Wow, lapses in blogging have become the norm for me. I told Oscar recently that I missed blogging, and feel I haven’t had a substantial e-space to work out stuff needing working out. I am guilty of becoming the kind of social networking person I dislike — posting up quickie FB updates, oftentimes with minimal context, and oftentimes with very little conversation. The good news is that while kicking my ass, teaching is going very well. I suppose that’s become my space to work stuff out, engage in the kind of necessary dialogue about community and literature.
Chorus: A Poetry Manuscript in Progress
These words and stories do not belong to me. So much of my poetry to date has been an assumption of a Filipina American or Pinay voice, an academic assumption of Pinay concerns. The demand for me to be some kind of Pinay spokesperson has come to fill me with ambivalence, and so I needed to ask, to pass the mic, to step aside and let other Pinays speak, to listen to what they have to say, how they speak, write, and make art about what is important to them. What stands out in their responses is a struggle against invisibilities and silences, a hunger to be heard, and to be acknowledged. Here are their words and narratives, from which I have built poems. Here, I am only one of a chorus of Pinay voices.
Some (mostly Pinay) informing texts and works of art include Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik’s “1492,” Nara Denning’s Neurotique [and other films], M. Evelina Galang’s “Deflowering the Sampaguita,” Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s “One Question, Several Answers,” Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Melissa Roxas’s “Poems as Evidence,” and Jenifer K. Wofford’s “MacArthur Nurses.”
A debt of gratitude to my collaborators: Kimberly Alidio, Olivia Ayes, Terry Bautista, Richie Biluan, Caroline Calderon, Rachelle Cruz, Niki Escobar, Diana Q. Halog, Aileen Ibardaloza, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Veronica Montes, Camille Ikalina Robles, Leny Mendoza Strobel, for lending me their words and stories. Maraming salamat, at Diyos ti agngina.
Just some thoughts.
First, “experimental” should be in quotes, just like that. It’s a blanket term or that miscellaneous box that you throw stuff in when you can’t immediately, clearly understand or access it. And even using the term in the first place already changes the reader’s expectations for the work.
So why do/did I use the term? Well, because I wanted my students to be prepared to read and discuss texts that do not appear to give us a conventional narrative.
Some quickie history: I’ve heard all kinds of disdainful stuff said about the “experimental” poet within a Filipino American context, at least on this here side of the country. I think there may be an element of distrust involved; is the writer “tricking” us or hiding something from us. Why can’t she just give it to us straight?
From Small Press Distribution:
October is Filipino American History Month,
so we asked SPD-author Barbara Jane Reyes to select
some of her favorite titles by Filipino & Filipina authors
All are available for the rest of the month at a 40% discount!
Just select any of the books listed below, put them in your cart,
and enter the following promotion code in the upper left box:
You will see the price of the selected title(s) drop by 40%. Offer expires November 1!
Thirteen Ways of Looking at TheBus by Gizelle Gajelonia (Tinfish Press)
Mayor of the Roses by Marianne Villanueva (Miami University Press)
The Anchored Angel: Selected Writings by José Garcia Villa by José Garcia Villa (Kaya Press)
Eye of the Fish by Luis H. Francia (Kaya Press)
Going Home to a Landscape edited by Marianne Villanueva and Virginia Cerenio (Calyx Books)
Returning a Borrowed Tongue edited by Nick Carbó (Coffee House Press)
Silk Egg: Collected Novels by Eileen R. Tabios (Shearsman Books)
Leaving Yesler by Peter Bacho (Pleasure Boat Studio)
Babaylan edited by Nick Carbó and Eileen R. Tabios (Aunt Lute Books)
The Thirdest World by Gina Apostol, Eric Gamalinda, and Lara Stapleton (Factory School)
The Translator’s Diary by Jon Pineda (New Issues Poetry & Prose)
Poeta en San Francisco by Barbara Jane Reyes (Tinfish Press)
The Flip Side: A Filipino American Comedy by Rod Pulido (Tulitos Press)
One Tribe by M. Evelina Galang (New Issues Poetry & Prose)
Prau by Jean Vengua (Meritage Press)
Leche by R. Zamora Linmark (Coffee House Press)
Drive-By Vigils by R. Zamora Linmark (Hanging Loose Press)
Matadora by Sarah Gambito (Alice James Books)
Pinoy Poetics edited by Nick Carbó (Meritage Press)
Do Filipino American communities need Filipino American literature? Why/why not?
What do Filipino American communities need from Filipino American Literature?
Is what they need the same as what they want?
If not, as Filipino American authors, is that OK with you?
As Filipino American authors, do you care about what Filipino American communities need and/or want?
And if you care, how do you see your work in relation to what Filipino American communities need and/or want?
I am asking these questions, thinking again on the role of the artist in his/her communities, and certainly, in larger society: Represent? And what does it mean to represent? What specifically does it entail? To reflect, direct, affirm, educate, challenge, assuage, coddle, pander, anesthetize, indict, distract?
Addendum: I am asking these questions, because I have been reveling in teaching this semester, and wondering about the relationship between what is learned in the college/private university classroom, and what is in the “real world.” I prefer not to think of myself and my role or position as a Pinay/woman of color poet/literary practitioner and educator as somehow wedged between multiple factions or cadres, but these days I am feeling dividing lines pretty firmly drawn, and I questioning why this is. I feel like the best I can do is to challenge my students to rise to the occasion by questioning established assumptions regarding capital-P Poetry, or about political poetry, “spoken word” poetry, “academic” poetry; by thinking critically about the various places in the world our poetry and literature inhabit. Indeed, both of my classes this semester are really impressing me with their lines of questioning, open-mindedness to hear me out, and willingness not to settle with set definitions and categories.
Outside of these awesome settings, it’s not feeling so good, and I’m not so sure how to articulate clearly why this is, except to say it has something to do with soft expectations and anti-intellectualism. Better yet: Why do we jettison rigor, ambition, professionalism, and critical thinking in the name of consensus building. And feelgoodism.
Thank you to the folks who’ve given me feedback on my recent and current flurry of syllabus creation, on grappling with labeling and definition, on inclusion, et al. As many of you know, I am a proponent of dialogue, questioning, even disagreeing, when done in civil, well-meaning, community oriented ways.
I’ve gone back to my previous two posts (here and here) on syllabus creation and reading lists, and I have added links to the titles. (I have also decided in favor of the Powell’s Partners program, similar to the now defunct Amazon Affiliates.)
Indeed, there are many challenges to Filipino Literature, first of which is deciding on terminology. Filipino or Filipino American. Other Pinay scholars have asked me why omit “American” in my course titles. There is, after all, marked differences between Filipinos of USA citizenship, and Filipinos of Philippine citizenship. First, I think, the Filipinos of citizenship other than USA or RP are already omitted from this picture, so then, this picture is an incomplete one, a closed one.
As Luisa Igloria published a very early essay of mine in her anthology, Not Home But Here: Writing From the Diaspora, published by Philippines-based Anvil Publications, I had an opportunity to speak on an authors’ panel at AWP in Chicago many years ago, alongside Filipino writers Ella Wagemakers, Edna Weisser, Reine Arcache Melvin, who hail from the Netherlands, Germany, and France, respectively. Weisser said something I’d never really had to consider; writing in English in a country such as Germany, where the first language of most of its readers, and the first and major language of its literary traditions is not English thus limits her. Finding a local community of readers is more challenging than we can imagine. Finding publishers is also challenging. She must therefore rely on the Philippines-based, USA-based, and other English-speaking countries’ publishers and readership.
I wish to have more dialogue about these things, especially as so many of you are asking me for my syllabi, and others out there are at the beginnings of your own syllabi creation. The FB “Like” is obnoxious and dissatisfying to me, and tells me little. Thoughts? Challenges?
I have been thinking more about Filipino literature, more about elevating the literature, and wondering what, concretely, that entails. I have been wondering too, about the balance between the culture making and political statement on the one hand, and the handling of the literature as literature. I told my USF students last week that in addition to the craft, the writerly concerns of the writer, there’s an additional pressure on the work and the writer to be that cultural ambassador and spokesperson, to be culturally and politically relevant. Again, a pressure on the work to DO something. Thing is, I think this pressure is internally imposed, as in, a community pressure.
Some notes on the recent flurry of syllabi creation. As you may know, I am teaching Filipino Lit at USF this semester, and if all goes according to plan, I will be teaching Pinay lit next semester at USF. Additionally, I will be teaching Filipino Lit at SFSU next semester as well.
Many of you have been asking for my syllabi, which I do take as a compliment. I appreciate that you consider me a resource or even an authority on the subject. I should also say that if you are interested in Filipino literature, DO take the time and initiative to dig and search, try to “discover” or “uncover” Filipino writers you’ve never heard of, and try to figure out how these many, many writers and pieces fit together. This is how I’ve come to find lots of the writers whose works I am now teaching or planning to teach. Lots of searching. Finding lines of association. Scouring academic databases. Linking to other places to link and so forth.
Seattle-based International Examiner has recently posted lists authored by APIA writers, editors, and academics, five titles of APIA literature that have influenced them. Fellow APIA writer Claire Light has meme’ed a bunch of us on Facebook, asking us the same question. I’ve left my five items as a comment on her wall, but would like to expand my list here, and talk a bit about “influence.” Sometimes for me, it isn’t about “influence,” as much as it is about resonance. These days, in the thick of reading and teaching, I find in the post-writing and publishing process that work’s out there, and my own work has connected with it. But back to the beginning, it looks something like this:
Jessica Hagedorn, Dangerous Music (Momo’s Press, 1975), and Danger and Beauty (Penguin, 1993). Jessica is THE O.G. Pinay poet, the one we Pinays all purportedly want to be. I wanted to be Jessica Hagedorn when I was 19, 20. I’m 40 now, and while I’ve long ago shed the desire to be someone else, I admit Jessica was the first Pinay I encountered in print, and in gangsta performance. In other words, she showed me what we all could be capable of as Pinay artists. And that is some powerful juju. Her poems were funky, raw, sharp, fearless, the opposite of Maria Clara acquiescence.
I realize now though, that the pieces from Danger and Beauty which have remained with me are her essays, “Papologia,” (which serves as the collection’s intro) and “Homesick.” “Papologia” is a little burst of memories/flashback, ecstatic with belonging, carving out multicultural, multidisciplinary artist communities in the hard and contested spaces that are our Bay Area urban centers. “Homesick” is perhaps its opposite, making problematic our nostalgia for the homeland to which we can never truly return, or can we? Or returning with a different set of eyes, what then of belonging?
At UP Diliman in the early 1990′s, in my comparative lit class, Filipino Women Writing in English: Love, War, and Exile, taught by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, so many of the women (all Philippines-based) were so resistant to Hagedorn’s “Homesick,” and the general sentiment among them was, “You’re in America now, what do you have to complain about?” I remember defending the piece, and defending the position of the balikbayan, returning to a place (as I had just done) that bore no resemblance to our memories, that we now knew more from international news reports, and from our (in)formal post-colonial political and arts education — the irony of learning about Filipino colonial mentality in our First World cultural and arts spaces, and for me, in American university classrooms.
“Say Flip, you is so funky…” — Vince Reyes, “For My Stylin’ Brothers.”
[Photo credit: Tony Remington, Liwanag (1975)]
Some things I am thinking about today: I am thrilled to have found some poetics essays by Al Robles (1930-2009), and Serafin Malay Syquia (1943-1973)*. I am also thrilled to have found an article by Ninotchka Rosca on Asian American artists and the Asian American audience (I will talk about this Rosca article another time). These things I’ve found while on my usual scour of academic e-archives, and my bookshelves, for my USF Filipino Literature syllabus.
Al Robles wrote “Hanging on to the Carabao’s Tail,” a creative essay published in Amerasia in 1989. It’s very critical of the Asian American poet, or of the poet in general, of the work we are to do, and of the alliances we are to form. He references Russell Leong’s essay on Asian American poets 1968-1978, also in Amerasia, Leong’s discussions of Third World reorientation, and the enacting of Tribe: “We read as we wrote — not in isolation — but in the company of our neighbors in Manilatown pool halls, barrio parks, Chinatown basements.”
I understand why this mode of poetic creation and creativity is the preferred mode; in order to write about community and tribe, we must practice and embody community and tribe.
I therefore also understand why those who engage in the solitary act of writing and reading are viewed with suspicion, even contempt, by the tribe.