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

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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.]

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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

Revision:

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.

 

Teaching Pinay Lit: In the university and on the internet

Hydra[1]

Once again, ’tis that adjunct anxiety setting in. Will my class be a go next semester, and please God, let my class be a go next semester. That, and a DIY course, which I will offer via PAWA, online.

(I keep thinking about Kim Addonizio, who’s taught creative writing independent of institution for a long time now. That’s something I can totally respect and admire. I’m such a weird, many-headed animal, with pieces of myself in all kinds of different places. It works for me, and I like it, but it also requires a lot of moving, shifting, being crafty, negotiating, and having people look at me like I am a crazy bitch they will never understand.)

I rewrote my course description for USF’s Pinay Lit class, and I changed its official title to Pinay Lit. Let’s call it what it is, right? I needed the description to sound more appealing. I hope this sounds more appealing:

Course Description: This class is dedicated entirely to Pinay Lit. This semester, we will read and discuss poems, stories, memoir, novels, and comix all written by Filipino women, about the lives and life experiences of Filipino women and girls in the world. In order to supplement the literature, facilitating our multiple entryways into the texts, we will view/listen to Filipina/Pinay visual and performing art, mixtapes, and video. We will also have the opportunity to interact with local Pinay writers, who will discuss the writing life, and the significance of the Bay Area for their work.

Required Reading:

  1. Barry, Lynda J. One! Hundred! Demons! (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2002).
  2. Bobis, Merlinda. Banana Heart Summer (NY: Random House, 2008).
  3. Galang, M. Evelina. One Tribe (Kalamazoo, IL: New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2006).
  4. Hagedorn, Jessica. Danger and Beauty (SF: City Lights Publishers, 2002).
  5. Monrayo, Angeles. Tomorrow’s Memories (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press).
  6. Reyes, Barbara Jane. For the City That Nearly Broke Me (San Antonio, TX: Aztlan Libre Press, 2012).
  7. Suzara, Aimee, Souvenir (Cincinnati, OH: Wordtech Editions, 2014).
  8. Villanueva, Marianne. Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila (Corvalis, OR: Calyx Books, 1991).

A couple of texts here, which I have not previously taught, and am excited about the possibility of handling in a classroom setting, with younger students (first year university students, who still have intact all of the great reading and study habits that got them into college in the first place).

Now, as for PAWA online Pinay Lit and Creative Writing course: I am still working on a course description, which is sounding a lot like a manifesto. Some excerpts, from my draft:

In this eight [or ten?] week course, we will be reading Pinay narratives, writing creative responses, formulating questions and generating writing prompts from our readings of the texts. And of course, we will be generating new writing, based on our readings, and based on the writing prompts we’ve created.

What this course is interested in: fleshing out and complicating Filipina subjectivity, centering a multiplicity of Filipina narrators, speakers, characters, voices.

A note on my teaching. I tend to discourage abstraction-heavy work, and idea-heavy work when it is unmoored from concretes and specifics — scenes, situations, speakers we can see, and touch, and smell. I love ornate and ornamental work, but will discourage it when it is for the sake of itself, and not the narrative.

What I do encourage is the erasure of any perceived line between ethnic and aesthetic concerns — between craft, form, literary devices on the one hand; and language, politics, history, and culture on the other. Let’s talk about how these elements mutually inform one another.

So I figured it would be important to say some things about my teaching and aesthetics/sensibilities, so that folks who would think of joining me and a community of writers online, would have an idea of what to expect. I think, the super-condensed version of the PAWA course description above would be what I’d been asking my grad students about their manuscripts in progress: What’s at stake? Cutting to the heart of the work. Not that our creative writing must be utilitarian! But — perhaps because I’m a poet — I am interested in work that gets into it without wasting any time. You know how sometimes you want to nix opening and closing stanzas out of people’s poems? Oh, um, I want to do that. A lot.

Writing Prompts for Poetry Chapbook Projects

‘Tis that time of the semester again, when I start compiling writing prompts based upon the work we have read and discussed, for my students’ creative final projects. Here is what I have so far, for Poets of Color class.

  • Poems with a strong sense of place. Here, place can be the specifics of the natural world you inhabit, flora and fauna, geological features, textures, colors, smells, weather patterns. In addition to the natural world, what are the features of the modern world interacting or intruding upon it? What technology, industry including tourism, what new cultural and religious institutions from new settlers, invaders, what new languages are changing the landscape of your place.
  • Here, place can also mean the urban landscape you inhabit. How do languages and cultures, economies, political values intersect and/or collide in your urban space. What gets erased? What gets replaced?
  • What is your specific subjectivity in these places? Are you a tourist, visitor, native, transplant, migrant, invader? What are your interactions with your place’s various inhabitants and their subjectivities? What is your viewing position? Are you street level, in the mix, viewing through camera lenses, windows, from balconies/perches or other distanced positions? Are you talking to people or eavesdropping on their conversations?
  • Poems that focus on language, establishing or reclaiming languages. What are the official languages of the places you inhabit? What are the official languages of your community or family? How do you compose and communicate in these languages, and to/with whom?
  • Poems examining your relationship with the specific institutions in which you are immersed. What are the specific cultures, cultural artifacts, forms of these institutions?
  • Poems re: the body, what composes or comprises the body? Here, I mean not just physically and physiologically, but politically and culturally. What structures of power are writing your body? What violences are associated with those structure of power? What narratives have been written about/imposed upon your body, how do you make sense of these narratives? Which of these narratives, what fables, what mythologies, what official documents and sacred texts do you accept, reject, rewrite, revise, erase, blackout, whiteout? What do you appropriate?
  • Poems re: cultural, artistic/aesthetic, political foremothers or forefathers, and/or colleagues. How do your texts interact with theirs? How do you incorporate their texts into yours? What kind of dialogue are you in with them? What do write of your artistic and political concerns in your letters to them (if you were to write letters to them)?

OK, that’s what I’ve got for now. More soon.

What does it mean to decolonize the creative space #2

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Who makes the rules? Are we OK with that? Do we follow the rules? Do we break the rules? How do we get what we want, as individual and community artists? How do we get to do what we love to do as artists? And then finally: are we interested in social change? If we are interested in social change, what are we doing, how are we participating in movements towards social change?