Getting to Know José Araguz, Author of Rotura
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Two formative moments come to mind when I consider this question. The first is me in 2nd grade being taught haiku in school and writing about the things that I took serious then in my life: ninja turtles, vampires, ghosts, aliens, etc. The second is me in 7th grade writing in class what I didn’t know were probably poems; all I knew is that it garnered the attention of the teacher, who probably meant well when he asked, “What are you doing?” As I was told often growing up not to draw attention, I quickly crumpled the piece of paper and ate it—which led to me being sent to the principal’s office. I feel that between these two impulses—fascination and protectiveness—lie my initial relationship with poetry. That it is a space where my fascination with language leads to language of what is fascinating; and that it is a space that is emotionally valuable and, thus, vulnerable.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
There are two journals that I turn to every morning, a personal writing journal and a daily planner. For the personal writing journal, I write every morning. Among writers, I know that this is contentious a practice. But please know when I say I write every morning I don’t mean I sit down and luxuriate in time and write gold every morning. Instead, I get a couple of sentences out about my daily life the day before and, if I’m lucky, feel moved to write a haiku and/or free write. Whatever I can fit into the 10 minutes I steal in the morning, that’s what gets done. And I do skip some days and make sure to double back and get down the highlights of daily life of the between days. But only if I’m in the mood, haha. Mood plays a big part in this, so don’t think this is a prescriptive “write every day to be a real writer” nonsense, but more of an emotional grounding practice that sometimes leads to poetry. Now THAT’S a metaphor for life if I ever heard one. One of the things I like to make time for is writing out a poem by hand. It’s something I recommend to folks as it places us in a similar silence as the act of writing a poem ourselves. It also slows us down and has us paying attention to words. My daily planner has me adapting moves from bullet journal practices and adapting them for my own purposes. The hands-on, DIY spirit of the bullet journal has helped me establish a way to keep a planner in a similar way as my poetry daily writing, a way forged in practice and emotional grounding.
Where do your poems most often “come from”—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
More and more I find myself thinking in terms of poetic practice, that poetry is a thing in motion, something alive that one evokes, summons, spirits after. While I’m borrowing words from magic, on a practical level, this works out in the mere act of moving words around. Whether it’s first drafts born of word banks or engaging with a random word generator to revising poems written years ago, all I am essentially doing is practicing moving words around, teasing them out of the poem or dropping in. I say all this because my poems often come from all the things listed here, but the thing that generates the spark is animation and engagement with language. The other thing to add that is perhaps relevant is that time is a great factor in my work. There are poems from my latest collection that are as old as 2006; the most recent was written in 2020 a few months before the collection was submitted to where it found a home. Time is the great reviser. I love returning to poems I’ve written in journals having forgotten them, discovering them again with fresh eyes.
Which writers (living or dead) have influenced you the most?
I could name so many! I’ll stick to two of each world. Living, Juan Felipe Herrera continues to surprise and inspire me on and off the page. His risk-taking and complicatedly vivid way with the page and the line always makes for fruitful reading. His generosity in classrooms, workshops, conferences, etc. and in his advocacy of poetry in general and Latinx communities in specific—all of it gives necessary lifeblood to many including myself. Sharon Olds as well has been an influence in terms of risk-taking and chasing fascination on the page. Dead, Bert Meyers and Ramon Gomez de la Serna come immediately to mind. Meyers’ dynamic sensibility for the image is intoxicating and illuminating. And Ramon, well, he was just one of those writers that I look at and see an effort to place his whole presence behind the work.
What excites you most about your new collection?
Honestly, so far, it’s been the reaction! I’ve been humbled by how positively it’s been received. The book is also my most politically and personally invested. I see it as a step into trying out things stylistically, like letting a poem take up space across pages, for example, that mirror the way in which I as a marginalized individual practice taking up space in the world. This collection also continues my fascination and mutation of forms, both traditional and self-made. And while the book opens and ends on poems around the 2016 election, what happens in between is an indirect meditation on several kinds of breaking (Rotura means “break, rupture” in Spanish). Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the title was discovered by Juan Felipe Herrera. The original title for the book was a line borrowed from one of his poems. Later, when he kindly wrote a blurb for it, he noted that, while it was a nice gesture to consider the borrowed line, he felt the word “Rotura” stood at the center of collection. Now that I’ve done a few readings from the book, I keep coming back to what he meant, learning a little more each time of what he saw in the work.
November 22, 2016
My wife tells me of reading the Dear
America books as a child, those stories told
via the diaries of young women who lived
during difficult times in American history. In these
stories filled with suffering were the facts behind
the suffering. Her favorite involved the RMS Titanic,
the unsinkable ship that sank. I ask if
trying to imagine what it looked like was
what captivated, and she says no, says only
one book led to another, until she realized
she could never see it nor accept it.
After the election, my friend explains he feels
he could manage here, but not his children.
He explains he spoke to their school director,
who comforted by talking about police presence. But
if there’s police, he asks, before anything happens,
what will happen when something does? American algebra:
Everything is x until proven y. Dear America,
if x represents what my friend feels thinking
about the police, what language do you imagine
he worries his children speaking publicly, and what
language are we speaking now? Show your work.
Another friend writes: Here’s a verse I think
about a lot: And maybe the mirror of
the world will clear once again. She shares
she’s been sick since the election, as I’ve
been. I imagine our voices trying to commiserate
between coughs. In physics, energy can neither be
created nor destroyed. What American physics happens here
as I read and hear her voice behind
the verse she sent? Are you, dear America,
afraid as I am that our faces will
no longer be there when the mirror clears?
José Angel Araguz, Ph.D. is the author of Rotura (Black Lawrence Press, 2022). His poetry and prose have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Poetry International, The Acentos Review, and Oxidant | Engine among other places. He is an Assistant Professor at Suffolk University where he serves as Editor-in-Chief of Salamander and is also a faculty member of the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program. He blogs and reviews books at The Friday Influence.
Twitter: @JoseAraguz https://twitter.com/josearaguz
Instagram: @poetryamano https://www.instagram.com/poetryamano/
Personal site: https://thefridayinfluence.com