July 30–August 5, 2018
Ariel Francisco is the author of All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017) and Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016). Born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents, he completed his MFA at Florida International University in Miami. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2016, Gulf Coast and elsewhere. He lives in East New York. This summer, he read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series at the NYC Poetry Festival with Analicia Sotelo and Angel Nafis.
Paul Celan Floated in the Seine for Eleven Days Before He Was Found
A golden shovel after an underlined passage from Friedrich
Hölderlin’s biography that Celan had open on his desk at
the time of his death.
Sometimes spring brings no change, sometimes
the air’s heaviness sieves into this
life little by little until even the genius
mechanism of our hearts goes
tired and torrid and dark,
slowing like footsteps approaching shore and
staring into the water. All thought drowns
eventually, whether in-mind or in
the shallows; the
strange patience of our bodies, bitter
under the sun’s constant passage. A deep well
with his splintered bucket of
dried hope lying at its depth, his
last empty draw. Does this explain your heart?
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Well, I think the title and epigraph are pretty self-explanatory. I came across this information while reading the intro to Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan and thought it was wild. I love Celan and have read a lot of his work in different translations but never knew this fact. I enjoy invoking writers that I love in my own poems to try and engage with them. I thought it would be interesting to use the Hölderin line for the golden shovel, to both engage with Celan and the final words that he engaged with, maybe trying to conjure up some more magic. It’s also a poem from my second manuscript, A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship, which concerns itself a lot with climate change and rising seas, so I found myself reaching out to the works of writers that died by or near water somehow.
What are you working on right now?
I just sent off my second book (fingers crossed) and just finished a manuscript in translation of my dad’s poems, which I’m looking to find a home for as well. I’m getting the ball rolling on a couple more translation projects of Dominican poets, and very slowly working on a book of Cowboy Bebop poems.
What’s a good day for you?
It’s not too hot out. I don’t have to work so I can sleep in. I Grubhub some breakfast at noon. Oh, what’s this? The books I ordered came in the mail sooner than expected, nice! I’ll probably spend the whole day reading and writing, then grab a beer with some friends in the evening.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Well, I’d been trying to get up to New York for a few years, and everything just kinda lined up this year. I got into Queens College for an MFA in translation, my aunt had a vacancy in one of the rooms she rents out here in East New York … so fuck it, right? I have a ton of friends out here too, and it seems more of them are moving to Brooklyn every day. It’s kind of awesome.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’ve only been in East New York since May. I like it so far though, especially since I’m walking distance from the train and a really dope Dominican spot (they give you like twelve pounds of food for $5, it’s wild). It’s mostly quiet, people going to and from work, even late at night. The other neighborhoods I’ve lived in have all been in Florida for the most part, so there’s really no comparison to make. I love not having to drive and being able to walk to places. It’s really put me in a much more positive mental space.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I’m on a late-night 4 heading to New Lots, it’s about midnight. The man sitting across from me is dead asleep with a salad in his lap. The train pulls up to Pennsylvania (Brownsville/East New York) and he startles awake, throwing his salad everywhere! He starts to pick it up and says, “Damn, I was supposed to get off at Crown Heights, where am I?”—salad still everywhere. I tell him where he is and he laughs and says, “Damn, I’m gonna be late for work,” then gets off the train, smiling, to cross to the other side and head back the eight or so stops he overshot by.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Oh, I love it. I’ve definitely found that here. It exists in Brooklyn pretty visibly and I’ve found it very welcoming, outside of the friends I already had here. Like I said, I moved here in May and have already given five readings and people have reached out to me about doing more already. There’s so much going on, I really love it.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Aside from Biggie? Well, I’m going through the Brooklyn Poets roster and maybe this is a cheat pick but it’s gotta be Philip Levine. His body of work is something I’m constantly coming back to. Every time I reread him I find something new that sparks a poem out of me. I’m waiting on his collected poems to drop so I can keep it in my bag at all times.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I was fortunate enough to complete my undergrad and MFA at the same university (FIU) which has two of the best poets writing today. Denise Duhamel was my first poetry teacher. I’ve been studying and learning from her for almost ten years. She’s really fantastic and enabled me to really engage with the “I” of my poems and not be afraid to pull from my personal experiences and memories. There’s a lot of power that comes from having a consistent speaker in one’s poems. The work as a whole becomes kind of a personal historical document in a way, which I find really interesting. I learned this from Campbell McGrath as well, along with freely invoking the work of the poets who have influenced me (I have many poems titled “Reading So-and-so at … ,” something I picked up from him, feeling he granted me permission—not that I needed it, but he showed me it was possible). And of course, reading the poets Campbell brought up in his work showed where he actually learned it from, which is pretty wonderful. It’s kind of like tracing your poetic/stylistic lineage. For example, Campbell has a poem that invokes James Wright, whom I then read and learned to love, but also realized Wright has a poem invoking Po Chu-I, who in turn has poems invoking many other poets and writers.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez is absolutely fantastic. Those poems flex in a way we rarely see. It’s definitely a book I hope everyone gets their hands on.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I spent two years between undergrad and grad school working at my university’s library. I would run up to the third floor and grab as many poetry books as I could and read them during my shift. I’m done reading things people think I should read, I’m not trying to be a minion of the canon or what “academics” think should be read. If I want to read something, I get my hands on it and I read it. I love discovering new poetry and reading new things, but that’s a little different than what the question is asking. There’s nothing I’ve been meaning to read that I haven’t.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
My reading process has become an extension of my writing process. It’s all connected. Nothing gets my writing going like reading. I often read many books at once, though I always read cover to cover. New poetry books I’ll usually read in one sitting. I always have a rotation of a new book or two and revisiting a couple of books I really love. As for planning in advanced or discovering at random, it’s a little bit of both. I love taking notes and writing down good quotes but I do it in my notebook. I absolutely hate writing in books. I don’t begrudge anyone for doing it, but I can’t. It feels borderline sacrilegious. I know that sounds dramatic, but poems are such visual objects too, on the page. I don’t like to mess that up (but like, do you). Here’s what I’m reading now, or at least what I’m carrying around in my backpack:
A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright
Poesía Completa by Jacques Viau Renaud
Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962–1972 by Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Yvette Siegert
The Carrying by Ada Limón
Poesía Completa by René del Risco Bermúdez
Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
A Spanish-to-English dictionary (so I can translate on the train when my reception sucks)
Yes, I do actually carry this many books around all the time. Yes, my back hurts.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I really want to write longer poems. Like, ten-plus pages. But I’ve taken the very stupid approach of trying to do it little by little; starting with one-page poems, then two-page poems, then three-page poems, etc. I can’t get past three, which makes sense. Longer poems need to be built differently; they need a different structure than these shorter poems. I’ve been using the wrong blueprints, so to speak. I need to revisit Li-Young Lee’s The City in Which I Love You and get my shit together.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
This will probably sound clichéd as a relatively new New Yorker, but I really love reading and writing on the train. I feel it’s the most productive I could possibly be, because I’m reading and writing while I’m commuting. It’s like magic. As someone who’s spent all of their adult life as a slave to commuting by car (obligatory fuck you to Miami), it’s a real blessing.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the Livonia stop on the L late at night. I’m there all the time and I don’t think I’ve seen another person there at night. It’s always super eerie but weirdly comforting. It’s a good place to think. I also really like the North Pole Pub. I found it randomly just looking for a spot to read and write. They were showing the group stage games of the World Cup and everyone in there was rooting for Croatia, even back then. Don’t let these other poser spots fool you.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate everyone,
And what I celebrate you should too,
For every person I see in me as good as in you.
It’s pretty cool.