On Making the Book

This is and isn’t “making,” but I think I can almost confidently say I am writing my fourth book. These recent few poems have caused me to look at the original project, which I think I’d previously refrained from calling a “manuscript.” But I think now I am starting to see a something emerging that can rightfully be called a manuscript.

And indeed, I came to write these last few poems because of two things — Sita Bhaumik’s installation/exhibit at Kearny Street Workshop, and a certain poet/editor whom I greatly respect inviting me to submit poems to his journal. I wish I were more internally/self-motivated, but such is my current state, and I just have to make the best of it if I can’t currently change it. At this point, I am just hoping to maintain and build the momentum since I am indeed writing poems, as opposed to lamenting that I am not writing poems.

I told Oscar the other day that I do not want to be paralyzed by the thought that whatever I write and get published will not be as good as the last book. It sucks (I know, cue the tiny violins; I know I am in the opposite of a terrible place), to have to best myself. Indeed, can’t I simply strive for the next book simply be the next book, a different book, and not necessarily a bigger and better book?

But I’ve arrived at this not wanting to be paralyzed by my own self-doubt, precisely because I’ve been reading and rereading, editing, revising, chucking chunks of the Pinay narratives, even as a substantial portion of it is to be published in the next issue of Arroyo Literary Review. I’ve stated in the past that while I appreciate the method of soliciting other Pinays’ words and stories, and the process of mashing-up and remixing their responses, while I like being this “filter,” creating work that is for us, by us, and about us (as opposed to a Tony Hoagland poem that is “for white people,”) I also need to have tight control over the words that ultimately enter my writing; poetry is, after all, about specific language choice.

I’m faced with words that are unspecific and/or abstract, an abundance of common adjectives and adverbs, and popular culture references for phenomena that may go the way of the dinosaur in the next few months. I have to decide what to do with this language, and even consider that Pinay language is what I’ve received in these responses. Therefore, I have to think about reconsidering my own use of language as not “Pinay language.”

Reminds me of when Sunny Vergara was on my thesis committee, reading the thesis formatted version of what is now Poeta en San Francisco, he made note of my use of “bling,” commenting that this term may not last, and what effect would that have on the larger work? I comforted myself by reasoning that “bling” is onomatopoetic. Anyway, he definitely had a point; I do wonder what happens to a work of art once its pop culture references are no longer popular or contemporary. If these works become timepieces, then what? How can a work continue to be relevant, even when its specific references have passed from popular vision/imagination? So I think about writing historically continuous narratives. I am thinking about some questions I’ve been asked for an interview, about working in mythic time in Diwata. How to write, or “make” poetry that is simultaneously mythic and contemporary?

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Barbara Jane Reyes

Author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. Adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

4 Comments

  1. We’ve met once or twice through Bindlestiff. I’m a Frisco native. I used to be a part of Kreatibo. I’m finishing up my last semester of the fiction MFA program at Indiana University right now and I just wanted to express my thanks and gratitude for holding this virtual space of talking shop about writing process, literature, Pinay poetics, etc. It’s a lonely world out here in the mid-west and I’ve navigated my way to your site numerous times for affirmation, food for thought, resources and to pose some of the questions you raise about writing back to myself. It’s an important space you’re holding here. So just general props to you Barbara for doing what you do! Maraming salamat.

    • Hi Tina, thanks for your comment and props! Of course I do remember you from Bindlestiff and KSW etc. II just clicked over to your blog and found your recent post on your literary universe. It’s good to hear how you’re thinking about storytelling, and its various “functions.” There’s a lot there that’s totally relevant to my poetics as well. You say so many good things there; thanks for being so thoughtful and critical about it. Among so many things that you’ve written there, storytelling messing with hegemony is GREAT.

      Thanks again for reaching out here. Please do keep in touch!

  2. so true, barbara. the tightrope between the timeless and the relevant is not an easy walk, nor is the slog towards the next book. thanks for sharing your thoughts on all. helps me think more widely about my own process.

    • Hi Emma, thanks for your comment. Yeah it’s tough, huh? I always have to stop my self from feeling so self-conscious about thinking of my work in long term – the next book, and the next book after that, and so on. Sometimes I wonder if it’s self-aggrandizing, but I realize I fall into that thinking because so many po-biz-heads are so flippant and think so little about poetry’s social relevance, and here I am thinking about my literature and possibilities for social change, and as Tina above says on her blog, “mess[ing] with hegemony.” Much to think about. Thanks again!

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