flowers.

And lives go on.
And lives go on
Like sudden lights
At street corners

Or like the lights
In quiet rooms
Left on for hours,
Burning, burning.

***

Happy burning!

Jose

* photo by Craig Carlson found here.

* considering Thom Gunn

Writing poetry has in fact become a certain stage in my coping with the world, or in the way I try to understand what happens to me and inside me. Perhaps I could say that my poetry is an attempt to grasp, with grasp meaning both to take hold of in a first bid at possession, and also to understand (Thom Gunn)

To continue in the syllabic vein begun with last week’s poem, I present below Thom Gunn’s “Considering the Snail.”

There is much to admire in the poem. The pace, for one, feels apt for the subject matter.

Then there are the seemingly happenstance (but more likely deliberate) end words emphasized by the form. One choice moment for me is the way the line:

What is a snail’s fury? All

breaks right at seven syllables and seems to both answer the question by breaking on “All” as well as progress the line.

“Progress” as the last word of the poem, seems to be at the heart of the poem, both in concept and in form.

* for your consideration *
* for your consideration *

Considering the Snail – Thom Gunn

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.

***

Happy progressing!

Jose

p.s. I have two haiku in the latest issue of A Hundred Gourds. Check them out here and here.

* youthful counting with W.S. Merwin

I remember when I came across this week’s poem in 2008.

I was living another life on a street called Olive. The newsprint of the journal I was subscribed to at the time was never more precious, seemingly perishable, as when I read and later copied out this lyric by hand.

I knew then the poem was doing more than I could see.

The lack of punctuation echoed what I had then read and reread of Robert Frost, how he felt the language and phrasing of speech should guide as it does here. Also: how Frost could fill in a fifty character telegraph message with one sentence and no need for punctuation.

The other thing I catch now that I didn’t then is how the poem is worked out in ten syllable lines. I have been doing this kind of syllabic counting for years, but rarely have I caught others in the act. Makes  me want to go over so many poems again and reread them with sharper eyes.

Which is the hope, really, of youth: to sharpen.

Over time, I’ve seen that one does not necessarily sharpen, but things do: memories especially.

Merwin’s last line here is for the ages.

* not so insta-gram *
* not so insta-gram *

Youth – W.S. Merwin

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made

 ***

Happy mading!

Jose

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

***

This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J