Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.
Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.
In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.
Noah and Gorman’s parameters were to start with the word “Roses” and limit themselves to 15-20 words. I went ahead and tried a few of my own. Feel free to share in the comments should you try this out yourself 🙂
exercises in predictive text
Roses and the other one of my friends that I nominated for an oppositional the same situation that is
Roses are you doing well today so much going to congratulate someone to take care if you have a great weekend
Roses and I have a few things I would do anything to make sure you got the most important part
As many of you know, I’m a board member of CavanKerry Press, and I’m excited about the work done by this literary organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve managed to maintain their staff and publishing schedule, while conducting various community outreach events virtually. They are currently doing a fundraiser which I encourage y’all to check out at their site along with their current collections. They also have some of their literary anthologies available for free electronically.
One win for the week was getting the laundry done just before the machines were replaced in our building. And when I say just before, I mean JUST before–like, I came back to get things out of the dryer and the washers were gone. And if this doesn’t seem like a win to you, we’re not living in the same pandemic.
Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think 🙂
Been sharing the meme below with students. I share it with you hoping that if you feel called out, know that you matter. Let’s keep keeping it together together.
This week’s writing prompt has me sharing something I wrote during my experience teaching in my first winter residency for the Solstice low-residency MFA program at Pine Manor College. Along with teaching a craft course on poetic authority and hybrid forms and participating in a faculty reading, I also had the privilege of leading a series of graduate workshop sessions with the great poet and educator Kathi Aguero. Together, we led folks in conversations about their respective work as well as discussions on craft, theory, and exercises.
For one exercise, Kathi had us practice writing iambs. My usual practice in freewriting is to be guided by cadence and/or some syllabic or word count concept. Writing into prosody purposefully has always been a misadventure for me; meter is in everything we write (and speak), of course, but I like noting and manipulating its nuances after I have some material written. Only after there is something to work with do I feel comfortable trusting my ear, so to speak.
I share about this mistrust of self as a way to explain my thinking (again, after the fact) of how I approached this exercise and happened upon what I’m calling a “found sonnet.” We held our workshops in the library which was featuring a variety of artwork including the piece Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright (see below). Not only was I struck by the dynamic depths and energy of the work itself, I also found myself admiring and nodding my head as I read Fortini-Wright’s statement that accompanied it.
Here’s the statement in full:
As a teacher I sometimes feel as if I’m a student. By this I mean I learn from them as much as they do from me. There is a back-and-forth dialogue which coalesces multiple perspectives in this creative community that we call the classroom. With my background of graffiti and fine arts, I blend both worlds into my teaching philosophy, balancing these two perceived opposites. From this experience of being well-versed in realism and pure abstraction, students obtain a wider bandwidth or perspective to view their work within.
I choose to work in black-and-white using the spray can and brush, and introduced this method to Antonio White, who has taken several of my classes. Spray paint is great for capturing atmospheric qualities of light, haze and distance, while the brush marks and thicker texture appear in the foreground. My black and white painting titled “Mosaic Pavement” embodies many recurring subjects and themes from past paintings: observations, abstract experimentations, passions, and spiritual teachings. The use of opposites can capture the widest range of form, contrast, and dimension, which plays into my constructs both physically and spiritually.
Teaching is legacy where information gets passed down from one generation to the next. That lesson was taught to me from Paul Goodnight, a mentor, friend, and role model to myself, and artists across the world. I met him through mentoring with Paul Rahilly, who I later found out was Paul Goodnight’s teacher, mentor, and dear friend as well. The biggest gifts of teaching are passing on information to the next generation, sharing the experiences of life, and developing long term relationships.
As you can see, Fortini-Wright’s generous vision as an educator and humility in the face of both the creative and teaching task is articulated here in an engaging way. The admiration for this statement led me to naturally begin noting where iambs fell within. I then began singling out phrases in my notebook, keeping them in the order in which they appeared. Since the original exercise was to work in iambs, I decided to suss out as best I could an iambic pentameter line and work out a sonnet from the endeavor.
To try this modified exercise on your own:
First, find a prose text that you find dynamic. This can be anything from an artist statement as I worked with but also news articles, passages from novels, etc.
Then, begin noting iambs. If you’re not inclined to work out iambs, feel free to simply curate a series of words and phrases.
As you select your words and phrases, be sure to keep them in order. The goal is to work out a kind of “ghost” poem from the original.
When you have fourteen lines that work as a kind of argument, you’ll have your own found sonnet. Note: you don’t have to compose a sonnet from this necessarily. You’re welcome to work out a poem of whatever length and form you desire. The fun, as I see it, comes from working out surprising and parallel statements from the original text.
Bottom line: Have fun!
Enjoy mine own poem below and feel free to email me with any of your own found sonnets. Happy writing!
José Angel Araguz
Teaching is legacy
(found sonnet based on the artist statement for
Mosaic Pavement by Percy Fortini-Wright)
I sometimes feel as if I’m a student;
I mean I learn from them as they from me.
There is dialogue which coalesces
in this community we call the classroom.
With my background, I blend worlds into
philosophy, balancing opposites.
From this experience of being real,
students band to view their work within.
I choose to work in qualities of light
while recurring subjects abstract passions.
Opposites can capture and construct
both physically and spiritually.
Teaching is legacy: the biggest gifts
are experiences developing.
To learn more about the work of Percy Fortini-Wright, go here.
For this week’s writing prompt, I’m revisiting my time presenting at and attending the Oregon Poetry Association conference in September. While I have devised mine own daily writing habits over the years, it was at this conference where I learned the practices of one of my go to poets, William Stafford.
Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford, was this year’s keynote speaker, and along with some compelling insights into his current poetic life, he shared with us his father’s daily writing practice. From my notes, here’s how he broke it down:
Four Elements of Daily Writing Practice
1. Write the date. Kim Stafford said this was simple enough, then quoted his father: “Once I write the date, I know I’m okay. “
2. Write a paragraph of boring prose. Stafford said this could be in the realm of “Dear diary…” language, straightforward observations from everyday life. He also framed this step as “writing before you have to write well.”
3. Write an aphorism. This step involves writing a one sentence observation on life or idea. Doing this also involves stepping back and seeing a pattern in your “boring prose.” In practice, if step 2 feels like boarding a plane, checking the luggage, etc., then this step is like taxiing on the runway.
4. Write whatever comes next, a poem, a story, etc. Having been warmed up by the previous steps, you’re ready to take flight.
While William Stafford himself was famous for his daily writing habits, seen with a kind of awe, he was also the first to point out that it was a humbling habit. I can verify that writing every day doesn’t necessarily lead to gold; more often, you have scratches and inklings. But, for me, it’s all about the attention to language, being able to stay close to the heat behind turns of phrase and word choice – that’s the value of daily writing.
However you choose to get into this process, be sure to make it your own. If not daily, weekly even. What matters is you and your words.
Here’s a blog post by Kim Stafford where he elucidates on the process further.
Below is my own first attempt at Stafford’s practice. Because this first attempt was written at the conference itself, my boring prose is short. As for the poem, I did what I often do, which is pick a number of words per line as a structural guide (here, it’s 4 words per line). I had in mind two new friends of mine that I had just met at the conference.
Let me know if you end up trying your hand at this practice. Would love to hear from y’all! [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Daily Writing freewrite – José Angel Araguz
I have driven to Eugene to present and be uncomfortable it seems.
Poets don’t ask for credentials, not the real ones, they ask to hear about the work we share.
Meeting a poet after
walking and not speaking,
not making eye contact,
not knowing what I
matter to or what’s
a matter with me,
we begin to talk
of language in language
we’re fond of; there’s
others walking around us
but the words between
us, who has placed
these words between us?
This week I’m introducing a new type of post focused on writing prompts! These will come in part out of my teaching background and will also be informed by work I’m currently exploring.
This week’s poem, “have I mattered to my / phone…” in particular involves a visual component that doesn’t travel well to Instagram. For those of you following my poetryamano project, you know the writing I post there tends to be short, brief lyrics. The poem below is longer and engages with shape in an integral way so that even breaking it up into pieces across photographs wouldn’t work.
The prompt: Draw a shape on your page and then proceed to write a poem inside it. Don’t worry about line breaks, rather, focus on filling the shape with narrative, image, and whatever else pops up while writing. The kicker is that you’re limited to the shape you’ve drawn.
A variation on this prompt – and one that I follow in my poem below – is to trace out the shape of an object and then write about the object. What I did was trace the outline of my cell phone. It ended up looking like a crude soap bar, probably because of the protective case it’s in, but the shape worked for the exercise nonetheless. I then focused on the phrasing that came immediately to mind.
The world of phones these days is stigmatized in ways that are unfair to artists and people who do everything from conduct business to engage the world through apps that make their lives more accessible. With these thoughts in mind, the idea of mattering seemed like an apt thing to invoke. I have transcribed the poem below the photograph in case my handwriting is hard to read.
Let me know if you try your hand at this. As always, the Influence is open for submissions. Enjoy!
“have I mattered to my / phone…” – José Angel Araguz
have I mattered to my
phone to where my fingers
swipe where my print has
slicked swirled been
singled out and suddenly
swept away have I mattered
to the oil and grease at
the side of my thumb the
flab of index the edge of
each fingernail have I
mattered to this space where
words appear under my
skin words flicker under
my pulse have I mattered
without metered thought
measured instead in mine
own mouth and malleability
have I mattered in matter