I guess I have to dredge my blog once again, as I am supposed to be writing a poetics essay for a new poetics journal coming out of (I think) University of Akron. It’s timely then, that Eileen Tabios has been writing about Kapwa poetics, and has written up my chapbook Easter Sunday for Galatea Resurrects, after reading it through a kapwa lens.
(To review, kapwa is Tagalog for kindred, fellow, or shared humanity. It’s a Philippine indigenous psychology term discussed by Katrin de Guia in her book entitled Kapwa, which I actually ended up not liking at all. Still, this does not mean I am not interested in the concept and practice of it as a community artist.)
So I am thinking about what I have been calling “we poetics,” as something operating in Diwata, though I don’t believe I was conscious of it at the time; I previously wouldn’t have articulated it that way. But Diwata‘s speaker is invested in a “we,” and she embodies a “we,” in that she is a vessel and conveyor of historical and community wisdom. If a storyteller is a bridge, between what and whom is she a bridge? She exists then in relation to others; I do not want to say she is a mouthpiece of others. This doesn’t jibe with my poetics or my activism, to speak for others, to be a voice for the voiceless. This too easily translates into “she speaks and so others don’t have to,” or it can easily be enacted as such, in spite of her intentions. Her intentions, in my book, are to speak and sing the story so to bring people together, so to remind them why they come together, what makes them a community.
There’s a continuity, a long legacy to her storytelling; the skill and the art have been given to her (and in light of Craig’s recent John Murillo interview, I am now using the term “apprentice,” which I hadn’t in previous articulations of Diwata poetics) through apprenticeship with elders, and as the master teller apprenticing others, though I don’t tell you this explicitly; if I did just explicitly tell you, it wouldn’t be poetry. The many instances in which she says, I heard this from my mother’s mother’s mother, for example. Or through cadenced or percussive instruction on movement in dance, what in nature the body mimics –
hold arm taut kastoy
flat palm down kastoy
flick wrist so kastoy
ima pagay billít angin
or through the telling of tattoos’ meanings, or the stories of constellations –
Here, the blind old man tapped this marking into my left arm and breastbone. He used his tapping stick and his sharpened irons. These are leaves and grass blades. These are sunbursts of flower petals, the flitting eyes of mothwings and cicadas. This here, the seer and her seeing stones. The glass eye with which she viewed the heavens. Above her mountain village, the stars arranged into hunter and bow, arrow aimed at mighty Lawin.
I see the poems now as multiple perspective camerawork. Sometimes she speaks directly at it, and sometimes others are storytelling about her. There are myths surrounding her not completely human origins; she is feared, maligned, needed, and endeared by those around her. Others speak about how the diwata visit her; they witness the story coming to her, and then they (and we) experience her telling. In other words (or at least, this is how I see it) there is constant interchange, and poem, song, and story come from the people here and now and who came before. Poem, song, and story come from the land, the heavens, the animal deities and those of the tree, the river, the mountain; poem, song, and story are a bridge between the people and all of these, and our speaker is the embodiment of all of these.
Really, the most challenging thing for me continues to be how to enact these in the text instead of always telling. There are moments where she does indeed tell, and she does so in figurative language, talinhaga. If as a fledgling storyteller (which now we will call, “in her apprenticeship”), she learned many ways of telling, then she does so in different genres and disciplines (the dance, above), and has learned to use many a poetic device, closed and open form — talinhaga, fable, meter, refrain, call and response, dirge, kumintang, kundiman, aubade, salawikain.
So these are some things I’m currently thinking. Now to funnel and refine them into a poetics essay. Wish me luck. I have a deadline to meet.