#NationalPoetryMonth: Brown Girl: A Glossary of Terms

Brown Girl: A Glossary of Terms

Internal Colonialism
In the story, children who bite their tongues eat a porridge of falsehood til they are fattened little piggies. In the story, ladies who say yes are locked in wrought, jeweled cages. They dance to the tune of Taylor Swift covering Earth, Wind & Fire, and they say, this is just fine.

Decolonization
They want to take this word away from you. They want you to explain why you look Asian, when your name is clearly Spanish. They want to bring you Jesus, even though they see your people nailing themselves to crosses on Good Friday. Moreover, they think they brought you light bulbs, feminine hygiene products, and feminism. They love your fine white sand beaches. They think your whole nation is one of military bases and air conditioned shopping malls, and fine white sand beaches made for them. They need you to clean their houses and raise their babies. They don’t even pay you minimum wage to change their elders’ adult diapers. They don’t accept that you are from Oakland. They don’t accept that you have a nation they did not name.

White Privilege
In the story, the hero is always light-eyed and fair-haired. The distressed damsel is as well. Of course, he is meant to claim her. Of course, they are meant to have the brightest babies. See them banish the dark from their domain. See them build their castles of light where our dark children play. Our dark bodies and tongues will be outlaw. Our dark gods as well. See the hero thrust himself upon his dark maidservants. See those dark maidservants silenced. See how wreched and ratchet, all their dark offspring. Hear the chorus of “not all white people.” Hear the chorus of “all lives matter.”

Pinoy
You know what annoys me? People who won’t see the through line from Joe Bataan to Bruno Mars. You ever wonder about the sound of a poet rappin’ with ten thousand carabaos in the dark? You ever eat fish and rice with your hands, off styrofoam plates, in a hole in the wall, South of Market Street? You ever roll down your windows while speeding down Highway 101, to smell the Pajaro River? What if that’s the poem, and you missed it, because you were looking for something roseate and effete.

Pinay
Do you know yourself, Pinay? Do you name yourself, Pinay? This name was made here, born here, American as you, your SPAM cans, and your balikbayan boxes. American as the jeepney. American as your father’s favorite Applebee’s on Farwell in Fremont. Do you cringe when your people don’t translate — have you Googled “cultural cringe”? I fucking hate that term. Do you know that Prego® commercial daughter, pleading, “English please,” for her white lover, at a table full of titas and pinsans? That fabled Filipina hospitality, so much giving unto others until you are shoeless, penniless, mute and hollowed out. Hija, you ain’t Jesus, multiplying fishes and loaves.

Pakikipagkapwa-tao
Hella indigenous, which does not mean gone native. Kakayahan umunawa sa damdamin ng iba, for real. You know, like Ruby Ibarra and one hundred Pinays giving you resting bitch face. You know, like those syndicated, full color photographs, of boys and men in LeBron James and Steph Curry jerseys, thinned flipflops on their feet, one body together, shouldering a nation. One bamboo hut at a time. One set of lungs breathing. One heart. Isang mahal. Isang bagsak.

#NationalPoetryMonth #APIA #Poetry Day 7: José Garcia Villa

[I am so behind on this! But here we go; I shall try to catch up.]

This month, I shall be posting one APIA poet (or book) recommendation per day, so that all of you who are asking me what to read will know what to read.

Today’s recommendation is José Garcia Villa. Know history, know self, people. I don’t get the “Art for art’s sake” label/judgment imposed upon Villa. He was a poet of immense ideas, God, divinity, the meaning of human life within this context. Poetry was his vehicle for exploring that kind of immense meaning. How is this art for sake of itself. To me, it is art for sake of humanity, no mere navel gazing affair.

Villa is also known for his invention and innovation. Here, I am referring to his comma poems, and to his reverse consonance rhyming. And actually, what interests me about reverse consonance is what he wrote: “this new rhyme method is subtler and stricter, and less obtrusive on the ear, than ordinary consonance.” Compare the music of his reverse consonance poems to his sonnet, “First, a poem must be magical,” in which his lines, meant to sing, to me, singsong instead. I wonder whether that singsong takes away from the largeness of the poem’s intent. So then, rather than just do away with poetic constraint, the poet finds other, more appropriate poetic constraints. Lesser poets would make themselves accept the singsong (or not even know they are singsonging), or abandon poetic constraint altogether. But a poem is a container for language, to house big, big ideas and beliefs.

Here’s Ned O’Gorman in 1959 in Poetry magazine: “It is perhaps true to say that Jose Garcia Villa’s vision and understanding are considerable. But his poetry is unachieved. In the end it is a failure. The artifact shatters under close study. For Mr. Villa has not yet found a language that can contain a vision so immense and theological.”

My last thought for now on Villa is the “Doveglion,” the hybrid dove, eagle, lion, whose country is not land and commerce, but the “strange country” with “no boundaries,” inhabited by “Earth Angels.” Open yourselves to the bigger implications here, rather than dwelling in surface/cliché reaction that casts Villa as a wacky artist stereotype. Also, think about why a Filipino poet, decades in America, would create a hybrid mythical identity and nation to inhabit. He was, as e.e. cummings wrote about him in the poem, “Dovegion,” looking for a new, different way of seeing.

National Poetry Month APIA Poets:

04/01 Rajiv Mohabir

04/02 Amanda Ngoho Reavey

04/03 Truong Tran

04/04 Al Robles

04/05 Kay Ulanday Barrett, Sokunthary Svay, Jane Wong, Khaty Xiong

04/06 Virginia Cerenio, Jaime Jacinto, Jeff Tagami

#NationalPoetryMonth #APIA #Poetry Day 6: Virginia Cerenio, Jaime Jacinto, Jeff Tagami

This month, I shall be posting one APIA poet (or book) recommendation per day, so that all of you who are asking me what to read will know what to read. Actually, I am breaking my own rule. Here are three Bay Area Kearny Street Workshop Fil Am authors Virginia Cerenio, Jaime Jacinto, and Jeff Tagami.

These three are revered elder poets published by a revered, historically important, San Francisco based, APIA specific indie publisher. These authors published one book apiece, and I wish there could have been so much more from them (Tagami passed away a few years ago). At the time of their publication, I, we had never seen poetry like this, necessarily Fil Am specific and Fil Am centered poetry. It felt homegrown, poems constructed from historical, poetic instinct, but don’t think this means it’s synonymous with unrefined or undisciplined. This work made me see what I could be capable of producing myself. There was a massive historical and literary void; they filled it.

National Poetry Month APIA Poets:

04/01 Rajiv Mohabir

04/02 Amanda Ngoho Reavey

04/03 Truong Tran

04/04 Al Robles

04/05 Kay Ulanday Barrett, Sokunthary Svay, Jane Wong, Khaty Xiong

#NationalPoetryMonth #APIA #Poetry Day 5: Kay Ulanday Barrett, Sokunthary Svay, Jane Wong, Khaty Xiong

This month, I shall be posting one APIA poet (or book) recommendation per day, so that all of you who are asking me what to read will know what to read. Actually, I am breaking my own rule. Here are four poets’ first full length collections.

Kay Ulanday Barrett, When the Chant Comes; Sokunthary Svay, Apsara in New York; Jane Wong, Overpour; Khaty Xiong, Poor Anima. I come to these four poets and their works with much interest. I confess, I haven’t dived into their books yet; summer is when this will happen. But they have been on my radar for some time now as folks to watch for.

National Poetry Month APIA Poets:

04/01 Rajiv Mohabir

04/02 Amanda Ngoho Reavey

04/03 Truong Tran

04/04 Al Robles

#NationalPoetryMonth #APIA #Poetry Day 4: Al Robles

This month, I shall be posting one APIA poet (or book) recommendation per day, so that all of you who are asking me what to read will know what to read.

Today’s recommendation is Al Robles. I am beyond sad that his book, rappin’ with ten thousand carabaos in the dark has been out of print. I always suspected that if not for the intervention of key people in the West Coast/CA APIA academic and publishing communities, this book might never have been. In my mind and memory, Manong Al will always be the storyteller. The improvisation, the rhythms, the deep memory of so many people’s lives and narratives entrusted to him. Yes, folks trusted him with their stories, and so they opened themselves to him.

On the national level, APIA poets, especially those academically bound, will probably not know a lick about Manong Al, and will probably not care so much about his “loose” poetic style. But it wasn’t loose. It was a lifetime of practice, reflecting street level lived experience yes, but also recall he was a jazz pianist and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Those disciplines and aesthetics run deep in the work.

There’s a whole lot that attentiveness, fine tuning all senses, and living fully engaged in the real world, will give you that dependence upon an academic program or an MFA will not, and never will.

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National Poetry Month APIA Poets:

04/01 Rajiv Mohabir

04/02 Amanda Ngoho Reavey

04/03 Truong Tran

04/04 Al Robles