writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.


Dimitri Reyes

3rd Generation

after Marina Carreira’s poem, “First Generation”

We are grass cracked cement.
Dollar store chalk breaking on rough sidewalk.
Dust kissing our jeans when children cross streets
watching out for buses code switching between
careful, bus is turning and
cuidado, autobús están virando.
We are empanadas for breakfast and white rice for dinner.
We are C&C sodas and sunflower seeds
tucked into our Chucks, New Balances, SB Dunks, or Retro 4’s.
Our countries are our minds.
The megapixels of palms, grass, and sands
seen on the walls of barbershops and bodegas come in 4K.
We are change the channel on our IO Triple Play.
We don’t know how to respond to its-your-heritage month
because every month should be our month.
Someone says for what? Our forehead wrinkles in repeat.
For what. What. Qué. For. What. For. Qué?
We is 4K and our last names leave us naked.
We know there are more of us,
never think there are too many of us.
In America,
we’re included if we see us in America
until they don’t see us in America.
We are raised by our grandparents
(here or not)
while our parents figure it out.
They are still figuring it out.
We are a part of the same gene pool
until a different one is uncovered. 
We are the equivalent
of standing in the wrong line at the DMV
understanding English faster than we forget Spanish
and that still doesn’t license us star spangled freedom.
We are at-the-friend’s-house-with-the-clear-enough-pool
and say
damn, if only we can live in weather like this year round
where that friend reaches across 4 generations to say
you wildin’…
we’re not on the island…
I don’t even like the heat.


Short Statement, Dimitri Reyes: 3rd generation means a lot to Every First & Fifteenth because it is a celebratory poem that recognizes the arbitrariness of both the familiar threads of “La Isla” and the learned experiences of “American” English-speaking culture. The intersectionality of these two spaces is where this third “in-between” space (hence, “3rd Generation”) is discovered and explored where the speaker savors language and the different interactions amongst several generations. This poem is the urbanite’s need to learn through community engagement. Though the poem is a mouthpiece of a generation, the individual is aware of the optics of those around him, and therefore has permission to view and express different parts of his landscape with the help of others inhabiting the same space.


Author photo of Dimitri Reyes, photo credit Ananda Lima

Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, content creator, organizer, and educator from Newark, NJ. He has organized poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRico and has read at The Dodge Poetry Festival, Split This Rock, and the American Poetry Museum. His forthcoming book, Every First and Fifteenth won the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award. Some of his work is published in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press and an Artist-in-Residence with NJPAC.

community feature: Through These Realities (call for submissions)

This week I’m taking a moment to highlight a current opportunity for Boston area poets and photographers of color via a project called Through These Realities. Check out the details, links, and posters below.

Also, speaking of collaborative work, here’s a link to “Our Lady of Sorrow” by Brenda Cárdenas, a stunning ekphrasis poem inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. This poem is part of the dynamic PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio which continues to inspire me.

On to the call!


The project, called Through These Realities, centers around racial social justice, poetry, and photography.  For this project, local photographers of color will create a series of images inspired by new, prompt-guided poetry from local poets of color (preference is given to Somerville affiliated poets and photographers).

This project will culminate in a public art installation in Somerville featuring the photography and poetry. The poetry will also be published in Spry Literary Journal. Here’s the link to the site and call to learn more. 


A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

recent news + upcoming event!

Just a quick post to share some recent happenings as well as information on an upcoming event:

A photograph of poets Kim Stafford, Elizabeth Dodd, and José Angel Araguz.
  • First, I’m excited to share that I was recently interviewed as part of Frontier Poetry’s “In Class” series of profiles of creative writing professors. Check out the interview here. Many thanks to Jose Hernandez Diaz for the invite and for the folks at Frontier Poetry for having me share my thoughts on teaching!
  • Also, I’m honored to have some of my blackout poems included in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Check the poems out here as well as editor Dana Delibovi’s engaging editor’s note here–then click through at the bottom to see all the illuminating works! Special thanks to Dana for including my work!
  • Lastly, I am ecstatic to share that I will be participating as a poetry reader alongside Elizabeth Dodd and Kim Stafford as part of Terrain.org’s online reading series on July 26th at 8pm ET. The reading will feature a Q+A and will be moderated by Terrain.org assistant poetry editor Anne Haven McDonnell and held in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) biennial conference: Emergence/y, with Zoom hosting provided by the University of Arizona. Registration for this virtual event is required and can be accessed here along with info on the event.

Hope everyone’s well in their respective worlds!

Abrazos,

José

   

not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

Photograph of weeds by Shelagh Murphy on Pexels.com

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

Abrazos,

José

book news & co.

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2020! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Photo of a pair of traffic lights on green by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

One last thing to share: I’ve begun reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and have been floored by how much I’m connecting with the book. It helps to see someone else do work in the classroom that I have felt self-conscious about, like connecting and wanting to reflect and honor the knowledge students bring with them.

’til next time,

José

exhaustingly onward

Photo white grapes by Tolga Ahmetler on Pexels.com

Since my last post in April, there’s been a lot of life. The short of it is that I’m writing this after moving to a new city. Along with the move, there was wrapping up teaching for two semesters as well as production for the spring/summer issue of Salamander. All of this is exciting but also exhausting, haha.

As I jump back into posting, I want to share a few things that have been on my mind along with associated readings:

  • The current conversation around and banning of critical race theory in some states has me worried. As a professor of color, my mere presence in a classroom is a political act. When I mentor future educators of color, I make sure to share that there is a lot of extra emotional labor and what I would call POC-specific “teaching” moments–like having to answer the misguided question of “What nationality are you?” in the middle of a session. Alongside personal worry, there is the bigger picture of how this conversation is playing out. Many of CRT’s current critics are using the term as a catch-all phrase for whatever conservative agenda they are pushing. The actual theory, however, is simple and fact-based, which this article makes clear enough. It comes down to acknowledging and reckoning with facts, something marginalized communities have been forced to become accustomed to as a part of navigating existence.
  • Another source of concern has been how a majority of folx seem ready to go “back to normal” and speaking in terms of things being “post-pandemic” ignoring the facts that 1) the pandemic is still raging (along with anti-vaxxers on the homefront, see also world numbers); and 2) there is a large group of people, specifically disabled and immunocompromised folx, that are not being taken into consideration. This article breaks down some of who is being overlooked and lost in the rush back to the “meatspace” (an awesome phrase that I have writer and friend Barrett Bowlin to thank for).
  • Lastly, been spending time with the work of poet Steven Leyva. Check out “Boy Talking Back to Houston,” a poem whose range of history, wordplay, and naming are delivered through a speaker whose voice lets us in on a conversation between self and city both intimate and epic.

Take care of yourselves and each other out there. More soon.

José

shoutouts

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Photograph of a page with handwritten text.

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness

Check out Ettinger’s poems at Grand Little Things.

Happy NPM-ing!

microreview & interview: Radiant Obstacles by Luke Hankins

review by José Angel Araguz

Book cover for Radiant Obstacles by Luke Hankins.

One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.

Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:

I am the waterer of the night garden.
I can hardly see.
I water what I remember
being there.

In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.

Radiant Obstacles is threaded with such moments of intimacy that acknowledge what lies beyond language. Whether it’s empathy felt by a son for his father with whom he shares a phobia of enclosed spaces and, despite it, accompanies his father on an elevator, or the acknowledged humanity shared between a bartender and her regulars, Hankins’ work is able to meet the concrete world with its rough edges and linger long enough so that new meanings give over.

This work after the various intimacies implied in language is approached at times indirectly via formal choices. The poems in this collection range from prose poems, short lyrics, and indented open field experiences across the page. One dynamic outlier in this vein is “That Than Which” which finds Hankins taking a quote from Anselm of Canterbury and repeating it over and over, each repetition shuffling the order of words and adding to them. The experience created in this experiment is dramatic. Where the epigraph holds as a solid construction of sense, the statement’s reconfiguring via the poem works away from that sense and into other senses. This approach on the part of Hankins evokes another type of intimacy, that of language as something both shared and constructed, able to adhere to and diffuse meaning not just in his handling but in our being along for the ride. What makes the poem remarkable is that the experiment, rather than shutting us out, welcomes the reader into its wrestling with meaning.

And yet, “wrestling” may not be the right word here. Through a kind of lyrical volley and parry, Hankins invokes the idea of language as a “radiant obstacle” in and of itself. As language fails to connect fully yet consistently draws us to it despite this failure, each poem is an endeavor on both the part of poet and reader toward exploring what can be found through being thwarted thus. “Tree Rings” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Here, the speaker meditates on both language and trees; by doing so, he explores the ways humans imbue themselves on the world, and vice versa. The difference being, however, that it all remains a one-sided conversation. Much like prayer, these ruminations ultimately lay bare the richness and sorrow to be found in the human want for a connection beyond ourselves.

Luke Hankins

Tree Rings

Here is a history that does not concern you,
a making apart
                           without
the imposition of form, a shapely
patient expansion, except not
patient because it is mindless.
But you cannot help regarding
the sawn trunk allegorically
(devoted becoming, then the desolate
crash through other limbs).
Do we not also expand ourselves
and thus can speak of the slow
sorrow of the trees even though
we know they are not sad,
not slow, except in
our perceiving? It is enough
to perceive a thing for it to bear
the force of truth.
                                  So,
the hillside stands of trees driving
minutely upward through mindless
centuries. Their jagged symmetries
unerringly perpetuate
and the soft new leaves,
the supple branches giving way
to the wind seem just like us,
though they are not.

*

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

Luke Hankins: My poems have frequently been criticized—especially in an academic setting—for being “overly” abstract. But many of the poems, both historical and contemporary, that impact me most profoundly share a deep engagement with abstract idea and reasoning. That’s not to say that those poems don’t usually engage with the concrete as well, but that they clearly revel in and deeply depend on idea in a way that, say, an Imagist poem does not.

Concretion has for decades been the accepted American poetic doctrine—and, yes, it is an important tool that novice poets typically need to learn. But it’s emphasized to such an extent that our poetry gets bled of complex thought, and consequently we risk losing our very ability to engage with abstract thought.

T. S. Eliot wrote that for John Donne an idea was as immediate as the scent of a rose. I worry that we stand to lose that capacity of mind. My poems attempt to revalorize idea and the ways that language can operate in the abstract. My poems are not devoid of concretion by any means—and some are entirely concrete. But as a whole they intentionally lean on abstract constructs.

Question: There seems to be a distinct conversation happening through the range of formal choices across individual poems—some lean toward direct narrative, others evoke rapturous undertones via indented lines, while still others engage with repetition. Was this intentional? What formal aesthetics do you see this book reflecting?

Luke Hankins: The variety of stylistic and formal approaches my poems take is certainly intentional. I could discuss the thinking underpinning the different approaches, but I prefer for readers to form their own opinions and reactions in that regard. What I will say is that I often tire of poets who write poems, year after year, that are essentially interchangeable in terms of voice, stylistics, and formal characteristics. Naming names is generally frowned upon, but he’ll keep making money, so here I go: Does the world need another Billy Collins poem?

I don’t intend to settle into a formulaic approach to writing poems. Each poem, for me, must be a venture into uncertainty—of voice, of idea, of form.

*

Special thanks to Luke Hankins for participating! To keep up with Luke’s work, check out his site. Copies of Radiant Obstacles can be purchased from Wipf & Stock.

*

Luke Hankins‘ most recent poetry collection is Radiant Obstacles (2020). A volume of his translations from the French of Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, A Cry in the Snow & Other Poems, was released in 2019. He is the founder and editor of Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.

Pangyrus virtual reading!

Poster for Pangyrus virtual reading.

Just a quick post to share an upcoming virtual reading I’ll be participating in: Join Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, Artress Bethany White, and myself as we celebrate the release of Pangyrus eight!

Pangyrus Literary Magazine’s 8th issue launches with this reading on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30pm EST.

I’m grateful to be reading alongside such dynamic writers. At the virtual event, folks will have a chance to meet the editors and authors who’ve made Pangyrus one of Boston’s most dynamic literary journals.

To learn more about this reading and register for the event, go here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/online-launch-party-reading-for-pangyrus-8-tickets-141737389347.

survival & understanding

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

I also caught up with Aurielle Marie’s latest letter for The Offing and their efforts to engage their literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within their respective organizations. In “The Other Side of Imagination,” Aurielle Marie details their experiences and realities in the wake of the January 6th insurrection. Some moments that hit for me:

Photograph of the U.S. Capitol Building as seen through a security fence with a soldier standing guard.

On that violent Wednesday, some of my community organizer friends were checking in with one another in group messages. A good friend remarked with fatigue that he believed we were being out-organized. I disagreed. “White supremacy means we out-organize our oppressors, word-for-word, bar-for-bar… it means in the heat of battle we don’t miss… and we STILL lose,” I offered, “because our oppressors do not need intention or strategy to have their ultimate political goals met.”

*

Black people have always had to prepare themselves, their children, their communities for the impact of state violence. This, too, is an imagination of some kind, the preservation of the very people being hunted by the State. My partner and I, like many Black and Brown folks across the country, spent the 6th and the days following planning against some of the terrible possibilities that could find us as two Black queer femmes in a Southern state. This imaginative genius, this survival is exhausting, and this month, I have only that: my exhaustion. 

I appreciate Aurielle Marie’s honesty about this event and personal aftermath. Part of me has been working non-stop, another part of me remains shaken and beside myself. If you’re reading this, I wish you deep, necessary reflection as well as rest.