Posts Tagged ‘Jose Angel Araguz’

What’s Poetry Got to Do With It?: Introversion/Extraversion

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 7: Introversion/Extraversion

In this episode I explore ways that the terms introversion and extraversion can be used as a lens with which to read poems.

The Introvert/Extravert Lens

The terms introversion and extraversion were first significantly put into use by Carl Jung and later popularized by personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type indicator. From there, popular culture has redefined the terms over time. In general, an introvert is someone who is more reserved and leans toward solitary behavior, while an extravert is seen as someone who is outgoing, talkative, and energetic. As with any set of categories, the terms are not strict; rather, it is best to consider them as making up two sides of a spectrum on which everyone exists leaning one way or another to varying degrees.

One of the things that helped clear this up for me was seeing how the terms played out in regards to recharging one’s energy. If at the end of the week, you look forward to going out and socializing, and actually come back from said outing recharged, you might be an extravert. Conversely, if you go out on the same outing and come back exhausted, no more recharged than when you started, you might be an introvert. Seeing my introverted tendencies as me meeting my needs (and not necessarily my being antisocial) did worlds for my understanding of myself as an introvert. It also helped me empathize with my more extraverted friends and see them as meeting their own needs as well.

For further clarification (and fun!), Buzzfeed has several quizzes and lists that can help you find out if you are more introverted or extroverted.

Inner & Outer Worlds

To return to Jung, his original concept of the terms had him regarding people as either focused on their inner worlds and thoughts (introverts) at the expense of losing touch with their surroundings, or focused on the external world and being active in it (extraverts) at the expense of losing touch with themselves.

One poet whose work reflects the complexity of the introvert-extravert/inner-outer world spectrum is Emily Dickinson. Due to having lived a life of isolation, Dickinson is often written off as an introvert. Lines like the following would in fact help make the case:

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The draw of these lines is how they take concrete things (brain, sky) and push them for the abstract meanings they imply. While on the surface the poem appears to be making a case for mind over matter, so to speak, a deeper reading shows something more akin to mind within matter. In one stanza, Dickinson does the poetic equivalent of pulling apart two strong magnets to show what lives between them.

In another poem, Dickinson does a reversal of these moves:

A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I’m a Rose!

Here, the poem travels from the abstract act of naming physical things to the speaker announcing/becoming a rose. A sign of the transformation begins early in the second line in the form of sound, specifically the “z” sound (summer’s, breeze, trees, rose). As the poem develops, this sound travels parallel to the transformation implied in the words, and becomes its own physical presence, especially if read aloud.

In these two poems, one can see how the inner and outer world engage and impel one another, never cancelling each other out. In a similar way, one’s introversion never cancels out extraverted tendencies and needs.

Final Thoughts

Usually my introverted tendencies would have me continue with examples, ruminating over other poems and unpacking what I find there. I am going to push myself to look outward, however, and invite readers to share their thoughts in the comments regarding introversion and extraversion. I also encourage you to, in your writing, push past whatever type you see yourself leaning towards. If you write mainly about inner impressions, take a walk or describe the physical world around you. If you write mainly about the physical world, start with rhetoric or abstract thought. In either case, you might find yourself reflecting your true nature in a new and surprising way.

microreview & interview: Rochelle Hurt’s In Which I Play the Runaway

Monday, March 6th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

RUNAWAYIn “The Miami River Floods,” from Rochelle Hurt’s collection In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street Press), the speaker addresses her father while watching footage of the Miami River flooding and speculates on the following:

how many babies will be born tonight in heroic backseat
deliveries as cars float down the freeway? They will carry

those stories all their lives like everyone else—
not from memory, but narrative inheritance. How dutifully

we gulp down circumstance as fate

This idea of narrative inheritance lies at the heart of this collection whose poems challenge accepted narratives about womanhood, fairy tales, movies, and family, always with an eye toward questioning the reflex to “gulp down circumstance as fate.”

Throughout the collection, Hurt displays a deft ability to create images that allow narrative to be carried, developed, and understood on an intellectual and emotional level simultaneously. In the poem “Self-portrait in Needmore, Indiana,” for example, the reader is presented with the following:

As expected, after the wedding, the house
became a cough we lived in, trembling
in the throat of that asthmatic spring.

These three lines set a narrative, then quickly compound it. Within the logic of these lines there are implications of weakness and affliction. A ceremony of union changes the world around the poem’s characters, so that it can only be understood in terms of an afflicted body. This metaphor places the emotional charge of the poem within the body, while the imagery unfolds in a way that mirrors the sudden and unwieldy transitions of real life. This poem continues in terms of the body:

The streets stacked and curved like fingers
on a grease-knuckled hand gripping
the waist of our Midwestern dream.

The narrative of affliction continues here with the additional pressure of possessive relationships added. As the self is caught in the body, the speaker of this self-portrait (one of a series in the collection) is caught behind the narrative inheritance of marriage. The poem’s conclusion makes clear what the stakes are of being caught:

I could have died etching my name
into the glass eye of my cage—a bay
window painted with lace. The skyline
in its expanse was a farce played out each night.

Sometimes my reflection was the star
of the show. Sometimes it was the child
clapping from her seat, so looking out
and looking in became the same thing.
Sometimes it just rained for weeks.

After the description of the bay window as a “glass eye,” the poem develops the metaphor of hindered sight by presenting several shifting images. The speaker’s listing of reflections of self then of the child evokes the potential loss of self of parenting. This loss is further emphasized in the last line, where the speaker sees only rain, implying a complete loss of being able to see themselves or anyone.

While the above poem and others present a poetic sensibility capable of speaking in terms of the body, the “runaway” of the collection’s title is also present throughout offering its own language. The runaway theme runs counter to the body-centered theme and creates a push/pull effect. In “Poem in Which I Play the Runaway,” these two themes interact:

It could open with a party, strewn
with girls like tinsel, girls looking
for a house to stuff themselves in [. . .]

Or a chase scene: some ranch house
with walls thin as a mother’s dress,
long emptied of men and closing on me.

I never wanted a home in him,
but the sex was like licking sheets
of corrugated iron, my torn maw
breathing in the corrosion

Here, the speaker works out two variations on house narratives, the speaker’s voice charged with swagger and conviction as they reimagine via metaphor. The third stanza shows this reimagining impulse suddenly grounded. After the statement of not wanting “a home in him,” a statement still working on the intellectual/imaginative level, the speaker describes how “the sex was like licking sheets / of corrugated iron,” a description which brings the poem back into the body. This synesthesia mirrors the argument between the imagination and the body engaged with in this poem. The runaway theme here is embodied in the speaker’s attempts to escape narrative while acknowledging their ties to it.

It is in this tension between escape and acknowledgment where the collection’s most compelling takes on narrative inheritance occur. Over time, this tension becomes imbued with empathy, as in “Some Oz,” where the speaker meditates on how their father learned from his father how to leave as if looking for the Oz of the title:

Some Oz where the clock of your life could unwind.
But you’ve returned to us now, your hands

full of years like salvage. And how could you
have known what you’d wake to—a home

inescapable, you wearing your father’s face [. . .]

you search for a word like an opening

into some storm strong enough to take us both
to a place where your daughters can forgive you.

The runaway theme here becomes a running toward. The narrative inheritance of fathers and daughters is suspended in a way that honors the complexity of the relationship while continuing to question it. While the runaway theme implies motion, the body implies stillness; the interplay of these two themes makes for poetry capable of reimagining the world while facing it.

interview

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

RH: One thing poetry can do very well is destabilize language—or use language to destabilize ideas. My favorite kind of poetry, no matter the school or style, is poetry that uses linguistic slippage and play to challenge concepts we might otherwise consider stable. A primary theme in my collection is the instability of self-image, given the precarious relationship between self, story, and place. The book is structured around a series of poems that use intriguing town names—Last Chance, Hurt, Honesty, etc.—to tease out narrative, metaphor, and persona. Many of the poems are narrative, but still rely on lyricism as an engine for moving between the town name and the self that is painted in the poem. Many of the poems also mix autobiographical confession with tale-telling and hyperbole as a means of further dislocating the self. We do get lost, I think, in the shifting narratives about where we come from, who our families are, who we could have been/are/could still be. I know I do—and I look to poetry not as a means of affirmation or comfort, but as a way of continuing to question those narratives.

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

RH: Writing the individual poems was less challenging than organizing them into a book. As you can imagine, it’s somewhat difficult to structure a collection with an arc of some sort when you’re specifically trying to mess around with narrative. At first I tried to mush everything together into one clean story over three long sections, but that traditional structure just wasn’t working. I knew that if a reader approached the collection expecting a singular speaker with one coherent story to tell, that reader would be confused and disappointed. After reorganizing the collection close to twenty-five times, I decided to make six short sections guided by experiences and ideas. The speaker, in all her plural forms, moves through different places and contexts patched together from family history, memory, and fabricated stories. Emotional states and revelations are mapped onto place, and the book moves forward through this map. The arc wound up leading to a place of honesty for this speaker, as she begins to more directly confront her own tendencies toward exaggeration and fatalism. She winds up, after all, in Honesty, Ohio.

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In Which I Play the Runaway is available for purchase from Barrow Street Press.

To find out more about Rochelle Hurt’s work, check out her site.

Interviews: Poets of Instagram part 1

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share interviews with #poetsofinstagram, that is, poets who have chosen the social media site Instagram as the forum to share their work. Interviews range from poets who work with erasure/blackout poetry and found poems, to poets who combine their own artwork with their text. These interviews will focus on the writing itself as well as the sense of community to be found among poets on social media.

nomadic 3For this first interview, @nomadic_words shares with us a few poems as well as insights into craft and style of her poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of nomadic_words for its lyrical play. Each poem works on the level of its own inner logic, building with the same engines as aphorisms and proverbs. Beyond wordplay, these lyrics seek to establish a sense of emotion in a brief space.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

nomadic_words: My introduction to poetry was, unsurprisingly, in the classroom. I enjoyed my creative writing English lessons more than others as it was an hour every other week I could sit and express myself more at school. I wrote my first real poem for a national poetry competition that was being advertised around school with the theme of journeys. It wasn’t really something I took seriously, but thought I’d try it and that afternoon sat on my aunt’s doorsteps writing out a poem inspired by Joseph Turner’s “Steam-boat off a Harbour’s mouth.” I didn’t win, but I put a lot of where I am now down to that day where I thought I’d try my hand at something new. My poetry has undergone a fair transformation since then, but if I’m publishing a poetry book this year I know exactly how it started and for that I’m grateful.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

nomadic_words: I actually only started it in September! I’ve been accumulating poems properly over the past two years, writing pieces—or sometimes pieces of pieces—and only really started venturing onto social media with it around a year ago. Whatever your creative passion, it’s nerve-racking to go public, so I would occasionally drop poems on my personal Instagram as a way of dipping my toe into the water. After a few months I felt it was time to give my work more identity and made nomadic_words and now here we are.

José: Who or what influences you?

nomadic_words: My journey through life influences me and I find I’m writing the most when things aren’t so easy; when life makes you rethink the assumptions and ideas you have about people, yourself, love, and the world. It’s kind of a strange comfort, finding something good in the bad and it’s my way of documenting my thoughts and feelings as and when they come. Reflecting on these experiences is what makes you grow, I just do it through writing and it really makes it worthwhile when someone you’ve never met before reads it and identifies with the feeling.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

nomadic_words: Quiet. Personal. Me.

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

nomadic_words: I tend to keep my vocabulary and structure fairly simple; these are my thoughts and most of the time I jot them down in the notes on my phone before the phrase fails me. From there, if necessary, I can flesh it out into its final form. If I have to keep coming back to a poem I usually abandon it because I think it speaks for something about the power of the message. I like to use a lot of enjambment as this can be used to create a play on words or change the path of the poem. Sometimes we rush through things and end up missing the detail between the lines and I love subtleties, it’s fairly metaphorical of life, I feel.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

nomadic_words: The uncertainty of not knowing whether what you’re about to post is going to be understood or received by people was the biggest for me, but I think as a result of this there’s definitely a tendency across Instagram writing to write what you think people want to read or feel, but most of the time I find it’s glaringly obvious when the poem has been put together for a general audience looking to identify with any quote. There is a lot being said about a little and sometimes nothing at all, which is a real shame to see. However, Instagram is great for bringing poets together, just check out one of the many hashtags such as #poetsofinstagram and you have a whole feed of people putting out their work which is lovely. From there, people who would’ve never discovered your work sometimes stumble across poems which put into words everything they wish they could say or reflections they didn’t even realize were worthy of recognition. You sometimes get messages from people on the other side of the world telling you your work made them feel some type of way and there are really no words to describe that feeling, it’s ineffable.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

nomadic_words: This is your work, a product of everything that has made you you, so take pride in it, take your time, be honest with yourself, and never, ever, adulterate your voice because you don’t think it’s powerful enough to be heard by someone else out there. Somebody else speaks your language and they may need to hear what you have to say. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read as much poetry as I would’ve liked to, but inspiration comes from everywhere—my first poem was inspired by a painting, my second, a dream, my third, a daydream . . . you get the picture. Find what inspires you and be open-minded to what that may be; you might just tap into something totally new. Finally, I cannot stress the importance of making sure you write down anything that crosses your mind and makes you wonder; I’ve sometimes found odd phrases and sentences I’ve jotted down complement each other perfectly. So don’t be afraid to be messy behind the scenes!

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

nomadic_words: I’m very excited to be publishing my debut book this year! It’s at the editing stage and it feels right to do it now. It’s a big milestone for me and something I want to share with the world as other peoples’ work has inspired and helped me through tougher times. Stay tuned!

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Follow @nomadic_words to keep to up to date with her work.

Also, be sure to check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano, which focuses on handwritten poems.

microreview & interview: Leah Poole Osowski’s Hover Over Her

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Leah Osowski’s poem “Vs. Field” is forthcoming Issue 13.2. In today’s blog post, Associate Editor José Angel Araguz reviews Osowski’s collection, Hover Over Her.

by José Angel Araguz

While reading Leah Poole Osowski’s Hover Over Her, I found myself coming back to the phrase “the poetics of suddenness.” Throughout the collection, moments are built up into a spark and flash of imagery and linguistic resonance, so that often a reader is engaged in the act of keeping up with the poem as it happens. These lines from “For the Unrealized Girls” serve as a brief example of how this kind of suddenness works:

—the throb that comes the first time

an earlobe is sealed into the envelope of a mouth,
the beating wingspan of an owl under-chest—

The juxtaposition of physical descriptions here, from human to animal, is executed in such a way that both come alive simultaneously. The human acts are imbued with that of the animal, and vice versa; these twin moments of intensity push the lyric to a sudden level of emotion, lingering there before moving on.

In “Three Girls and Something Like Hovering on a Hill in Vermont” this same suddenness works as a narrative engine. This poem begins by contextualizing the lives of three girls via ideas of motion:

They’ll take more walks in this phase than any other—

the budding years right before driver’s licenses

just after boundaries…

These three lines paint a picture indirectly; rather than an age, the reader is given before and after. In this gesture, one can read the title’s “hovering” as pointing to a state of being indefinable. From here, the liminal energy of youth carries the poem forward through various details of the three girls’ respective lives, culminating at the end in images whose succession and immediacy have a meaning on the level of near physical sensation:

…There’s homemade

dandelion wine in the top cabinet. A little brother

grasping a fly swatter. A rooster hung from a cypress,

bleeding out in a kill cone. Most of the poplar stairs

lick the girls’ bare feet as they lightning past.

Here, the velocity of the three girls’ lives is mirrored in the speed of the narrative. Meaning and narrative happen in confluence through juxtaposition, the story realized through each image and phrasing registered. In a poem where a little brother is presented poised on the edge of violence, and a rooster hangs as a victim of violence, the image and sensation of the last line resonate with a mortal urgency.

This urgency is also present in a series of prose poems from the perspective of various inanimate objects. The poem “Blood Speaks of the Heart” begins:

It’s like coming home. Like running through a corn maze. Like the Vatican. But it really depends on which side you’re in, the blood gushes. If your next stop are the lungs then it feels like you’re climbing so many flights of stairs at an area of high elevation. And if you just came from the lungs it’s like a dance party in the atrium where nobody ever gets tired and the music is pumping and the energy is so high that the crowd always spills out into the streets and takes to sprinting…

Here, the imaginative leaps serve to redefine the biological working of blood via metaphor. This redefining becomes another kind of hovering, pushing against expectation through the conceit of blood speaking. Yet, metaphor and conceit necessarily push the poem back to its human terms:

And what about love, we ask? The blood gets real quiet. It whispers, we’ve heard of that version of the heart, we’ve heard it lives upstairs. And then in a barely audible murmur, like heaven lives upstairs up from you.

In this back and forth between blood and the speaker, one can see with what suddenness the redefining and reimagining impulse can be curbed. Osowski’s ability to evoke both exuberance and pathos within this conceit makes for an engaging reading experience.

The ambition of this poetic of suddenness can be seen in the emotional range of the poems discussed. Like the hovering implied in the collection’s title, a poem becomes a space where reader and writer can linger and consider experience. In Osowski’s hands, a poem is a way to reach after, but not hold or restrain, experience. Suddenness, then, becomes a way to do this work. The speaker in the sequence “Moonstone” asks a telling question:

10. You think you know the shade of someone once your body has laid next to theirs a certain number of times. But then the question arises—what color, if any, are they when the light goes out?

As the reader lingers in both the physical and conceptual dark of the speaker’s question, inklings of how unanswerable this question is and why begin to crack through. The speaker goes on to end the poem with an image of what it feels like to hover such questions:

11. Snow angels in a blizzard.

interview

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

LPO: This summer I lived at a camp in the woods next to a lake. A larger lake nearby spit out rocks perfectly smooth and flat. I wrote the word “transformation” on one and kept it on the table in the center of the cabin. I believe poetry transforms experience. It’s a way of accessing memory and image through a layer of language. And language has a mind of its own. It can render reality optional, persona flexible, and insert rooms into the smallest details. All day we walk around with gravity and a whole slew of rules that apply to this world—poetry transcends those limitations, so when you have an art form that can do that you must. Poetry also tends to corral your preoccupations and obsessions, sometimes subconsciously. In that way, we access what’s pawing at us, herd it all into a fenced-in area, and hope to calm it down. But back to that lake stone: by adding words to the natural world we aim to understand it, or maybe just increase our proximity.

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

LPO: I tend to begin poems on a line or an image and let the language take over and drive the content. I wrote most of the poems in this book in a 2 ½ year period and it wasn’t until the end of that time that I laid them out to witness the conversation they were having. The challenges weren’t in the individual poems but how they were working as a collection. I realized that the narrative backbone of this book is the poems about the “three girls” and their arch needed some shaping. But when I tried to write a prescripted poem it fell apart. The lack of spontaneity results in a dulling of luster. I’d write them and my boyfriend, who’s also a writer, would tell me they were terrible, and I’d go back in and mess up their hair. They’re like kids in that way—if you try to dress them up and keep them neat by the end of the day there’s grass stains and bruises and four wardrobe changes. Poems, like all living things, need their freedoms, and the challenge is in allowing that to happen while steering a collection towards cohesion.

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Hover Over Her is available for purchase from The Kent State University Press.

To find out more about Leah Poole Osowski’s work, check out her site.

What’s Poetry Got to Do With It?: Meditation

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 6: Meditation

In this episode I explore ways in which meditation can apply to the craft of poetry.

Some Preliminary Thoughts

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, however, it’s worth framing my own outlook on meditation as it has developed over the years. First off, meditation is simply being. While there are a great number of apps (I’m using Calm at the moment, but have also worked with Buddhify and Headspace) which provide guided meditations and/or music and soundscapes which add to the experience, what one essentially does in meditation is make the intention to set aside time to exist within their own mind.

Now, while meditation can be done sitting on the floor, in a comfortable chair, sitting cross-legged, it can also be done lying on the floor, on your bed, lying flat or with your knees up, etc. Meditation can also be done by walking, or even listening to music. I wake up every morning and read a few poems aloud; I don’t study or analyze them, I just let them ring out in the air. As can be seen, most activities can become meditative if approached with the intention to engage in them with full attention.

Though some religions do incorporate meditation into their rites, meditation is not a religion. It is not a diet, not a set of principles or a new way of life. There are many privileged, ableist, and potentially triggering materials out there that put pressure and misguided expectations on a practice that should be about not feeling pressure and expectations. Meditation, like poetry, is about setting the intention to go let yourself be in a room simply breathing (or writing down words). Approached this way, both poetry and meditation offer answers to the question of: How does it feel to exist?

Learning from the Pine

Basho_by_Kinkoku_c1820One of the first poets that came to mind when I began to think about this subject is the classical Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. Famous for his haiku and travel journals, Basho was also a great teacher. One famous lesson begins with the suggestion to “Learn about the pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.” He goes on to say:

One must first of all concentrate one’s thoughts on an object. Once the mind achieves a state of concentration and the space between oneself and the object had disappeared, the essential nature of the object can be perceived. Then express it immediately. If one ponders it, it will vanish from the mind.

This mix of concentration and expression in the face of moments “vanishing” connects to meditation in terms of how hard it is to exist. Meditation is often considered a calm, easy thing. Yet, as soon as you close your eyes, all you sense is chaos: you daydream; your to-do list and responsibilities come immediately to mind; or a past memory surfaces and distracts you. These distractions can happen even on a walking meditation, when you begin to worry and stop noticing the things you pass on your walk. When any of these happen, it is your attention span and energy that vanish. Meditation is engaging directly with this chaos inside, and, for at least five or ten minutes, letting it go.

The small victory of letting yourself take the time to write, to pull out the notebook or open a fresh document and let yourself begin the process of writing requires a similar mix of concentration and letting go. A poem begins with a few words—but which words? Sitting before a blank page can not only leave you stuck, it can also make whatever nerve you had to write vanish. Writing prompts are great tools for writing into a meditative space exactly because they give us a way to begin. With a set of words or a theme, the mind can focus on creating, following the sense of the words.

Revision Mind

That feeling of being stuck before a blank page not knowing where to start can, with meditation, over time be worked into what I like to call “revision mind.” When meditation forces us to exist in the space behind closed eyes or the space of noticing what is in front of us as we walk—noticing and letting it pass, not studying or analyzing—it places us in the same space as when we sit in front of words.

One thing I like to do when revising a poem is to rewrite it by hand. This act places me back into the same silence as when the first draft was written; it also allows me to consider each word again. One line at a time, the poem gets rewritten slowly, and the full range of emotions—from This is brilliant! to Whose idea was it to let me move around words???—is experienced. If I set the intention to not judge the lines and not get hung up on the inadequacies of the poem (which the ego, of course, sees as a reflection of my own inadequacies), I make room for possible changes as well as acceptance.

pine-trees-1209656_960_720We return to our favorite poems by others because of what we find in them, and what we find is often simultaneously familiar and new. Our own poems work in the same manner, and yield possibilities beyond the first few drafts if approached with intention and consideration. It is too easy to seek the reassurance of brilliance or reflection of inadequacy in our own poems; however, a poem doesn’t need that validation, people do. And we owe it to our poems to treat them like poems, to “learn about the pines from the pine,” as someone more brilliant and more adequate than me put it.

Attention

In her contribution to the book A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, poet Jane Hirshfield discusses her time in a Buddhist monastery, when she did “nothing but practice Zen.” She goes on to share:

When I returned to poetry…I brought with me two things I now can see would be useful to any young aspiring writer: the monastic model of non-distraction and silence, and the experience of calling oneself into complete attention. The ability to stay in the moment, to investigate immediate existence through my own body and mind, was what I most needed to learn at that point in my life, and to learn to stay within my own experience more fearlessly.

Because of the attention it asks us to pay to the shifts and nuances of how we feel while existing, meditation is a way to become fearless and be able to stay within your own experience. While my thoughts here only begin to explore the connections between meditation and poetry, if nothing else I hope I have established the value of attention in both activities. Attention, which in meditation talk is often termed mindfulness or awareness, is invaluable to poetry. By having us pay attention to words, poems open ways for us to pay attention to the world.

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For more on Basho’s lesson, go here.

To read the full excerpt from A God in the House, go here.

The CR 13.2 Cento Contest!

Monday, December 5th, 2016

cento-poemJosé Angel Araguz: Time again for another cento contest celebrating the release of our latest issue!

The cento is a collage form in which a poem is composed entirely of lines from other poems. It can be an homage to the originals, a subversive twist, or just a fun game. Contemporary examples of the form include “The Dong with the Luminous Nose” by John Ashbery and “Wolf Cento” by Simone Muench.

As in our previous post, I’ve gone ahead a composed a cento poem based on last lines pulled from 13.2 (with punctuation added here and there) in celebration of the new issue. We encourage you to compose your own 13.2 cento and post it on our blog. We’ll float a free issue to creators of the strongest three (either gift for a friend or added to your current subscription). Pro tips: 1. Remember to cite the authors you quote from the issue; 2. enjambment is your friend!

Here. Take it all.

cento sonnet, written with last lines drawn from The Cincinnati Review, issue 13.2

Stand in bareness after the plunging hoofs are gone
beside the body, talking to it.
No more swallowing blood and coughing up trenzas,
ashamed to be ashamed.

Pollution of the heart, yearning,
until the visions open, until the visions bleed.
I’ll sing myself hoarse with prayers of data and space, our soundless bell,
night after night. You know my name, remember?

The hands that fed me
across the dusky skies and spelled out my silent shame
killed it easily, that stag with horns of gold,
and woke finding no God to whom to pray.

About the time: It’s passing so quickly.
I don’t know what to do with my heart.

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[sources, in order: Alex Lemon (title), Joseph Zaccardi, Okwudili Nebeolisa, Eduardo Martinez-Leyva, Carina del Valle Schorske, Tuvia Ruebner, Claire Hero, Jessica Rae Bergamino, Todd Hearon, Josh Kalscheur, Jim Daniels, Martha Silano, Marilyn Nelson, David O’Connell, Charlotte Muzzi]

What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?: Tarot

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 5: Tarot

In this episode, I do a quick study of the ways I see tarot being connected to poetry. As tarot is more complex than can be contained in one blog post, I will focus on my personal experiences with two cards in particular and how I see them relating to poetry writing.

But first, some basics:

A Brief Tarot 101 

tarot-highpriestessHistory: While the tarot card system goes back to the fifteenth century, the tarot as it is practiced today has a history that is only a little over a hundred years old. Today’s main tarot-as-divination methods are split between two camps: practitioners who use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and those who use the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. As the RWS is the most prominent in popular culture, its images and interpretations the most readily familiar, I’ll be referring to that deck. (Case in point: Xena: Warrior Princess’s take on the High Priestess.)

tarot-xena

How It Works: Tarot presents a system of symbolic images that are used for divination and as tools for meditation. Typically, a deck will have seventy-eight cards divided into two groups or arcanas (“hidden truth” or “secret knowledge”). The first group, called the Major Arcana, comprises twenty-two cards. Starting with The Fool (card zero) and ending on The World (card twenty-one), the Major Arcana is often seen as representing the fool’s journey—a journey through life in which the Fool gains wisdom as they overcome obstacles. The second set of cards, known as the Minor Arcana, consists of fifty-six cards divided into four suits (similar to traditional playing cards). As my discussion below will focus on two cards from the Major Arcana, I will not spend more time on explaining the Minor. (Anyone interested in learning more about tarot in general, please check out the links throughout this article.)

Tarot & Poetry

tarot-magician

I: The Magician

As the site Biddy Tarot explains:

The Magician is associated with the planet Mercury and carries with it skill, logic, and intellect. The number of the Magician is one, the number of beginnings. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. . . . He takes the power of the Universe and channels it through his own body and directs it to the physical plane.

As can be seen in this brief description, this card implies action and manifestation. Mercury, as an element, is never still, always in motion; in a similar way, I see the poet in the initial act of writing a poem evoking this constant motion. The Magician is all about sitting down to the materials at hand and making use of them. The first draft of a poem can be seen as a setting down of the initial elements, seeing what there is to work with.

This view on the Magician/poet brings to mind a quote from Robert Bly, who in an interview sums up the creative act in terms of dancing:

There is a dancing among all the experiences you’ve ever had and a dancing among the gifts you’ve received from your family, from the wider culture, from your reading. And then the hope is that you can begin to work yourself back into your own life.

When I come across the Magician in a tarot spread, I immediately interpret the card as directing me to do the “poet” work of bringing together the elements of a given moment or reading to see them as a whole. Writing a poem, comparatively, can be seen as doing “Magician” work, conjuring the raw materials for inspiration and seeing how they “dance.”

tarot-towerXVI: The Tower

As Biddy Tarot explains:

The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.

Considered one of the darker and more fateful cards in the Major Arcana, the Tower brings with it a sense of reckoning. In terms of poetry, I see this card as associated with revision. Sometimes the “ambitions built on false premises” that make up the first draft are hard to break free from. This is where the Tower’s informal “destruction” via lightning bolt becomes necessary. Lightning occurs randomly; similarly, an insight into a poem can also come randomly, striking when one is not expecting. The value of revision, then, can be seen as making opportunities for such lightning to strike.

The waiting involved in revision is how this “Tower” work differs from the more active “Magician” work. The distanced nature of revision is also implied by the Tower. If “Magician” work is done on a personal level, “Tower” work is done on an impersonal level. Or, one can say that a poem is revised in an impersonal manner until it becomes personal again. This take on revision echoes what Donald Hall said in an interview:

If the poet wants to be a poet, the poet must force the poet to revise. If the poet doesn’t wish to revise, let the poet abandon poetry and take up stamp-collecting or real estate.

Hall’s stern and task-oriented tone here is totally in line with the Tower.

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For further insights into the connections between poetry and tarot, check out this article by poet, tarot, tea leaf reader, and creative mentor Tabitha Dial. Along with making connections between poetry, tarot, and Jung, Tabitha shares some tarot-oriented writing exercises.

Also check out The Poet Tarot from Two Sylvias Press.

microreview/interview: Wayne Miller’s Post-

Monday, October 17th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

In his latest collection, Post- (Milkweed Editions), contributor Wayne Miller (6.2, 11.2) presents poems whose guiding poetic sensibility is able to navigate the terrains of memory and day-to-day life and mine them for what they have to say about personal and social life. “The Debt” opens this work by presenting variations on the title’s concept:

He entered through the doorway of his debt.
Workmen followed, bringing box after box

until everything he’d gather in his life
inhabited his debt. He opened the sliding door to the yard—

a breeze blew through the spaces of his debt,
blew the bills from the table onto the floor.

One can see how financial concerns impose themselves on life. Debt is the house lived in as much as a concept. What makes this poem such an effective opening piece is how it brings together a number of the collection’s themes, namely the way such intangible facts—in this case, debt and laws—affect our tangible lives.

The law theme is again explored in “The People’s History,” which creates a narrative around “the People,” and follows them as they comprise both a group of chanting protesters on a city street and a group policing them:

we, the People, will not be denied.
Then the People
descended upon the People, swinging hardwood batons
heavy with the weight of the People’s intent.

The narrative method here is compelling on two levels: 1) The use of “the People” for both sides makes the intangible nature of rhetoric and law transparent, which in turn makes the tangible effects on human action and experience all the more vivid; and 2) Rather than dulling or deflating the intensity of the scene, the use of the phrase complicates the narrative further:

But the People had grown tired of the afternoon
and released dogs into the crowd, dogs
that could not tell the People from the People;

Subverting the implied idea of an impersonal collective, the phrase takes on, through the poem’s twists and turns, a personal, individualistic meaning. In doing so, the poem indirectly paints a contemporary scene that becomes a direct and compassionate critique.

The themes of debt and inheritance are also found in poems that deal with the nature of words themselves. In “On Language,” the reader is presented the following fabulistic conceit:

1
There were only certain stones
we could step on to cross the river.

2
The stones we could step on to cross the river
were not certain.

Further developing this conceit, the poet states that “the stones we stepped on/ dropped away behind us/ like the notes of a song.” The connotations of this premise are rich: A set of stones is language, the river is speech, and the other side of the river is meaning. Not only is the transient and harried nature of establishing meaning conveyed, but so is the “not certain” feeling of the human effort to communicate. And yet, the speaker’s fable is one of hope, which the urgency behind the midpoem statement—“Love, stay with me inside this syntax of the river”—makes evident.

The sequence of five poems titled “Post-Elegy” that are scattered throughout the collection present a confluence of debt/inheritance narratives. The first describes how “After the plane went down/ the cars sat for weeks in long-term parking.” The speaker’s journey to retrieve the dead person’s car becomes a process of growing awareness, culminating in the following observations as the speaker drives off:

. . . I realized

I was steering homeward
the down payment
of some house we might live in
for the rest of our lives.

The metaphor here makes grief a physical presence, the car suddenly a space where the memory of the dead person lives on.

In the world of Post-, we are left in such complicated afters: the after of accumulating debt; the after of having to distinguish “the People” from each other; the after of wanting stay inside “this syntax of the river.”

interview

JAA: What role do you feel the personal and the social have in your work as reflected in this collection?

WM: For some time I’ve been interested in complicating that personal-social dichotomy by considering how personal narratives bump up against larger historical moments and metanarratives. Thus, in Post- I’m often trying to entangle the personal and social—to juxtapose them or contextualize each inside the other.

For example, Post-’s opening poem, “The Debt,” depicts a father-son relationship while insistently pulling into the frame how middle-class American life is built structurally on debt. Similarly, “Consumers in Rowboat” presents a tug of war between a couple’s own perception of themselves as private, autonomous individuals and the larger economic perspective that they’re demographically trackable consumers. And throughout the book poems about parenthood and loss sit intentionally beside poems about sociopolitical conflict and violence.

I’ve long loved Donald Justice’s well-anthologized poem “Men at Forty,” which feels personal and distilled as the men move solitarily through their domestic spaces while considering their own aging. When, in the last line, Justice describes their houses as “mortgaged,” it felt to me like an almost shocking (and compelling!) breech of the poem’s private lyrical “purity.” That’s just one small example—but it’s the sort of complicating of lyrical isolation that I was reaching for when I was writing Post-.

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Post- is available for purchase from Milkweed Editions.

To find out more about Wayne Miller’s work, check out his site.

microreview/interview: A. Molotkov’s The Catalog of Broken Things

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

amolotkov1

In my reading of The Catalog of Broken Things (Airlie Press, 2016) by poet and 13.1 contributor A. Molotkov, I found a thematic thread made up of moments within longer lyric sequences where the given speaker of a poem gestures toward a spirit of assessing the nature of “broken things.”

We dive right into the catalog, so to speak, with the poems in the first sequence, “The Catalog of Broken Things,” which approach family narratives with a surrealistic sensibility. The opening poem begins:

I let my dead mother in.
She’s lonely out there on her own.
Her ears are seashells
empty of sea.

Reading these lines, I get a sense of a poetry that feels out the world through images. This aesthetic creates a reading experience where the reader is carried into the meaning-making process through sensation as much as language. The following section is another example of this sensibility at work:

11

My aunt, a shadow without a landing.
In her chest, small
streams fight for the chance to be
called river.
I list her in my catalog under tumors.
She deserves more attention.
We all do, we keep
telling the moon,
but it’s dead. It doesn’t listen.

I listen.

The concept of a catalog implies a sense of order and control; what is being wrestled with here is the lack of both. By proceeding to pit themselves against the image of the moon, who is seen as “dead” and unable to listen, the speaker, and, in a way, the poem, are in the role of providing “more attention.” This is a gesture not of repair but of acknowledgement. Life cannot be controlled and ordered beyond our personal understanding, our “listening.”

This acknowledging/cataloging voice appears again in the later sequence, “The Melting Hourglass.” In this sequence, the reader is presented with the story of Zungvilda and Goombeldt as narrated by a disembodied speaker. This speaker alternates from sounding like a family member, complete with shared memories, to sounding like the voice of the hourglass of the sequence’s title. This variation in voice and narration add to the reading experience; one gets a sensation of the lyrical line as live wire. The following section of the sequence presents the kind of torque available through this imaginative conceit:

Zungvilda shares her thoughts
I have no choice but to listen
after all she lives inside my head

she asks why men are so difficult
don’t generalize I say
but she can’t hear me in there

I’m afraid it’s a monologue
I’m afraid it always is

she wonders why every day seems to start
with wild yanking and smoke
like an old lawn mower
she muses about the interchangeable
questions and answers

she suspects that the new crater
that just formed on the moon
might be her early grave
she remembers the time

when she was a girl
lost in the forest

I remember it too
even though I was
too young to remember

The narrative turns developed in the speaker’s mediation here provide a fruitful disorientation in that the reader has to follow the lyric sense of the line as it develops. In the first two stanzas, the speaker is shown to be privy to Zungvilda’s thoughts while also being at a remove; this tension of intimacy and distance is paralleled in the last two stanzas where one of Zungvilda’s memories begins to take shape, but is quickly turned away from by the speaker.

These two moments are variations of the “broken things” theme of the book. When the speaker states “I’m afraid it’s a monologue / I’m afraid it always is,” a moment rich in metanarrative and self-awareness occurs; the “monologue” here is not only a metaphor for time and existence, but also poetry. In the same way that poetry is able to provide “attention” in the poem discussed above, poetry here is seen as able to acknowledge its limits and “broken” nature. Seen this way, the title of this collection becomes its own mission, writing as a way to catalog the broken things around us.

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interview

amolotkov2J: Were there any challenges in writing these poems, and  if so how did you work through them?

A. M. : The challenges of balance. Once I commit to a longer work, the next question becomes: is it going to be five pages, or fifty? Working with recurring themes and motifs, it’s tempting to keep going. How to choose the length that keeps the tension, helps me avoid repeating myself, and allows for a substantial investigation? Once I settle on an approximate length and write my selections, their order becomes both an opportunity and a challenge. Ultimately, any poem could have emerged in many different ways, but happens to be the way it is, not optimal in any objective sense, but a compromise between intention and the infinity of possibilities. If we consider the many points of view and tastes the readers will bring, it’s easy to see that each word shivers with fear and anticipation for the unlikely connection it may fail to make.

My tendency in poetry is to push the text outside my own comfort zone. Often, I end up distanced from the capability to evaluate my own poems. I am in three writers’ groups in order to compensate for my myopia and my personal obsessions. Almost thirty people had their eyes on some or all of the poems in The Catalog and provided a wide variety of suggestions. I’m indebted to them for breathing their reality into my work.

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The Catalog of Broken Things is available for pre-order from Airlie Press.

Special thanks to A. Molotkov for participating! Check out his poem “Obituary” in issue 13.1.

Find out more about his work at his website.

What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?: Astrology (Virgo)

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 4: Astrology (Virgo)

In this second astrology-themed round of this column, I scrutinize my own sign via a tour of quotes from three Virgos of American Poetry: Charles Wright, Kay Ryan, and William Carlos Williams.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Virgo

First Stop: Charles Wright

In my previous post, I spoke of Pisces poets as having in their work “a sense of being forgotten, dismissed, and misunderstood, as well as being generally okay with that. Kind of.” Virgo being the polar opposite of Pisces, I want to start this tour by connecting with this previous thought, amending it further for Virgo by saying that the work of poets under this sign is driven by a sense of not wanting to forget, to dismiss, or be misunderstood. I like to think of it in terms of being polite as well as wanting everyone included. In the Virgo poets I admire, this inclusion is done by focusing on indirect clarity and openness of form.

To get a better idea of what I mean by indirect clarity, here’s a quote from an interview with Charles Wright in response to his work being seen as shying away from “straight narrative”:

“It’s simple, really. I can’t tell a story. Only Southerner I know who can’t. And, in truth, I have no real interest in telling one. The point of telling a story is the telling; the story itself is not the point. I always wanted to get to the end and find out what the point was. Still do.”

I often think of this quote when I find myself in conversation, going off on tangent after tangent, unable to tell a story or anecdote in a linear fashion. While this may make for tedious conversation in real life (at least in my case), on the page it translates for Wright into an elastic lyric sensibility, as this excerpt from his poem “The Appalachian Book of the Dead” illustrates:

Something like water ticks on
Just there, beyond the horizon, just there, steady clock . . .

Go in fear of abstractions . . .
                                                      Well, possibly. Meanwhile,

There is a mixing of worlds here; the meditative and the informal live side by side along with the Ezra Pound quote in italics. By juxtaposing these various elements, not only is a singular poetic experience created for the reader, one rich in voices and meaning, but there is also the sense of a conversation being had by the speaker beyond themselves. In approaching the line this way, Wright is able to present Pound himself as well as engage with Pound in the space of the poem.

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Second Stop: Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan’s version of what I term indirect clarity and openness of form occurs on a more intimate, yet still indirect, level. To the question “Why do you avoid the hot emotions that are often associated with confessional poetry,” Ryan, in an interview, responds:

“If you put ice on your skin, your skin turns pink. Your body sends blood there. If you think about that in terms of writing, cool writing draws us, draws our heat.”

A good example of what Ryan means here can be seen in this excerpt from her poem “Surfaces”:

Surfaces serve
their own purposes,
strive to remain
constant (all lives
want that).

Here, there is a transparency at the level of craft that is pleasurable: from the internal (indirect) rhyme of “surfaces” and “purposes” as well as “constant” and “want,” to the use of the short line to let the thought develop at a straightforward pace. The language in many ways charms the ear/eye immediately; the indirect clarity and openness of form come into play then when the purpose of this charm is considered. There is gravity to what is being said in such a musical and engaging manner, and one that could easily weigh the lyric down. The subversion of rhyme’s aural appeal to engage casually with a matter that might not necessarily appeal is one of the ways in which Ryan’s work wins me over. In a short, concise statement, the reader is being asked to consider a specific perspective on mortality (“lives/want that”). The decision to place this in a open tone is part of what keeps the reader included and listening closely.

William_Carlos_Williams_passport_photograph_1921

Final Stop: William Carlos Williams

Building off the idea of keeping the reader included and listening closely, I turn lastly to William Carlos Williams. Williams is famous for championing what he calls the American idiom, which he describes in Paterson as “a language which is not English . . . [with] as much originality as jazz.” While much has been written about how these ideas influenced the work of the Modernists, Imagists, Objectivists, and the Beats, there is work being done currently that explores what the American idiom means for Latin@ poets, both in the US and in the rest of the Americas.

Reading through the work of Julio Marzán* and Jonathan Cohen**, I have been heartened to learn about the role Williams’s Puerto Rican heritage played in his work. He was one of the first American poets I know of to have to decide whether to hide that heritage at the level of author name. The story of his having to choose between W. C. Williams, William C. Williams, or to write under his full name is one familiar to Latin@ poets from various backgrounds. The move to stand with “Carlos,” so to speak, is one of the critical moments of subversion in the history of American poetry. Pound often referred to Williams as having “muddled blood”; that Williams continues to be read today with as much pleasure and interest (if not more) than Pound is a testament to Williams and his work as well as a win over such misguided and problematic institutional prejudices.

Williams also chipped away at these prejudices in his actual poetry, often incorporating Spanish into the titles of books and poems. A good example is “El Hombre”:

It’s a strange courage
you give me ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you play no part.

This short lyric has meant different things to me at various points in my life. When I first read it in my early twenties, I was immediately charmed by the clear logic of the address; it’s the kind of move that nods to the Romantic tradition while being grounded in the Imagist camp. As I grow older, though, the title more and more seems to add another layer, and makes a manifesto out of the four lines. The “Hombre” of the title could easily be the poet, and the courage spoken of could easily be the courage needed to forge ahead in an at times prejudiced literary field, one that bristled at the use of Spanish as much as every day talk in poems.

The arc of Williams and his work is one forged by indirect clarity and openness of form. In his use of Spanish, Williams added to the possibilities and depth of American poetry as well as created a legacy as valuable and influential as his ideas of the variable foot by doing so. I personally connect with this legacy as an American poet with a Latin@ background facing similar decisions on and off the page.

And as a Virgo, I can’t help but see this side of Williams as an innate championing of what would be forgotten, dismissed, or misunderstood.

(* Julio Marzán has written about this aspect of Williams’s work in his book The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams. ** Jonathan Cohen edited the book By Word of Mouth: Poetry from the Spanish by William Carlos Williams, for which Marzán wrote the foreword.)