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11.07.07

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Interpreter of Realities: Poet and translator Ralph Angel, winner of the 2007 PEN award for poetry, reads Tuesday in Capitola.

Ralph Angel Gets Real

The PEN Award-winning poet talks about the creative process as he heads to Santa Cruz.

By Denise Vivar


Many artists, when asked about their process, will cite discipline to their craft as the key to their success. Showing up. Putting pen to paper, fingers to fret board, hand to brush and nose to the grindstone.

Ralph Angel, the 2007 recipient of the esteemed PEN award for poetry, describes the process of making art as paying attention to one's reality. "My 'process', as you call it, is really about attentiveness to what is happening around me. I really only have two tools to work with—language and my reality," he says.

This attentiveness is Angel's conduit to his subconscious, from which the golden slivers of his lyricism flow, at least on a good day.

"Some days I write nothing at all. I am not deliberate in my writing, but as lines come to me I write them down," he says. "There is a certain clarity in immediacy. And if they don't reveal anything to me about myself then I throw it away... Dexterity with language is not enough. Poetry as craft is not enough."

True art, he maintains, is about revelation of the self, which can be quite uncomfortable. If one is really mindful, one's "treacheries, biases, prejudices—things you try to hide from the world—are revealed, which is probably why there aren't more artists," he says.

As such, Angel considers art an act of faith. He puts forth his work and hopes that he is making contact with another human being, never knowing if he's succeeded.

Nevertheless, Angel has had a number of literary awards bestowed upon him in addition to the PEN—including a Pushcart Prize, the Willis Barnstone Poetry Translation Prize, a Gertrude Stein Award, and a Fulbright Foundation fellowship, to name a few.

One of his recent contributions to the world of poetry is a translation of Federico García Lorca's Poem of the Deep Song. Angel doesn't consider himself a translator but was so taken by the poet's early work, which pays homage to a rustic form of flamenco, that he began studying Lorca's oeuvre. Out of this love Angel wrote the first full English translation of Deep Song. "Translating is humbling work," Angel says. "Essentially you are making it possible for other writers to write translations from your work."

Angel's books of poetry include: Exceptions and Melancholies: Poems 1986-2006; Anxious Latitudes, Neither World, which received the 1995 James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; and Twice Removed. His work has appeared in scores of magazines and anthologies, both here and abroad. Angel is also the Edith R. White Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of the Redlands. He appears tonight at Capitola Book Café courtesy of Poetry Santa Cruz.


RALPH ANGEL appears with Santa Cruz poet Alta Ifland at Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Avenue, Capitola, on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7:30pm.


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