* 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

 

* meditating with yannis ritsos

In my recent interview as part of my Distinguished Poet feature for The Inflectionist Review, I spend some time talking about the poet Yannis Ritsos and his poem “Protection” which I wrote about two years ago here.

I feel that ever since discovering Ritsos’s work years ago I keep coming back. The most recent return has come in the form of my morning meditations which consist of my reading poems aloud for about 5-10 minutes. I discovered this practice in talking with Ani about some of the physical struggles with meditation, how sitting in one spot and focusing on breathing can sometimes bring more anxiety and pain than, say, reading poems aloud.

Because of the role poetry has played in my life, reading poems aloud for the sheer focused pleasure of it feels like returning home. Approaching it like meditation, I let myself read as I used to growing up, sinking into the words, not worrying about exacting meaning, rather, the meaning instead rising from the active engagement with words. Giving myself over in this way, I believe, takes me to a similar place of selflessness as meditation – though I wouldn’t exactly call it a substitute or equivalent, more a cousin activity, closer to prayer.

book-glasses-letters-paper-study_defaultI made it through most of Spring reading through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems and have moved on to Ritsos recently. In the interview, I speak of a fateful vividness in the work of Crane and Ritsos, a characteristic that can be found in the poem below. The poem’s narrative moves from a childhood scene observed from a distance, the details moving in the first two stanzas with a similar distance. The third stanza, on the other hand, zooms in and in four lines gives a fateful image that lifts the lyric beyond words on the page.

A Myopic Child – Yannis Ritsos

The other kids romped around the playground: their voices
rose up to the roofs of the quarter, also the “splock” of their ball
like a globular world, all joy and impertinence.

But he was reading the whole time, there in the spring window,
within a rectangle of bitter silence,
until he finally fell asleep on the window sill in the afternoon,
oblivious to the voices of those his own age
and to premature fears of his own superiority.

The glasses on his nose looked like
a little bike left leaning against a tree,
off in a far-flung, light-flooded countryside,
a bike of some child who had died.

*

Happy meditating!

José

* leaving with cavafy

One Night – C. P. Cavafy

The room was cheap and sordid,
hidden above the suspect taverna.
From the window you could see the alley,
dirty and narrow. From below
came the voices of workmen
playing cards, enjoying themselves.

And there on that common, humble bed
I had love’s body, had those intoxicating lips,
red and sensual,
red lips of such intoxication
that now as I write, after so many years,
in my lonely house, I’m drunk with passion again.

translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Paul_Klee_My_Room_1896Continuing in the short lyric vein of last week’s post, the poem above handles several worlds in twelve quick lines. I’m moved by the pace of the poem. The first stanza sets the tone of the outside world, a world dark, “dirty and narrow.” Then the second stanza opens up the world of tryst and memory. If, as Jürgen Becker says, “The memory does not exist, you have to create them,” then Cavafy creates a memory of “intoxication” and “passion” that is as alive in the speaker’s present as it was in his past. This turning over of thought and confession makes of memory a talisman against a “lonely house.”

Thinking up possible poems to share this week I was suprised to find that I hadn’t shared any poems by Cavafy. To make up for that, I also share “Ithaca” below. Its incorporation of Homer’s Odyssey into an allegory for living with awareness (or, in another light, a reflection of the adage: Life is a journey, not a destination) ranks highly with me on a personal level. I read the poem first in my early twenties, at a time when I was headstrong on purpose. Poems like this one guided me toward slowing down.

Sangarius_Bridge._Drawing_01Cavafy’s poem also brings to mind Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” another poem incorporating the story of the Odyssey. The following lines from “Ulysses” compliment the spirit of the above short lyric in their human/emotional momentum:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

Leaving Texas, and then learning to leave other places after that, I worried I carried little along with me inside. Poems like these showed me otherwise.

Ithaca – C. P. Cavafy

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

*

Happy Ithaca-ing!

José

 

* a meditation on brevity with paz, ritsos, & carruth

Writing – Octavio Paz

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return

 

It’s suiting to begin this meditation on brevity with Paz who once said that he admired the short lyric for being the hardest kind of poem to write. Anyone who’s worked out a haiku or tanka in earnestness knows something of this difficulty. With haiku and tanka there are at least parameters, a spirit to leap after. Often, the short poem is a surprise, something arrived at when you intuit the right time to leave a poem alone.

 

Triplet – Yannis Ritsos

As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels his pencil trembling at the very tip –
it is the moment when the lighthouses light up.

 

I came across this gem from Ritsos in Stephen Dobyn’s illuminating book “Best Words, Best Order.” In it, Dobyns speaks of the nuanced work of the last line as a “metaphysical moment,” one that suggests “sympathetic affinities and a sensitivity to those affinities on the part of the poet.” The power of a short lyric can be felt when one is reading and feels something like “lighthouses light up” inside the mind.

 

haiku – Hayden Carruth

Hey Basho, you there!
I’m Carruth. Isn’t it great,
so distant like this?

 

Ultimately, what is at stake in the short lyric is what is at stake in any poem, the translating/transcribing of the human voice. In a longer poem, one can create an argument via imagery and metaphor, what’s being said accumulates like a wave to a crest. The short lyric is the echo of that argument, the sound of foam chisping on the shore. What is compelling about Carruth’s distance is not that Basho feels it, but the reader does.

* wavering *
* wavering *

Happy shoring!

Jose

* three years of the influence

This weekend marks the 3 year anniversary of this blog.

Yay!

This week’s poem – “A Flock of Sheep Near the Airport” by Yehuda Amichai – takes on the idea of attention in a way that ties into the spirit in which I started the blog. The first stanza evokes the kind of conflicted feelings one goes through in everyday life, the “combinations” that “wound” as well as “heal.” The second stanza, with its focus on one sound, evokes for me in a way the act of being engrossed while reading.

Each week I hope to share a poem that has, for a little while, been for me “the only sound in the world.”

I see this as a kind of reader’s blog, a way of putting a bit of good energy out into the world. I’m excited to still be going strong and to have you along for the ride.

* near the what now? *
* near the what now? *

A Flock of Sheep Near the Airport – Yehuda Amichai

A flock of sheep near the airport
or a high voltage generator beside the orchard:
these combinations open up my life
like a wound, but they also heal it.
That’s why my feelings always come in twos.
That’s why I’m like a man who tears up a letter
and then has second thoughts,
picking up the pieces and pasting them together again
with great pains, sometimes
for the rest of his life.

But once I went looking for my son at night
and found him in an empty basketball court
lit by a powerful floodlight.
He was playing all alone.
And the sound of the ball bouncing
was the only sound in the world.

***

Happy sounding!

Jose

* from hands to manos

* manos *
* manos *

This week’s post is a meditation on form via sharing some new publications.

First, the good folks over at Rattle have recently shared the content of their Summer 2014 issue online which includes my own poem “Abandoned Church.” Rattle is unique in that they ask for some insight into the work via the contributor’s bio, which allowed me to share a bit of my thinking behind the form of this and other kin poems:

“These poems come from working at times in a five-line form, which I call ‘hands,’ maybe because each could be written on the palm of a hand. I consider them the poetic, unkempt nephews to Yasunari Kawabata’s ‘palm of the hand’ stories. These pieces are surprising me, pushing me to be concise and spooky, narrative and imagistic within a limited frame.”

Read the poem “Abandoned Church” here.

I’m also happy to announce the release of the new issue of Inflectionist Review which includes my poems “First Night” and “Blue in the Rain” – the latter of which is also in the “hands” form. Check out the issue here.

My two guides into the form have been the short lyrics of Yannis Ritsos as well as my reading and writing in the Japanese tanka form. Here’s some of that Ritsos mojo:

A Door – Yannis Ritsos

The carpentry shop,
the ironmonger,
the grocery store,
the farmer’s rubber boots
on the porch,
the low, cloudy sky,
soapsuds,
and, so unexpectedly,
a blue door
fallen flat among the ruins
with the key
still in place.

***

Working in and out of various forms, I’m always curious if people take note or not. Ultimately, what matters is writing a solid poem worth rereading, which is the ongoing good fight.

Of course, all this talk of “hands” has me thinking about these guys:

* the hands of fate *
* the hands of fate *

Happy fating!

Jose

* some news & milosz

First off, I want to announce the release of the latest issue of Foothill, which includes my poem “The Accordion Heart” here. Check out the rest of the great work in this issue here.

Next, I’d like to share the news that my poem “Don’t Look Now I Might Be Mexican” has placed 3rd in Blue Mesa Review’s 2014 Poetry Contest, judged by Carmen Gimenez Smith.

To celebrate, I went out and bought this guy:

* calavera, yo *
* calavera, yo *

As Dia de los Muertos comes around again (next week), I find myself aware of the honoring one does on a daily basis, whether directly or indirectly, of those who have passed. Even in the words one writes, the dead mix with the living and make up a whole other life. This week’s poem by Czeslaw Milosz lives in that in between space.

Secretaries – Czeslaw Milosz

I am no more than a secretary of the invisible thing
that is dictated to me and a few others.
Secretaries, mutually unknown, we walk the earth
without much comprehension. Beginning a phrase in the middle
or ending it with a comma. And how it all looks when completed
is not up to us to inquire, we won’t read it anyway.

***

Happy secretaring!

Jose

* My Writing Process Blog Tour!

Happy Monday, y’all!

I’ve been invited to participate in the My Writing Process: Blog Tour by poet extraordinaire, Lisa Ampleman. Here’s some info on Lisa:

Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Check out her site here.

The tour is focused on sharing a bit about our writing process. Here are my answers to the tour’s questions:

  • What are you working on?

Globally, I just put the finishing touches on two full-length poetry manuscripts. Each has taught me a bit more about learning the character of a project. A little more locally, I am trying some new things in regards to my daily writing, which tends to be form-focused.

  • How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

I believe it’s a lifetime goal to have your work differ from that of others. Or, rather, that we should be pushing ourselves closer and closer to ourselves with each poem. If there’s anything I aim for consistently is vulnerability – whether that comes through rawness of content or pushing myself into a formal structure that makes me uncomfortable and staying with it. Something James Cummins says about writing sestinas applies here, that it is a process of humiliation and perseverance.

  • Why do you write what you do?

I write what comes. When I work on a poem, free write or several drafts in, I see my job primarily as a mover of words, of making choices and reading into the possibilities and consequences of those choices. I suppose it’s like an inner divining rod leading to fresh water 🙂

  • How does your writing process work?

Time is the biggest factor. There’s the time I put in daily, at least half an hour. Merwin describes his daily writing as a listening in to see what can be heard that day. There’s also the time I let pass after I finish a notebook. I’m working on poems at the moment whose first drafts were in 2012. The time away allows me to become a different writer than when I wrote it, to read more, learn more. Anything to help me see past myself.

***

* site-seeing *
* site-seeing *

Tune in a week from now and check out the responses from these fellow poets:

Miriam Sagan founded and directs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her most recent collection of poetry is SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA: A Poetic Sojourn (Sherman Asher Publishing). She recently hung 24 hours of diary entries on a laundry line at Salem Art Works in upstate New York and this winter is headed to The Betsy Hotel in Miami to install a poem on sand. She has been in residence in national parks, sculpture gardens, and in a trailer with Center for Land Use Interpretation at the edge of a bombing range in Great Basin. She has been awarded the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and this year’s Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts. Check out her blog here.

***

Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and the upcoming The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Horror. Her web site is here.

***

Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua has read for Oregon Poetry Association, Windfall Reading Series, Isangmahal Arts Collective, NW Poets Concord, Talking Earth, PoetsWest, Brigadoon Books, Fault Lines and Word Lab in Manila, Philippines. He is published by Vena Cava, Word Laboratories, Mixer Publishing, Concord, and Paw Print Publishing. His most recent work appears in The Inflectionist Review and his three-poem poster to promote his first collection, Fawn Language, is featured in the 25th Anniversary Showcase at Poets House in New York City.Fawn Language is published by Tebot Bach of Huntington Beach, California. His blog is here.

* gratitude with Marilyn Nelson

* words in the Slipstream *
* words in the Slipstream *

The above is a photo of the latest issue of Slipstream – which I am happy to say includes my poem “Burial Clothes”.  A quick leaf through upon opening the package the issue came in introduced me to fine poems by Terry Godbey and Rita Moe.  I’m waiting until the weekend to dig into the rest.

Contributor’s copies are one of the unique treats of getting a poem published.  You get to see who’s in the neighborhood, whose poem lives next door to yours.  The whole thing is humbling as you realize that every page contains a bit of aspiration and a whole bunch of effort.

In that spirit, this week’s poem is all about gratitude.  Marilyn Nelson takes us from chore to genuflection down on a microscopic level, showing how life takes us where life is.

**

Dusting – Marilyn Nelson

Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

**

Happy thanking!

Jose

* who we are & Yannis Ritsos

Protection – Yannis Ritsos

The sky bends over us, responsible,
as our poem bends over the sadness of mankind,
as the sensitive, initiated eyelid bends over the eye,
protecting the pupil of the eye from the dust,
the improvised light, the hardly perceptible insects,
so that the eyes may open again forewarned and free,
each time the chance comes to view the miracle of germination
and to herald their smile to another.

* eye see what you mean *
* eye see what you mean *

Something about Yannis Ritsos I keep coming back to.  Perhaps it is the earthiness of what he writes about.  Above, you have a meditation on eyelids as I have never read before.   The tender eyelid as protective.  I mean, that is what it does, some part of me knew this – but this gives it back to me.

Cool.

Here’s another short dose of who we are.  The lyric below takes me to somewhere lonely through an indirect path – through an impossible image I am given very possible feelings.

*

Recollection – Yannis Ritsos

A warm aroma had remained on the armpits of her coat.
Her coat on the hanger in the hallway like a drawn curtain.
What was happening now was of another time.  The light altered faces,
all unfamiliar.  And if someone was about to enter the house,
that empty coat would lift its arms slowly, bitterly,
and silently shut the doors once more.

***

Happy shutting!

Jose