poetry feature: Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.


This week I’m excited to share two poems by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal. The first “Escribeme / Write Me” (below) is presented in both Spanish then English. Work presented bilingually always interests me as I take note of the word choice across translations.

Here, the word “coloreame” stood out first in Spanish as it is a variation of the verb “colorear.” In the Spanish alone, there is an emphasized intimacy in moving between “colorear” and “coloreame.” The difference in sense between the words translates essentially as “colorear / to color” versus “coloreame / color me.” The directness of this change is in keeping with the theme of the poem as it is a speaker asking to be written.

Gabriel Amu Amu waves
waves – Gabriel-Amu Amu

This move in Spanish from the distant vibe of “to color” to the more direct “color me” is evoked in English by Berriozábal’s choice of rendering “Coloreame” as “Animate me.” Reading across languages, I feel both a surprise and familiarity in seeing this translation. Surprise, because of the variation in word choice; familiarity because of how apt the word choice is in carrying over the poetic sensibility of the Spanish version. “Animate” carries with it its own intimacy, similar to the move from “colorear” to “coloreame,” as it is a word that evokes a specific urgency, one that is life or death. The speaker, in fact, feels as if they’re dying; to be (re)animated is the desire.

In “Book Without Feelings” (also below), this meditation on life and death continues from another angle. Here, the reader is presented with the scenario of a book able to read a human person. This relationship of the inanimate book reading the animated human self is intriguing in how it subverts our sense of meaning-making. Rather than reading a book for meaning, a book reads the speaker and undergoes a meditation of something beyond animation. The narrative that develops around the “story” of the speaker’s death, in a way, enacts the meaning-making act and finds that meaning is in short supply within a mortal context.

The casual quirkiness of this scenario allows us as readers to be surprised by how the speaker’s meditation hits in a severe way at the end. While the logic of a book not having feelings makes immediate sense, the comparison of this unfeeling state against that of a corpse drives home what is lost in death. That the book is left behind able to be used for meaning-making, but only by an animated self whose ability to make meaning is temporarily and mortally limited — this is where this poem took me. The surprising nature of this ruminative reading experience is a gift, one in keeping with the heart of lyric poetry.

Escribeme – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

Yo también quiero ser poema
Con la tinta de una estrella
Con tu fino pincel
Porque me muero de tristeza

Write Me

Write me
I, too, want to be a poem
Spell me out
With the ink of a star
Animate me
With small brush strokes
Bring me joy
Because I’m dying of sadness


Book Without Feelings – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

The book reads me.
It reads me as if I’m dead.
I’m the hero
who has run out of breath.
It is a load
of baloney. The book
reads about the dead man.

The battle was lost
and a corpse was created.

This was no poetry book.
It was not an autobiography.
The heart gave out.
The book read about
the insects at my grave
soaking in the sun above
and the gaseous fumes below.

The book closed the book.
It did not feel sadness.
It was just a book,
a book without feelings.
At least it was not a corpse.


IMG_0794 (2)*

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, born in Mexico, lives in Southern California, and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His first book of poems, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press. His other poetry books, broadsides, and chapbooks, have been published by Alternating Current Press, Deadbeat Press, Kendra Steiner Editions, New American Imagist, New Polish Beat, Poet’s Democracy, and Ten Pages Press (e-book).

To read more of Luis’ work, go here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

The Writing Life: TV interview

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1This week I’m excited to share an interview I did over this past summer as a guest on Stephen Long’s show The Writing Life.

In this interview, I talk a bit about my history with the Spanish language, from it being my first language as a child and the one I learned to pray in and still speak with my family in, to finding my way into written Spanish. This relationship with moving between language on the air to language in print parallels the relationship I have between my two tongues.

During the interview, I share the poems “Thank You For Not Smoking: una traducción práctica” published at Hinchas de Poesía and “Speaking Spanish in NYC” published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry. The latter poem is also part of my latest collection, Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press).



worlding with Valerie Martinez

ddm4This week found me conducting two separate poetry workshops, one in Spanish and one in English, focused on Día de los Muertos / Day of the Dead. At this workshop, we went over some of the history of the holiday, from its indigenous roots and variations to contemporary observances. While I had students write recuerdos / poems of remembrance, I also shared examples of calaveras (short, satirical poems that are also at times political) and descanso poems.

This week’s poem, “World to World” by Valerie Martinez, is an example of a descanso poem, a tradition that combines elegy and narrative. In his introduction to Camino Del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing, editor and poet Rigoberto González describes the descanso poem as “a word version of an altar to the dead,” and cites Martinez’s poem as an example.

ddm3Reading through the poem, one can see the altar-like spirit of the poem in the way the narrative collects its details while at the same braiding the human and the natural world. When “the dead come” in the poem, for example, they come with “mouths silent as under-earth.” This metaphor pairing “mouths” with “under-earth” builds off the idea of the dead engaging with the living world and gives an exactness of feeling. The “silence” described here is tied to the absence of words. The speaker then shares that “We needn’t have any words, / the dead and I,” and continues in its details, leading us from the earth to the sky through graceful turns of enjambment and phrasing. The ending then takes a poem that is about exploring layers of outer existence and notes how these layers resemble the ones we live with inside ourselves.

Since my workshops were in two languages, I went ahead and translated Martinez’s poem. I’m sharing the translation below as well. Enjoy!

World to World – Valerie Martinez
for Tim Trujillo 1951-1991

I discover the Buddha in the backyard,
black paint on wood, head titled,
smile so tranquil. Then the dead come,
over the grass, the garden stones,
a bed of wildflowers, without sound,
mouths silent as under-earth.
We needn’t have any words,
the dead and I, just holy imagery,
the message, they come, the secret
passage under the wall, the creature
who climbs through, the sky
over the clouds over the air over the earth,
world to world, this afternoon
someone I am someone I knew,
the layers beneath the layers.

Mundo a Mundo – Valerie Martinez
traducido por José Angel Araguz, Ph.D.

for Tim Trujillo 1951-1991

Descubro al Buda en el patio trasero,
pintura negra sobre madera, cabeza inclinada,
una sonrisa tan tranquila. Luego vienen los muertos,
sobre la hierba, las piedras del jardín,
una cama de flores silvestres, sin sonido,
bocas calladas como la tierra.
No necesitamos ninguna palabra,
los muertos y yo, sólo imágenes santas,
el mensaje, ellos vienen, el paseo
secreto bajo la pared, la criatura
quien sube, el cielo
sobre las nubes sobre el aire sobre la tierra,
mundo a mundo, esta tarde
alguien que soy alguien que conocí,
los estratos debajo los estratos.


The original poem is from Valerie Martinez’s collection World to World (University of Arizona Press). To learn more about Martinez’s work, check out her site.

microreview & interview: Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate

This week’s microreview & interview features Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate (artepoética press, 2017) whose poems are presented below in the original Spanish first, followed by English translations by Don Cellini.

lima cover

review by José Angel Araguz

Hacia el sur – Rossy Evelin Lima

En la frontera hay letreros
que señalan con una flecha
hacia dónde está México: hacia el sur.

Yo siempre corro a ponerme atrás de ellos
esperando que esa flecha
se clave en mis pasos
esperando que esa flecha
me haga una marca en el rostro
mientras me traspasa para seguir su rumbo: hacia el sur.

Corro a ponerme atrás de cada letrero deseando que la flecha
sea un arpón y mi pecho cristal,
que se divida en mil estelas,
esperando tragarme esa flecha
como un espina,
como un ancla.
Hacia donde está México: hacia adentro.


Headed South – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

On the border there are signs,
an arrow that points
the direction toward Mexico: south.

I always run to put myself behind them
hoping that this arrow
fixes my steps
hoping that the arrow
will imprint itself on my forehead
while it runs on continuing its route: south.

I run to put myself behind every sign hoping that the arrow
will harpoon my crystal chest,
shattering it into a thousand trails,
hoping to swallow the arrow
like a thorn,
like an anchor.
Which direction is Mexico: within.


One of the things I admire most in a poet is their ability to make their obsessions and themes their own. Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate makes the themes of her collection evident in the dichotomy of the title. Following suit, the poems are presented in two sections, each taking a word from the title. The “Migrare/Migrate” section is rich in variations on the theme of migration, here specifically between Mexico and the U.S., via poems that place the lyric self right into the drama of (re)defining ideas of migration.

In “Hacia el sur (Headed South),” for example, the reader is presented with the image of signs along the border whose arrows point “the direction toward Mexico: south.” The speaker then riffs on the implications of arrows. In the lines that follow, one can see how this symbol of direction is also a symbol of threat and action, especially when the speaker hopes “the arrow / will harpoon” into her chest, “shattering it into a thousand trails.” Far from being “shattered,” however, the speaker reclaims the arrow through this image of putting themselves “behind every sign” by stating “Which direction is Mexico: within.”

This conflux of images sets the poetic ambition of the collection. In reading the “signs” of her world, Lima presents the lyric self as interpreter. The image of the speaker’s chest shattering “into a thousand trails” can be seen as the urgency with which this poet writes about the costs and stakes of migration. That what the lyric self’s chest shatters into are “trails” is telling; the drive to write poems carries a purpose beyond expression. The poems in this first section point to the practical way “migrating” one’s inner world outward can help others travel within themselves. Through innovative associations (thorn/espina, anchor/ancla), the arrow becomes something singular in this poetic world.

This (re)defining of symbols and images continues in the second section, “Mutare/Mutate.” The poems in this section use the lens of mutation to lyrically evoke the way elements, animals, and other voices change and complicate themselves and the world around them. In “Agua que se rinde (Water That Surrenders),” for example, we find a speaker contemplating how:

Hasta el agua se rinde,
cierra su boca de océano, calla,
se reviste de raíces
se esconde en el centro oscuro
y se empodrece,
se torna esmeralda y carbón y desarraigo.

Even water surrenders.
It closes its ocean mouth, quiets,
searches among roots,
hides in the dark center,
and becomes putrid,
becomes emerald and coal and exile.

This travel of shape is also a travel of meaning; the lyrical ambition of this and other poems in this section is to encompass and face both the light and dark of their subjects. This lyrical ambition is also at the heart of the book’s closing poem, “Mariposa (Butterfly).” Here, the speaker departs from typical ode territory and clearly states the ambition to “conjure” all sides of a butterfly. The repetition of the line

eres la única muerte que promete alas,

you are the only death that promises wings,

does the work of conjuring. Each repetition is a dip forward, charging the poem with mortal awareness. Yet, despite the gravity of such a gesture, the poem keeps its momentum. Mid-poem, we find the speaker “living like a poet / between the canyons of the present.” This direct statement on the poetic act brings back the ambition of the book to present a specific poetic presence. This poem about a butterfly whose “death…promises wings” brings together the two words of the title, and evokes how the reading of a poem can mutate into a presence that keeps the mind and heart in motion.

Mariposa – Rossy Evelin Lima

Transparente presencia rutilante,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
el despertar negro y naranja de la emigración,
te conjuro, en esta jaula de soles y lunas,
en esta jaula forjada con franjas azules y rojas,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
eres la firmeza de un vuelo libertario,
mujer Monarca,
vienes cada año para llevarme contigo,
y sin saber por qué me ves cerrar los ojos y los puños.
Eres la única muerte que promete alas,
voy viviendo como poeta
entre los cañones del presente,
voy viviendo como larva
enterrándome el camino como daga,
voy soñando con el néctar de las flores
que crecen al otro lado de la frontera,
eres la única muerte que promete alas.


Butterfly – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

Translucent shining presence,
you are the only death that promises wings,
the black and orange awakening of migration,
I conjure you, in this cage of suns and moons,
in this cage forged with red and blue stripes,
you are the only death that promises wings.
You are the strength of your free flight,
Monarch Woman.
You come each year to carry me with you,
and without knowing why, you see me close my eyes and fists.
You are the only death that promises wings.
I go on living like a poet
between the canyons of the present,
living like a larva
burying the road like a dagger.
I dream of the nectar of the flowers
that grow on the other side of the border.
You are the only death that promises wings.


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Rossy Evelin Lima: Poetry is not an instrument but a force. In that sense, I think that in poetry, I am the poem’s purpose: I allow it to excavate, to reveal itself, layer by layer, to find in me the path towards a piece of paper.  Like Abigael Bohorquez wrote in his poem Exordio “Poesía, desembárcame, échame a tierra y léñame; como a candil de sangre, enciéndeme…”

I can’t do anything if I don’t empty myself and allow Poetry to bury me, to ignite me with purpose, I willfully accept to be a vessel Poetry can guide ashore. I am not the weaver, I am the thread and the poem is the fabric. As a result, Migrare Mutare, opened my heart to the situations I faced as an undocumented immigrant in the US, a subject I struggle to talk about because in order to talk about it I must relive it, revive it. Nonetheless, poetry condenses my emotions projecting my core to the exterior, exhuming these sentiments in a liberating pull outward.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Rossy Evelin Lima: The challenge I faced when writing these poems was that all the words wanted to come out at once. The first portion of the book, “Migrare,” was written within a day. I could not stop. The words had been roaming around for quite a while, and in all honesty, I was trying to hold them back. Like in Plato’s cave, I would see the shadows of these poems dancing, but I didn’t want to reach out. In an ordinary day, I went to a coffee shop to work on my dissertation, nothing unusual. I had been working for a couple of hours when I found myself staring at a blank page in my notebook. I felt what Lorca would call, the Duende, and began with the line, “en la frontera hay letreros…” I wrote twenty-three pages that day, which were later divided into poems.

I didn’t revisit “Migrare,” until three months later, only to be taken by the same force. I had felt it coming, a very similar feeling to when you are preparing to take a very long trip. I didn’t offer any resistance this time. I noticed that the second portion of poems had much to do with water, an element I identify with, but differing from the rest, these talked about change. As if coincidences exist, a couple of days before, my mom had told me about a phone call she had with a very old friend from when we lived in Mexico. She told me, very preoccupied, that her friend said she “sounded” different. “Well, you are older, you’ve been exposed to a new language…” But no explanation would ease my mom’s mind. “What if I changed?” She asked, “We all change, we are in constant change.” I replied, as my mom looked straight at me and said “What if it really changed me?” I knew what “it” meant, and in that moment it made perfect sense: adaptation. In order to survive we adapt, most of the times unaware of the changes we have to make in order to do so. As immigrants we encounter situations that force us to change with an impact; we move, in Latin expressed by the word Migrare, and we change, expressed by the latin word Mutare. In that moment I was able to see where the poems I had written belonged.


Special thanks to Rossy Evelin Lima for participating! To find out more about Lima’s work, check out her site. Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate can be purchased from artepoética press.

rossyRossy Evelin Lima (born August 18, 1986 in Veracruz, Mexico), is an international award-winning Mexican poet and linguist. Her work has been published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies in Spain, Italy, UK, Canada, United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina. She has been awarded the Gabriela Mistral Award by the National Hispanic Honor Society, the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Altino in Italy, the International Latino Book Award, and the Premio Orgullo Fronterizo Mexicano award by the Institute for Mexicans abroad, among many others. She is the president and founder of the Latin American Foundation for the Arts, the founder of the International Latin American Poetry Festival (FeIPoL), as well as the co-founder of Jade Publishing. In 2015 and was invited to speak at TEDxMcallen to talk about her experience as an immigrant writer in the U.S.

microreview: Gabriela Aguirre’s La isla de tu nombre

This week’s microreview features Gabriela Aguirre’s La isla de tu nombre and is presented first in English (with translations of the Spanish), followed by a full Spanish translation of the microreview. Special thanks to Veliz Books editor Laura Cesarco Eglin for her great help with translations of the poems and prose.


review by José Angel Araguz
review translation by José Angel Araguz with Laura Cesarco Eglin

Un pie sobre la mesa,
un par de manos,
un nudo hecho de sílabas y dedos.
Un pronombre nuevo para mí
porque nunca lo dije con amor,
contigo en la mitad del nombre:
pequeña mía.
Y una canción que suena en mis oídos
para que la bailemos en mi cabeza
cuando lo terrible.
Un árbol crece despacio
–y quiero que lo sepas.

A foot on the table,
a pair of hands,
a knot made of syllables and fingers.
A new pronoun for me
because I never said it with love,
with you in the middle of the name:
my darling.
And a song that rings in my ears
so we can dance to it in my head
when the terrible.
A tree grows slowly
–and I want you to know.

La isla de tu nombre (Veliz Books) by Gabriela Aguirre begins with this short, intimate lyric balanced between the tangible and intangible. The move from the “foot” and “hands” of the first two lines into “a knot made of syllables and fingers” moves the poem directly into this duality; the word “knot” also implies both sexual tension (knot as in the knot of the bodies) and other tensions (that of language, that between two people). This move is returned in the line “And a song that rings in my ears / so we can dance to it in my head” which brings the meditation into the body itself. This interiority leads to the final two lines, which compare the speaker’s inner world to the growth of the tree. Yet, unlike the tree, this speaker can reach out from this inner world to let the beloved “know” about it. The way a love relationship can make such knots, and the way poetry can help evoke them, is at the center of this manuscript.

The dualities, begun in the “island / name” of the collection’s title, serve as a key into the world of Aguirre’s poems. The distant and solitary implication of an island is reckoned with the personal nature of a name. This focus on language and how it charges the (in)tangible is further explored in “Rayar los libros, glosar lo escrito.”:

Rayar los libros, glosar lo escrito.
Me enseñaste a hacer anotaciones al margen
para no olvidar lo importante.
Nunca antes rayé los libros,
querida mía.
¿Cómo tendría cara para abrirlos después
y encontrarlos alterdos
por mis frases y mis interrogaciones?

No quiero encontrar tu caligrafía en mis libros,
tu paso por ellos y por mí.
Pero abro uno con anotaciones mías
y sé que detrás de mis trazos estás tú
deciéndome que hay que rayar lo escrito,
dejar marcas y preguntas.

Mark the books, gloss what’s written.
You taught me to take notes in the margin
so as not to forget what is important.
I have never marked books before,
my dear.
How could I face opening them later
and find them altered
by my sentences and my interrogations?

I don’t want to find your calligraphy in my books,
your passing through them and through me.
But I open one with notes by me
and I know that behind my strokes you are
telling me that it is necessary to mark what is written,
leave marks and questions.

Here, we find a speaker interrogating how the acts of reading and writing always point to something other and involve the world of memory. The imagery of this conceit is compelling; marginal notes done in one’s personal handwriting always stand in stark contrast to print words. A literal reaching after meaning and modifying a text occurs in this image. This image and its tension are pushed further within the context of a relationship. How much do we change each other while reaching after one another? What does intimacy mean in terms of handwriting? Regarding this latter question, the speaker finds the beloved behind her own “notes.” The poem ends on this action, on the speaker dwelling on what she’s been told by the beloved.

What drives these poems, ultimately, is this reporting and documenting of the heart. La isla de tu nombre engages the reader with short lyrics that share the scope of Sappho’s poetry and the intensity of Alejandra Pizarnik. In “Somos siete en esta mesa” the themes of the book are centered within the role of a person sitting at a dinner table with others:

Somos siete en esta mesa
luego de la carne y la ensalada,
el arroz y el pan con romero.
Mi copa de vino se calienta despacio
porque el fresco del jardín no alcanza,
porque la respiración vertical del bambú
no alcanza a detener los ruidos de la banda de reggae
que ensaya en el edificio de junto.

He sido asignada a partir la tarta,
a partirla como se parten las conversaciones,
el deseo del otro,
la tierra durante las catástrofes.
He sido elegida para escribir este recuerdo:
el de las frutas que brillan bajo la luz
mientras el cuchillo las atraviesa.
Me han dado un arma para partir una costra
que en el centro tiene el color oscuro del chocolate.
¿Cómo podía negarme?
Cómo negarme a la posibilidad de trazar un camino,
siempre distinto
nunca el mismo
ningún trozo igual.
Cómo negarme ante tal ofrecimiento,
cómo negarme a las pequeñas catástrofes
de la cocina:
ahora todos tienen un pedazo de la fruta que duele
después de haber sido cortada por mí.

There are seven of us at this table
after the meat and the salad,
the rice and bread with rosemary.
My glass of wine warms slowly
because the cool from the garden is not enough,
because the vertical breathing of the bamboo
is not enough to stop the noise of the reggae band
rehearsing in the building next door.

I have been assigned to cut the tart,
to cut into it as conversations are cut into,
the other’s desire
the earth during catastrophes.
I have been chosen to write this memory:
of the fruit that shines under the light
while the knife pierces them.
I have been given a weapon to break a crust
whose center is the dark color of chocolate.
How could I refuse?
How to refuse the possibility of drawing a path,
always different
never the same
no piece equal.
How to refuse such an offer,
how to refuse these small catastrophes
of the kitchen:
now everyone has a piece of the fruit that hurts
after being cut by me.

The deliberation in the second stanza over the act of cutting into a tart, of being “assigned” an active role, parallels the active role of the speaker throughout this book. The line “I have been chosen to write this memory,” is powerful in its clarity. The sensibility behind these poems is soberly aware of what it means to be isolated in one’s feelings, able only to offer others “a piece of the fruit that hurts.”

To return to the title’s metaphor, the island of another’s name carries with it the weight of our relationship with another person, as well as their absence. A person is not their name; a word is not the thing it signifies. The poems of La isla de tu nombre contend, however, that poetry is a way to cross the distance between language and the world.

La isla de tu nombre can be purchased from Veliz Books.


reseña por José Angel Araguz
traducción por José Angel Araguz con Laura Cesarco Eglin

Un pie sobre la mesa,
un par de manos,
un nudo hecho de sílabas y dedos.
Un pronombre nuevo para mí
porque nunca lo dije con amor,
contigo en la mitad del nombre:
pequeña mía.
Y una canción que suena en mis oídos
para que la bailemos en mi cabeza
cuando lo terrible.
Un árbol crece despacio
–y quiero que lo sepas.

La isla de tu nombre (Veliz Books) por Gabriela Aguirre comienza con esta lírica íntima y compacta entre lo tangible y lo intangible. El movimiento desde “pie” a “manos” en los dos primeros versos hasta “un nudo hecho de sílabas y dedos” mueve el poema directamente en esta dualidad; la palabra “nudo” también implica tensión sexual (nudo como en el nudo de los cuerpos) como otras tensiones (la del lenguaje, la de dos personas). Este movimiento vuelve en el verso “Y una canción que suena en mis oídos / para que la bailemos en mi cabeza” que coloca la meditación en el cuerpo mismo. Esta interioridad conduce a los dos últimos versos, que comparan el mundo interno del yo lírico con el crecimiento de un árbol. Sin embargo, a diferencia del árbol, este yo lírico puede llegar desde este mundo interior para permitir que la amada “sepa” sobre ella. La forma en que una relación de amor puede hacer tales nudos, y la forma en que la poesía puede ayudar a evocarlos, está en el centro de este libro.

Las dualidades iniciadas en la “isla / nombre” del título sirven como clave en el mundo de los poemas de Aguirre. La distante y solitaria implicación de una isla se mezcla líricamente con la naturaleza personal de un nombre. Este enfoque en el lenguaje y cómo imbuye lo (in)tangible se explora más en “Rayar los libros, glosar lo escrito.”:

Rayar los libros, glosar lo escrito.
Me enseñaste a hacer anotaciones al margen
para no olvidar lo importante.
Nunca antes rayé los libros,
querida mía.
¿Cómo tendría cara para abrirlos después
y encontrarlos alterdos
por mis frases y mis interrogaciones?

No quiero encontrar tu caligrafía en mis libros,
tu paso por ellos y por mí.
Pero abro uno con anotaciones mías
y sé que detrás de mis trazos estás tú
deciéndome que hay que rayar lo escrito,
dejar marcas y preguntas.

Aquí, encontramos a un yo lírico interrogando cómo los actos de lectura y escritura señalan siempre algo distinto e involucran al mundo de la memoria. El imaginario de esta idea es convincente; las notas marginales hechas en la letra de cada uno siempre están en marcado contraste con las palabras impresas. Un intento de entender el significado y de modificar un texto ocurre en esta imagen. Esta imagen y su tensión se realzan aún más dentro del contexto de una relación. ¿Cuánto nos cambiamos unos a otros mientras nos intentamos entender? ¿Qué significa la intimidad en términos de la letra de cada uno? En esta última pregunta, el yo lírico encuentra a la amada detrás de sus propias “trazos.” El poema termina en esta acción, con el yo lírico  pensando sobre lo que la amada ha dicho.

Lo que impulsa estos poemas es este informe y esta documentación del corazón. La isla de tu nombre atrae al lector con poemas líricos que comparten el alcance de la poesía de Sappho y la intensidad de Alejandra Pizarnik. En “Somos siete en esta mesa” los temas del libro se centran en el oficio de una comensal:

Somos siete en esta mesa
luego de la carne y la ensalada,
el arroz y el pan con romero.
Mi copa de vino se calienta despacio
porque el fresco del jardín no alcanza,
porque la respiración vertical del bambú
no alcanza a detener los ruidos de la banda de reggae
que ensaya en el edificio de junto.

He sido asignada a partir la tarta,
a partirla como se parten las conversaciones,
el deseo del otro,
la tierra durante las catástrofes.
He sido elegida para escribir este recuerdo:
el de las frutas que brillan bajo la luz
mientras el cuchillo las atraviesa.
Me han dado un arma para partir una costra
que en el centro tiene el color oscuro del chocolate.
¿Cómo podía negarme?
Cómo negarme a la posibilidad de trazar un camino,
siempre distinto
nunca el mismo
ningún trozo igual.
Cómo negarme ante tal ofrecimiento,
cómo negarme a las pequeñas catástrofes
de la cocina:
ahora todos tienen un pedazo de la fruta que duele
después de haber sido cortada por mí.

La deliberación en la segunda estrofa sobre el acto de cortar una tarta, de ser “asignada” un oficio activo, es paralelo al oficio activo de el yo lírico a lo largo de este libro. El verso “He sido elegida para escribir este recuerdo”, es poderoso en su claridad. La sensibilidad detrás de estos poemas es sobriamente consciente de lo que significa estar aislada en los sentimientos, sólo para ofrecer a los demás “un pedazo de la fruta que duele”.

Para volver a la metáfora del título, la isla de un nombre lleva consigo el peso de nuestra relación con otra persona, así como su ausencia. Una persona no es su nombre; una palabra no es lo que significa. Los poemas de La isla de tu nombre sostienen, sin embargo, que la poesía es una forma de cruzar la distancia entre el lenguaje y el mundo.

La isla de tu nombre es publicado por Veliz Books.

aguirre 2Gabriela Aguirre (Querétaro, México). En 2003 obtuvo el Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino con el libro La frontera: un cuerpo, y en 2007 el Premio Nacional de Poesía Enriqueta Ochoa con el libro El lugar equivocado de las cosas. Ha sido becaria del FONCA, del Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes de Querétaro (en la categoría Jóvenes Creadores), y del Instituto Queretano de la Cultura y las Artes (en la categoría Creadores con Trayectoria). Fue becaria de la Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas en el área de Poesía de 2005 a 2007. Ha sido incluida en diversas antologías de poesía y textos suyos han sido publicados en varias revistas y periódicos nacionales y estatales.  Algunos de sus poemas han sido llevados a escena en la obra de teatro “Homenaje a un ciego que abrió los ojos”, bajo la dirección de Rodrigo Canchola. Estudió la Licenciatura en Lenguas Modernas-Español en la Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro y la Maestría en Creación Literaria en Español en la Universidad de Texas en El Paso. Actualmente estudia un Doctorado en Artes en la Universidad de Guanajuato.


microreview & interview: Manuel R. Montes’ Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles

For this special microreview & interview, I share excerpts from a Spanish to English translation in progress I’m working on as well as provide insights into why I’m excited about this project and some commentary from the writer Manuel R. Montes himself.

montes cover

review by José Angel Araguz

I am currently working with Montes on a translation of his novel Infinita sangre bajo nuestros túneles (winner of the Premio Bellas Artes Juan Rulfo para Primera Novela 2007), which is a complex work of fragmented storytelling. In our conversations over the text, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” to describe the ambitious range of techniques exhibited throughout the text. Infinita details the brief life and sudden dying of a prematurely born child through the various voices and thoughts of the individuals involved. The nonlinear story jumps between the past and present, establishing connections and metanarrative insights that recall modernists like Virgina Woolf and James Joyce, but which are executed with a human pulse in the style of Roberto Bolaño and Jonathan Safran Foer. Through this ambitious and engaging mosaic of voices and interwoven narratives, Montes honors the human experience of a child’s death with the gravity and complexity it merits.

In the following excerpt from the second section of the book, the narrative flows from a telephone conversation with the father of the lost child to the origins of the novel/narrative itself, all from the perspective of the writer, who is uncle to the “octomesino” or “eightmonther” (a variation on “preemie” which is used to refer to premature born infants):

“this morning I went to the cemetery, ripped grass from his tomb and am planting it, this way we’ll be closer to one another, don’t you think?” I hear a tightness in his voice, panting into the receiver, “by the way, have you begun writing the book?”

–I’ve yet to even try, the process comes less readily when one faces fiction in its most extreme order, made of pure reality–

my sister-in-law mailed  me, in a yellow envelope, sealed, forty-two printed sheets and a back-up magnetic, three and a half inch disc, it is a long letter that contains “only what happened,” and besides this, another note, handwritten, in the first folio, which adds, “I hope this material will be useful, make whatever changes you think appropriate,” the font chosen is ordinary, the font size, reduced, in the document, unnumbered, almost every chapter is described, almost of a whole novel, “much is missing, I’m sending you what I have stored in the computer, according to my notes, as I remember it”

–but the novel or all the possible novels could be anywhere, and what is lost is the author, searching, attempting to write it or them, lost in the chimeric jungles of paraphrase–

the recipient of the letter is a space without image or the imposing blank page in the middle of a photo album

the recipient is, to be precise, the eightmonther

–“you should at the very least find a way to organize so many loose notes”–

A good sense of the tone and scope of the novel is given here, especially how the text moves between being a meditation on a family crisis as well as a meditation on the act of writing. Two frustrated acts of creation are paralleled. What moves the novel for me from straightforward prose into lyrical territory is how the narrative dwells on details and allows for significance and intimacy to arise out of things like the font chosen by the mother to share pieces of the story. The phrasing of that last line, that a brief life and a death can result in “so many loose notes,” is rich in poetic meaning, both for the narrator and the reader of this fragmented text.

The novel moves forward in this fashion, switching perspective and scene, in order to convey the emotional currents of the characters involved. One of the more impressive results of this fragmented narrative is the multiplicity of voices made possible through it, including that of the eightmonther. Here, in a passage a little after the one above, the narrator continues to metanarratively piece together and meditate on the task at hand, only to be interrupted by the eightmonther’s voice (in italics), creating itself amidst the “loose notes”:

another segment, from the notes of the letter

“everything was so real, that night –the first night of august– was the longest night of my life”

–is it that fiction could possibly shorten the suffering?–

it’s that your maternal love started to become more of a labyrinth, and started to darken

you have to tell them that my body, or its forgotten nostalgia, mourns itself at times, do not remember me, do not describe me, you don’t have to cure me, I am fighting to die, do not entangle me, do not bind me, I grow more distant if you tie me down, and I want to come closer, my body does not work, but I am not only my body, let me escape this body like I escaped yours, you have to tell them that it’s useless, you will see that it’s useless, when you are here, with me, that body has ceased to belong to me, leave it alone, leave me alone, that body continues to hurt me when you recall it  

“I would like to know what you are thinking, what would you say if you could speak”

–“remember, organize, organize”–

there are quotes from other characters, but they are inconsistent, imprecise, lacking continuity, my sister-in-law could not deal too much with correcting them or giving them greater emphasis, making them more legible, clearer, impossible to behave so coldly when relating an agony, the voices which burst into the letter resemble those curtains which mysteriously widen like a bellows and make us look back, on summer nights, during a drowsy instant in which the wind has stopped blowing

Here, the rich turns of phrase continue: “remember, organize, organize” reads like a mantra during this attempt to narrate a dark time. The interruption of the eightmonther’s voice can be seen as a kind of consciousness bursting in, much in the spirit of the curtain image in the last paragraph, something else moving in the room of the narrative. What does narrative embody? What does it stir up? What does it potentially exclude or replace? These questions move like electric currents throughout the text.

While these short excerpts can by no means do justice to the whole of the novel, I feel comfortable sharing them here as fragments of a work that in itself is fragmented. Before a whole story is understood, there are voices making themselves known. The story of the eightmonther moves from the mother’s “loose notes” to the narrator’s meditation and effort that is the novel, and now to the translation of that effort. It is a story of motion, which is what is at heart of lyricism.


IMG_5479Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing this novel and how did you work through them?

Manuel R. Montes: The difficulties were — have been ever since I wrote the book ten years ago — strictly emotional, familiar. The writing process was impressively unconscious, fluid, impersonal and intimate at the same time. It was an act of hearing and transcribing more than anything else. Of waiting for the last pain from the silence of a white pages filling at their own pace. I — the self-critical I, the form-obsessed I, the style miniaturist and neobarroque experimental I — barely intervened. The novel wrote by itself in less than two months. I kind of recollect the overnight sessions in front of the computer, the urgency to finish and the sadness, but these I won’t consider hardships. The only real challenge for me was to deal with guilt and gratefulness, having dared to expose, with all its tragic luminosity and its engulfing darkness, the death of a new born, dear nephew. I experienced true regret and also a simultaneous, joyful necessity of immortalizing, in words that didn’t seem to be mine, his four-month, relentless and unbearable life and struggle before he passed away. I have not worked through this mourning feeling completely, nor have I stopped marveling every time I remember how the novel just materialized independently from me, way beyond my control or even my will. It was as if I couldn’t touch it. I still can’t.

Influence Question: In describing this project to others, I find myself using the phrase “lyric novel” – Do you have any thoughts about the phrase, which for me is not a fixed term but something I continue define as I continue to translate your book?

Manuel R. Montes: I am not against the phrase, not at all, which would offend by the way many of the novelists of my generation or even older authors if someone considered their works as examples of that category. Nevertheless, when I think of «lyric», it’s the expressive predominance of the «I» as the main voice of a work what comes to my mind, and because of that resemblance to a certain kind of poetry I would disagree with the term, since the narrator in my novel is a hidden shadow, a silent, invisible and anonymous figure, some sort of scared and hypersensitive witness who listens those around him or her crying. A nobody who is mute but has to translate to prose the horror and the wonder of a short and fragile existence, feeling impotence and fear and compassion, but also admiration. It’s not «I» who speaks or try to speak here, but «Them», «Us».


Special thanks to Manuel R. Montes for participating! To find out more about his ideas on writing, go here.

photo credit: Diana Cárdenas

Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

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modifying with ángel gonzález

This week’s poem comes from Spanish poet Ángel González. It speaks of the ways words modify and change what they are attached to. It’s the kind of poem that if you speak too much about it, it flies away, like the butterfly in the poem.

I offer my own translation from the Spanish with the full awareness that the act of translation itself lives in this territory of ephemeral, shifting meaning.

I offer it also as a belated valentine to Ani, as we happened to be apart last week. What’s in the date of a holiday, really?


A veces, un cuerpo puede modificar un nombre – Ángel González

A veces, las palabras se posan sobre las cosas
como una mariposa sobre una flor, y las
recubren de colores nuevos.

Sin embargo, cuando pienso en tu nombre, eres
tú quien le da a la palabra color, aroma, vida.

¿Qué sería tu nombre sin ti?

Igual que la palabra rosa sin la rosa:
un ruido incomprensible, torpe, hueco.


Sometimes, a body can modify a name – Ángel González
translated by José Angel Araguz

Sometimes, words pose themselves over things
like a butterfly over a flower, and they
cover them in new colors.

Nevertheless, when I think of your name, it’s you
that gives the word color, aroma, life.

What would your name be without you?

Same as the word rose without the rose:
an incomprehensible, clumsy, hollow noise.


Happy modifying!


* in solitudarity with dulce maría loynaz


Pasaste por mi corazón como el temblor de luz por la colmada red del pescador.


You poured through my heart like the shimmering light that streams through the fisherman’s loaded net.



This week I have been spending time with the work of Cuban poet Dulce María Loynaz. As can be noted above, the conciseness of imagery and sensibility in her prose make for stunning moments of lyrical insight. Haiku-like, Loynaz’s prose captures a fleeting moment in language, and grounds it in human immediacy.

In the poem below, one can see Loynaz engage with the concept of solitude, one of the major themes of her work. Solitude becomes its own presence and antagonist in her work; in many ways, solitude is the medium through which Loynaz understands the world and channels the work of her poems. In poems charged with its pangs, Loynaz provides the reader the experience of what it feels like to engage with solitude on a level where it imbues the world with its color and meaning.



Tuve por tanto tiempo que alimentar la soledad con mi sangre, que tengo miedo ahora de encontrarme sin sangre entre tus brazos… O de encontrarte a ti menos en ellos que lo que te encontraba en mi ardorosa y viva soledad.
De tal modo te he fundido en ella y yo contigo, de tal modo le he ido traspasando anhelos, sueños gestos y señales, que tal vez nuestro encuentro sólo sea el de dos nubes en el cielo o dos desconocidos en la tierra.


I have fed my solitude so much blood that I’m afraid of feeling nothing when you hold me in your arms. Or maybe I’m scared of finding you less in your embrace than I did in my fierce and fervent solitude.
I have dissolved you into my solitude, and myself into you, in such a way that I have given my solitude my desires and my dreams, my gestures and my traits, and now I wonder if our meeting has been anything more than two clouds passing in the sky, or two strangers passing on earth.


Happy solituding!


P.S. Should anyone else be interested in receiving a monopoem, feel free to send me an email [ thefridayinfluence@gmail.com ] between now and next Monday, and I’ll have one sent your way.

*All English translations are from James O’Connor’s book of Loynaz translations, Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems (archipelago books).

* nosing with quevedo & williams


One of the more exciting moments in reading is coming across texts that show a writer’s own reading creeping into their writing. In my own work, I can think of an orange I inadvertantly stole from a Gary Soto poem as well as a prayer reformulated from an Ernest Hemingway short story. These are moments where an influence is unavoidable or inevitable in hindsight. Not outright theft but more moving forward with one’s influences like burrs caught on your clothing after walking through grass.

burrI found such a moment in reading William Carlos Williams recently. While I’ve long admired his poem “Smell” for its ingenuity and directness, learning that he had translated the work of the Spanish Gold Age writer Francisco de Quevedo added another layer of meaning. Quevedo has an infamous sonnet, an “ode” to a rival’s nose, that, when read with Williams in mind, can’t help but conjure up the latter’s own poem. Here are excerpts from Quevedo’s sonnet, “A Una Nariz” (To a Nose):

Érase un hombre a una nariz pegado, 
érase una nariz superlativa, 
érase una nariz sayón y escriba, 
érase un pez espada muy barbado.

Érase un naricísimo infinito 
frisón archinariz, caratulera, 
sabañón garrafal, morado y frito.

(Once there was a nose with a man attached,
a superlative nose,
a nose both criminal and scribe,
a swordfish with an overgrown beard.

It was an infinity of nostrilisticity,
a towering archnose, a mask,
a proud and painful protruding pimple.)

One can see the exaggeration and wordplay of Quevedo’s original influencing Williams’ poem below. While the speaker in the poem by Williams turns the satire on himself, there is no less enthusiasm and barb in his words. Considering the two poems together, I can’t help but view the question asked in the last line of the Williams poem (Must you have a part in everything?) as mirroring the way reading influences writing.


Smell – William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?


Happy nosing!


* singing with jim ferris

Poet of Cripples – Jim Ferris

Let me be a poet of cripples,
of hollow men and boys groping
to be whole, of girls limping toward
womanhood and women reaching back,
all slipping and falling toward the cavern
we carry within, our hidden void,
a place for each to become full, whole,
room of our own, space to grow in ways
unimaginable to the straight
and the narrow, the small and similar,
the poor, normal ones who do not know
their poverty. Look with care, look deep.
Know that you are a cripple too.
I sing for cripples; I sing for you.


beauty is a verbOne of the highlights of teaching composition this summer has been engaging with excerpts from the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. There is a wealth of great poetry in this anthology, which includes the work of Ona Gritz, Hal Sirowitz, and the writer of this week’s poem, Jim Ferris.

What I love about this week’s poem, “Poet of Cripples,” is how Ferris takes a singular experience and sings it in such a way that it becomes personal for the reader. The stakes engaged with via the poem quickly become familiar; the speaker’s intimate address of Look with care, look deep, is in the tradition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Poetry becomes, for Ferris as it was for Whitman, a way to access our hidden void and push ourselves to what we would become.

This poem’s momentum makes me think of another Whitman-influenced poet, Pablo Neruda, specifically his lines at the end of “Alianza (Sonata)” where so much intangible and conceptual feeling is evoked through language that is felt in the body:


…I feel your lap’s heat and the transit of your kisses
creating fresh swallows in my dreams.

At times the fate of your tears rises
like age up to my forehead, and there
the waves keep breaking, destroyed by death:
its movement is damp, decayed, final.

Both poets meet at the place where language and the body meet to affect each other, like waves making and unmaking the shore.

Happy singing!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reasons (not) to Dance by Jose Angel Araguz

Reasons (not) to Dance

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 07, 2016.

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at Goodreads.

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