Recap by Ryan O’Dowd
The 2018–2019 Readings at the Nick series started on Tuesday Sept. 11 with Poet and Linfield Assistant Professor José Angel Araguz. As of this reading he has four collections of poetry (pictured below from left to right): Until We Are Level Again, Reasons (not) to Dance, Small Fires, and Everything We Think We Hear.
Although the main focus of his Author Reading was on his own work, Araguz elected to begin the event in reflection of 9/11 by reading the poem Alabanza, by Martín Espada. The poem seeks to praise many of the local New York workers who died during the attack in 2001.
Turning to a lighter subject, Araguz read a poem that he wrote recently, titled Twenty Reasons Why Latinx’s are here at Linfield. Each line of the poem started with a resounding,
from the audience at Araguz’s cue. The list included various lighthearted motivations but also more powerful anecdotes, such as a story about how Araguz once Google image searched for college professor pictures and asked a class how many of them looked like him. What was more surprising than the lack of resemblance, was the reply from a Latino student that hadn’t expected any of his professors to look like Araguz.
Araguz then recited two poems from his second collection, Everything We Think We Hear. In Spiderman Hitches A Ride, his mother compares him to Spiderman: someone who always tries to do the right thing, but from time to time ends up beat up, jobless, and loses his girlfriend. The poem also touches on him moving away and becoming more distant from his mother. In Drinking At Home, Araguz closes that distance and describes how much he wishes he could do for his mother.
Instead of writing about her, I want to buy her a mansion, a car, a Highschool education. But I am always broke, educated enough to know the debts I owe.
Afterwards, Araguz mentioned, “I needed a poem about Jalepeños.” So he made one, and although he was unsure if it was the poem he wanted, he has kept it so far. Jalepeños introduces the audience to Araguz’s early life in Corpus Christi Texas by tying the various aspects of the pepper to parts of his own life. In doing so, Araguz transitioned to his third collection of poetry, Small Fires, where he further delved into his life in Texas.
“Every parent wants to give their children whatever tools they have to survive. I realize that my mom has given me fear.”
Fear, he explained, helped him survive in Corpus Christi, a town where every force pushed him to hide his Mexican culture. In the poem, The Name, Araguz reflects on the power of names, specifically his grandfather’s which was always close, and his father’s which is about all he had to remember him by. In Joe, he explored the intricacies of his own name, relating how he neglected the ‘é’ sound in his name and went by ‘Joe’ in his adolescent years. He and his classmates would go to great lengths,
all to avoid saying words like por qué or José, as in ‘Por qué José no tiene acento?’
It got to the point where he’d fight his own mother on the issue. Ultimately the poem ends on an upbeat note, resolving with Araguz calling his mother to tell her,
It’s me mom, José.
Moving on to his most recent collection of Poetry, Araguz recited The Broken Escalator at the Train Platform. This poem, featuring an eight-syllable structure, is where he got the name for the collection, Until We Are Level Again.
Araguz wrote a first draft of his next poem, Corpus Christi, when he was 21 years old. It centers around a roach trying to pass through a window screen when others are content where they are. After some time, the struggle ends and the roach gives up. Then Araguz seems to wonder to himself through the writing if he is meant to stay in Corpus Christi, or if there is something to gain by struggling like the roach.
Will I be here, my brown wings tucked away, with only these focused forms of attention to confide in?
Araguz then wanted to go back to his first collection of poetry, Reasons (not) to Dance. First he recited a poem called Relinquish, which tells a quick but sombre tale of a Buddhist Priest who received a love letter and, out of fear he may sin, knelt before an oncoming train to Relinquish his body. Next, he read Look, a poem about a window with an amazing view of sunsets and letting your eyes adjust to transitions in life.
Spanish is the language that Araguz learned at home, but English is the language that he was educated in, and so there was a point in time where he wrote poems in only English. He was surprised when he first read poetry in Spanish because he didn’t understand a lot of it. And when he read English translations, his confusion only grew since they often times didn’t line up. So then he set out to build up his literacy in Spanish, starting first with simple Haikus and then moving on to full sized poems. To share his practice with the audience, he recited his last poem both in Spanish and English, titled Conozco mi madre.
Mi madre me ha dicho que cuando llegó por primera vez a Corpus Christi, que no se pudo parar de mirar a los rascacielos, que se quedó mirando y mirando, queriendo tal vez ver el punto más alto de cada edificio.
My mom told me that when she arrived for the first time in Corpus Christi, she couldn’t stop herself from staring at skyscrapers. That she kept on looking and looking, wanting ultimately to see the highest point of every building.
After his presentation, an audience member asked Araguz about how he has used poetry politically. Araguz replied, that as a kid there was little he could do to avoid being political, as his culture conflicted so often with his education. Nowadays Araguz feels that so long as he’s honoring his inner voice, then he’s being successful as a poet. He acknowledges that his education distanced himself from his family, but it also allows him to share his ideas and poetry with other people, to help them and learn from them as well. He concluded that therefore,
“Any political work I do has to involve people.”
That concludes this Recap! To learn more about Araguz and his work, you can visit his website here.