So, for the last couple of years, I’ve been reading articles about how the CIA created the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and hence, how the CIA created the phenomenon known as the MFA in Creative Writing, by throwing a shit ton of money at the thing, knowing that hype would follow the money. And hence, today, this allegedly predominant “flattened,” conforming verse, this institutional poetry that exists for sake of itself and its institution, this social distance and irrelevance — i.e. poets only exist in their quaint writing studios, only able to create master works when placing themselves outside of the ugliness of the world (you know, working for wages, paying rent, eating). Hence, this easy commodification of poetry, this “follow the money” thing. How attaching dollars to a thing on the condition that it conform, makes poets afraid of their own glorious, unruly monsters, how attaching dollars to a thing on the condition that it conform, makes them want to defang and declaw themselves and be ineffectual versions of themselves.
I am thinking about this today, because I want to think out loud about poetry, about my having chosen to become a poet, about my living and functioning within this American Poetry Publishing Industry. And about being a poet with strong opinions about this so-called “crisis” of American Poetry.
I also want to say some things about being Filipino, and our centuries-long history within and in spite of powerful institutions designed to win, to claim ownership over our hearts and minds and souls. About our cultural productions and modes of “expression.” About our deepest modes of understanding self. In other words, having institutional powers fuck with us to the core, and our multi-pronged resistance to this fuckery, is not new to us.
This resistance is built into our deepest modes of understanding self.
Once kapwa — self in others, shared humanity — was formally introduced to me, once I realized kapwa was something I did understand intuitively, that I have struggled with — rebelled against, and simultaneously sought comfort in — my entire American life, I knew I could not ever divorce my being Filipino from my being a poet.
It’s true. I used to think the question was about choosing; coincidentally, I have been told a lot to choose between manufactured binaries — shit, how patriarchy makes us do this, oversimplify everything so you can keep people dumb and uncritical, and easily overpowered. You’re in the thing or you’re not. You’re “one of us,” or you’re not. From all sides, people make you choose because they can’t stand to see how free, how wild you are, how wild you can be.
Thing about me — I won’t be made to choose between all these pieces of self, nor will I be suppressing any “undesirable” pieces. I am interested in framing my ambivalence as strength, in foregrounding our history of rebellion and resistance while working with/in formal discipline, when writing in the languages of empire. In other words, poets don’t have to be these quaint ineffectual types, anchored to their institutional funding and aversion to non-institutional work. Poets can do anything they want to fucking do. If they want to.
This is process, yes? Of enlarging liminal space as viable and thriving space, therefore a place of power. It’s a kind of praxis. To be a Pinay poet is to engage in transgressive, transformative practice.