In 2020, Kapwa Over Po Biz

Folks do and do not want to hear all of this Po Biz stuff. I mean, some do, because they want to know how thy may carve out a career for themselves. And then they don’t, because the work itself is tedious, incremental, repetitive; it requires a lot of failing and failing again, mired in a lot of unsexy details, with no sparkly unicorn magic to make it happen painlessly, quickly, suddenly, glamorously.

When aspiring and emerging writers ask me for advice, or ask, “How do you…” my answers have been as grounded as can be. This makes for dry conversation. My refrain of, write, and keep writing; read, and read everything, and write some more, doesn’t really cut it anymore. Truth is, I am out of touch with how young people are doing it. I used to think I knew what younger, aspiring and emerging writers were going through, that pain and desire, of seeing a prize, a destination, and just not knowing how to get there. Now I don’t know what the prize and destination is.

Last night in Pinay Lit class, concluding our discussion of Invocation to Daughters, a student asked what my definition of literary success. I told them, I just want to keep writing books. I just want to continue being able to write books, with Pinay focus, Pinay-centric, whatever that means to me at whatever place or stage of my life I’m at. I want to do this until I can’t do it anymore. For me, I realize more and more how much of a blessing (and miracle?) this is, that I’ve been able to have some kind of literary career, based entirely upon Pinay-centricity, pushing on expectations and definitions for “Pinay” and “poetry,” on my own terms as best as I can imagine, and still being able to find publication and readership.

But it’s not a miracle — and this is the reminder to ground myself in what gets these poems written the way they are supposed to be written, and what creates the terms for “supposed to.” And this is all the work of writing and thinking and reading, and being in community, and listening, and asking. All of these concrete, tedious, un-glamorous, un-sexy things that allow me with my mechanical pencils and my notebooks to write til I’m in another place on some other level shit, to write to emotional and spiritual exhaustion and depletion, to find the lakas loob, the resolve to make a book manuscript happen, to work this thing to a polish, and high shine. And then this multi-tasking, overworked worker needs to continue sustaining this practice, and create strategies for sustainability.

I don’t know if aspiring and emerging writers want to hear any of this. Do they?

These days, I’m loving the kinds of conversations that come from readers who are struck by imagery, language choice, by musics — Where do these images come from, where did you find that language, how do you find these ways of writing about culture and history, what is that experience, of translating culture and history into poetic bodies, that move readers the ways poetic work is meant to move readers to surrender (?) into their own poetic experience, and then into a shared poetic experience, one of mutual knowing — not necessarily that they now know my experience and my thoughts, but that they are closer to knowing their own. Yes, that’s it. How to cultivate, grow that space. This is the kapwa I’m looking for.

Is this zany?

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