Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Lourdes Figueroa : Process Note #25

The 'process notes' pieces were originally solicited by Maw Shein Win as addendum to her teaching particular poems and poetry collections for various workshops and classes. This process note by Lourdes Figueroa is part of her curriculum for her class at the University of San Francisco in their MFA in Writing Program.



Process Note by Lourdes Figueroa for the Chapbook Vuelta-to revolt, to return, to revoltijo, to revolución, to transform.



Process note as lung to throat/ to tongue to spit/to river currents to poem/ as an inclination toward the overwhelming quest of what the gut wants/ a cascade of thought/ as if we are/ the rio/ & the rio ends & begins her mouth at the mouth of the ocean

                                                              how was it? that we were seeking the prodigal language?
                                                              as soon as the wet of the mouth became text
                                                              where exactly did the mystery begin?

in 2020 right before the pandemic became a pandemic I began writing in pieces
fragments at a time in the same way my mind seems
to fumble with the memory of world entering me these days

whenever I could jot down a note or two I would
I had started to lose motivation for my committed writing hours

I found find myself walking Polk Street all the way to her end/ to the ocean/ over and over again/witnessing a world shut down & become an unveiling of sorts/ things got more & more quiet it seemed apocalyptic in my world

& I say my world bc the world had already been ending somewhere else
so I would linger with what was ruminating in my intestines as I went up
down the street passing the Tenderloin passing Nob Hill trying to language it/ some way

only to find myself in memories of hot summers of la pisca or an empty
I would get home only to be able to read a line or a stanza of a poem
from whomever poet was in my heart that day

I would mumble & murmur to myself up & down the street or while washing dishes or looking at the bamboo moving with the breeze outside my apartment window watching day become night & night become day

I did this over & over again day after day sometimes I couldn't even conjure text
the memory of alfalfa in my nostrils

there would be a lump in my throat/ thinking of my mother working all shifts at the clinic in Woodland/all the un named brown & black bodies piling around you & I

& sometimes there would be nothing/nothing in me or in us

                                                              & George Floyd was a name for all un named
                                                              black bodies

then Vuelta began/after spring became summer
she began as a commitment to the poem/ the very act of being verb/ she becoming
a sort of a voluptuous garden that I was watering & eating from/ her legs wide open

the intention was to come home/to lay my head b/w her legs/ her hand on the back of my head/ her fingers deep in my hair/ my most ancient & truest form

Vuelta was a womxn where I knew I could lovingly come to/ take off my clothes for her/sit on her lap/ satisfy her & leave her be/only to day dream about the lip gloss on her lips/her soft axila smell on my body when I was away from her

I looked forward to her nightly daily at dawn in the 3am/ she was all mine/ tender verse
her lovely hips & lips/her kind miel colored eyes/she was sacred in all the ways I couldn't foretell/it was like I was bending down/picking up dirt naming her earth                                                                              asking her

                                                   ¿que somos? ¿porque es asi? ¿porque todo fue así?

why was she kissing all my horrific parts? everything I thought had decayed
                                         she nibbling at my chest                                                  

                                                   you see the poem is warm & raw
                                                   in the same way when we severed heads & turned them
                                                   toward the body so they could see themselves right before
                                                   they closed their eyes to die

& like river currents tend to do/ follow each other one after the other disappearing into one another/I would follow the sway of her torso/ the line & sound leading me to the next/ each informing the previous & what was to come next/she all the while sucking on my earlobe/ like every revolution & all the left over letters the lovers left as they walked away toward the sun set

                                                   all these love notes are all sorts of attempts toward a collective memory          

her hands are small/ a little smaller than mine/her pinky resembles mine/I wonder
how many womxn she has held
                                                   how many did it take to unravel in the erotic? how long did it take                                                       for the erotic to unravel you for you to say I love you
                                                    bc the erotic reveals the primordial mystery

the poem is deeply personal like everything else/ deeply erotic when it all begins to enter/she was all Lilith flowers w/ moist tips

                                                   for the longest time we thought we were confusing the body w/the poem                                                         but all along it was poem that new it was body
                                                   breaking the fourth wall making us all be so intimate

& as I write these notes to you/ about how Vuelta was an attempt to make the longest love poem/like the rest of godxxs verbs/ a reincarnation of all the poets over & over again/an act of remembrance when in fact el rio remembers nothing/I am realizing that this is why you are so holy/ like land sea & sky
                                                   bc you see the form of this poem began at your first attempts
                                                   to utter figuring the twist of lip & tap of tongue to form speak

& as I write this there is a loop on repeat/ it repeats itself in the same way all text that never was song & all song that was never text/ a Fibonacci of sorts I grab verse from this & that poem mostly leftovers from the fogginess of a dream that I thought I once wrote

                                                   you see the poem mumbles to herself
                                                   she is a loop that watches herself beginning at the same place
                                                   we doom & save ourselves
                                                   bc she has gone on forever

I'm big on using your own sound/ that which comes from your deepest insides/sweet sounds from our breathing chests/the communities that built our tongues to language

I celebrate the vernacular & that which is considered imperfect 'english' or whatever  'imperfect' language it may be so long it is the colloquial/ so long as it is the we in the eye

I celebrate the spelling of a word as one hears it & speaks it/the phonetics of the lung to world to outer to inner to outer is uniquely you & also a uniquely form of 'we' (meaning all of those that taught you to put your sound into words)

these things of sweet sounds from our breathing chests demand to be read out loud
                                         & Vuelta repeats to herself

                                                              dame las vueltas de tu corazón/las voy a poner
                                                              en la plaza del pueblo para que sepamos
                                                              que el cuerpo es el pueblo/aquí la hora de amar

the poem in its most raw form is the body humping/ by that I mean the entirety of everything that has made us has brought us to this point where we have the capacity to articulate & point our mouths towards the mystery however dark or light it is the entire cuerpo that is the cosmos everything in us & outside of us is articulating thy self


on behalf of love: 
because the idea of poem reflects onto itself like the light that glistens on a spider web in an old migrant camp room at magic hour & disappears into the body of a people, it does what it does regardless of the language, asking what's this? what's life? which one is this one?
                                                                        In La Kech, I say unto you my dear beloved.


the thing is you turned left passed the corner where the blue casita was/ I couldn't see you once you were in the alleyway/ the street was cobblestones & the night a full moon exhaling a fog of sorts/ but I could still hear your footsteps/your high heels echoing lonely/ & suddenly the corner was curls of cigarette smoke/ but everything was a Lilith flower at that point & the night breeze was wet


estabamos en el fondo del mar/todo se escuchaba igual cuando estabamos adentro del utero
                                                                                  ¿te acuerdas?
I covered your skin with delicate assuming breath like the kind that fogs around like bees do
around a very sweet bloom        


                                                              "the poem ends as soft as it began--"
                                                                         from Langston Hughes' Weary Blues




Lourdes Figueroa is an oral chicanx queer poet. Her poems are a dialogue of her lived experience when her family worked in el azadón in Yolo County. The words el azadón are used by the ones who work in the fields — the work of tilling the soil under the blistering sun. Lourdes has worked in the Bay Area as a family case manager serving immigrant families, domestic violence survivor advocate, housing advocate, interpreter, translator, & community organizer. She is the author of the chapbooks Ruidos = To Learn Speak, & most recent Vuelta with Nomadic Press. Lourdes is a recipient of the Nomadic Press Literary Award in Poetry selected by emeritus SF poet laureate Kim Shuck. Her poem Pieces from Yolotl was nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2022 by Quiet Lightning.

Lourdes continues to channel the poem in long form through the body. Every act of word is sacred — sacred movement— an extension from the very cosmos that continue to form our lungs, our throats, our vagus nerve. The act of poem is more ancient than we realize, it is within our very being that finally has the capacity to ask — what is this thing that asks what's this? what's life? To work with the poem is to be in the very act of reclamation that we belong to each other. Lourdes' poem wobbles alongside the axis of pachama's tongue & the solar praxis of the heart. Attempting to offer a series of revelations of a morphed transcendent love that occurs after the horrific, the brutal. Excavating from the personal— growing up in small towns in California as her family migrated from town to town to work en el azadón, Lourdes seeks to offer a mirror of love gazing back at us— remaking certain Mexican folklore entities that were used to haunt us in our youth & deities to our queer likeness. Specifically drawing from Aztec, Mayan Deities, & the song of Mesopotamian priestess Enheduanna she embraces the prodigal tongue— the deep wound it took for you to arrive.

The work is constantly in movement, it is the stink of el azadón, the queer in el azadón, the femicides worldwide, it has everything to do with the food we all eat, our madre tierra, everything to do with la x on our bodies and el nopal on our foreheads. Quite honestly it is a life in poems in constant conversation with each other. Like the descendants of the nopal, they are the ancient un/remembered human heart. What inspired her to write was and is survival. Lourdes lives and works in Oakland/Ohlone unceded tierra. A native of limbo nation, Lourdes continues to believe in your lung and your throat.

Social Media Handles & where to buy chapbook:
Purchase Vuelta @:
Instagram: @lfigueroa1980
Facebook: @LourdesFigueroa
    @ Las Marimachas de LaBahia
Link Tree:

Maw Shein Win’s most recent poetry collection is Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Omnidawn) which was nominated for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN America Open Book Award, and shortlisted for CALIBA’s Golden Poppy Award for Poetry. Win's previous collections include Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press) and two chapbooks Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). Win’s Process Note Series features poets and their process. She is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito, CA and teaches poetry in the MFA Program at the University of San Francisco. Win often collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and other writers and was recently selected as a 2023 YBCA 100 Honoree. Along with Dawn Angelicca Barcelona and Mary Volmer, she is a co-founder of Maker, Mentor, Muse, a new literary community.

rob mclennan : Theophylline: an a-poretic migration via the modernisms of Rukeyser, Bishop, Grimké (de Castro, Vallejo), by Erín Moure

Theophylline: an a-poretic migration via the modernisms of Rukeyser, Bishop, Grimké (de Castro, Vallejo), Erín Moure
House of Anansi Press, 2023




Listening. The patter of voices elsewhere in the house. In the Room, the three women American modernist poets whose works/voices I have chosen to open myself to: all have in some way a relation to elsewheres. Thus translation. An elsewhere of nearly forbidden light:

To expose my Being to their voices in the Wood and Light of the Room. We say we are hearing a ‘Voice’ but is it not the Breath making this Voice, and who can breathe? who speak? who listen? I breathe and listen: how and with what Text or Articulation will I Respond?

All three poets have made migrations, are formed by elsewhere they touched or inhabited, and each has been marked as ‘questionable’ in some way—gender, sexuality, race—by the socius in and through which they vanish and appear.

Over nine days in the Room, I try to discern the forms (what’s still), grasp the contrasting shapes (what moves) in the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, Elizabeth Bishop and Angelina Weld Grimké. In the United States of America in 2017 at Harvard in the Woodberry Poetry Room, I arrive across a border to apprehend an American poetry of the 20th century as a translator might approach works in another tongue.

To extend English from a foreign English, and a foreign time.
To attune to a minor language (Kafka, Deleuze). To listen. Breathe.

Then I didn’t write anything new in poetry for over three years.

The latest from Montreal-based translator, poet and critic Erín Moure is the expansive Theophylline: an a-poretic migration via the modernisms of Rukeyser, Bishop, Grimké (de Castro, Vallejo) (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2023), a collection that achieves a remarkable balance of referential complexity and linear clarity, writing on and through the threads of three other poets. Moure focuses on, around and through the interconnected writing and lives of modernist poets Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) and Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958), as much to speak of them as on the act of translation, a notion of fluidity that emerges from that single and mutable point of perspective, offering the distances of certain offerings that are wildly outdated, and others clearly offered years before such might be possible. “Even though a woman, a lover of women, a Jew, a single mother are conditions encumbered by prejudice and misogyny in America,” Moure writes, “Rukeyser can assume the rostrum. Wind in her hair. She steps off the plane in Barcelona, in Hanoi. She clears her throat and looks outward.” Moure’s migration begins with an opening of grief, a distance from her own writing and a deep dive into the archive; it begins with a cough, and a wheeze, as she worked through the Woodberry Poetry Room, her opening notes dated April 17, 2017. There is an echo of American poet Susan Howe’s prose through Moure’s explorations, exploring the archive and seeking narrative threads on literary construction and creation, comparable as well to those essay-poems of such as Barry McKinnon and Phil Hall, but with a far more expansive canvas and deeper complexity. Moure threads the lyric through narratives of these poets, their approaches and decisions, and how they lived their lives and their work.

This is a book simultaneously on the act of translation, the works of these three modernists and of asthma, writing of queer bodies and breath, sexism, racism and female histories, all the shared and discrete threads of otherness that permeates both her own perspectives and the perspectives and responses of the three poets she focuses on. As well, Moure is fully aware of her own perspectives, referencing her frustration that there are no audio recordings of Angelina Weld Grimké’s readings or voice:

Will some future bring Grimké into the archive of a Poetry Room, she and other women of the Harlem Renaissance, into the publicly available? ‘Poetry’ ‘Room’ ‘Archive’? What even are these words? Will we hear their voices? They are already always there. Will the archive itself shift and break so they are audible?

Angelina Weld Grimké in this book appears inevitably in the pattern of my voice, which is no voice. A white voice. I have no other.

I’m fascinated by how Moure works to articulate the act of translation, as she describes it as something that exists in motion, as opposed to a fixed point: a living, breathing entity that exists within its own time and space. And she, as translator, operating at the compositional consideration of attempting a single moment from a particular perspective at a particular time. Even for the same translator to attempt to translate a single work a year earlier or a year later might result in a variation. As she offers as part of her section around, on and through the work and life of Elizabeth Bishop: “The desire that utterances exist in a language other than that in which they are created: translation. In the body, an awareness of where in the mouth a particular language is spoken. Between languages, form is not still.” A bit further on, she adds:

Translations age and need redoing (as they are readings, and readings are always contemporary), whereas texts, on aging, simply gather exegesis. Exegesis is reverence, points to the eternal. Translation is a cut in time, and its texts bleed time and are often later discarded, bled out. Its perpetuity falls away. It is not naïve. Black Brazilian culture born of forbidden speech has today long outlived Bishop’s gaffe.

I recently caught an episode of David Steinberg’s 2012-2015 series Inside Comedy that interviewed American comedian Chris Rock, who offered a similar perspective on the temporality of comedy: “Comedy rots,” he said. In many ways, Theophylline: an a-poretic migration via the modernisms of Rukeyser, Bishop, Grimké (de Castro, Vallejo) is simultaneously a book of mothers, and a shortness of breath; a book on culture, a difficult breathing, and the mutability of language as culture evolves; how easily the landscape of cultural modes of thinking become outdated, and others emerge. And of course, Moure’s hetronym, her alternate (even, translated) self, the wry and sly troublemaker Elisa Sampedrín, offering lyric and commentary in a way that perhaps Moure herself could not, providing this lyric as part of the section on and around Angelina Weld Grimké and her work:

Elisa Sampedrín

Where would I take decidability
if weary were a game I

could stop reviling?
Delirious in fields and

pondered by grasses, amid
timothy’s green-grey feathers,

as if I were lying down every day
in my very creature

not abstract as endeavour but pure

or sexonym or synonym

For life?





rob mclennan's latest poetry title is World’s End, (ARP Books).



Stan Rogal : A Review of Sorts





I had made up my mind to write a review of a certain book of poems. More accurately, I had an inclination toward such an endeavour. Why an inclination rather than a firm decision? I had second thoughts. I had doubts. I had a discomforting feeling of dread deep down in the pit of my stomach. Why? Some amount of blame (and no small amount, I should add, as it arose in me as the initial response and subsequent major impasse) was the fault of my mother, who told me repeatedly as a child: if you don’t have anything good to say about something or someone, don’t say anything at all. Hm.

Well, I did have something good to say, I think, though mostly — truth be told — it was more bad comments that I had gathered as notes on a scrap of blank paper. I mean, even couched in the present-day, culturally sensitive jargon of “objective/constructive criticism,” and “what worked and what didn’t work so well,” it would be clear to any reasonably sharp reader of average intelligence that the review (should it be written and ever appear in print) of the book, would come across as mostly — why pull any punches or beat around the proverbial bush? call a fig a fig, a spade a bloody shovel — [perhaps wholly, even] bad.

          And how did I come about obtaining this particular collection of poems [for need of a concocted title in order to protect the identities of those involved and spare embarrassment to all and sundry, let’s call the book “The Imaginary ______” whatever [[not to be mistaken for “The Imaginary Invalid” — “Le Malade Imaginaire” — (though dealing with a similarly tragic theme and the close personal relationship of the writer to that theme), a three-act comédie-ballet written by the French playwright Moliere with dance sequences and musical interludes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, premiered in 1673 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, originally choreographed by Pierre Beauchamp, which was, by all accounts, superb]] in the first place, one might curiously inquire. Well, I discovered it quite accidentally as I browsed among a small selection of Canadian poetry at my local BMV. The title rang a bell and I picked it up and read the blurbs, which were, naturally, stellar, and penned by notable writers, who shall, likewise, remain anonymous for the purpose: “In the true tradition of the surrealists, so-and-so’s voice captivates with calculated understatement, with the said as much as the unsaid, and with startling imagery.” “Poetry that deals with the tireless capacity of the human spirit to love, hope, & succeed, despite impossible obstacles.” There was also a gold sticker on the cover indicating that the book (hence, the poet) had won a recent major literary prize.

How could I pass up an opportunity like this? A chance to read an award-winning Canadian poetry book at a reduced cost. I purchased the used copy.

          I read the poems in a single sitting. Then, as part of due diligence (as well as wanting to see if I missed anything of importance), I searched the internet and perused a few reviews and articles. They were fairly typical in that they dealt largely with the subject matter of the book and the poet’s personal relation to that specific subject matter, the main thrust being: how an individual overcomes tragedy and grief in a given situation*. There was very little comment about the actual skills of writing and I wondered: whatever happened to “art for art’s sake” and concentration on the techniques, form and style of poetry? Not extinct, I thought, but rare.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the subject matter of the book at hand. In fact, I believe it to be totally worthwhile and topical, which would cover the “good” part of my, as-yet-unrealized, review, I guess — thanks mom! — though I did take a moment and considered: is it enough for a writer to simply (that is, perform a journeyman’s job of an adequate and understandable quality; stick to the rules; don’t trip over the furniture) to reveal their own personal connection to the subject matter, to describe their own tragedy, pain and self-realizations — the what apart from the how of the fetish object, i.e.: the book — in order to receive accolades and awards?   

I mean, if I was to write a review of my own, I’d want to say that the poems are, as a rule, straight narrative prose pieces broken into short lines [one reviewer mentioned the use of “enjambment,” which is, quite simply, the elimination of punctuation at the end of line breaks, which fits my above-stated evaluation, and renders the term “enjambment” rather irrelevant as a literary technique, in this case, since all of the poems are comprised of run-on sentences with punctuation placed where necessary and obvious. Had the usage been more complex (more poetic), enjambment would serve to break with one’s expectations of where a line should end, creating a different feel to a poem, which is nowhere to be found within this collection].

Further, the poems have an overuse of similes, are rife with clichés, with many examples of “furrowed brows,” “beads of sweat,” “knitted hands” and people constantly moving about either “gingerly” or “furtively” through the landscape. In terms of “startling imagery,” an example such as “her hips grew like wildfire across a dry prairie” struck me as more confusing than startling, plus, there’s a predilection toward anthropomorphising to no clear intent beyond cheap theatrics: “The moon sat in the branches of a tree / jeering at my plight / like some demented jack-o-lantern.”

When I mentioned my intention to a friend, I was reminded that the book had been supplied with blurbs and reviews that were no less than glowing, written by established and recognized writers, and that it had been judged by a field of experts, and awarded a grand literary prize, so, who was I and what was I hoping to prove: that the emperor has no clothes? Ha! Bon chance. There was also the persistent echo of my mother’s words in my ear. Of course, my mother — may she rest in peace — also told me to wear clean underwear every day in case I get struck by a car and ended up in hospital, and to scrub behind my ears otherwise I’d be growing a fine crop of potatoes, which may have been sage advice to a child, but hardly the stuff that falls into the camp of astute literary acumen.

Still, she had a point.

Then there’s the politics of writing a bad review of someone’s work when you’re also a writer. Though, maybe I’m in a similar situation to that philosophical problem that asks: if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Meaning, am I an actual writer, with a voice, if I don’t have a publisher? Do I make a sound apart from the click of the keypad, and beyond the four walls of my rat-infested garret? Does anyone hear me? Does anyone care? Maybe, which raises the possibility that if I was — for whatever bizarre motivation — rash enough to write the review, and if, indeed, it did somehow manage to get published, I would surely leave myself open to all variety of serious recriminations, repercussions, and accusations of jealousy and sour grapes, as well as threat of physical harm, from certain folks within the literary community. Especially those involved and specifically named in the review. After all, we are, at bottom, a sensitive and highly insecure group.

So, how can I, in all good conscience, and without consideration for my own personal safety and well-being (not to mention the very real fear that both me and my work will be ostracized and rejected out-of-hand from this moment on), write a review of this book? It’s obvious, I can’t. And I won’t. Instead, I leave it up to the unknown reader to experience this book (and others of similar ilk) themselves, and arrive at their own carefully considered conclusions: well-intended, well-constructed, well-presented, or merely another soap bubble, set afloat, catching the light, sparkling for a brief instant, set to burst at the first rude finger prick, reveal itself as transparent, insubstantial, and — ultimately — empty: c’est ça!

I leave the final appraisal(s) in their capable hands. 


* Not that I have an issue, generally, with the subject matter of a poem or poems, or the poet’s close relationship to the subject matter, just that I expect the writing itself to attempt to approach the weight and intensity of said subject matter, especially if it’s imbued with personal, highly emotional content. As my pal Charles Bukowski said, the poems, the words, require “juice” to lift them off the page and bring them to life. Read Plath. Read Sexton. Read Berryman. Read Ito. Hell, listen to Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. Check out Moliere. The list goes on and on. There are touchstones, past and present.





Stan Rogal — along with his artist partner and their pet jackabee — operates out of the small hamlet commonly known as Torawna, just west of The Hammer. He is the alleged author of a handful of books, plus several chapbooks (some of which were published by above/ground press, thanks!) An autodidactic intellectual classicist [reformed]. Speaks semi-fluent English and controversial French. Also: personal confessor, truth teller, and psychic investigator — no job too small, cheap rates, call now for a free estimate.

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