Poem: Continuation of “And the Word Was a Woman.”

It goes without saying that as far as sources go, I love the creation story, especially re-articulated creation stories, each written as prayer, each retold with a different POV or agenda. “And the Word Was a Woman,” will be a multi-part creation story poem, a “long poem,” which is slowly getting itself written. (Yes, “getting itself written,” as I think of Carlos Bulosan’s essay, “How My Stories Were Written.” It sounds passive, but he’s saying something about source, influence — where does story come from, and what is the author’s role in making that story happen/emerge, in creating a story by synthesizing from these multiple sources.)

I have previously posted a draft of part one. Here’s the very beginning of part three (part two is currently a brief one-liner, which I like, but that’s not set in stone. Many things change.)

3 All things were made by her; and without her was not any thing made that was made.

your breakfast, your bed, your benefits package
your myths, your medicine, your maids for hire
your leisure, your pleasure, your cheap labor pool
your tech, your toys, your purchasing power
your love, your lunch, your urban renewal
your realm, your retail, your dollars at work
your trinkets, your tongue, your taste for travel
your savior, your supper, and always your succor

[This, of course, is also subject to change.]

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Brain Dumping: writing and poeming (why, what, how)

"To Proceed, You Must First understand," from my forthcoming book, To Love as Aswang.

“To Proceed, You Must First understand,” from my forthcoming book, To Love as Aswang.

 

More variations on the ongoing theme.

I am continuing on with both the slow process of writing the next (fifth) book, and gearing up for production and PR for the fourth book, To Love as Aswang. I like this work and this pace, both slow-going, meditative, and then just faster than I can breathe and take care of things needing care and attention. I like this life, I like that I’ve chosen to write what and how I want to write. Poeming. Reveling in poem, reveling in musicality. Loving compressed language. Loving poetic lines. Loving these things well-formed on the page. (I’ve also become very pointed in my criteria for poetry, to the point that I encounter others’ poetry and quietly ask myself, is that really a poem s/he has written — apart from its being left justified and broken into lines somehow, how is it a poem.)

I’d been experiencing quiet misgivings about how I’ve chosen for the fourth book to go down. But that’s all kind of dumb to be worrying about micro-pressing locally, with exactly who I want to be working with. I should say though, that this nebulous thing called “prestige,” nags at me sometimes, this “what are people saying” when I don’t know (or care) who constitutes “people,” this “keeping up with the Joneses,” when I really don’t (or shouldn’t) care who the Joneses are.

I remind myself about “prestige”:

1650-60 for an earlier sense; < French (orig. plural): deceits, delusions, juggler’s tricks < Latin praestīgiae juggler’s tricks, variant of praestrīgiae, derivative from base of praestringere to blunt (sight or mind), literally, to tie up so as to constrict, equivalent to prae- pre- + stringere to bind fast; see stringent.

Recognition is a different thing, and it comes in many forms. And shit. If we are writing for either prestige or for recognition in the first place, then we are not writing what we want to write for ourselves. We are worrying what others think before we’ve even committed the pen to the page, we are passive to what is faddish/trendy and “publishable,” but determined by whom, using what/whose criteria?

How to keep writing, how to sustain our writing, how to sort through all the bullshit of the publishing industry, how to maintain our integrity in this bullshit industry, how to still be ambitious — and ambition is not a bad thing — on our own terms. I keep thinking, Carlos Bulosan was ambitious. Jose Garcia Villa was ambitious.

And how to be Literary and Poetic (yes, upper-case Literary and Poetic), and simultaneously honor our ancestors.

I think our community has willingly (and willfully) allowed itself to exist in a prolonged state of selective amnesia about our ancestors’ literary work and aspirations. I keep thinking of the apparently unabashed difficulty of Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s novel, But for the Lovers, not necessarily something which I aspire to accomplish, but definitely to approach understanding. Why so difficult? The writer had his reasons; they were not arbitrary or undeliberate.

“Why don’t you just say what you mean…”

I think of that criticism often deployed at so-called “difficult” writers in our community, and I have to ask, “difficult,” by whose standards?

Who told us that our kind were not capable of creating or comprehending sophisticated bodies of literary work in the first place? And what happens when we come to believe this about ourselves and our own?

So I have to respond to that question, “Why don’t you just say what you mean…”

I read painstakingly crafted and constructed literary work as doing just that, as saying what is meant to be said, with a precision of language working double-time/overtime, in narrative both literal and figurative, in thoughtful use of form. Right? Hella meaning crammed into tight, concise spaces. More bang for your buck. No pandering, especially when pandering means internalizing that absence of capability.

So maybe you are reading this, and thinking that I am contradicting myself all over the place. I will say that my ambivalence runs deep. I am still trying to figure out “my place” in all of this. I am continuing to question so many of the givens I was told to believe, not just by those invested in the MFA and Publishing Industrial Complex, but also by those who stand in absolute opposition to it.

To Love as Aswang: Table of Contents

As a progress report on my manuscript “tinkering,” I offer this here Table of Contents. (In the meantime, various folks will be recording themselves reading these poems, and then posting those on YouTube, so I will have a “playlist” at some point soon.)

04 To Pierce the Heart
05 To Fork the Tongue
06 To Wait
07 To Proceed, You Must First Understand
08 To Witness like Shahid
09 To Read the Newspapers
10 To Sell Sweetie
11 To Conceive Sweetie (10 F Philippines)
16 To Go Along With Others
19 To Remember Something from Long Ago
20 To Sing a Little Ditty
21 To Answer
23 To Answer 2
25 To Sing Praisesong
28 To Violate Convention
30 To Fear the Self
31 To Understand the Current State of Things
32 To Fear Losing Oneself
33 To Love as Aswang
34 To Sing Surrender
35 To Love as Prey
36 To Sing the Battered Body
37 To Slaver
38 To Bless the Meek
39 To Give It to God
40 To Make a Sound from Inside a Box
41 To Write a Poem
42 To Have Come Here
43 To Remember
44 To Have a Home
45 To Be Walang Hiya
46 To Be a Runaway Daughter, Not the Much-Desired Son
47 To Be Disaster Inventory
48 To Be Blunt
49 To Go to Pieces
50 To Be Bound
51 To Call the Ancestors
54 To Scale
55 To Know
56 To Spend and Be Spent
57 To Emigrate (Patriarch Parable)
58 To Remember One Who Escaped
59 To Remember the Tita They Called a Bruja
60 To Recite Tita Bruja’s Credo
61 To Pray to the Goddess of Lost Things
63 To Be Present
64 To Be Babaylan
65 To Locate Our Mothers
66 To Be Interrogated
68 To Sanctify the Body
69 To Break
70 To Survive an Apocalypse, a Girl Needs Light and Power
71 To Love as Mother and Aswang
72 To Spit Fire
73 To Return a Heroine

Having Taught Bulosan and Hagedorn, I Taught Bulosan and Hagedorn Again

dogeaters 1st editionI want to say, you get tired of the same old thing, and that you want to do something else. It’s true; you do. The fact that these texts, Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, are requisite texts in Filipino Literature courses, gets redundant for me, but it can’t continue to irk me.

I have complained in social media, about how teaching these two books takes nearly half of the semester, leaving us another eight weeks to cover “everything else.” What is that “everything else,” and will any other text ever replace one of these two requisite texts? What are the politics of inclusion and exclusion? I keep asking who determines the criteria.

Shee-it. I am determining the criteria, and there’s no being coy or passive-aggressive about that.

Last week, I was talking to a Philippine Studies colleague, of different discipline. She was telling me that a while back, she referenced America is in the Heart in one of the classes she teaches, and was dismayed that students hadn’t read the book. I don’t know that it gave my colleague a ton of extra work, to try to bring the students up to speed on why that book is important to know, when moving into other courses — sociology, history — within our interdisciplinary program.

But that’s one thing. We are interdisciplinary, I teach the literature courses, and the content of our program as a whole should have some continuity through and between them.

Related: I was talking to another colleague in our program, about starting off every semester with Renato Constantino’s “The Mis-Education of the Filipino,” because in order to understand and critically discuss the art and literature produced in Filipino and Filipino American communities, it’s important that the students have a basic understanding of the colonial elements and impetus in our communities’ works. But the discussion of colonialism takes a damn long time before we can even get into the core content of our courses.

In my Filipino Literature course, Bulosan and Hagedorn have to be required. I won’t and can’t be mad about this anymore. You can’t discuss the “Flips” — Robles, Tagami, et al — without first getting a deep understanding of the “Manongs.” Hence, America is in the Heart. I suppose you could teach Bienvenido Santos’s short stories in Scent of Apples, but why read something written by a pensionado, an outsider looking into or imagining or transcribing the lives of the labor class Pinoys, when you have this novel written by someone who is of the labor class, whose roots are of the Philippine peasantry. Is this about “authenticity,” or “representation” for sake of itself? I’ll go ahead and say no, that it’s about introducing critical discussions about class struggle, proletariat literature (and language, and aesthetic), the literal exhaustion and frustration of pursuing the “American Dream.”

I am thinking of the narrator Carlos’s concern that his brother Macario’s political concerns seem more intellectual than actual.

I will also say that I hate it when discussions about America is in the Heart are firmly couched in sentimentality and ethnic identity politics — ethnic pride, ethnic authenticity.

On Dogeaters. You can’t read any hallucinatory balikbayan narratives or Manila narratives written by expatriate authors without referencing Dogeaters. You could teach Marianne Villanueva’s short stories in Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila to demonstrate the social changes before and during Martial Law. But there’s something about the form of novel itself, though there’s Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter. But particular to Dogeaters, there’s something about the socially diverse and then the marginalized/invisible (it’s important to me that we talk A LOT about Joey Sands, and then to a bit lesser degree, Orlando/Romeo and poor Trinidad, and how their stories fit in this cacophony with Daisy/Aurora, Lolita Luna, Baby Alacran, Leonora Ledesma, et al.), and unintentionally unreliable narrators (Except Pucha? When she finally speaks for herself, do we have any reason to believe her?), and their selective and fallible memories.

Some things.

Is Dogeaters still considered a “difficult,” “experimental” text? Is it really a “postmodern” text? In what ways are we now more popularly accustomed to collaged, non-linear narratives and shifting, multiple narrators challenging/refuting Master Narrative, than we were when this book first debuted in 1990.

Is it redundant, or logical, to also teach R. Zamora Linmark’s novel, Leche, after teaching Dogeaters. I am going with logical.

Is it fair, is it enough to have one Filipino Literature course offering, given that we have one century of Filipino writing in English under our belt, given that works in translation have been around much longer and should also be included in Filipino Literature (I teach Elynia S. Mabanglo’s Invitation of the Imperialist in translation), and given that Ethnic Studies and area studies are now becoming increasingly diasporic.

Shee-it (again). In Filipino Literature, I could teach a whole semester of Carlos Bulosan. Or a whole semester on lyric poetry. Or short story. Or graphic novel. Or YA Lit.

Or Pinay Lit …!

Publishing While Female and Foreign 2

IMG_20150105_124525

 

Continuing, possibly repetitive thoughts on the matter. I have been thinking that as I actually proceed with my new manuscript, I continue to write about the same things, over and over again. I am speaking of the bodies of brown women and girls, taken, consumed, broken, discarded, replaced with more of these bodies. That the ways in which these bodies are consumed become more and more perverse and cruel. That it is a common and global phenomenon often ignored, or worse, handled dismissively, or worse, appropriated by others for their own causes. We speak and we write about these things, and people claiming to “support,” really don’t, but do go out of their way to say such things as “we all endure and experience the same things as human beings regardless of color and/or gender.” Which we don’t.

So I am at this place where I decide I will continue writing about the same things, and that I will continue to find better, more concise, more disturbing and complex, and lyrical, and beautiful, and even sacred ways of saying these things. Ways that haunt and dismantle and burn slowly, and cause you to well up, and set the book down for a second to breathe. Ways that mess with your head. Ways that de-center English somehow (this one is hard, given that English is the language in which I am most literate and literary). Ways that confront USA-Americanism, and the USA-American patriarchal gaze. Actually, all of these are hard, especially because I am also interested in letting the poem be the poem again. Not strings of narrative broken somehow into lines. Not catharsis that has no sense of oral and literary tradition.

It’s in the how and why, in addition to the what, right?

Another thing I am thinking about is publishing (speaking of USA-Americanism, and the USA-American patriarchal gaze). What I have been thinking a lot about is this: Where do we and our desired readerships meet? Some say this is entirely out of our hands once we let the work go. To some extent, I agree, having encountered readers who I had barely envisioned ever arriving at my books. But don’t we write because there is something we want to communicate to certain someones? When we echo Toni Morrison’s often quoted statement, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” don’t we also mean, “If there’s a book our community wants to read….” Though, there’s also a demand for feelgood work, which I just can’t and don’t do. So, it’s questionable then, whether people really want to read what I write, because it is ugly, and obscene, and painful. I can’t (don’t, won’t) manufacture feelgood.

There are those who would tell me to let it go; just write. I do write. Of course I write. Of course I am writing. It just doesn’t feel like enough anymore. I decided to teach Filipino/a Literature, and to take a board of directors position with PAWA, because authoring is only part of the work of being an artist in the community.

But I am writing the damn thing. In addition to everything else, I am writing the damn thing.

That’s it for now. I am sure I have more to say. But back to work for me.

POEM: And the Word was a Woman

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Woman, and the Word was Woman

And the word was a woman a damn rib an absence malfeasance a (mis)played piece a parcel of speech

And the word was a woman a damned dame a bane to blame to set aflame

And the word was a woman an abscessed peace to please to preen to plea beseeched deity

And the word was a woman a besmirched virtue tidal surging pride purging upskirt urging chiding pervert searching

And the word was a woman a stutter a daughter a dutiful other a beauty to utter and smother

And the word was a woman a bridled bride an invite inside

And the word was a woman just an old bag an old nag a fag hag a chick to snag and shag

And the word was a woman raven ravished a maven brandishing rivers of symbol sinful simple skinfolk

And the word was a woman mnemonic she mimic and cry signing ape she make shit up on the fly

And the world was a woman nuestra señora ave maria salve regina

And the word was a woman maiden made of heaving blade bleeding brave breathing keening unseemly ably she wield her steel

And the word was a woman so loving she salving fevering she birthing grieving she giving forgiving forgoing

And the world was a woman walang nakakilala ngiti-ngiting dalaga mahinhin dalagita magiging manggahasa

And the word was a woman she slang soul searing swagger straying straining not abstaining

And the word was a woman thorny crone on the approach crouching unbound slow honing horns growing

And the word was a woman a handsome missus sandwich fixin’ hands for dishes washing rinsing hands delicious banishing our angst our ash axé aché to her we pray

And the word was a woman a kitchen kitten whisking fixture

And the word was a woman’s lady parts parted lady parsed farce

And the word was a woman eyes her straight razor gaze gotta turn away she burn you son

And the world was a woman puta que bruta siya ay bruja kontrabida y demonia wala siyang hiya ay que bárbara

And the word was a woman lowing lowly of homethings sewing hopes stings bowstrings consoling

And the word was a woman a mother a weathered withered other cursed and mercy thirsting

And the word was a woman chanting incanting her spell she can’t recall it all

And the world was a womb a wound a ruin a ruby entombed

And the world was a woman third world baby throw you shade she crazy ain’t no lady

And the word was a woman riot rhyming stylin’ in the night high as the almighty smiling wired diving wild dying child

And the word was a woman speaking womanspeak singing womansong sirensong succorsong singalong

And the word was a woman not a beautiful thing not the way you think of beauty a caged thing a waged thing a thing to be tamed and blamed and hewn in two

And the word was a woman a bitch spitting witch splitting the hissing hussy tongue fussy

And the world was a woman well warned well worn will torn spurned scorned

And the world was a woman wheel-turning water-bearing barely breathing

And the word was a woman working weaving webbing wellspring waxing

And the word was a woman an unmapped space a basketcase

And the word was a woman laden ladylike diminutive as advertised she came when he culled

And the word was a woman spitting guttural strange on the tongue caught in the throat a fishbone a needle a spine an impolite whine

And the word was woo and woe manhandled wholly man-made unholy man-entered hole

And the word was a woman trope token tokin’ blowin’ up this joint smokin’

And the word was a woman a brassy broad a bitch a boss

And the word was a woman tsismosa she loca y loba disgracia borracha usap-usap bunganga

And the word was a woman a whore a chore a deity of need

And the word was a woman nothing but a thing nobody but an owned body of everybody a no one of everyone

And the word was a woman rendered illegal tender beat her spend her meek girl bend her

And the word was a woman splayed a mislaid doll a little star a mauled thrall mewling muling she a musing she a monstrous bejeweled thing

And the world was a woman pearl serving girl whirled and hurled slurred and hurt herded dirtied blurring

And the word was a woman say hey baby she taint your taste unchaste wasteland

And the word was a woman she cupcake fuck bait funk fake hunt take cunt snake truncate drunk hate run straight she luster and flush she funk fake blood plait booty shake

And the word was a woman a venus a phoenix a fox a polygot remix

And the world was a womb’s warm walls

 

On being foreign and female while manuscripting and publishing

Naguisnan ni Adan sa Paraiso ay maraming hayóp na ang lahat may mang̃a caparis. Bucod lamang siya, na namumugtong na ualang casama,t, catulong sa lugar na iyon na caayaaya. Caya pinatulog nang Dios si Adan, at nang macatulog, ay hinugot ang isang tadyang ay guinauang babaye na ibinigay cay Adan. Sa pag laláng na ito, ay may isang misterio na naaninao si San Agustin.Hindi quinuha nang Dios ang babaye sa ulo nang lalaqui; sapagca,t di itinalagá na gauing pang̃inoon mag uutos sa lalaqui; hindi quinuha sa paa at nang di iring̃in at ariing hamac na parang alipin. Quinuha sa tadyang sa tapat nang pusó, nang pacamahalin at nang ariing isang casama, na cacatulung̃in sa pagtitiis nang hirap sa buháy na ito.

The above is an excerpt of Modesto de Castro, Urbana at Feliza, which I wish I had come to a long time ago. It’s OK because I have it now, and I can read it as slowly as I am able to. I’ve included this excerpt above to demonstrate some of the “foreign” elements that become necessary for and in my work. The excerpt is a retelling of the fashioning of Eve from Adam’s rib. The language is Tagalog, though not the modern Tagalog which I am accustomed to reading. So it’s old, and utilizes Spanish “rules.” And anyway, I’m not even close to the level of sophistication I would like to be in modern Tagalog.

But I’m fascinated by this book and its language, especially because it’s all about proper female behavior, as dictated by an elder sister toward her advice seeking younger sister.

Women regulating women. Women enforcing patriarchy.

The center of my work is the broken woman — in body and spirit, and the many ways in which she works to repair, reassemble. She is literally broken into pieces. In one case, she can only be identified by the serial number on her silicone breast implants. In one case, her pieces are thrown unceremoniously out of a speeding, moving vehicle and into the roadways. I have mediated and mitigated  a lot of the violence, but realize in my rereadings that the hints towards dismemberment are just as troubling. Despite these dismemberments, she still moves towards wholeness and against silence, only to encounter more brokenness and more silencing, inflicted upon her by patriarchal forces.

The conditions of the patriarchy are reliant upon that silence, and so the manifold acts of violence upon the woman are sanctioned. Mechanisms for silencing and breaking are institutionalized. And engulfed by these mechanisms, every little thing can muster must be an act of resistance. She prays, a hell of a lot. Can you blame her. This is where I really relied upon the many different Pinays who sent me responses to my ~20 questions. This chorus and core of Pinays who spoke so truthfully about what was most important and sacred and painful to them.

All this said, I’ve really been feeling so much that my subject matter, no matter how important it is to me, no matter how much care and effort I invest in the process of this writing — no matter all this, many will simply never care, never consider its relevance or importance, never come near it, never think of reading it. And this is all hella Debbie Downer, but I am also being real. Because the broken woman is a foreign woman, who keeps having her life opportunities violently taken from her, and she ends up having to compromise her own dignity. Because the languages of her oppression and resistance are not just English, but also these foreign languages, in which foreign means not American, not English, not in the Latin alphabet.

She is ubiquitous, transnational, diasporic. One of her many places of residence and oppression is the internet, which is predatory and misogynist. Just like our culture, in which “our culture,” is this Western popular culture that is a global popular culture of inflicting violences upon women’s bodies, feasting on them, throwing away their remains. This is global ritual, constantly being repeated.

All this said, the work is, in my opinion, still quite poetic. And that it is poetic is also troubling.

I have gone through many iterations of this manuscript, I have thrown a lot out, stripped it of any potentially gimmicky bits, and I have given it more (white) space. These (white) spaces are also troubling.

Nailing down a publisher for this was hard. I received a couple of painful rejections, and a lot more silence. So I kept working on the manuscript, improving it, making it clean.

Well, PAWA is publishing it, and I think that’s for the best. I love that PAWA believes that publishing this work would be an honor. I am honored by that. An added hope is that Pin@y readers will actually want to read this book, maybe even teach this book, rather than run in the opposite direction and put as much distance between it and them. Or worse: act as if it is an invisible thing, as if it does not exist.

Poem: To Pierce the Heart

BathalaDiwataPhilippinemythology

To Pierce the Heart

They take the spear
They pierce the heart

They are sorcerers and witches
They are beautiful, but unchaste

They are laden like asses
They are given as slaves

They are worthless women
They are infuriated bitches

They are exceedingly ugly
They are extremely lewd

They roll their bodies in filth
They are barbarous, laughable

They are entered by demons
They are the devil’s ministers

They belch forth fire
They draw out the entrails

They split their small bodies
They are half naked beasts

They are osuang, they fly
They consume human flesh

They will always deceive us
They will never, never love us

—–

This poem includes translated text from Primo viaggio intorno al mondo, written by Antonio Pigafetta (1519-1522), Cronicas, written by Juan Francisco San Antonio, O.S.F. (1738-1744), and Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas por Miguel de Loarca (June 1582).

Some Thoughts on Poetry, Difficulty, Language

Belated thoughts here, on my last lecture in Pinay Lit, in which we read Janice Sapigao‘s microchips for millions, and my For the City that Nearly Broke Me. This thing came up about use of languages not “readable” or readily accessible to readers. In Janice’s work, it’s the pervasiveness of the binary code. In mine, specifically the piece, “Malaya,” it’s the Tagalog/Indo-Malay “mash-up.”  

First, we recognize that binary code is indeed a language. We agree that it is a language, and we agree it is a language used widely in Silicon Valley, which is the setting for Janice’s work. We also agree that while we cannot read it, someone (or something) does; many someones (and many somethings) read it, function in it. It is directly related to the affluence of this area, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

If we cannot read it though, then is it enough, for us as readers, to have that recognition which I just described? Does that make the appearance of the language in Janice’s text effective?

Consider also, that while we readers cannot read this language, do the low-paid, overworked immigrant labor force of Silicon Valley, who are central to Janice’s poems read that language? Or are they as “in the dark” as we are, not knowing what is being communicated in that language? And if they are in the dark as we readers are, which I suspect is the case, then as readers, does that help us create a more layered reading experience?

(Similar questions arise regarding my “mash-up.” Can you read it? Probably not. If not, then what do you “do” with the poem? What is this poem about then?)

And does the presence of these languages in these works make the works, “difficult.” And if so, then is this a “bad” thing, this difficulty? In our communities, where so many readers and community members expect and demand narratives to be handed to them in the most non-threatening manner ever, especially narratives authored by women, and especially narratives authored by “younger” women. This perceived poetic cleverness, what I call a willingness to handle difficulty, is a thing if not disliked, then definitely discouraged. Anti-rigor.

I am thinking more and more about layers in poem, and layers in bodies of poetry. I am thinking I can’t write any other way, if I mean to write what and how I mean to write. And it is a challenge to write a layered, multilingual thing that both immediately disturbs you, and also unravels itself over time with a lot of thoughtfulness, and for readers and editors, it seems to become a terrible inconvenience.