Ephemera, and the magic and mysticism of the artist and her muse


There is a widespread perception of “the editor is the enemy because he is the gatekeeper,” that editorial process stifles our true voices and our truths. And rather than rush to debunk the perception of the editor as gatekeeper and stifler of truth, I want to say that I am interested in how experienced, knowledgeable readers, teachers, mentors work to support us by bringing us into focus, by pushing us into more pointed, more thoughtful exploration of language, speaker, perspective-position-argument, nuance, complexity, layers, texture.

This goes much deeper, well beyond expressing one’s truth. In a well written, well composed, well edited work, one’s truth is laid bare and tested.

Virtual Blog Tour, Is Pinay Lit a Genre, and Tagging Others

From Vince Gotera: The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.

The person who invited me to take part in the blog tour is Vince himself, a poet and educator, who, like me, hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, though, he’s a landlocked Pinoy in Iowa. A more formal biographical statement is as follows: Vince Gotera is the Editor of the North American Review and a creative writing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. His collections of poetry include the forthcoming Pacific Crossing as well as Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and Fighting Kite. His work has also appeared widely in magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and online venues. Visit his blog, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” at http://vincegotera.blogspot.com.

Allow me to introduce to you, his poem, “Aswang,” a Philippine mythological creature that continues to fascinate so many of us. Perhaps this excerpt may help you understand the fascination:

… and I saw his mother, a pretty mestiza widow,
her face hidden by hair hanging down
as she bent far forward from the waist.
A manananggal, the worst kind of aswang:
women who can detach themselves at the hips,
shucking their legs at night like a wrinkled slip.
They fly, just face and breasts, to prey on infants.
For a moment, a shadow like a giant bat
darkened the moon…

"Aswang," by Hellen Jo.

“Aswang,” by Hellen Jo. helllllen.org

I would like to think the writing we are doing stateside is contributing to the lore.

Vince has also written up some wonderful explanatory text on the creature and on the poem, so let me not say too much more, except that our aswang poems will be sharing space in the forthcoming anthology Kuwento: Lost Things (An Anthology of New Philippines Myths) (Carayan Press). Go read this poem, and allow yourself to be spooked. Though, please notice the stanzas that comprise this poem are in sonnet form. He has written about formalism, and his use of form as well.

Here are the four questions I’ve answered about my own work:

"Gabriela Silang," by Francisco Coching.

“Gabriela Silang,” by Francisco Coching.

1. What are you currently working on?

Many things — developing and teaching college classes and community workshop, and editing an anthology, all of which are centered around Pinay Lit. Pinay, for those of you not in the know, is a term we use for Filipina, or Filipino girl or woman. Some use it in casual conversation, as affirmation, and others have politicized it (shouting with fist raised: “Pinay Power!”).

I have also completed my own poetry manuscript centered around Pinay voice, writing on the Pinay body.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Is Pinay Lit a genre? Let’s go ahead and say it is. However conversational or politicized the usage of Pinay, I’ve been interested in some time now, in potentially Pinay-centered literary space, in writing, reading, and teaching. Can we push the discussion to where it’s most sharp, most difficult — regarding historical and social issues, and just as important, narrative, craft, language, form.

Can we do this in spaces where those who identify as Pinay are both encouraged and emboldened to speak and push their writing, without the kinds of gendered, racialized pressures exerted upon us by our Filipino male community members who want to tell us what to do and what to think, by our white women colleagues who want to save us and speak for us, by our oblivious American classmates who just don’t give a shit. Can we do this without descending into an uncritical Kumbayah. Can we create a strong foundation on our own terms, welcome and maintain rigor, be empowered and articulate wordsmiths. I hope we can.

3. Why do you write/create what you do?

Much of my interest in Pinay lit is not just in the fact that I identify as Pinay and a Pinay author, but in my general observations and experience interacting with other Pinay writers. There’s so much fear, reticence, and timidity that I want to understand and dispel, not because all of us should be shouting and showing our teeth, bearing machetes and fists (though, isn’t that some kind of fierce, wonderful image), but because of how that fear hinders us from writing our stories and getting them into the world.

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

I am always online! The internet has become a place that concerns me, as much as the geographical places I’ve been writing about. I’ve been trolling Filipina bride websites for advertisements and testimonies (from brides and “clients”), and news stories about Pinay OFWs. Perhaps it’s morbid, but I am always looking for narratives about these women and girls being bought, sold, and broken, and I do this because I want to know what is happening to them in the world, and why. I don’t want to pretend none of this matters to me. I also don’t want to pretend that what happens to them also is happening to me. But I need to write about these women and girls. I’ve been crafting poetic lines, trying to flesh out narratives, to humanize the sound bytes and statistics I’ve been gathering. I need to find their resistances. I need to know that they fight back.

Now, as for the four bloggers I am tagging — yes, I’m only supposed to tag three, but these four are good:

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in the Netherlands. She attended Clarion West in 2009 and is an Octavia Butler Scholar. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Clarkesworld Magazine, The End of the Road anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, Philippine Genre Stories, the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies and We See a Different Frontier. Her Movements column appears regularly on the online magazine, Strange Horizons. http://rcloenenruiz.com

Rashaan Alexis Meneses: Born and raised in the seismically fractured and diverse landscape of southern California, Rashaan Alexis Meneses was recently awarded 2013 fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and The International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. Current publications include a personal essay in Doveglion Press, short stories in New Letters, Kurungabaa, UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review, University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults. http://rashaanalexismeneses.com

Anthem Salgado founded professional development program and web resource, Art of Hustle, providing training and consulting for creative entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. His experience spans 15 years across industries that include arts, education, nightlife, cultural and community affairs, and more. He focuses on marketing, helping maximize on audience development, referral building, and income generation opportunities. http://www.artofhustle.com

Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, CA. She won First Place in the 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open and her writing has been published/forthcoming in Glimmer Train Stories, PANK Magazine, Fjords Review, 580 Split, and Kweli Journal, among others. She cofounded and is editor-in-chief of TAYO Literary Magazine. As a Kundiman Fiction Fellow, VONA/Voices Fellow, and U.S. Navy wife, she splits her time writing on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and blogs at www.msipin.com. She is currently working on a novel. http://msipin.com/blog


Pinays, We Can Have Nice Things

Elsewhere on the interwebs, someone asks how our Filipino American community orgs. are evolving with the times. Given technology. Given other innovations. Given all of this change, how do we garner community engagement, and (how) can we sustain it? How do we garner support for our orgs., given the state of art funding in this country. How do we create as artists today? Central to the question of support is this: what are our community members willing to support monetarily, such that we are able to sustain what new work we are doing as artists and community workers.

As the VP of the Board of Directors of PAWA, I have always believed in providing a space that is reflective, meaningful, and of value to community members. I am also a minimalist. Not into spectacle and circus. Minimize administrative costs.

I am also a firm believer in paying the artists.

At PAWA, we created a regular reading series maybe five or six years ago, but interest in that fluctuates, and attendance is kind of sad to me. We have offered workshops; attendance and participation in these have also been quite sad. We offered poetry manuscript consultation, which brought in pretty good revenue, but that was really hard for me to sustain. And there was definitely interest, but not too many people able to afford, even with the sliding scale. That’s for real.

Now, we are offering a 10-week, online Pinay literature and writing workshop, and are using generally the same sliding scale as the manuscript consultation. And people are signing up! So this is telling me something about what our (my?) community members value and think of as beneficial, such that they are willing to commit their time and money to 10 weeks of a pilot, internet-based workshop program.

One thing I’m thinking more and more about is that we must learn to work, operate, interact, and communicate much better in e-space. As the teacher of the Pinay Lit class at USF, I’d received all kinds of comments on FB, from folks in the general community that they wished they could take my class. So then I sent out an informal “feeler” via FB post, regarding interest in such a course if it were to be offered via PAWA and with a creative writing focus. The feedback was enthusiastic that online, much more so than in an actual brick-and-mortar space, folks would hella totally do it. And they really are.

It’s great. You don’t have to leave your families and commute, pay for gas and parking. You carve out the space in your own home life, a couple of hours here and there. You do it. You plug away, and you do it. You work independently, and you do it.

And we do this, not with set e-meeting times, but with a schedule of what to read and write and by when. As the instructor, I create the structure and the schedule. I can record myself speaking if I must, or I can just write. Just like this.

This is great for our org., in that we do not have to worry about finding, reserving, and paying for spaces. This is great for me, because I don’t have to leave my home or my work desk. I can open up the option of Google Hang-Out or Chat or whatever it’s called these days, and it can be optional, by appointment.

As an org., we have to charge, because there is indeed value to what we offer, and so that people know there’s a commitment involved. And for me as the instructor, this is a lot of hard work.

But yeah. You know what, Pinays? Yes, we can have nice things. PAWA Pinay workshop info is here.

H-U-S-T-L-E-R: Hustler


Wow, remember this? That’s me and Anthem at Bindlestiff, circa 2003, courtesy of David Huang of Poetic Dream.

Anthem recently interviewed me for his Art Of Hustle podcast (this is forthcoming in the next couple of weeks), and this was a great conversation as always. We remembered that I was the first working artist interviewed for Art of Hustle, back in 2011! Since then, I have been told that one Pinoy writer applied to (and was admitted to) his MFA program as a direct result of listening to our 2011 interview.

Also, as I told Anthem, these days, I am finding a lot of young Pinay writers who are in the hustle themselves, immersed in their own writing education and publishing processes. He reminded me that back in 2011, I was encountering a lot of aspiring and emerging writers who presented themselves to me as unorganized, clueless, and unproductive about the entire process of writing, workshopping, editing, revising, researching for publication, submitting work; and adding to these things, there felt like a lot of people who came to me out of the woodwork, to tap me as a “resource,” assuming I would hook them up with my publishers and editors, without proper etiquette, without polished manuscripts in hand, without working knowledge of the process or the industry.

What’s changed in these last three years, Anthem asked. I told him I thought all of this social media may have something to do with it, the ease of finding communities of like-minded artistic folk, the ease of creating online workshops, journals and magazines, having so much information immediately available at their fingertips. It really would be a shame for anyone to squander this kind of access and availability.

Afterwards (off mic), I told him: the difference is who I am choosing to surround myself with these days — writers and artists who are self-reliant, who are hustlers, who are proactively figuring it out, who are actively reading other texts, who are building their bodies of work with a growing knowledge of what is out there — what informing bodies of text, what informing cultural productions are out there in the physical and virtual world. So then, appropriately equipped, this idea of where a writer envisions herself, given a growing knowledge of what is out there, and figuring out what the steps are to get there.

I think these days, it’s about having a fine filter — for myself as a mentor, in terms of who I can truly/realistically support and how (see above). Perhaps it’s my growing experience as an educator in literature and the arts, which has confirmed for me what I think I have always known about who you can ultimately reach, and who wants to be educated, versus who wants to mine you for connections. I think instead of whose work ethic best matches my own. And very importantly, what is the responsibility of the student or the mentee, but to be open to the learning experience, and to work for his or her own learning and growth.

This reminds me of the times in community writing workshops, back when I was a student myself. I remember some classmates refusing to read, comment on, to process poetry that was “too hard,” which really, could mean anything. Here then, the expectation is that meaning would be simply given to them, and that they would not have to lift a finger for that meaning.

I am not sympathetic anymore with folks who espouse that belief. You arrive at meaning by using your brains, your reading skills, your thinking skills, and your empathy. Here, “reading” is surely about text, about your experience with a text, as a reader with experience reading other texts, as a human being in this world, who is paying attention to this world and handling it critically, and emotionally, and intuitively.

So, filters then. We all need to develop these. Or lenses in the process of being focused! Everything can be a good idea and a worthy goal, but then you have to prioritize. I won’t give away the whole interview! Suffice it to say, my biggest lesson as a working artist and educator is about that filter, and the support system, the like-minded community of working artists and hustlers. The filter also includes the ways in which I tend to my own work and life. Healthy ecosystems. Minimal drama.

[Addendum: Remember Diane di Prima's talk at the SFPL Exelsior Branch back in 2010.]

Poem: continuation of a larger Sweetie poem in progress

They seem to come out in 14-line measures:

We are devastated by the thought of you, Sweetie
We are rooting for you to defy the odds, Sweetie

We are entitled to your story is ours too, Sweetie
We are deconstructing your construction, Sweetie

We are checking our status updates for you, Sweetie
We are seeking solidarity in likes and reshares, Sweetie

We are writing ourselves into your sad narrative, Sweetie
We are raising our virtual fists for you, Sweetie

We are displaying placards of protest for you, Sweetie
We are creating memes of defiance for you, Sweetie

We are creating distance between us and you, Sweetie
We are confused about ourselves because of you, Sweetie

We are consumed with ourselves because of you, Sweetie
We are consumed, like you but not like you, Sweetie

Poem: the beginnings of a larger Sweetie poem


When Sweetie was born, the soundtrack of fetid rain clacking on corrugated roofs.

Not roofs, really, but slattern shacks tied with plastic shopping bag rope binding

Corner posts, not really posts but demolished parts stacked, rebar reaching as

Petrified extremities, brittle, begging for coins. The shrieking thing’s birth was swift,

A tiny thing, barely the size of a man’s swinging fist. She was the daughter of a whore,

The sister of a whore. A whore begets a whore weans a whore, then gets back to work.

When Sweetie was born, market research findings revealed what the world wide web

Catalogued, user posts on bulletin boards, blogged testimonials boasting cottage industry

Pages illustrated with pixellated, Third World motion capture money shots. Catholic charities’

Videos capture Hollywood has-beens in squatter encampments, donning linen, immunized.

Here, you meet Sweetie’s harelipped kin, feral, big-eyed, swarming. Flipflops worn to concrete,

Matted hair, patella bones and open wounds, distended bellies. Petrified extremities, begging,

Broadcasting toll free numbers, websites, prime time, suppertime. You call because parasites

In the drinking water. You log in because you want the young, pure. Sweetie was born ready.