Spent the weekend catching up on the sonnet for a couple of reasons but mostly because I enjoy the form and want to write more of them.
So what was I reading? Glad you asked! Here goes:
• The Sonnet: A Comprehensive Anthology of British and American Sonnets from the Renaissance to the Present, Edited by Robert M. Bender and Charles L. Squier
I picked this up years ago at Stand for like two bucks and I keep coming back to it when I need a good sonnet pick up. I have yet to read the whole thing since Ole Englishe gives me a headache but I do appreciate how the editors dug deep into British history. And what a bunch of haters those Brits were. A couple of the sonnets I read feel like the illegitimate love child of “pistols at dawn” and a “front stoop snaps session.”
But the sonnet that truly befuddled me was John Frederick Nims’ “Agamemnon Before Troy.” Part Homer, part Pecos Bill, part Spencer, and all good literary fun.
• Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes by Francisco X. Alarcon with English translations by Francisco Aragón
A good read with the section that looks at language and word as my favorite part. Alarcon’s work cuts right to the point but does so with a slow blade as opposed to a quick thrust which does justice to the sonnet form.
• Song of the Simple Truth The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos, Introduction and translations by Jack Agüeros
I’ve been making my way through this dense volume but by bit but skipped through to check out some of DeBurgos’ forays into sonnet. The two sonnets I came across are political odes to Jose Martí and Perdo Albizu Campos which push the sonnet as not just personal plea but as a voice in the arena of human awareness and rights.
• Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros
My favorite book of sonnets as Jack adds a Nuyorican flair to the form. You’ll find it all in here: love sonnets, persona sonnets, political sonnets, spanish sonnets, even sonnets with double the lines. You will also find a poet in full command of his language anchoring his sonnets in personal place and individual tradition.
“We talk American; we don’t talk English.” – William Carlos Williams
I wish that Marzán had positioned his afterword into a foreword because it would have made some of the positions he takes regarding Williams’ use of his family history, language and his own identity as an American (no Spanish, Latin or other identifier needed) a bit more digestible to me.
In the end, I am not buying into Marzán’s stance that a war was raging within Williams for a place closer to the hot, exotic, sexualized Latin other and that war can be seen in his text. I will fully admit not to be a William Carlos Williams scholar, so my opinion is lacking in that regard, but I am a good listener/reader of poetry and I have a good sense of fracture and/or suture occurring in multi-lingual work.
Working strictly from the evidence that Marzán presents, I would say that Williams is not so much trying to run and meet his wild Spanish self but seeking to blend those languages and experiences to perfect a purely American product (Yes, I am modifying Williams’ own line).
I would recommend this book only to hardcore poetry language lovers with a mild recommendation to poets looking for a good read. For those just looking for a good poetry fix, I would say read more William Carlos Williams.
My To-Read list is currently off da chain but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are the latest (slightly used) additions to the book shelf: Fiesta In Aztlán: Anthology of Chicano Poetry (Tony Empringham, Editor) – First off, I love the title. What’s a revolution without a good party, ya know? Also looking forward to reading the literary/political concerns, circa 1981, of these respected writers. Merchurochrome: New Poems by Wanda Coleman – What really sold me on this was the “Retro Rougue Anthology” section of about 30 poems written after various poets. Mind you, this volume also has four other sections plus an “American Sonnet” section. Ah yeah! City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco – Love this book! I read it maybe three years ago and instantly fell in love with Blanco’s take on Cuban-Americans. Transcircularities: New and Selected Poems by Quincy Troupe – I can read Quincy’s stuff all day which is a good thing since it will probably take at least a solid three days to make it through this expansive collection. The Inner City Mother Goose by Eve Merriam – Can this be the book that finally gets me to learn some meter? With dittys like Sing a song of subways/Never see the sun/Four and twenty people/In room for one/When the doors are opened/Everybody run, I really can’t go wrong.
And just so we can have a soundtrack for all this fly lit– The Very Best of War – A few weeks back I heard the “The World is a Ghetto” and knew I needed that kind of anthem in my work. Our Latin Thing 2 — A Sampler Of Boogaloo, Latin Soul & The Roots Of Salsa (Various) – I hated salsa music as a kid since it always signaled the end of the kid party and the start of the adult’s fiesta. Now that I am trying to find my way back to El Bronx of the 70s, I need some of that good Fania All Star ritmo to bring me back to the living rooms of my childhood. And, oh yeah, I now love me some salsa. Don’t Mess With The Dragon by Ozomatli – Ozo keeps it movin in every kind of language and instrument they can get their hands on. Holler. The Best of Joe Bataan – I only found out about Bataan a few months back at an I-Hotel event where they highlighted Filpinos in music. Bataan gets mad props for not only leading the way in salsa and boogaloo but also laying the groundwork for what would become hip-hop. Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy’s Greatest Hits – Speaking of hip-hop, it doesn’t get better than this snapshot of what rap was like when it had ideals and a plan. Makes you almost forget about Flavah of Love, almost. Fania: NYC Salsa (Various) – Fania music equals my father in big aviator shades, bigger lapels, a whiskey and a smoke telling the best cuentos possible in the living room/dancefloor to the smiles and cheers of assorted familia as his son sneaks in between his legs to try to share in some of that good story-telling glow.
These sonnets walk with a quiet dignity that command respect as opposed to begging for it. They also are unafraid to call blood blood or fucked up shit fucked up shit. These poems speak of experience and don’t have the time to gawk at the everyday but instead the poet rushes home to celebrate it. From the first section, Landscapes, we get Agüeros’ crown of sonnets honoring the memory of the Happy Land massacre where the poet morphs from chronicler to mourner to pointed political critic via subtle shifts in tone.
Agüeros treats the sonnet like a virtuoso constantly playing with its possibilities and structure (Check out his “Sonnet with Twice the Lines”) while always honoring its history — the introduction pays homage to Shakespeare, Browning, cummings, Milay and “Ozymandias” — proving that the sonnet (and all formal poetic structures, in my opinion) is as relevant today as ever.
His middle section entitled Love… shows us a broken hearted speaker recalling over and over again the missed (squandered?) opportunities for happiness in his life. A lesser poet might be afraid to keep the microscope on such an obvious subject but it’s Agüeros’ insistence in highlighting the life and missteps of the every(wo)man that keeps this collection from being anything but mundane and elevates the day-to-day urban immigrant experience into reflections worthy of the sonnet tradition.
Sonnet Substantially like the Words of Fulano Rodriguez One Position Ahead of Me on the Unemployment Line
It happens to me all the time/business
Goes up and down but I’m the yo-yo spun
Into the high speed trick called sleeping
Such as I am fast standing in this line now.
Maybe I am also a top, they too sleep
While standing, tightly twirling in place.
I wish I could step out and listen for
The sort of music that I must make.
But this is where the state celebrates its sport.
From cushioned chairs the agents turn your ample
Time against you through a box of lines.
Your string is both your leash and lash.
The faster you spin, the stiller you look.
There’s something to learn in that, but what?
taking a light break from my next round of submissions to look over my latest reading habits–
currently reading: terrance hayes’ “wind in a box“ this is kickin mah ass as i find hayes equal parts accessible and elusive. he lets you in on the conversation at very specific moments then pulls out when he realizes someone is listenin in. at least, thats my first impression. all in all, a fun maze of language and perspective to walk through.