Here’s what poet Naomi Shihab Nye was kind enough to say about The Wall:
“Jose Angel Araguz is a stunning writer. His deep listening – despite walls and silences among them – and his willingness to carry voices of longing and connection even when facts of the world proclaim endless disconnection – help make him a poet of great essential honor and hope. Please welcome him.”
Special thanks to Colette and JoAn at Tiger’s Eye Press for their continued support and belief in the project!
I remember reading this week’s poem – “Special Orders” by Edward Hirsch – in a Borders back in 2008 when his book (of the same name) came out. Reading through the book, I marveled at Hirsch’s ability to navigate rich emotional territory through an engaging line. His ability to stack various worlds (work, memory, the heart) so that they live side by side left an impression on me that didn’t fully manifest itself until years later when I found myself working on the poems of my first chapbook, The Wall.
What moves me most revisiting the poem now is how this short lyric is able to charge its core word, “contain,” so that it holds so much when it comes up at the end.
Special Orders – Edward Hirsch
Give me back my father walking the halls
of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company
with sawdust clinging to his shoes.
Give me back his tape measure and his keys,
his drafting pencil and his order forms;
give me his daydreams on lined paper.
I don’t understand this uncontainable grief.
Whatever you had that never fit,
whatever else you needed, believe me,
my father, who wanted your business,
would squat down at your side
and sketch you a container for it.
Some news: I have just started as Assistant Editor at The Cincinnati Review and, as part of my duties, am beginning a column of sorts entitled “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” on the CR blog. Check out my first entry here.
As promised, I have uploaded another reading from our time in Texas back in April. I had hoped to share videos of me reading from both Corpus Christi Octaves and The Wall in order to celebrate their respective anniversaries. Sadly, the reading from the Octaves was severely crashed by seagulls and sun. The seagulls kept cawing over the words (these were poetic seagulls, mind you) and the sun kept me squinting the whole time. I also ended up bursting out laughing at the seagulls mid-reading. It was a mess! But it did lend itself to this iconic screenshot where the inspiration for the cover (artwork by Andrea Schreiber) can be seen:
All being said, we had fun! Below is a reading from The Wall that came out, only minor seagull interference. The text of the poems read are also below:
Key Dream – Jose Angel Araguz
In which I guide the metal, shave it down, follow the make of another key snapped where one would hold it, and when done, turn to face a door I remember from a neighborhood I never lived in but visited once to hear stories of my father, a door that is locked when I try the handle so that I pull out the new key, and when that jams, begin talking to myself, and stop only to lift a key ring from my side, slide the new key next to a hundred others, and let my arm fall, the key ring hitting my side in a dark chuckle.
Ocean Dream – Jose Angel Araguz
In which I am pushed down into the sand only to look up and see a man running into the waves, his legs then breaking into waves, his body breaking into waves, something of my father’s face breaking into waves, until all I am left with is that clash of water and sun that makes metaphor unnecessary.
Concrete – Jose Angel Araguz
Now I’m as old as my father was When less than a year was left him (Carl Dennis)
At this point, my father had been in jail long enough to be used to concrete, his walls, floors, and sky the same color as the memories I have of him, a color that does not deepen despite the ink and pages, a color that comes out in the weather only when the clouds are full and waiting to let fall nothing one can hold onto.
after the discharge orders
at a stop sign
I haven’t heard
the birds til now
— Jose Angel Araguz
Just a quick post to update on life as well as to share news of a sale.
Update: I am happy to report that I was discharged from the hospital Friday afternoon and have been recuperating nicely. I even taught yesterday. I made sure to tell my students that I was happy to be in front of them again.
Thank you to everyone who helped me get through the difficult week/weekend. All the kind words and ‘likes’ of my previous post meant a lot to me.
Sale: Just got word from Flutter Press editor Sandy Benitez that all FP titles are on sale at 40% off including my own Corpus Christi Octaves.
This is significant on two levels: 1.) It’s the first time a chapbook of mine has been on “sale” (eek!), and 2.) This month marks the one year anniversary of Corpus Christi Octaves and the three year anniversary of my first chapbook The Wall.
I plan on sharing some readings from my recent trip to Texas to celebrate later this month. For now, check out the Flutter Press sale – including chaps by Dale Wisely, Howie Good, and Rachel Adams – here.
Oh build a special city
for everyone who wishes
to die, where
they might help one another out
and never feel ashamed
maybe make a friend,
who created the stars and the sea
come down, come down
in spirit, fashion
a new heart
in me, create
Homeless in Manhattan
the winter of your dying
I didnt have a lot of time
to think about it, trying
to stay alive
it was just the next interesting thing you would do-
that is how cold it was
and how often I walked to the edge of the actual
river to join you
that is how cold it was –
The turn into this line alone changed the landscape of poetic possibilities for me. I remember holding the book – Walking to Martha’s Vineyard – as if struck by lightning. How to make an already intimate tone cut deeper? It was summer 2011 and I had been working on the series of poems that became my first chapbook, The Wall. There’s a certain bracing of the soul that comes from great poetry. Franz Wright braced me to begin the work of risk and honesty that I continue on this day. *
Wright’s recent passing stunned me, yet I was warmed to see on social media just how many of my compatriots found communion with him, either through reading his work or engaging with him in person or correspondence. I did end up sending him a copy of The Wall, and he sent back a revelation of a letter. For this kindness, and for the earned light of his work, I say thank you.
On Earth – Franz Wright
Resurrection of the little apple tree outside
my window, leaf-
light of late
in the April
called her eyes, forget forget—
How does one go
Who on earth
is going to teach me—
The world is filled with people
who have never died
* To read more about the making of The Wall, go here.
Just read through Olds’ latest book, Stag’s Leap, a powerful collection of poems – for which she recently was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize – centering on the story of her divorce.
The poems take on the separation with the nerve and lyrical litheness that are characteristic of Olds. (Also: at one point she parts the Red Sea – seriously: check that out!)
I chose the poem below because it embodies much of what I admire in her skill as a poet. There is the opening up of a moment, the digging into the details in words that put the subject – in this case, handling the newspaper – right in your hands, words like mineral-odored and greyish speckle. She does it all with a straightforward energy that takes you along for the ride, evoking every nuance of the emotion felt.
There is a great awe in her work – a sense of awe of the world, of being a part of it, and being able to put it into words. Few can go to this place of awe like she does.
As an American poet, I feel indebted to Sharon Olds for how she manages to stay grounded while still taking flight. I see her in line with Whitman as well as Elizabeth Bishop – all poets of finding and feeling exuberance where you don’t expect it.
On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult – Sharon Olds
By evening, I am down to the last,
almost weightless, mineral-odored
pages of the morning paper, and as I am
letting fall what I have read,
and creasing what’s left lengthwise, the crackly
rustle and the feathery grease remind me that
what I am doing is what my then husband
did, that sitting waltz with the paper,
undressing its layers, blowsing it,
opening and closing its delicate bellows,
folding till only a single column is un-
taken in, a bone of print then
gnawed from the top down, until
the layers of the paper-wasp nest lay around him by the
couch in a greyish speckle dishevel. I left him to it,
the closest I wanted to get to the news was to
start to sleep with him, slowly, while he was
reading, the clouds of printed words
gradually becoming bedsheets around us.
When he left me, I thought, If only I had read
the paper, and vowed, In two years,
I will have the Times delivered, so here
I am, leaning back on the couch, in the smell of ink’s
oil, its molecules like chipped bits of
ammonites suspended in shale,
lead’s dust silvering me.
I have a finger, now, in the pie –
count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip.
I weep to feel how I love to be like
my guy. I taste what he tastes each morning
without moving my lips.
with the pearl of his life under the pillow.
Space shone, cool and silvery,
in the empty cupboards
while he heard in the distance, he said,
the angels singing.
Now and again his white wrists
rose a little above the white sheet.
When death is about to happen
does the body grow heavier or lighter?
He felt himself growing heavier.
He felt himself growing lighter.
When a man says he hears angels singing,
he hears angels singing.
When a man says he hears angels singing, he hears angels singing.
This week on the Influence: Mary Oliver!
I picked this poem up at work while shelving Mary Oliver’s latest book, A Thousand Mornings.
The words stopped me as I shelved. There is simplicity in this poem that is akin to still life painting – but a poet’s take on it. A moment – a dying moment – as still life.
She conjures much with little. From pearl to space to her choices in colors – all of it culminates into the hanging presence of Blake’s hearing angels singing.
There’s not much to do once you get into this kind of moment in a poem but acknowledge it.
Blake’s relationship with the angels takes me back to being 18, sitting in Dana Levin’s Form and Theory class, her introducing a Blake poem, prefacing it by saying This guy saw angels in the trees!
Being, again, 18, I was like – yes, of course, totally – eager to understand and see them too.
Seeing the angels in this poem is another lesson. Oliver’s repetition in the last two couplets – their very emphasis on Blake’s words – drives home to me how all a poet can do is tell what they see, how they see it. And all that’s needed to honor this seeing is to listen.
It begins again, the nocturnal pulse. It courses through the cables laid for it. It mounts to the chandeliers and beats there, hotly. We are too close. Too late, we would move back. We are involved with the surge.
Now it bursts. Now it has been announced. Now it is being soaked up by newspapers. Now it is running through the streets. The crowd has it. The woman selling carnations And the man in the straw hat stand with it in their shoes.
Here is the red marquee it sheltered under. Here is the ballroom, here The sadly various orchestra led By a single gesture. My arms open. It enters. Look, we are dancing.
(June 5, 1968)
This week on the Influence: Donald Justice.
Picked up the poem above from reading through John Drury’s Poetry Dictionary. The assassination in the poem is that of Robert Kennedy’s in 1968.
Drury places the poem in the chance poetry category. In writing this poem, Justice wrote words on cards and picked them out at random as he wrote.
I sense some of the risk-taking of this practice in the “charged” words of the first stanza, and in the phrase “soaked up by newspapers” in the second. It’s only a guess, but on my third reading of the poem, the phrase struck me as masterfully plucked from its context of what to do about a spill and given a new life in this poem.
I am moved by the menace and epic feel achieved in the indirect take on the subject. Here you have a poem about a political misfortune that delves into the human aspect of it – how news travel into our lives. I noted on each rereading of the poem how the word “it’ becomes sinister and carries the emotion of the poem to the end. The end itself drives home a sense of mortality, of interrupted life.
On a lighter note: the carnations are brought to you courtesy of last week’s birthday celebration.
Bought them on the fly before dinner.
Also: I have two poems in Turn, an anthology of poems about seasons put out last month by Uttered Chaos Press. Copies can be purchased on the Uttered Chaos website here OR on Amazon here. Special thanks to UC editor Laura LeHew.