microreview & interview – it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado

review by José Angel Araguz

 

Kaminsky-front-cover-small

Early in his essay-turned-chapbook it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado (Orison Books), poet Ilya Kaminsky speaks of Adélia Prado’s work as being in the mystic tradition. He then promptly delves into the questions and assumptions that come along with references to mysticism. Noting that “the term mystic may mislead or intimidate,” Kaminsky goes on to argue that mystical experience, far from being something “attainable only by a few human beings,” is actually “always available, and to anyone.”

This opening note on mysticism’s accessibility and ubiquity quickly frames his analysis on Prado’s work within an argument that feels familiar within poetry circles. Replace the word mystic with poetry in the above statements and one finds the divide to be similar; both mysticism and poetry are regarded with mistrust by some non-practitioners (not to say non-believers), a mistrust that ranges from veiled skepticism regarding the respective value of each, to outright dismissal. To push this comparison further, mystics and poets are equally defined by practice: a mystic is only a mystic when voicing their spiritual truth, and a poet can only be called so via the creation of a poem. Or, to put it another way, the poet is by no means an embodiment of poetry any more than a mystic is the embodiment of truth: both are fingers pointing to the moon.

Navigating this fine line between the ineffable and the practical is not only the work of the mystic and poet, but also of the critic. Kaminsky does a great job throughout this short essay of establishing a sense of the traditions Prado’s work is in line with, both mystically and poetically. On the mystical side, the references range from the philosophical (Emil Cioran) to the spiritual (Paul Tillich; Martin Buber); on the poetry side, a reference to Czeslaw Milosz leads to references to Whitman as well as Mayakovsky, Anna Swir, Allen Ginsberg, and a number of other singular poetic sensibilities. This diverse catalog of associations is handled in a way that places them in the reader’s grasp; Kaminsky eschews any kind of intellectual name-dropping by inviting the reader into what informs his own personal reading of Prado’s work and the stakes such reading creates.

This engaged meditation on the mystical and the poetic serves not only to make clear Kaminsky’s own take on the work, but also provides a lively introduction to Prado’s work. If, according to W. H. Auden, the real gift of a critic is not what they say but the excerpts of another’s work they curate for a reader, the excerpts chosen by Kaminsky do a great job of speaking for themselves:

With me it’s wild parties
or strict piety.
I didn’t deserve to be born,
to eat with a mouth, walk on two feet
and carry inside me twenty-five feet of guts.

(“The Third Way”)

Here is but a glimpse into Prado’s sensibility. In these five lines, one immediately senses the reckoning that infuses Prado’s work, a reckoning that would be light except for its underlying awareness of mortality. To add to Kaminsky’s analysis, I would argue that Prado’s work can be considered mystical for the way it lives vulnerably and exuberantly between life and death. It’s the kind of lyricism that cannot be taught, but rather caught and lucked up on.

Reading through this essay, I got the sense that Kaminsky has a clear idea of the precarious nature of this register of lyricism. His notes have the tone of a writer honoring the work of another not by arguing for it, but by speaking alongside it. It is in this spirit that the response below to the question “What are challenges in writing about Adélia Prado?” should be read.

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Influence Question: What are challenges in writing about Adelia Prado?

Ilya Kaminsky: Spiritual thinker is someone who believes in the impossible.

Poet is someone who believes in the impossible via words that stun.

What’s the danger of spiritual thinker? Demagoguery.

What saves A. Prado for that? A sense of humor.

Challenge in writing about it? Showcasing her sense of humor without making her sound glib.

On the page, Prado’s writing is elemental. It is straight out of earth, stars, water, lungs.

The challenge with elemental writing is to address it in kind.

So, the piece is a series of brief pieces connected by a bit of wind.

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Special thanks to Ilya Kaminsky for participating! To learn more about Kaminsky’s work, check out his site! Copies of it’s the soul that’s erotic: an essay on adélia prado can be purchased from Orison Books.

Untitled*

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press) and Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, forthcoming in March 2019). He is also the editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins). With Jean Valentine, he has translated the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, Dark Elderberry Branch (Alice James Books).

poetry feature: two poems by German Dario

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

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One of my favorite quotes to go back to when talking about poetry is W. H. Auden’s idea that a poem is an individual’s version of reality. He said this specifically in terms of poets dealing with rejection; whereas the novelist may have a set of characters, a plot, and a whole world of complex narrative between themselves and the reader, the poet has only the scaffolding of a few lines, an image, perhaps a wisp of memory, all to evoke a feeling and experience. While rejection is felt strongly by all writers, for poets the experience is especially jarring; it is, in Auden’s mind, a rejection of their sense of reality.

I mention this notion of “poems-as-individual-versions-of-reality” because the work of this week’s featured poet – German Dario – carries itself into a reader’s reality in an undeniable way.

The first poem “Pan y Vino” has a speaker detailing childhood memories of a religious grandmother. The narrative develops first through the senses: the smell of “cigarettes, / coffee, / her” leads into a “Bible / size of a minivan.” These larger-than-life impressions help develop a logic founded on childhood memory and imagination, marking a distinction between the two. This distinction is experienced in the flow of lines from “With her voice / she painted / childhood pictures” to the ending’s admission of the speaker’s imagination helping to stray from the hold of these “pictures.” This break in affection and memory is subtle but powerful; it is not rebellion, but rather the inevitable break of an identity forming itself.

This attention to emotional nuances can be found in the second poem below, “evanescent.” Here, the speaker’s meditation on two separate memories, one of watching fireworks and one of a watching a comet, presents a parallel set of images. Fleeting light and fire pass through lines working to evoke memory; as the images pass, so does the gravity of the following moment during the fireworks memory:

that night my Dad said
“you know where you are
exactly
in the world right now”
Mom agreed
I
was never
so grounded again
none of us were

cometThis moment mid-poem has a two-fold effect: it first presents the speaker’s realization after the fact of what was actually happening during the fireworks. There’s the awe of the fireworks; but also the awe (tinged with wonder and sadness) of what was said. This awe resonates further as the comet imagery develops later in the poem.

In a way, the passage of time between memories becomes a third passing of light and fire; we realize along with the speaker that what strikes awe in us in moments like these is not the sights alone, but the fact of these sights, which is the fact of our lives essentially.

Dario’s poems, in this way, evoke reality’s ephemeral nature – something we try to reject, but also something that poems like these teach us to accept.

Pan y Vino – German Dario

Abuela’s religion was good,

It smelled of cigarettes,
coffee,
her.

Bible
size of a minivan,
an opened
flower garden,
Abuela led me
by the hand
of spoken word,
weaving story,
parable, fantasy,
real life.

We only judged
Abuelo’s religion,
she joked.
While he
manned the store
we ate pork.

With her voice
she painted
childhood pictures
so vivid,

I wanted to be a priest,

until my imagination
began to paint,
other pictures.

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evanescent – German Dario

it happened
on a fourth of july
three lost souls
sitting
alone
on the hood of a car
watching fireworks

shooting up
whole
together
burning bright
breaking up
the brightest transient life

that night my Dad said
“you know where you are
exactly
in the world right now”
Mom agreed
I
was never
so grounded again
none of us were

in the arms of a lover
in a rainy day
under a favorite blanket

never again

maybe
close
when three of us
a different three of us
sat on the hood
of another car
under the same stars
watching a comet
fly by in a hurry

to our human eyes
with our mortal time
it sat still
in the black
star littered canvas
so we could marvel
at our insignificance

the tips of our cigarettes
lit up the empty desert night
like the stars above
watching us
ash falling off
like the pieces
of the comet
marking its tail
leaving its trail

why was it always
three of us
together
right before
we broke apart

all we have left
are memories
folded petals
in long lost books
good enough to hoard

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55*

German Dario resides in Tempe, Arizona with wife, two sons, two dogs and sometimes a fish. His poems are about everyday life moments through the eye of an immigrant. Earlier poems were published in the 1990’s in Anthology magazine. More recently published in the Blue Collar Review Summer 2017 issue.

Follow German on Twitter: @German_Colores
(photo credit: Amanda Nelson)

inspired by richard wilbur

The Beautiful Changes – Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

1280px-N3_Queen_Anne's_Lace
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I remember first reading this poem by Richard Wilbur and just holding my breath: those last lines speaking sundering “things and things’ selves for a second finding,” speak to what I see as the crucial gift of lyric poetry. How, for example, even the word beautiful, a word poets in general are wary of, is reclaimed, refreshed in this poem, made a thing in motion. This is what Wilbur means.

Richard Wilbur’s recent passing has me thinking again on his work, on the poems that mattered to me as I read his books. A great formal sensibility and nuance. He, alongisde WH Auden, Donald Justice, and Rhina P. Espaillat, inspired me to go inside forms and find a pulse. Moving a person to go and write, that is one of the greatest compliments to a poet, and one of the greatest gifts the reading of poetry has to offer.

Below is my own poem inspired after my first reading of Wilbur’s poem years ago. I don’t know if I give anything back or refresh the word beautiful. This poem came in one of my seasonal sprees of bad sonnets. I do know that I wrote it at a time where the friendship invoked was one of the few things keeping me going. Which is another way friendship works, even at a distance. Engaging in the creative space of poetry writing brings one in communion with others who have taken the time to catch something of how the world “changes.”
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The Beautiful Poems – José Angel Araguz
My friend set down to write the beautiful poems,
Set himself against lightning storms,
Against crowded rooms and bars where men belong
To each other and hold in an almost fist
Small shots of pain. In such a room, I lost him,
And he went on and became one among faces to remember.
The years have gone and I have yet to write
Much of anything myself; still, each night
I chase ghosts until the sky is an ember
And cracks, until I find myself thinking of him,
What he might be writing for the lovers who kissed
His eyes to visions. Tell me, is there no drink strong
Enough to unbolt proud hearts where only silence roams?
Tell me, are these the beautiful poems?

* stitching along with valerie wallace

I came across this week’s poem – “Winged” by Valerie Wallace – reading through the latest issue of Rust + Moth.

I was taken in by the Auden reference to the “old masters” from his poem Musee des Beaux Arts. I find the reference suiting since the impetus for Wallace’s poem comes from Alexander McQueen, whom I don’t know too much about except that his singular designs had him working with Bjork and Lady Gaga as well as designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (more to the point: Alexander McQueen the person didn’t design Middleton’s wedding dress – because he was dead. His label did – more specifically Sarah Burton, the creative director since his death).

In Wallace’s poem, the corset in question is taken on both conceptually as well as visually in the structure of the poem. The couplets themselves work down the poem like stitches as the speaker goes further into breaking and fraying as much meaning from each word “Be/hold balsa ribbons” is an especially powerful revelatory reading moment.

Enjoy the poem below and check out the rest of the issue of Rust + Moth here.

* mid-flight *
* mid-flight *

Winged – Valerie Wallace

—Corset from the Alexander McQueen collection No. 13, spring/summer 1999

The old masters
got them wrong,

their locations, at
least. Not pinned

at the spine like a moth
or the bone blade spurt.

From the tiny bloom
of sternum I swept

over shoulders, fanned,
arc’d. Slit for heavy arms.

How on earth do you
expect to walk in them? Ha.

Be/hold balsa ribbons
planed, laced, bindings,

not for flight but descent.
How will you care for me,

keep me from fire.
It sings, you know,

Consecration.
Consolation,

a promise to be ever
sewn into the sun.

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Happy sunning!

Jose

p.s. For more info on the McQueen piece go here.

And for more poems from Wallace’s Be/spoke project, go here.

* some words from W. H. Auden & the friday influence

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear to. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy? (Auden)

Can you make it?
Can you make it?

This week on the Influence: W. H. Auden.

Auden’s one of those guys I come back to in my thoughts, and whose words I butcher in conversation.

Like there’s the essay where he talks about how if you have a poet who writes because he believes strongly that he has something to say, let that poet become a politician, a journalist, or anything else because he doesn’t have a chance of becoming a poet.  But if you have a poet who is genuinely interested in putting one word next to another and seeing how they might affect each other, bleed into one another, then maybe – just maybe – that person might turn out to be a poet.

His writing – poems and essays – have been with me long enough to have become part of the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the floor holding up my writing self.  (As is evident, I am not so with the smarts as him!)

Usually the “some words” posts are made up of longer quotes, but I feel I have quoted, paraphrased, or said things shaped by the man enough throughout the Influence’s existence that I can do right by him best by simply admitting it.

His gift for aphorism is almost as great as Oscar Wilde’s.  But his distinction is how he will say a thing both sharp and true (Wilde seems to always be going for the kill).  Case in point:

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

He also has a sensibility about reading that makes him kindred with that other great reader, Jorge Luis Borges:

There are good books which are only for adults.
There are no good books which are only for children.

AND I keep finding more aptly said things – apt because with all the big moves going on in my life at the moment, I need to hear things like the following said:

You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.

Amen.  That might be my mantra for the next few years.

*estrellas*
*estrellas*

The following poem exhibits much of the same bite and vulnerable spirit that rings through in the quotes above.  Enjoy.

The More Loving One – W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

 

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

 

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

 

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

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Happy timing!

Jose

p.s. PhD update: For those of you keeping up, I am happy to announce that me and mine are Cincinnati bound!

* some words from Ram Dass & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: some words from world renown American spiritual teacher Ram Dass!

But first, a confession: there isn’t much that I read – be it novels, essays, cereal boxes, texts, etc. – that doesn’t get filtered through my how-does-can-this-relate-to-poetry filter.  I read everything with eyes looking for a symbol, a metaphor, or simply a set of words that captivates.  I end up thinking (and saying) some goofy things but ultimately I am kept engaged and interested.

I say this as preface to today’s post in order to make it clear that I am no expert on the works of Ram Dass or meditation – I have simply read through his book on mediation, Journey of Awakening, and found in it many things that relate to poetry.  Or at least my sense of it.

Dude, c'mon: there'll be chicken wings!
Dude, c’mon: there’ll be chicken wings!

In his book, Ram Dass exhibits a great gift for sampling works from various cultures and beliefs.  W.H. Auden once said that a sign of a writer’s strength as an essayist isn’t what he says but what he quotes.  In this spirit, Ram Dass rocks.  Case in point:

There is a story that as God and Satan were walking down the street one day, the Lord bent down and picked something up.  He gazed at it glowing radiantly in His hand.  Satan, curious, asked: “What’s that?”  “This,” answered the Lord, “is Truth.”  “Here,” replied Satan as he reached for it, “let me have that – I’ll organize it for you.”

I read the above as a parable on poetry workshops as I have experienced them at times.  There are at times two kinds of readers in a group: one willing to be astonished in their consideration of the words before them, and another who feels compelled to say something, to fix, to organize.

Ultimately, both kinds of readers, like the ideas of good and evil, help make the world go ’round.

Here are two more:

If you do not get it from yourself

Where will you go for it?

(Zenrin, The Gospel According to Zen)

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It is all an open secret
(Ramana Maharshi)

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I see the last two quotes as having to do with generating work: the first, an idea Philip Levine shared once: It won’t get written if you don’t write it.  The second, how inspiration is seemingly endless while at the same time being impossible at times to get at – but once you tap into it, that thrill, like learning a secret if only for a moment, a few lines.

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Happy secrets!

Jose

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

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This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!

J

* a focus and a start

(winter morning by the Sandia Mountains)

in the distance

the peaks

speak

                          (J)

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The phrase sensitivity to language that I have used in previous posts stems from an interview with Charles Simic in which, discussing the practice of writing everyday, he notes that by doing so one maintains “a certain sensitivity to language.”

Reading these words was a paradigm-shifting moment.  As a writer, one reads in order to see what is possible, to see what others have and have not done.  One also reads for permission.  I have for years now made writing a daily activity, but reading Simic point out this one aspect of it gave me a renewed sense of purpose.

Another such moment was reading W.H. Auden talk about what he takes to be signs of a possible poet: if the writer writes because he feels he has something to say, let him go into journalism or politics, but he will never be a poet.  If the writer takes pleasure in putting two words side by side and seeing what happens, seeing how they interact, then, maybe, they have some chance of turning out a poet.

With these two thoughts as a guide – sensitivity to language and putting words side by side – I propose to make future posts that focus on short lyric poems.  The lyric poem, which I will define for my purposes as usually short and personal in nature, has the ability to pack a lot of life into a few lines.  This concentration is what I want to study here.  The lyric also has a history spanning centuries and countries.  I want to include this too.

In doing this kind of close reading and sharing, it is inevitable that my obsessions will show.  In today’s short poem, for example, you have a simple enough observation.  Yet, what got me going was not simply the mountains but the way you can get ‘speak’ out of ‘peaks’ by moving the letters around.  I am a geek for anagrams and often keep them at hand to thrown into a poem.  I love that the same letters can be recycled, the same sounds rolling over themselves and creating new meaning.  Which is what poetry is all about – all the words are out there in the world: how do you mean them?

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I shared the above poem with a friend of mine in a letter, complete with explanation.  I share it here in the same spirit of friendship and shared fascination with words.

J