I am talking about Poeta en San Francisco again, this week in Catherine Ceniza Choy’s class. I’ve been preparing a presentation that I am trying hard not to make overwhelmingly literary, as I realize this is an Ethnic Studies Department course, in which poetics, in which “the literary,” is part of the conversation, but certainly not privileged over discussion of historical, cultural, political themes.

Still, I can’t help but want this presentation to be about how my work is in response to, or in dialogue with so many other artists’ works. In addition to a rather extensive list of source texts (The Book of Revelation, Lorca, MurguĂ­a, Conrad, Williams, Pound, Eliot, Coppola), explanations of why I’ve tapped into each of these source texts, and works in dialogue or works in which I find intersection with Poeta (Jimmy Santiago Baca, Frances Chung, Craig Santos Perez, Suheir Hammad), I have this:

Some themes addressed in the work, operating in intersection with one another:

  • migration: immigration, transnationalism
  • home: place, geography, diaspora
  • language: etymology, multilingualism, translation, mimicry, code switching
  • imperialism
  • Western/American tourism, sex tourism
  • war
  • religion: Catholicism and indigeneity
  • feminism, woman body politics, patriarchy

Thing is, once these terms are there on the table, then what? I feel like I can name these things, and then rather than define terms with which the class ought to be familiar, or find examples in the work which I think are obvious, or discuss why these themes are important for my writing and/or for Filipino American literature, I feel I should simply open it up to discussion, have them tell me whether it’s important to them, and why.

I should also discuss San Francisco as the originary point or point  of departure and return, and as the point of convergence or collision, as a liminal place. Why start at the end of El Camino Real? Who is “she”? Who is “you”? Why the shifting she persona(e)? Why epistolary? Why prayer?

OK, I think I’ve worked it out. Hey, thanks for listening. You’ve been a big help.

Addendum: I also want to say that of course I am quite happy Poeta en San Francisco continues to be read and taught, particularly in a Filipino American narratives course, particularly by a Filipino American educator. Here’s hoping this teaching, reading, and discussion of Poeta continues and grows. Perhaps over time the text becomes less intimidating if only because its initial period of newness, shock, and awe is through. I think one thing we potentially fear in poetry is that after the initial flurries of attention given a newly released book of poems, a book can typically fall into obscurity, and/or readers lose interest in it, moving on to the next new hot thing.


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