exquisiting with nathalie handal

This week’s poem, “White Trees” by Nathalie Handal, provided the first line to an exquisite corpse exercise I conducted with my classes this week. An exquisite corpse is a writing game created by surrealists and is conducted in a group setting. Each person writes down a line of poetry, then hands their paper to another person who then writes a line based on the previous one on the page; the paper then gets folded so that the first line is tucked away and only the most recent line is visible. The paper exchanges hands again, the poem growing line by half-glimpsed line.

Handal’s first line (When the white trees are no longer in sight) lent itself to a number of interesting following lines. One particular exquisite corpse poem started:

When the white trees are no longer in sight
I close my eyes and see the black ones
with large white fangs taunting me

black-and-white-branches-tree-highI feel the spirit of Handal’s poem lends itself to this particular exercise because of its logic and progression. Line by line, the poem deploys its images and metaphors, each one a turn down the hallway of the poem, a turn that leads to only more hallway, no doors or rooms. As the reading experience grows and the mind tries to gather a narrative from the lines, a lyrical logic takes over, and, instead of a linear narrative, what is evoked is the feeling of what is present slipping out of sight. This pattern of impression and shift of thought contains a spontaneity and surprise similar to that experienced in the writing of an exquisite corpse.

White Trees – Nathalie Handal

When the white trees are no longer in sight
they are telling us something,
like the body that undresses
when someone is around,
like the woman who wants
to read what her nude curves
are trying to say,
of what it was to be together,
lips on lips
but it’s over now, the town
we once loved in, the maps
we once drew, the echoes that
once passed through us
as if they needed something we had.

*

from Love and Strange Horses (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010)

Read more about the poet here.

* writing the woods with wislawa szymborska

In the summer course I’m teaching, we have been discussing ideas of writing as performance; that is, what gets going as soon as words are on the page. It’s similar to what William Stafford means when he says, “The moon you are describing is the one you are creating,” which I wrote about in a post from this Spring. 

I came across this week’s poem, “The Joy of Writing” by Wislawa Szymborska, and share it here because of the connection it has to these concepts of writing as performance. From the beginning, the poem ties the act of writing to what’s being described, creating a singular conceit of “these written woods.” The metaphor is stretched enjoyably far. What I find most enjoyable of all, at least this week, is the startling nature of the last line: “Revenge of a mortal hand.” In contrast to the title of the poem which sets up low dramatic expectations, Szymborska takes us down to that last line with a sense of mortality and complication that is surprising as well as apt and necessary.

The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides 1824-7 by William Blake 1757-1827

The Joy of Writing – Wislawa Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Happy mortaling!

José

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

 

* twinklings & twinges: gwendolyn brooks

breakbeat poets coverThis week, I had the opportunity to share and discuss excerpts from The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop with my intermediate composition class. Along with the poems, we also read some of the Ars Poeticas & Essays included in the anthology. Going between poems and prose allowed me to supplement the discussion with further insights into my own poetry literacy.

The following excerpt from “Art, Artice, and Artifact” by Quraysh Ali Lansana, for example, has the poet discussing Gwendolyn Brooks and her attitude towards hip-hop:

Ms. Brooks possessed a guarded optimism toward hip-hop. She appreciated rap as poetry, or at least as lyric. But, she found most of the language unoriginal and the music mostly boisterous. Ms. Brooks never employed profanity in her work. She considered swear words a reflection of a poverty of ideas, which in turn would make most rap Fat Albert’s junkyard. However, as she shared in workshop, if there is no other word that will be as precise in communicating your concept, then use that word. She believed in “exactness” and her enduring poetry bears witness to this.

This anecdote prompted me to share this week’s poem, “The Bean Eaters,” as an example of what Lansana means when he talks of Brooks believing in “exactness.” It is the exactness of her phrasing as well as the details given of this couple’s world that make this poem the compelling work of art that it is. This exactness is present even at the level of sound; the pairing of “twinklings and twinges” strikes the exact note of bittersweet memory to move a reader to put this poem away in their heart.

The Bean Eaters – Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

*

Happy twinkling and twinging,

José

* personal seasons via rae armantrout

* Corspoot Christi Bay *
* Corspoot Christi Bay *

Above is a photo of our beluga friend, Spoot, who came along with us on our trip to Texas at the end of last month. This image came to mind as I reflect on all that’s happened this past month. And what happened? I started teaching a new class, begun reading into the a hundred and twenty plus books I need to get through for my exams year, worked out a book review and a few reflective essays as well as wrapped up a new manuscript. I have also done much this month alongside Diane Kistner of FutureCycle Press in term of preparing for the release of my newest chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance, which will be coming out next month (more news on this shortly).

All this activity has been echoed in my early mornings by birds. Tons of them. By the sound of it from our nook in Cincinnati, the birds are up to more than I am. This week’s poem – “Errands” by Rae Armantrout – charmed me for the action (physical/metaphorical) and danger evoked in short, clipped lines. There’s a nuance in each short section, a sort of lyric suggestiveness that moves me. The birds in the last section, I’ve always pictured as yellow. These days, we spot goldfinches here and there, busy with their “To, To.”

* to wit, to whit *
* to wit, to whit *

Errands – Rae Armantrout

The old
to-and-fro

is newly cloaked
in purpose.

There’s a jumble
of hair and teeth

under the bedclothes
in the forest.

“The better to eat you with,”
it says

and nibbles us
until we laugh.

*

An ax-man
comes to help.

*

“To, To,”
birds cheep

to greet
whatever has come up.

“To, To.”

***

Happy to-ing!

Jose

* naos to meet you (again)

* troof *
* troof *

I laughed too hard when I came across this the other day.

There’s been some heavy duty lesson planning going on. Which means summer’s taking a turn.

Before summer’s over, I thought I’d share the Naos poem recently published in Cactus Heart. It’s from the same world as but not in the Naos chapbook published earlier this summer. Special thanks to Sara Rauch for giving it a home.

I promise to be up to my usual hijinxery next week 🙂

* heartful *
* heartful *

***

Naos Drinking – Jose Angel Araguz

The kind of drunk who smiles to himself.
Who grows more polite with each shot.
His lips: the twist of a rope,
the knot of his Adam’s apple adjusting.
He listens for his life, his death.

***

Happy listening!

Jose

* word is bond with Eduardo C. Corral

To remind everyone, here was the state of my desk last week:

* here there be monsters *
* here there be monsters *

And, true to my word, here is what it looks like this week:

* here there be sheep *
* here there be sheep *

That is Milton, our apartment’s guard sheep, doing a final inspection of my clean-up.

I had to sneak up on him – he has a no-camera policy while on the job.  I got a stern reprimand afterwards.  All in the name of blogdom.

As well as the treat of cleaning, I also allowed myself the treat of sitting down to a book of poetry.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit down and read a whole book of poems straight through.

(Think of the rarity: a Virgo in one place for an extended period of time – I can barely sit still in class.  At least I get to pace as I teach.)

It is also, for me, one of the marks of a good book of poems, that it keeps you reading, engages you to the end.  In France they refer to books as bricks – that’s what I’m talking about!

I am happy to report that Eduardo C. Corral’s collection, Slow Lightning, was successful on all accounts.

The prose poem below is one of the spookiest poems I read in a while.  Like: finding your own first and last name on a gravestone spooky.  Corral is quickly becoming one of my new favorite writers.  His work takes on the political without sacrificing the personal.

**

Immigration and Naturalization Service Report #46 – Eduardo C. Corral

After the body was bagged and whisked away, we noticed a scarlet pelt on the sand.  “This guy had it nice, sleeping on a pelt for days,” Ignacio joked.  He paused mid-laugh, bent down, ran his hand through the fur.  One of his fingers snagged.  “This isn’t a pelt, it’s a patch of wolf ears,” he said.  “No, they’re too large,” I replied.  “Then they must be coyote ears,” he murmured.  Sweat gathered in the small of my back.  “Ignacio, should we radio headquarters?” I asked. Two ears rose slowly from the patch.  I said a few more words. Nothing.  I uttered my own name.  Two more ears unfurled.  We stepped back from the patch, called out the names of our fathers and mothers.  Ramon.  Juana.  Octavio.  More and more ears rose. Rodolfo. Gloria…

for Javier O. Huerta

Happy rising!

Jose

* arriving with Denise Levertov

Overland to the Islands – Denise Levertov

Let’s go — much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard.  The
Mexican light on a day that
“smells like autumn in Connecticut”
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur — and that too
is as one would desire — a radiance
consorting with the dance.
Under his feet
rock and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions — dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction — “every step an arrival.”

*arrivearrivearrive*
*arrivearrivearrive*

Our professor snuck in this poem at the tail end of Levertov’s essay “Some Notes on Organic Form” – a good read for you poets if you have the time.

Much of what moves me here in this particular poem – the juxtaposition of senses and sensibility, how the poem insists on perception after perception, leads from word to word in an engaging manner – is discussed in that essay in terms of meditation and breath.

I have been much involved in another kind of meditation and breath, one that centers me after teaching.  Here’s a quote that has followed me into my inner space the past two days:

All the world is a dream, not because it isn’t there, but because we each attach different meanings to it.

— Ming-Dao Deng, 365 Tao

Happy attaching!

Jose

* Williams’ other plum poem & the friday influence

To a poor old woman – William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on   

the street a paper bag

of them in her hand

They taste good to her

They taste good   

to her. They taste

good to her

 

You can see it by

the way she gives herself

to the one half

sucked out in her hand

 

Comforted

a solace of ripe plums

seeming to fill the air

They taste good to her

***

This week on the Influence: William Carlos Williams.

Last Friday I spoke about my experience reading the Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams aloud and how it gave me a visceral understanding of his cadence and flavor of thinking.  “To a poor old woman” – which I refer to as “the other plum poem” – in  particular embodies some of what I was saying.

Here he takes a phrase made up of five words – They taste good to her – and not only repeats but has the whole second stanza made up of only these words.  Reading it aloud and following the line breaks, the experience of biting and biting into a plum is evoked through the repetition of these words.  It is as if he felt there were no other words suited to describe the experience.  Nothing was more evident to him than – They taste good to her.

plums, yo.

Here’s another one:

Between Walls – William Carlos Williams

the back wings
of the

hospital where
nothing

will grow lie
cinders

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
bottle 

Here, the attention to detail and the pacing take the reader right up to the shards of glass, right up to the gleam.

Williams is one of the great guides in poems.  I have taught his poems alongside those of haiku poets, using the juxtaposition to highlight the shared spirit between the images of Williams and the concentrated illumination of someone like Basho:

***

Awake at night —

The sound of the water jar

Cracking in the cold.

–Basho

***

Happy cracking!

J

p.s. check out my feature on the Tiger’s Eye blog: http://tigerseyepoet.blogspot.com/