40 Pinay and Pinxy Books for Gifting!

Hello all, I have crowd sourced many Pinay and Pinxy, non-binary identified writers and students via my trusty social media, to see who they are reading, whose books they recommend and support, especially as we are thinking of gifts for our friends and loved ones. Here are 40 titles which we have collectively come up with:

  1. Alidio, Kimberly, after projects the resound.
  2. Alvar, Mia, In the Country.
  3. Asuncion, Hossannah, Object Permanence.
  4. Barrett, Kay Ulanday, When the Chant Comes.
  5. Barry, Lynda, The Good Times are Killing Me.
  6. Bautista, Michelle, Kali’s Blade.
  7. Bobis, Merlinda, Accidents of Composition.
  8. Bobis, Merlinda, Locust Girl: A Lovesong.
  9. Brainard, Cecilia Manguerra, The Newspaper Widow.
  10. Buell, Evangeline Canonizado, Twenty-Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride.
  11. Cruz, Rachelle, God’s Will for Monsters.
  12. De Jesus, Noelle, Blood: Collected Stories.
  13. Galang, M. Evelina, Lolas’ House.
  14. Ibardaloza, Aileen, Traje de Boda.
  15. KABUWANAN: An anthology of works by women komikera.
  16. Kelly, Erin Entrada, The Land of Forgotten Girls.
  17. Kelly, Erin Entrada, Hello Universe.
  18. Llagas, Karen, Archipelago Dust.
  19. Mapa, Lorina, Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me.
  20. Melnick, Lisa Suguitan, #30 Collantes Street.
  21. Miscolta, Donna, Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories.
  22. Molina, Feliz Lucia, Undercastle.
  23. Montes, Veronica, Benedicta Takes Wing.
  24. Newhard, Christine, Amina and the City of Flowers.
  25. Newhard, Christine, Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik.
  26. Ortuoste, Jenny, Fictionary.
  27. Peñaredondo, Angela, All Things Lose Thousands of Times.
  28. Pimentel, Sasha, For Want of Water.
  29. Reavey, Amanda Ngoho, Marilyn.
  30. Respicio, Mae, The House That Lou Built.
  31. Reyes, Barbara Jane, Invocation to Daughters.
  32. Rutledge, Renee Macalino, The Hour of Daydreams.
  33. Sapigao, Janice Lobo, microchips for millions.
  34. Sapigao, Janice Lobo, like a solid to a shadow.
  35. St. Jo, Westley and Remé Grefalda, Blue.
  36. Tabios, Beatriz Tilan, Dawac and Other Memoir-Narratives.
  37. Tabios, Eileen R., The Thorn Rosary.
  38. Tabios, Eileen R., Manhattan: An Archaeology.
  39. Ty-Casper, Linda, A River: One-Woman Deep.
  40. Vengua, Jean, Prau.

Dear Poeta, Dear Pinay, Why Do You Want To Write Books?

I remember once, some years ago, I and other authors came as guest speakers to Willie Perdomo’s VONA Poetry class. A couple of the questions from students that I remember, and the discussions that stayed with me were as follows:

Why do you want to write books? Why is writing and having books published important to you? For me,  my initial reaction was, why is this even a question? One of the other guest authors, Roger Bonair-Agard, responded by saying, “because it’s tradition.” Yes, this made all the sense in the world to me then, and it continues to be one of my go-to responses. I did think hard about why this tradition is important to me. Here’s my go at it:

As young people who think we have a knack for telling story, for composing verse, we inherit so much of this from our families. I don’t know if it’s because we have a particular “ear” for story, or sensitivity for where and how stories are being told in our families and by whom, but I think/I believe we grow up with something pulling (or pushing us) in that direction.

I remember all my little notebooks full of ditties and rhymes. I don’t know if this was actively encouraged, my keeping these notebooks, but it was surely not discouraged. Regular visits to the library and the bookstore were definitely encouraged. We had some books in the house. Not really “high literature,” but I don’t think that part mattered so much.

I just knew I came from a family who did read some books, and who did actively, enthusiastically make kuwento.

When I started to feel simultaneously attracted and frustrated by canonical literature in middle school and high school, I don’t know that I was feeling “pushed out” of the world of books and high literature, but I do remember trying so hard to find ways in. I don’t remember being particularly “good” at English class. I wanted to be an insightful reader, and to say deep, profound things about what I had read. I wasn’t there yet.

And when, in college, I found myself immersed in literatures of folks of color, immigrants, feminists, indigenous communities, things really clicked. I understood. I learned to articulate those deep profound things I’d always wanted to. I wanted this. Whether it was books by Amy Tan, or Maxine Hong Kingston, or Leslie Marmon Silko, or Gloria Anzaldúa, or Jessica Hagedorn, or Carlos Bulosan, or Audre Lorde, I wanted that. I was hungry for that.

Tracing some of these authors’ lineages brought me to The Beats, to Whitman, and so forth. And I was opened. I wanted that. When I finally connected with other aspiring and emerging writers of color, one thing we had in common was that hunger. We struggled to find our way into multiple literary worlds. Some of us struggled to better our craft.

The books I was reading became increasingly diverse (ethnically, aesthetically, etc.). I didn’t know much about the publishing industry, but I did know what poetry books I was actively seeking out and drawn to — poets whose books were published by New Directions Publishers, poets in translation published by Copper Canyon Press, and the City Lights Pocket Poets. I also knew that a lot of my literary Manangs and Manongs were getting published by Kearny Street Workshop. When Jaime Jacinto’s Heaven is Just Another Country dropped, I was there on the mic, a young college drop out serving as guest poet dropping some spoken word, thinking, I too could one day do what Jaime had just done.

When I was selling my first Kinko’s produced DIY chapbook out of my backpack at Bindlestiff Studio, before I ever went to grad school, Jaime Jacinto, along with Eileen Tabios and Marianne Villanueva, were there to receive it and to encourage me to keep at it.

A few years ago, I was in Seattle, and Jon Pineda and I were finding our way to a Seattle Filipino American literary event. We were talking about what our publishing prospects were, and I told him about City Lights. We both went, they published Howl. And then we had a fan-boy/fan-girl freak out. Though, today, I would also say, they published Juan Felipe Herrera. They published Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters. They are here, on the Left Coast, in San Francisco, the place which has defined me and my poetic voice and political values, and the city whose shadow I always felt concealed me. Right next to Manilatown. Boom. I am telling you where I would like to place myself in literary tradition.

Yes. Wanting to become a writer of books has everything to do with tradition. And everything to do with our love for the object called the book. Its thick card stock matte covers and thick off-white/cream stock interior pages, super clean serif font for the body text, spines’ perfect binding.

Keepsakes. Gifts. You always take them with you.

My home is filled with them. My ceilings are nine feet up. my walls are entirely covered with book shelves.

I was educated by veterans of the Third World Liberation Front, mentored by Kearny Street Workshop elders. I have made my home where the Black Panthers were birthed. I am here, in Oakland, working for the health of a growing, changing Chinatown community, especially its children, girls, and women. I am educating young Pinays to find their voices, and not to be afraid of how capable they are of working towards social change.

All of this is why I am an author of books.

How about a good poetics talk: On translation and experimentation in Poeta en San Francisco

You know, it’s been a really good couple of days of literary discussions.

The other day, I went into Dean Rader’s Literature class, where they have just read Poeta en San Francisco. I’d originally had some anxiety about revisiting a work so “old,” in my literary life. I didn’t know that I knew how to talk about the work anymore.

I was so young when I wrote Poeta. This is not to say I am ashamed of it. Quite the contrary. I see a young poet who wrote some hella bomba, walang hiya poetry there. She was so brave. And some of the reason why she was so brave was precisely because she was young, writing from the margins of the margins, with little self-consciousness about how the “big world” would receive such a work.

With the class, we talked about how the work was received, where was there push back, how does a reader read a work that contains these ‘foreign” elements. As readers, we are already accustomed to seeing translation; we see, for example, Neruda’s original Spanish on the page, and then we see the translator’s crafted translation on the facing page. We view the languages as discrete, i.e. not really in interaction with one another.

We can, with bilingual editions, if we like, read back and forth between the two. If we look hard enough, then we see how one-to-one translation has not occurred. Then, if we look at two different translators’ translations, we see how there can potentially be two different poems that have come from the same one poem.

But what of the multilingual work which does not treat languages as mutually discrete bodies? I told the students that when I was new in my grad program, that was one of my first questions about writing. The multilingualism that exists in my life, in my head, in Bay Area open spaces (not just the bustling urban, cosmopolitan areas) — I just hadn’t at that point figured out how to put that on the page yet. It was more than opportune; it was fortune that Stacy Doris and Chet Wiener found me in grad school. I do not know that I could have written what I did, without them, precisely because they were translators.

I bring this up now, because code switching in my work is always treated as such a spectacle. Or as this specimen called poetic experiment. Which I’m like, I guess. It’s just figuring out how to put on the page the languages of one’s real life, which I think of as ongoing work on one’s craft (which could mean, figuring out how to do it well, whatever “well” means). I was told a couple of years later that Poeta en San Francisco had become an example to a group of Latinx poets of how to code switch in poetry.

(And actually, after class, one of the Latinx students did come up to me to tell me they could see why my work would resonate with Latinx writers/poets, as they were having a similar reading experience.)

I was able to also talk about the baybayin translations I included in the book. That the section called “[noo, nyoo],” (pages 43-51) was what I can now call a “failed experiment,” because (1) the parameters I provided for myself, which I adhered to, were flawed at the onset, (2) the re-translation from baybayin back to Roman alphabet yielded something entirely unreadable. But there’s also a (3) the actual visual presence of the baybayin is something to consider on its own, as producing some kind of affect on the reader/their reading experience.

I asked them to compare the baybayin in this “[noo, nyoo]” section, to the baybayin that appears later in the text (pages 95-96). That would be an example of a more successful translation, in that the original source material was in Tagalog (modern, in Roman characters), and so adhering to the writing rules of baybayin, the resulting translation is actually readable to one who knows how to read baybayin.

We talked also about the poetic form of the prayer, and how rosaries, novenas, and processions (Stations of the Cross, semana santa) do indeed come with identifiable form and lines of verse. These are the kinds of rhythms that feel like they’ve seeped into my pores, into my bloodstream. You can drop out of that life and practice, but when you find yourself there again, you know exactly where to pick up and carry on as if you’ve never left. And you can speak and move as one body with so many other bodies.

Anyway, this is a lot for now. Let me stop.

A Filipino Food Poem: Brown Girl Consumed

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a poem, and so here is this. I’m in deep, with my some brown girl manuscript, and thinking about both my everyday language, every conversations, and how to make those “match” with my poetic voice.

Brown Girl Consumed

Motherfuckers love your food! Bon Appetit
wanna put Gummi Bears ® in your halo-halo,
Andrew Zimmern swears by sisig, you’re
the latest craze. He tours the homeland, eats
worms dipped in vinegar, pulled straight
from a fucking tree, then pales at your dirty
ice cream. What a dick. Anthony Bourdain
also comes to bat for your balut. You are a
culinary adventure! And yo, are you grateful,
now you are so cool, your pork bellies sizzling,
your organic free trade leche de coco simmering,
edgy piquants and aromatics are now pricy
speciality grocery items for urban food truck
bearded hipsters, for wine pairings lightyears
from the passé go-to Rieslings (yawn). Oh, how
this ups their cultural cachet; they are so far
ahead of the curve — bravo! They can turn up
their noses as chop suey eaters, and everyday
Americans freak the fuck out at Panda Express.
They want lumpias rolled tight, like spliffs,
And medicinal cannibis. They don’t know that
TnTs are sweating into specialty catered meals
lesser than minimum wage, under the table
under subsistence. Americans still gag reflex
at the innards we third world people eat, they
know shit about your titas, your cataracted
grammas who stayed home and never learned
to read, but Goddamn if they can’t recite
“Mi Último Adiós,” from the heart! Ay Dios ko,
the tsismis around tables of itchy gabi leaves
and roots and malunggay fronds, elder hands
like luya, their nails so thickened (kumare, these
tables will be used later for mah jong, lambanog,
and pulutan). Your titas, who singlehandedly took
the sharpest machetes to the pigs’ (and to some
men’s) throats, bled those tasty motherfuckers,
flipping handrolled tobacco with their tongues
and with a chorus of boning knives, these works
of art no museum would ever exhibit. All this in
tsinelas, damit pambahay, gold rings, siyempre
anting-anting. Yes, bespectacled hipsters and
wannabe gourmands say Filipino cuisine is
the next big thing. Folks, we are on the map!

Yo, Instagram that shit.

How a Brown Girl Makes a Book Happen [Part 6]

It takes more than you know you know, more than you think you are capable of. You must be brave, to commit yourself to your pages, despite what the world expects from you.

I had a great discussion with my grad students yesterday evening, about how we resist becoming “sardines,” as D.A. Powell writes in his manifesto, “Annie Get Your Gun.” There, he is saying we poets come together as schools. Think about schools of fish, sardines, schooling together for safety. We are sure that each sardine is a unique specimen, but how is it that when we look at sardines packed for our consumption in their neat rectangular tin, each sardine appears exactly alike.

Against centrism, Powell says. More eccentricism! And I am so totally with this. But there’s this industry that claims to value diversity, but then insists upon packing each of us into uniformity, that doles out some kind of consequence for refusing to conform.

Related: Donald Hall, “Poetry and Ambition,” and the notorious “McPoem.”

Our poems, in their charming and interchangeable quantity, do not presume to the status of “Lycidas”—for that would be elitist and un-American. We write and publish the McPoem—ten billion served—which becomes our contribution to the history of literature as the Model T is our contribution to a history which runs from bare feet past elephant and rickshaw to the vehicles of space. Pull in any time day or night, park by the busload, and the McPoem waits on the steam shelf for us, wrapped and protected, indistinguishable, undistinguished, and reliable—the good old McPoem identical from coast to coast and in all the little towns between, subject to the quality control of the least common denominator.

And every year, Ronald McDonald takes the Pulitzer.

To produce the McPoem, institutions must enforce patterns, institutions within institutions, all subject to the same glorious dominance of unconscious economic determinism, template and formula of consumerism.

The McPoem is the product of the workshops of Hamburger University.

How do you resist, if you want to be in the industry. Or is this an inherent contradiction. Not to mix my metaphors, but is it that to consent to being a part of this industry, you consent to becoming one of Powell’s identical sardines, you consent to mass producing Hall’s McPoem.

What happens to our lakas loob when faced with the possibility of rejection, from editors and publishers, from our “peers,” and “colleagues,”  from who’s who in this industry that would drop our names in the “right” place and the “right” time to the “right” parties.

Yes, as a Left Coast, Wild West Pinay I think about these things. I want to say that we just write what we must write, how we must write it. This is what I try my best to do, even though the shadow of manuscript submissions looms on the horizon.

I know from experience that those “who’s who” in the industry types won’t bat a fucking eyelid at my work when it’s published by a SF-based, Filipino-specialized publisher. I know these same “who’s who” types wanna know me when my work is published and/or recognized by an industry “big heavy.”

Yes, you are telling me, fuck those “who’s who” types, those AWP lanyard gazers. And you are right to say so.

(Hey, what happens when those AWP lanyard gazers are people of color. Jus sayin.)

So then, what’s become important to me as a writer is to keep on writing what I want and need to write, how I want and need to write it. I have to continue developing the thickest skin ever. I have to find others whose world view is not lanyard gazing.

More importantly, how does one truly fight against that culture. This is the kind of wisdom I need for my own peace of mind, but also the kind of wisdom I wish to impart on my students and mentees. How do you truly fight that power, that institution, rather than consent to becoming the token, well-behaved colored people –See? They do like us! We do belong among them! BJR, will you please stop being so “reckless” and “dangerous.” — whose work is deemed acceptable by that culture, and the token colored people whose edginess is used as evidence of the institution’s tolerance of our wildness and otherness — See? We do value diversity! Lookit the little brown people we’ve taken into our fold. Aren’t we benevolent.

So this is where I am today, here on the Left Coast and the Wild West, and proud of it.