Dear Blog, long time, no see. I’ve been busy, you see, teaching in two different schools, working the full time J-O-B, still trying to be active in community, and to have a life, and to rest. But I have been thinking, am always thinking about lots and lots of things. Certainly, I am learning, that teaching can do this to you, hyperstimulate you in multiple directions simultaneously. I’ve just listed on FB, the various reading recommendations I’ve been giving my grad students, in response to the work they’ve been bringing to workshop. Juggling all of these different poetries in mah head. It looks something like this: Yedda Morrison, Craig Santos Perez, Evie Shockley, Raina Leon, Aracelis Girmay, Suheir Hammad, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Rachel McKibbens, Roger Bonair-Agard, Tyehimba Jess, John Murillo, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, Sarah Gambito, Oliver de la Paz, Truong Tran, Cecilia Vicuña, Linh Dinh, Harryette Mullen, et al.

It’s been varied and hyperstimulating (second time to use this word), between grad students and poetry, then Filipino Literature in Philippine Studies. We’ve been historical for the past few weeks, thinking about English as a new language for the Filipino writer, how this newness and American imposition reflects itself in the work, what is changing as we progress through the twentieth century and as we jump between continents, and how to read, within this historical context, James Soriano’s English and privilege essay from last month. A few weeks back, I presented the Petrarchan sonnet, “Moonlight on Manila Bay,” by Fernando Maramag, and students’ eyes just glazed over. How does the particular poetic form operate, and how does it work with what’s happening in the poem, pre- and post- volta, pre- and post- Admiral Dewey in that there Manila Bay.

Since then, we’ve finally come upon Jose Garcia Villa, a great opportunity to now discuss what makes a work of literature Filipino, whether we can discern “Filipino sensibility” in such work, and what “Filipino sensibility” is (if there is such a thing). For a poet’s citizenship, name, and cosmology to become Doveglion, is this a disavowal of “Filipino sensibility.” Or is it a metaphor for “Filipino sensibility” in the twentieth century. This has got me thinking about my own work, not that it bears any resemblance to Villa, but I was prompted by something that came up in a spontaneous and casual e-conversation with Brent Cunningham, who’s paid me some huge and lovely compliments about Diwata, its sophistication, polish and lyricism, a couple of things that set it apart from Poeta en San Francisco. I do think of Diwata as having been grown in Poeta, gestated in Poeta, to then come into its own. Brent asks (and this is my crude rephrasing), what is the relationship between such polished lyricism, and the urgency of the political poem. What is lost or negotiated as the rough edges and in your face confrontation are poetically smoothed.

And so this is where I am, thinking about what is lost. When the poetry loses, or sheds an immediacy, the rawness of its outrage, is the poem still political? If the poem revels in lyricism, is this the opposite must it be the opposite of a poetry that is socially relevant. Akin to questions of representative “ethnic” poetry and poetic experimentation I’ve been turning over in my head for the past decade, and why I am curating and leading the Small Press Traffic panel, Bay Area APIA Poetries and the Avant-Garde.

OK, food, errands, then more office hours.  Thanks, blog, for understanding my absence.

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3 thoughts on “Lyricism, Political Poetry, Social Realism and Responsibility

  • September 29, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    I don’t find any necessary conflict between lyricism and political urgency. I’m thinking just offhand of many poets whose work in one way or another makes an effective fusion of lyrical qualities and political relevance. Just to name some poets who are occurring to me at the moment: Joy Harjo, Etheridge Knight, June Jordan, Langston Hughes, Thomas McGrath, Muriel Rukeyser, Sharon Doubiago, Anya Achtenberg, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Paul Eluard, Claribel Alegria, Nancy Morejon, Julia de Burgos, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Janice Mirikitani, Kimiko Hahn, — well, a full list would be a long one.

    Another way to put the question might be, what is the relationship between music and speech? Or, to put it still another way: how do we know what is the right kind of music for the political things we want to say?

    To answer such a question, I think, requires listening carefully to what a poem is saying and how it is saying it. There may in fact be times when smooth unrippled music is the best way to say something of great urgency; there may be other times when a very different kind of music is needed, something sharper and more staccato. (A poem exploring and unearthing long-buried history, for instance, might lend itself more to a lyrical approach; a poem to be read at a public political demonstration, exhorting people to immediate action, might do better with a sharper and faster music and more rough edges.)

    Culture is a somewhat complex thing, and I think there’s room for a spectrum of possibilities. That’s where some of my thinking is about this right now anyway.

  • October 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Poetry creates the ability to think in new ways.

    I am thinking about how your poem “My California”, When somebody asks me to think about California, I get a stream of images placed there by movies, TV, books. Your poem runs parallel to that stream, inviting me, instead of that there, how about this here. And in that place between the streams I can now wonder about what my list could be.

    The power of a poem comes from that, you are free to select any style. A well-aimed rock makes an impact whether it is rough or polished.

  • October 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    If my questions & comments led you back to your blog, I’m very glad I asked & expressed em…

    More at the panel, looking forward to it.


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