In truth, I haven’t participated as a student or attendee in any of these summer writing programs and community arts workshops. When I first heard of VONA, many years ago, I wanted to apply, but then, never could afford it. I understand we budget and prioritize what is most important. At that point in my writing life and education, finishing college and working at my job full time were on the plate. Then I found myself in grad school, which I attended unfunded. And then I was pulled into a whirlwind of author events, discussing process and publishing, teaching poetry in various workshops and academic settings, so my time as a student ended abruptly enough. This summer, the Foothill Writers’ Conference at Foothill College on the peninsula didn’t happen due to funding issues; I am really sad about this. It was, for students, very affordable, CA community college rates, and small enough to have that one on one time with the instructors. For one of my manuscript workshops, I had one student show up, a young Pinay, and so she and I worked on a couple of her poems and rapped about what to read, and about being Pinay in poetry for 90 minutes or so. I thought this was awesome. As well, the professor who’d invited me in the first place had told me the students had such positive feedback for me as an instructor.
It’s been a learning process, entering so many different classroom spaces; I am very interested in attendees’ and students’ lines of questioning,what they make apparent as their concerns, what things in my presentations they hone in on, even the energy in a classroom into which I am brought as a guest speaker, and what the writing fellows and teachers of various writing programs have to say about their experiences there. What I am learning is that there is so much apprehension and anxiety about entering into the publishing world. Let me step back and first say there is so much apprehension and anxiety about entering into workshop spaces. It’s the sharing of writing in progress, or the admission that the writing is not yet fully realized that I think lends to this apprehension and anxiety. How to deal with criticism, how to sort through it in order to figure out what’s helpful, what will fortify and refine, finish the writing, how to do this and not forget the original impetus behind the writing.
Chris Abani said it this way — this is not about defending your work, as much as it is about clarifying why you have written what you have written, why you write what you write. In other words, what is the deep reason why you write. As well, if writing is healing a wound which cannot be erased, then how to write the thing, live with it, and move on. Ruth Forman discussed the importance of clarifying each manuscript’s impetus, how it will differ and/or change, based upon where you are and what you need. She also said that it was important to let her collection sit, while she figured out which voices were coming to the surface, center, or forefront. Tara Betts discussed the poetry collection as a snapshot of where you are at that certain point in your life. I like this, rather than trying to alter or amend the voice, let it be, and then move into the next collection of work which becomes a different snapshot. She also reminded folks that there are multiple routes we can take to that goal of publication, whether it is through the self-published chapbook, the small press published chapbook, and to this I will add the manuscript contest route and the open submissions route.
Willie Perdomo’s students were definitely eager, but I have to say, the anxiety in the room was palpable and startling. I know, it’ so much information to absorb, and all of us talking in one space certainly makes it seem like publishing is an inhospitable Darwinian jungle. Certainly, it’s not easy, but I do not believe it’s impossible and cruel. So I have to go back to what Tara said about being aware that there are so many routes to take to get to publication, and learning how to navigate these routes.
For VONA, write-up’s are very soon forthcoming for the PAWA blog from Kim Alidio, Rona Fernandez, Niki Escobar, and hopefully more; I know Rona has been writing fiction, including speculative fiction, for a long time. Niki’s poetry is risk taking and mature. I am new to Kim’s writing. I have asked a couple of other Pinay writers for their reports back from VONA and from Kundiman. I am interested in what I see as a gender disparity, not just among Filipino American writers, but in community workshop in general; so many women students, and I am always glad that women are taking the initiative to further their writing education.
In other related news, as Oscar will be attending Canto Mundo this coming weekend, I’ll be tagging along to hang out with folks, and hopefully get some reviews and letters of recommendation written.