This week I’m taking a moment to highlight a current opportunity for Boston area poets and photographers of color via a project called Through These Realities. Check out the details, links, and posters below.
Also, speaking of collaborative work, here’s a link to “Our Lady of Sorrow” by Brenda Cárdenas, a stunning ekphrasis poem inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. This poem is part of the dynamicPINTURA : PALABRA portfolio which continues to inspire me.
On to the call!
The project, called Through These Realities, centers around racial social justice, poetry, and photography. For this project, local photographers of color will create a series of images inspired by new, prompt-guided poetry from local poets of color (preference is given to Somerville affiliated poets and photographers).
Just a quick post to share some recent happenings as well as information on an upcoming event:
First, I’m excited to share that I was recently interviewed as part of Frontier Poetry’s “In Class” series of profiles of creative writing professors. Check out the interview here. Many thanks to Jose Hernandez Diaz for the invite and for the folks at Frontier Poetry for having me share my thoughts on teaching!
Lastly, I am ecstatic to share that I will be participating as a poetry reader alongside Elizabeth Dodd and Kim Stafford as part of Terrain.org’s online reading series on July 26th at 8pm ET. The reading will feature a Q+A and will be moderated by Terrain.org assistant poetry editor Anne Haven McDonnell and held in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) biennial conference: Emergence/y, with Zoom hosting provided by the University of Arizona. Registration for this virtual event is required and can be accessed here along with info on the event.
Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.
Did want to share two quick things:
First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?
Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:
thank the weeds for pulling you closer to the flowers
I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.
This week I’d like to highlight the recent release of the latest issue of Salamander! If I’m being honest, it’s still surreal to me be in the position of Editor-in-chief. A literary magazine is a confluence and meeting ground; it is also a lot of work, often in solitude.
I ruminate and say as much in my editor’s note, excerpted in part here:
I have lived and worked in Boston longer under the pandemic than not.
This means, I have edited more issues of Salamander under the pandemic than not. I share these details in order to give an impression of how my experience of Salamander has been framed. The emphasis on survival and perseverance that colors and shapes my personal, teaching, and writing life also has its place in the work represented by these pages. The hours of reading submissions, followed by the hours it takes to organize and order the contents of an issue, and then more hours in front of the computer working out the layout and design, these hours have happened across a wide range of moments of my life. Hours talking and writing with friends and loved ones affected by Covid-19 as well as grieving for those lost; hours of preparing lesson plans and answering emails to students navigating their own unpredictable lives; hours poring over the news for updates about vaccines—these hours all blur together and live around the work put into this issue.
The fraught nature of these hours is one of the reasons I’m excited to share the artwork of Shannon Miguela Dillon. Her piece “Begin Again” featured on our cover struck me right away for its balance of vibrancy and depth. In the colors of the flowers there is a feeling of life and hope, of flourishing. Such sentiments are currently running parallel at the moment in the U.S. as folks think of returning “back to normal.” But under the flowers are the human hands that are a stark contrast in their shades of gray and black. This contrast brings me back to the title, how the flowers feel like they represent the word “begin” and the implied promise it comes with, while the hands represent “again” which has the implication of time and effort. The word “again” reminds me that we have been here before, that life is not new but continuing. This nuance reflects further the nuance of human life. While some are eagerly removing masks and setting aside protocols, others remain vigilant and brace themselves, still living lives of compromise without the privilege of any concept of “normal.”
Dillon’s work is also a celebration of the body and the self, of presence. And really, this is what I am hoping to emphasize in these opening words. By asking that we not forget the lessons of the pandemic—a pandemic that is ongoing and which continues to affect lives in irrevocable ways—that we not forget the power and necessity of protest in the face of systemic racism and oppression, I am asking that we remember what is at stake, that we exercise the search for nuance through art so that we do not miss out on it in ourselves and each other.
Writing such things in my role as EIC, much like my time in the classroom, has me practicing what it means to speak authentically. In the face of the capitalistic framework of literary publishing, I feel it’s important to always underscore the humanity and heart behind the work done. If any of this matters, it’s because we matter–our emotions, trauma, happiness, obsessions, presence, insights–matter.
Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2020! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!
Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.
Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.
One last thing to share: I’ve begun reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and have been floored by how much I’m connecting with the book. It helps to see someone else do work in the classroom that I have felt self-conscious about, like connecting and wanting to reflect and honor the knowledge students bring with them.
Since my last post in April, there’s been a lot of life. The short of it is that I’m writing this after moving to a new city. Along with the move, there was wrapping up teaching for two semesters as well as production for the spring/summer issue of Salamander. All of this is exciting but also exhausting, haha.
As I jump back into posting, I want to share a few things that have been on my mind along with associated readings:
The current conversation around and banning of critical race theory in some states has me worried. As a professor of color, my mere presence in a classroom is a political act. When I mentor future educators of color, I make sure to share that there is a lot of extra emotional labor and what I would call POC-specific “teaching” moments–like having to answer the misguided question of “What nationality are you?” in the middle of a session. Alongside personal worry, there is the bigger picture of how this conversation is playing out. Many of CRT’s current critics are using the term as a catch-all phrase for whatever conservative agenda they are pushing. The actual theory, however, is simple and fact-based, which this article makes clear enough. It comes down to acknowledging and reckoning with facts, something marginalized communities have been forced to become accustomed to as a part of navigating existence.
Another source of concern has been how a majority of folx seem ready to go “back to normal” and speaking in terms of things being “post-pandemic” ignoring the facts that 1) the pandemic is still raging (along with anti-vaxxers on the homefront, see also world numbers); and 2) there is a large group of people, specifically disabled and immunocompromised folx, that are not being taken into consideration. This article breaks down some of who is being overlooked and lost in the rush back to the “meatspace” (an awesome phrase that I have writer and friend Barrett Bowlin to thank for).
Lastly, been spending time with the work of poet Steven Leyva. Check out “Boy Talking Back to Houston,” a poem whose range of history, wordplay, and naming are delivered through a speaker whose voice lets us in on a conversation between self and city both intimate and epic.
Take care of yourselves and each other out there. More soon.
National Poetry Month is winding down and its got me remembering myself a bit. Been some deep conversations throughout–with students, fellow writers, friends old and new–as well as some struggle. I’m grateful for all of it, to still be here.
As NPM wraps up, I’d like to share my recent publication in another of Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series, this time with an excerpt from a recent project entitled Heartlines. This has me returning to a similar mode as my chapbook of lyrical aphorisms, The Book of Flight (which can be read for free at Essay Press’ site). As you’ll note in the sample below, I’m riffing on various ways of thinking about the heart, life, death, and everything in between.
I’m honored to be included in Oxidant | Engine’s recent BoxSet Series alongside some dynamic writers including: Mary Buchinger, Kathryn Cowles, Ernest O. Ògúnyemí, Devon Balwit, and Ananda Lima. Check out the sample below and then check out the rest of the volume. I’ve been making my way through it at night and keep finding more and more to admire in this confluence of writers.
José Angel Araguz
A page without marks became the color of my heart.
Wrist hurting and weary even as I write this, what stubborn knocking of my fist, my heart.
The heart is a window on a summer night you do not know is open until you feel it.
The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.
The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.
You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.
The heart upset is like a door left open, banging away during a storm. Against the house. Against the hinges. The other side against the wind. Each slam and heave, one word.
Voices from another room, the heart works like that, muffled, going on with its own business, you can’t make out the details but feel what is meant.
My heart pounds and pounds, like anything else testing its usefulness—hammer, fist at the door, rain against the sea.
I do hope you consider joining us. As a sort of sneak peek, here are poems from each of the featured readers. Looking forward to seeing y’all there!
A Villanelle for Jodie Foster
In Contact, you wait for sound. Radio static in deep space keeps you awake long into the night. How small this globe,
Ellie Arroway thinks. Miniscule, close to insignificant. It’ll likely take lifetimes to hear the farthest star, radio
frequencies scientists debate. History’s slow, the way some satellites in space appear to stand still, orbiting the globe.
Small moves, small moves, your father’s canto. They should’ve sent a poet, you say, witness to another galaxy. Without radio
proof, no one believes what you saw. No future, they say, is quite so opaque. When you come out at the Golden Globes,
your silver dress glittering, all the stars aglow in the audience, you speak about privacy, but also wish, in your own brave voice, a radio wave, to be not so very lonely on this globe.
Once All the Hounds Had Been Called Home
When the grapevine had thinned but not broken & the worst was yet to come of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart to the high boughs of a quaking aspen & shot it down. If love comes fast, let her be a bullet & not a barking dog; let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled, Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love be a woman of gunpowder & lead; let her arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy with milk. I shot my heart & turned myself in to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked back along the trampled brush I remembered only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.
The name of the spotted apple on the leafy floor in the woods
outside the white-walled bedroom where the FM stereo was always
tuned to the same country station my girl crush loved
was gall, name for an outgrowth, a shell withering under leaf rot
near a spot where the surprise lilies might remember, might
forget to bloom. Touch a weevil and it will fall, legs and antennae tucked.
Blink and the artic fox becomes snow. The gecko, toes spread wide
on a tree trunk, passes for lichen. Of all the ways a creature can conceal itself,
I must have relied on denial. There were the Confederate bumper stickers,
pressures from seniors to tailgate, the spindly legs of a freshman
scissoring out of a trash can, how just the smell of Old Spice
could make my muscles contract like a moth, wings folded
the color of a dead leaf in October. So that she might hear her favorite song
my voice would drop, and if the DJ answered I would be Tim, Charlie, Luke, Jason
every name but my own. Truer than gold.
Wasn’t I the stripe in a tiger’s eye? The dapple in the flanks of an Appaloosa?
In daylight, how could I possibly explain: A heart hunting after a body?
Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:
Janel Pineda’sLineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.
Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossilson a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.
–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness
This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survivalarrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.
On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.
In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.
About this poem, Collins states:
“This is Where You Belong” introduces the landscape of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival. The collection exists because of the setting, which is a Chicago suburb that derives much of its culture from the city. I like to describe it as a watered-down diet Coke version of Chicago. Following white flight and the destruction of certain projects in the city, we had a lot of transplants from the city throughout my childhood. Plus, even those of us from the area originally had a lot family with deep roots in the city. So I wanted to capture the intersection of suburb and city, as well as the shifting demographics, mundane sights, childhood joys, and a bit of the ethos of the late 90s/early 2000s.
This is Where You Belong
Where the Sears Tower casts a shadow across the land, this is twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago. A wheat field cleared for a billboard that announces an outlet mall that never broke ground.
& this is the Zenon J. Sykuta Elementary School playground where kids broke skin against mulch. Splinters swam in blood, boys kissed girls, lips wetted with dares.
& this is Atkin Park, where a sock-swaddled padlock swung an eviction notice to an eye. Blood speckled hopscotch squares.
& this is Chris’ backyard, where concrete chipped knuckles, where boys chased a jump ball, shared sweat, put up shots for games of twenty-one, wobbled defenders.
& this is the creek ditch where victims emptied pockets of a few bills, Pokémon cards, & Frooties. Big Moe peddled away on someone’s Mongoose. He always said he was coming back.
& this is Kostner Avenue where kids flew downhill on the same bike, arms extended, wind coasted over palms.
& this is another U-Haul truck going. & this is another U-Haul truck coming. & this is another U-Haul truck with a belly full of furniture, engine idled for arrival or departure.
& this is a For Sale sign. & this is a For Rent sign. & this is a For Rent Sign.
& this is the streetlight on 180th, outside St. Emeric, where Keith’s mom whooped him in front of all of his friends because sunset then stars beat him to his doorstep.
& this is a Cutlass Supreme with 24-inch rims that rippled bass down Ravisloe Terrace, up Idlewild Drive.
& this is Country Pantry. That’s the AMC Loews. That’s the Walmart where teens posted up in the parking lot, loitered around their mother’s sedans, revved their hips to summer hits.
This is Country Club Hills, where I-57 & I-80 lace like fingers interlocked over the city. The American flag, two hundred fifty pounds of polyester, flaps over the land.
Also, check out this event where Collins will read from this collection later this month along with poets Meg Kearney and Chloe Martinez.
Quintin Collins (he/him) is a writer, editor, and Solstice MFA Program assistant director. His work appears in many print and online publications, and his first full-length collection of poems is The Dandelion Speaks of Survival (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021). His second collection of poems, Claim Tickets for Stolen People, selected by Marcus Jackson as winner of The Journal‘s 2020 Charles B. Wheeler Prize, is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books in 2022. See more of his work on qcollinswriter.com.