Letter to a Young Poet: Pinay Style

This is a different time in which we’re writing. Remember when we would have to hand write, or type our words on a manual typewriter, with a carriage return and no correction tape. Remember handwritten drafts, remember the neatness of penmanship when approaching a final version, careful consideration of paper stock and finish, of choosing a writing implement. Part of my lament is about access and ease, but more so, it is about process and thoughtfulness. Yes, thinking before one speaks, painstakingly crafting one’s thoughts into something complete and cohesive. There is a respect to this process, the time it takes to compose. Being meticulous.

I once had a Waterman Laureat mineral blue fountain pen, with a gold-plated steel nib. I used this fountain pen to transcribe my finished poems into a matching hardcover, blue marbled, perfect-bound journal with gold leaf edged pages. I loved the sensation of that scratch — gold plated nib onto paper. Each page had to air dry before I turned the page or closed the book.

I am writing all this now, because of the kind of time involved in this kind of process. It’s about time, and it’s more so about thoughtfulness. About drafting. About composing, discarding, and beginning again. About making careful, well-considered choices.

Surely, when I was 19, my poems were precious, they were overwrought, they were cliché, they were derivative, they were sentimental. The language was abstract, fancy, pretentious. But I persisted. I read everything I could. I came to identify works I “liked,” and works I didn’t “like” so much. In other words, I grew into a discerning reader, identifying aesthetics, forms, languages that resonated with me. Still, I continued to read work I thought “offputting” at the time, because it was useful in my learning to identify and articulate what I did not “like” about a piece of literature. This is still an active process for me. I pick up a piece of literature, and I see how long it holds me, and why. Or why not.

So much, if not all of the above I did in private. There were few people to give me “thumbs up,” that I was on the right path with each and every nascent idea which became a first draft. There were few people, if any, who told me, “Yes,” yes, I could become an author, yes, my work was good enough to see in print. I hadn’t found my role models and mentors yet.

I am writing this all in first person, rather than phrasing it as, “You should,” because, as irony would have it, those who ask me what they should do, also resent my telling them what they should do. I have my own lived experience as evidence of how one aspiring writer may become an emerging writer may become an author. There are many paths to authordom, the most rewarding of which are the paths not of least resistance.

As I’ve written, this is a different time in which we are writing. Technology may make our words and works disposable, and at the same time, technology makes our words and works instantly public. So little incubation space, so little time for reflection, and then our words are out there before we are emotionally ready or mature enough to handle public reception of our words.

Technology also makes publishing so much more accessible, fast, cheap, and easy. These things, I still have to remind myself to resist. In social media, we may amass syncophants and enablers, in lieu of working on our craft, styles, and work ethics. This is also something we must resist.

Leslie Marmon Silko wrote, once story is “turned loose… it can’t be called back.” There is consequence, no? To our psyches, at handling this kind of responsibility before we are able, before we have developed our lakas loob. And in the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke, who has inspired this post, I will end this by saying that we must go into ourselves, into the “very depths” of our hearts, spending proper time there: Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This is a proper place to start. Know the process is long, and difficult. If it were easy, none of you would be clambering and clamoring at my in-box, demanding I bottle myself and give myself to you.

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