We are one month into 2019, and I have been slammed. Is there such thing as good-busy, and bad-busy? I feel stretched thin, over-committed, need very much to get through these next two months of over-commitment, and then back to basics. Some news:
- I have just blurbed three books of poetry. I agreed to three, and I said no to more. I won’t be saying yes to any more for a long time. I do these, because they are meaningful to the books’ authors. I think maybe this is one way of establishing the lineage you want to be a part of. Be on the lookout for these three books from these three first book authors (note: this is evidence of how much I like emotional complexity and finely rendered, gorgeous poetry):
- “The Philippines is ghost-country,” writes Jan–Henry Gray, in this gorgeous debut collection, Documents, and indeed, Gray’s speakers can be thought of as ghostly, muted and aching for connection, in the specifics of place, in language, in poetry. These are poems of thwarted belonging, and the emotional consequences of institutional and social invisibility. Finely rendering emotional complexities and specific details of lives taken for granted or outright ignored, Gray’s poems are documents of human souls aspiring to José Garcia Villa’s aphorism and assertion, “have come, am here.”
- What use is poetry to those who grieve, and to those we have lost? Preeti Vangani’s Mother Tongue Apologize is just that; poetry as the toughest vessel for memory — every beautiful and not so beautiful detail of a human life, every fragrance of almond, henna, and baby oil, every ailment, every outrage, every firecracker, every love song. This is a gorgeous, finely rendered first poetry collection of mother’s absence, of hard love for self, of strong young woman mourning and persisting.
- Michelle Peñaloza’s first collection of poems, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, is filled with so much care and kapwa, a deep understanding of shared humanity, between generations of Filipina women and girls — the granddaughter plucking her lola’s gray hairs, witnessing the aging, failing body with so much warmth and compassion, the daughter who knows her mother’s voice so well, that she inhabits it. Peñaloza’s poems are grounded in details, textures, and aromas, rose petals, coffee, garlic, smoothed rosary beads, old prayer books, the tangle of mangrove roots. This is an emotionally complex work, in which grief, and immigrant, diasporic confusion and rage are handled with so much wisdom. I love this book.
- Invocation to Daughters was recently included on the 2019 Amelia Bloomer Booklist, the annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. The Amelia Bloomer Project are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. I cannot tell you enough, how rewarding, how amazing and great and beautiful this is to me. In a brief chat with one of the committee members, we talked about the relevance of the book to teenagers’ lives, concerns, and dreams. What I love most about this is despite how “hard” the subject matter of the work is, it is necessary reading for young women. There is no candy coating, or apprehension about exposing them to inappropriate, mature content. This world, its treatment of young women makes this necessary. Why pretend otherwise. The last couple of decades of reluctant readers, grown-up Filipinas who find my anger unpalatable, distasteful, even unnecessary, the last couple of decades of grown-up Filipinas who don’t know how to handle the public reception of my growing bodies of work (because of my work’s difficulty? because of something else?), the last couple of decades of readers of other genders and ethnicities belittling, dismissing my work for its “ethnic” content and “drama,” who claimed I was just a quick phase that Po Biz would get over. I understand more and more, it’s hitting home hard, exactly who I mean to reach with my writing, and how I may truly reach them. I have witnessed this over time. My ideal/imagined reader who is a 19 year old Pinay coming into literary work by and about Pinays, centering and directly addressing Pinays — she is not so imaginary after all. She, many she’s, are making themselves known to me. And so then, I am going to keep doing this.
- As my sixth book, Letters to a Young Brown Girl, awaits its Fall 2020 publication with BOA Editions, I believe I have started writing my seventh book. Or at least, I have an idea that poems I am currently writing may fit in a future collection. Some of these poems belong to a series I have (for now) titled, “Air,” after Xyza Cruz Bacani’s We Are Like Air. I have been writing after Bacani’s images for a couple of years now, and since the publication of her book, images and narrative have been sticking to my bones. How does this all fit with the poems I’d started drafting about my father, about myth making, about memory? I don’t know yet. Maybe they won’t gel. Maybe this will be something else.
- I am writing the panel text for Jenifer K. Wofford‘s upcoming “Limning the Liminal” exhibition at the Thatcher Gallery on the USF campus. I love this. Though it is only a brief write-up, I feel like Wofford’s images of Filipina nurses and lolas in liminal space are very much simpatico with all of my above concerns.
So this is a partial list of what I am up to.