Eduardo C. Corral introduces recordings by poets who create and encourage possibilities for others through their inquisitive teaching, their artistic commitment to mystery, or by being fully themselves. He celebrates Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s dedication to delight and surprise (“The Possibilities”), Bei Dao’s inscrutability for the way it affirms the human condition (“Landscape Over Zero”), and Francisco X. Alarcón’s generous spirit and embodiment of what a poet can look like (“Ode to Tomatoes”). To close, Corral reads his poem “To Francisco X. Alarcón,” delving into the impact this elder poet has had on his own writing life.
JULIE SWARSTAD JOHNSON:
[00:00:02.55] Thanks for joining us for this final episode in season four of Poetry Centered, the podcast where poetry lives. Each episode features recordings from Voca, the audiovisual archive of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, that documents nearly six decades of poets reading their work live in Tucson. I'm Julie Swarstad Johnson, here to say hello and get things started. Our guest host today is the poet Eduardo C. Corral, author most recently of Guillotine. His first book Slow Lightning won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. He teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, but he was born and grew up here in Arizona, just over an hour north of the Poetry Center, so it's especially sweet to welcome him today as our host.
[00:00:52.80] In this episode, Eduardo celebrates poets who encourage possibilities for others in widely different ways, through their teaching or their artistic commitment to mystery, or by being fully themselves. These poets are Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Bei Dao, and Francisco X. Alarcón. Eduardo, welcome. Thank you so much for hosting us today.
EDUARDO C. CORRAL:
[00:01:16.62] Eduardo C. Corral, Raleigh, North Carolina. "The Possibilities" by Beckian Fritz Goldberg, who read at the Center on February 2, 1994. Beckian was one of my first poetry instructors when I was an undergrad at Arizona State University. She was a marvelous professor, down to Earth, rigorous. She took delight, was delighted, when our poems really did wonderful things on the page. And she was equally delighted when our poems misfired, when they kind of fizzled. When they dazzled or when they fizzled, it didn't matter. She was delighted at our attempts, at our use of language. And that has stayed with me as a practicing poet and as an instructor in an MFA program. The word "delight" is also a word I think about when I read her work.
[00:02:16.02] "The Possibilities" was one of the first poems I read by her, and the language in that poem has stayed with me. Every time I hear a motorcycle, I think about her line, "the wild lung of a motorcycle." Come nightfall, when I'm stumbling around in my apartment, I often think of her line from this poem, "nearness in the dark is a kind of beauty." Her work never ceases to delight and surprise me. And that's so important, especially now in our world, to be delighted and surprised, to see that they work in tandem, to refresh our attention to the world, to refresh our attentiveness to ourselves, to those we love, even to those we disagree with. "The Possibilities" by Beckian Goldberg.
BECKIAN FRITZ GOLDBERG:
[00:03:09.16] I'm going to read tonight mainly from the second book, In the Badlands of Desire, and new work. I might throw in an oldie from Body Betrayer somewhere along the line. There's no narrative to this reading. I'm not into narrative right now. I'm going to open with the first poem In the Badlands of Desire right after this cool drink of water. The epigraph for the book is taken from a poem by Yehuda Amichai, and the poem is called "The Pain of Being Far Away" and the epigraph reads, "There are great longings, like someone who wakes up in a bed in which he didn't fall asleep."
[00:03:58.51] I liked finding that epigraph for the book because the Badlands of Desire is really not a geographical location. It is a book in which many of the speakers suffer a sense of dislocation, and that dislocation is temporal rather than geographical. So the Badlands is really a timescape more than a landscape. The first poem in the book is called "The Possibilities."
[00:04:38.12] After a wife's death, a man may talk to his horse with a great tenderness, as if just this morning he had tried on her pink slipper. And if he has no horse, he may crack his window a little wider when it lightly rains to confirm the roofs and trees are made of paper. If there is no rain, he may make himself a meal at midnight, sweet artichokes and Danish cheese, a glass of red wine. If there is no red, then white. He may suck the knife clean with his tongue. Later, lying awake, he may hear the wild lung of a motorcycle far off on a far road. If there is no motorcycle, a dog trying for any syllable in any known language. Something falling suddenly in the closet, according to some law. Nearness in the dark is a kind of beauty, though it is only the lampshade, a shoulder of a walnut chair. If there is no chair, then a shelf. A shelf of books with the devil's violet fedora tossed on top, or something exotic from the sea, manta ray, like the pulse in the ball of his foot. A man may walk 10 steps behind his life. It may be sorrow, or fear. He may see her back like two doves rushing up where a boy has flung a handful of pebbles. If no pebbles, leaves, where a masked prowler hunches, his belt of lock picks, his bag of velvet like the one from which memory snatches. These are the possibilities, the immaculate, like miracles, which are nothing in themselves. But in this world a sign of angels, ghosts, supernatural beings who watch us, who listen, who sometimes helplessly let us stumble on their pyramids, their crude observatories, or let us, generation after generation, speak to the broken horse of the human heart.
EDUARDO C. CORRAL:
[00:07:28.55] Landscape Over Zero by Bei Dao. Bei Dao read at the Poetry Center on March 3, 1999. Bei Dao reads the poem in Chinese, and Dennis Evans reads the English translation. Bei Dao is one of my favorite living poets. I love his imagery, his phrasing. In this poem, there's a line, "a door of weeping slams shut" which has stayed with me from the moment I read it. But another reason I love Bei Dao, and I returned to Bei Dao time and again, is because so often, I don't understand the lines. I don't quite get the resonance of the imagery. What's being said to me is lost between page and my ears, my mouth, my mind. At first, I found that frustrating. But then I came to understand that not knowing, of course, is part of the human condition. And Bei Dao is one of those poets where I feel enriched, comfortable, but not knowing exactly what's going on in each line, or in each image. I feel safe in that not knowing. I don't feel belittled. I don't feel lessened. I feel at ease not knowing what's going on in his work here and there. And that is so powerful for me as a reader, that not knowing becomes a nourishment. Here's Bei Dao reading Landscape Over Zero.
[00:09:14.79] Landscape Over Zero. It's hawk, teaching song to swim. It's song tracing back to the first wind. We trade scraps of joy, and her family from different directions. It's a father confirming darkness. It's darkness leading to that lightening of the classics. The door of weeping slams shut, echoes chasing its cry. It's a pen blossoming in lost hope. It's a blossom resisting the inevitable route. It's love's gleam waking to light up landscape over zero.
[00:10:01.49] [SPEAKING CHINESE]
EDUARDO C. CORRAL:
[00:10:44.45] "Ode to Tomatoes" by Francisco X. Alarcón, who read at the Poetry Center on February 7, 2008. I am a poet because poets like Francisco X. Alarcón wrote and published. I am here because Francisco X. Alarcón was in the world before I was. It was so important meeting him face to face at a conference at Arizona State University when I was an undergrad there, to see his body, which was familiar, which look like my uncle's, which looked like mine. To hear his voice, with his imperfect English but with his regal Spanish made me feel more comfortable about my voice, with my learning disability, the way I don't enunciate things as other people do. Hearing him, seeing him speak and answer questions, read his beautiful work, made me realize being a poet was a possibility for me. I am a poet because Francisco X. Alarcón was a poet. Here's Francisco X. Alarcón reading "Ode to Tomatoes."
FRANCISCO X. ALARCÓN:
[00:12:12.59] I wanted to see, I wanted to-- actually, I did a poem in this collection that to me, it was a poem that opened the door to a new life for me. I did this poem, a poem came out, and it's called "Ode to Tomatoes." I love tomatoes.
[00:12:28.91] Yeah? You know, today I had dinner at the Kingfisher and I ordered some fish, but when they said one of the ingredients was chipotle, I said, I have to have chipotle. For me, chipotles are important because it has tomato, and it has chili. And so this is my "Ode to Tomatoes." It says, Ode to tomatoes, they make friends anywhere. Reds, milds, and salads. Tender, young, and generous. Hot salsa dancers, round corners of the kitchen. Hard to imagine cooking without first asking their blessings.
[00:13:07.76] And after I did this poem, I decided to write poetry for children, because now I have four nieces and five nephews. They're about 3 months old to about 13 years old now, and I did not find too many books published in a bilingual format, in English, in Español. And so I did my first book after actually asking the publisher for four years, that I wanted to do a collection of poems. And they told me, poetry doesn't sell, Francisco, and bilingual poetry even less. And they had never done poetry, and they had never published bilingual poetry. But I insisted. I said, no, but it's important. There are millions of children in this nation that are bilingual, and we should be doing bilingual books for them. And so…
EDUARDO C. CORRAL:
[00:14:02.65] I want to read a poem titled, "To Francisco X. Alarcón" which appears in Guillotine, my second book, which was published in 2020. As I said earlier, Francisco X. Alarcón is a very important poet for me, for my career, for my path as a writer. And his language continues to shape my language. "To Francisco X. Alarcón." You made tomatoes laugh, and warned me some words die in cages. I met you first in the desert. You burned sage, greeted each of the four directions with plumed syllables. The ritual embarrassed me. Your stout body, your mysterious smile did not. You were familial. The first poem I wrote that sounded like me echoed your work. Copal, popote, tocayo, cacahuate. You taught me Spanish as a colonial tongue. Some Mesoamerican elders believed there's a fifth direction, not the sky, or the ground, but the person right next to you. I'm turning to face you, maestro. I am greeting you. Tahui.
JULIE SWARSTAD JOHNSON:
[00:15:40.80] Eduardo, thank you again for celebrating the many ways poets can open up possibilities for others through their work. Listeners, thank you for sharing this time with us. We do hope that the show is opening up creative possibilities for you. This is the last episode in season four, which means we'll be taking a break for the rest of this year. While you wait for new episodes, we hope you'll check out voca.arizona.edu where you can explore our full archive of more than 1,000 recordings of poets reading their work here in Tucson.
[00:16:13.68] The archive is free and available to you wherever you are. Thank you again to all of our hosts this season, and a special thanks to my colleague, Diana Marie Delgado, who's a huge force behind making this show possible. We hope you're doing well out there, and we'll look forward to being with you again in 2022.
DIANA MARIE DELGADO:
[00:16:32.67]: Poetry Centered is a project of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, home to a world class library collection of more than 80 thousand items related to contemporary poetry in English and English translation. Located on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, the Poetry Center library and buildings are housed on the indigenous homelands of the Tohono O'odham people. Poetry Centered is the work of Diana Marie Delgado, that's me, and Julie Swarstad Johnson, with support from
DIANA MARIE DELGADO:
Explore Voca, the Poetry Center's audiovisual archive online at voca.arizona.edu