Yes it is. All at once clean, complicated. grisly. First, the clean: Palatino and Baybayin Lopez 11-point fonts. Standard one-inch margins. Lots of white space, lots of two-column multilingual poems. 64-pages. All titles in the infinitive form.
The lines, uniform stanzas, and columns are very tidy. I know, Dan Langton used to say that there’s no need for us to anchor ourselves to the left margin. Sure, I’m with that, but I think about the reasons to weigh anchor, and that I don’t have good ones. The orderliness of the pages and then the content of the poems are in some kind of tension.
My relationship with Line is an ever evolving one.
In the past, I’d shied away from the metered line, for a few reasons. First was my resistance against formal poetry — more reactionary than legitimate resistance — and then because I didn’t think I was any good at executing these without going all sing-song. These days, I am pushing the sing-song, precisely because my content has grown disturbing. My content upsets me, and (as above, regarding orderliness) the metric quality of the lines serve to upset me all the more. You know, tra-la-la, she was hacked to pieces by her estranged husband, four decades her senior, tra-la-la. Have y’all read Eve Merriam’s The Inner City Mother Goose? Yeah.
A couple more things. I’ve been revisiting Jeffrey Levine’s blog post, “On Making the Poetry Manuscript,” which is very helpful for many reasons. He writes, “Do you tend to begin your poems with a line or two (or an entire stanza) of throat clearing?” I think this also applies to the entire manuscript. How much of the beginning of the manuscript is “throat clearing,” why, and what to do instead. There was something that Oscar brought up about a bunch of the Japanese samurai films we’ve been watching for the past few years — they just drop us right into the middle of the situation. That becomes the premise of the film. Think of Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri, where the thing has already been in motion. The decline of the decline of the warrior class in the late Tokugawa period, and that real human beings’ lives and value systems are undergoing some radical change.
OK, before I digress. I decided to begin my manuscript with the poem pieced together from found texts, regarding Pinay OFW bodies in the world, rather than with a more “traditional” invocation. At the onset, women’s lives already in serious danger, pain, undergoing various kinds of torture, debasement, and dismemberment. Sigh. Some conversations I’d had with Rachelle Cruz about Pinay bodies and how they are handled by the world, and I hit upon a theme I wanted to continue writing, Pinays’ and women’s broken bodies. Then this theme became of course about metaphorical brokenness (transnational movement/migration for various purposes under all kinds of conditions), mythical brokenness (aswang), and then literal brokenness. There have been these stories in the media that I couldn’t ignore, some receiving more attention than others. How were these retellings or burials of story also part of that brokenness.
One story I had to dig a bit about happened very close to here, in Monterey County, regarding a Pinay whose older white husband (a professor and a Stanford grad) murdered, dismembered, and dumped her. Not a lot of media attention, and all the newscasters kept mispronouncing her name. I found one newspaper story in which investigators described the murder scene, and then how they identified her body. Will spare the details for now, suffice it to say it was all very, very troubling, bloody, violent.
So many women and girls in a narrative we expect and normalize. In peril.
All of this, how it made sense to “fit” it with my forays into Pinay voice and language, fear of voice, fear of speaking up/out/on one’s own behalf despite gendered and racialized social convention and expectation. How fear becomes unwillingness and reticence, how these things are the line between living and having lives taken away. Literally.
And here are all these women around us in our own lives who don’t ever raise their voices, or don’t ever want to address anything painful and complicated, and we realize how fucking angry that makes us. This anger has always been justified.
Some of these poems are grisly. Details are ugly, just horrendous. And they have to be.
So that’s some things. The manuscript goes into the mail before summer is over. I’m ready.