Poet Of The Week

Karl Michael Iglesias

     January 23–29, 2023

Karl Michael Iglesias is a Puerto Rican actor, director and writer from Milwaukee, WI, who now resides in Brooklyn, NY. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, he is also the former creative director of the First Wave program under the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives. His poetry can be read in the Florida Review, RHINO, the Brooklyn Review, the Madison Review and the Hong Kong Review, to name a few. Karl is the author of the poetry chapbook CATCH A GLOW, available from Finishing Line Press. On Friday, January 27, he will be a featured poet along with Madeline Phillips at the Brooklyn Poets Friday Night Open.

Achilles

 

Pick up glass

one shard at a time. A rainbow-stained

once-was. I can’t believe my body

broke and again

due to negligence. How much

is it worth? I am aware

of the copay.

In the room with me

are stubborn fitness bands,

electronic stimulation coils

through pad and cable.

There is always

pain being attended to.

A deep breath before I open

the door and I have to pay

for my session beforehand

since I forgot twice already.

The junkyard starts

on the street and towers

behind barbed wire. There is what’s left

of a wine Hyundai Elantra hatchback

just like the one my mother drove. And I would

borrow after I reassured her. A tired muffler. Bearings

measured in miles.

Days of Our Lives is always on

after New York Live

but the assistants prefer the snap

of cricket. Groan of oak voices whispering Jesus

through a shoulder’s contention.

When do we fully recover? A poster explains arthritis

and the coolant is leaking. I returned

in a boot I shed two weeks prior.

And still need to heal.

Cowering metal. The car totaled

into a parking lot and the glass has aged to jade.

Is there any pain      here?

The physical therapist has nothing

to say so we break

eye contact. And the two balance

bars ask, What happened, you were doing

so good? All the tires deflated.

And the stationary bike rolls

its eyes at the incline ramp at my impatience.

The room is full of desperate

tendons. Tender parts

still good.

Proving. Still.

Good. Some

glass

breaks so

small it needs

to be swept. All

the receipts. All

tired.

God.

Tended.

 

Brooklyn Poets · Karl Michael Iglesias, "Achilles"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Last year was transformational in a lot of ways. In the summer of 2021, I ruptured my Achilles tendon, and I ruptured it again in the fall, requiring surgery. “Achilles” is a poem about human fragility. I wrote it during Jon Sands’s “Emotional Historians” workshop, exploring my route through a nearby junkyard on the way to my physical therapist. There is a prayer somewhere in this poem and a chapter with my relationship to humility.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am working on a new collection of poems that explores a more intimate reflection into my origins and discoveries in a new age of vulnerability. It’s some of my most personal work to date. I’m also working on a dance theater piece exploring the idea of “recovery” in which a number of my poems offer the narration.

What’s a good day for you?

Usually involves my partner, coffee, morning jazz, sunlight, my plants, water, my friends, a text from mom and a night of live music.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I came to NYC to be a part of the #BARS Workshop at the Public Theater and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I was able to stay on a fellow poet’s couch, who is a dear friend. It was six of us in a three-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. Eventually, most of the roommates moved out, leaving me in the same spot but now by myself.

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’m in my sixth year in my Ocean Hill neighborhood and I am still very much in love. I live near the Broadway Junction station which makes getting around and getting home very easy. I love my neighbors and have gotten to hear their stories and build relationships with them. They’ve made their way into my poems and they always watch out for my packages. It’s home to me. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen some of the children in the building grow up and our nearby park has been getting a much-deserved facelift. I recently experienced my first rent increase in four years, so I’m sure that is a sign of things to come as well.

I grew up in an inner-city neighborhood that was much smaller but very similar in spirit, grit and community, both in having suspicion of outsiders and a family eye for your neighbors.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I think my experiences being a teaching artist in schools across Brooklyn helped me get to know the county of Kings in an authentic way that only students can provide.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

Poetry community, to me, is recognizing each other as poets and seeing the deep historical, spiritual, academic and humanitarian importance to society that we all share. It can feel like a meeting of magical people when it does happen. In reality, poetry is just a means to gather, but the community has manifested in different ways by allowing spaces for particular groups to feel safe and seen. Poetry community is equity too—I can’t tell you how many poets have offered me knowledge and guidance on being a working artist, and even gigs. It’s the relationships that I’ve built within this large community that have drawn me into different spaces. Recently, reading series like SupaDupaFresh and Kan Ya Makan (both in Brooklyn) have felt like home to me.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Some notable influences: Biggie, Yasiin Bey, Lemon Andersen, Martín Espada, Jay Z (the GOAT).

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

My poetry mentors growing up were Dasha Kelly and Rafael Casal.

Other than constant guidance to this day and opening and even pushing me through some doors, Dasha introduced me to and gave me my foundations as a young spoken-word artist in storytelling and slam. Rafa instilled a work ethic, an ear for the musicality of poetry, and the intersection of verse and theater. Both of them give me so much to look up to even to this day.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I recently read Might Kindred by Mónica Gomery and I was mad inspired. So much play in her work, and her poetics radiate a desirable faith. Her poems are easy to believe in. Here are a couple bars that stood out. The first excerpt is a beginning and the second is an ending, showing how the poet has a knack for both.

From “Banishing Loneliness”:

I can’t sleep on spring mornings because the birds

plunge their throats into my mind and pull me up

toward the breaking of day. If I thought I was alone

I’d never get out of bed …

From “Emblanquecer”:

… Ask what we gambled

in order to thrive off the fingers

of children we claimed were not

our own children, ask what

does it mean if you can live

in a city for decades

without riding

the bus?

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I keep telling myself I’m going to read a book of Ocean Vuong poetry, but life keeps happening. I’ve read individual poems but none of the poet’s collections.

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?

I read things one at a time and from cover to cover. I’ve even been known to finish books of poems I don’t like with the hope that they would eventually get better. I jump between collections of poetry and plays. I don’t like taking notes in my books but I’ll keep some quotes and thoughts in a separate document. I prefer physical books if possible.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I want to explore sonnets more, and more dramatic sequences of poems. My background in performing Shakespeare has really opened up some possibilities for me. I’ve been playing more and more with poetic prose.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

My favorite place to read is the train. It makes for a meaningful use of commute time and I feel like I’ve instantly transported to my next stop. I like to write at home and in silence usually, but I don’t mind writing at a coffeeshop connected to or near a theater. There is an unprecedented amount of artistic energy at play in those spaces and it serves as a great pace car.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Brooklyn spaces I love:

C’mon Everybody—Very dope space for live music, dancing, DJing.
San German Records—A slice of home. Where you can walk out with a Puerto Rican flag, a tostonera and a dozen frozen pasteles.
Bembe—Great for music and dancing.
BRIC—Free art and resources.
BAM—Performance art.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden—Gorgeous for a walk and a little escape from the city.
All basketball courts.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the transition between love songs,

And what I can offer you is time, and time again. To listen.

For every note of me as good and every note to you on paper.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

In the mirror I tried to father

myself. In the mirror, I caught the pen

thrown, without cap, from a dodger

of the written word, off-the-top patron saint: Biggie.

And then, damn, in the mirror, was jack-

shit and from the beanstalk of Brooklyn

holds a humbling view.      Oh God, rob

me of my sin.

In the mirror I spread. In the mirror is love.

Why Brooklyn?

Brooklyn is the PLANET! One of the cultural epicenters of the world, rich in history and hip hop. I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.