Letter to a Young Poet: Pinay Style

This is a different time in which we’re writing. Remember when we would have to hand write, or type our words on a manual typewriter, with a carriage return and no correction tape. Remember handwritten drafts, remember the neatness of penmanship when approaching a final version, careful consideration of paper stock and finish, of choosing a writing implement. Part of my lament is about access and ease, but more so, it is about process and thoughtfulness. Yes, thinking before one speaks, painstakingly crafting one’s thoughts into something complete and cohesive. There is a respect to this process, the time it takes to compose. Being meticulous.

I once had a Waterman Laureat mineral blue fountain pen, with a gold-plated steel nib. I used this fountain pen to transcribe my finished poems into a matching hardcover, blue marbled, perfect-bound journal with gold leaf edged pages. I loved the sensation of that scratch — gold plated nib onto paper. Each page had to air dry before I turned the page or closed the book.

I am writing all this now, because of the kind of time involved in this kind of process. It’s about time, and it’s more so about thoughtfulness. About drafting. About composing, discarding, and beginning again. About making careful, well-considered choices.

Surely, when I was 19, my poems were precious, they were overwrought, they were cliché, they were derivative, they were sentimental. The language was abstract, fancy, pretentious. But I persisted. I read everything I could. I came to identify works I “liked,” and works I didn’t “like” so much. In other words, I grew into a discerning reader, identifying aesthetics, forms, languages that resonated with me. Still, I continued to read work I thought “offputting” at the time, because it was useful in my learning to identify and articulate what I did not “like” about a piece of literature. This is still an active process for me. I pick up a piece of literature, and I see how long it holds me, and why. Or why not.

So much, if not all of the above I did in private. There were few people to give me “thumbs up,” that I was on the right path with each and every nascent idea which became a first draft. There were few people, if any, who told me, “Yes,” yes, I could become an author, yes, my work was good enough to see in print. I hadn’t found my role models and mentors yet.

I am writing this all in first person, rather than phrasing it as, “You should,” because, as irony would have it, those who ask me what they should do, also resent my telling them what they should do. I have my own lived experience as evidence of how one aspiring writer may become an emerging writer may become an author. There are many paths to authordom, the most rewarding of which are the paths not of least resistance.

As I’ve written, this is a different time in which we are writing. Technology may make our words and works disposable, and at the same time, technology makes our words and works instantly public. So little incubation space, so little time for reflection, and then our words are out there before we are emotionally ready or mature enough to handle public reception of our words.

Technology also makes publishing so much more accessible, fast, cheap, and easy. These things, I still have to remind myself to resist. In social media, we may amass syncophants and enablers, in lieu of working on our craft, styles, and work ethics. This is also something we must resist.

Leslie Marmon Silko wrote, once story is “turned loose… it can’t be called back.” There is consequence, no? To our psyches, at handling this kind of responsibility before we are able, before we have developed our lakas loob. And in the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke, who has inspired this post, I will end this by saying that we must go into ourselves, into the “very depths” of our hearts, spending proper time there: Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This is a proper place to start. Know the process is long, and difficult. If it were easy, none of you would be clambering and clamoring at my in-box, demanding I bottle myself and give myself to you.

Female Literary Form?

I am preparing to teach Angeles Monrayo, Tomorrow’s Memories, in Pinay Lit this week. I have been thinking of how to introduce the form itself to my students. How not to take the diary for granted, to cast it as non-literary before we even have an opportunity to examine it closely. How much of that taking for granted is already gendered. Is the diary a female realm. When male writers keep diaries, do we not call them “journals.” What’s the difference, except for perspective and history.

So the diary as female, as epistolary, as in, “Dear Diary….” The diary itself is the confidant, listener, secret keeper. Remember those diaries we were gifted with as young girls, pink and floral, with gold leaf edged pages. And a tiny lock. Each page contained one day of the year. So then, perhaps brevity is also important in recording our private female thoughts. And so is penmanship! We think of diary as highly subjective and casual, with that “I,” which we don’t think of as a literary “I,” but a personal, an intimate “I.”

This is certainly different from blog and any other social media, even when we have adjusted the privacy settings on our accounts. Is there still naïveté about privacy online? Do we still believe no one can access us there? Is there still such as thing as private and secret spaces for girls?

In social media, in public platforms, we are hyper-conscious we are being read and viewed. When we blog, we are engaging in public discourse. Our online writings can travel, and be cited. Hence, we perform. We create public personae, which may resemble or intersect with our “true” selves. But as these public people, our thought processes become performance, our relationships are performed, our outrage is performed, our grief is performed. My guess is, performance has become so much our norm, we are “on” all the time. Even when we make proclamations that we are “switching off,” or “checking out,” we are performing that as well.

In the private diary, ideally there is no performance mode –Anne Frank certainly did not know she would be so widely read by so many people, in so many different languages. The diarist is honest about her beliefs, hopes, and dreams. She is sincere about what she knows and witnesses. It is the perfect medium for a girl, lady, woman, who has been instructed for generations, not to tread into public space, not to participate in public discourse.

And yet, there’s a contradiction, isn’t there. These same girls, ladies, women, have also been instructed for generations, not to prioritize, focus on, centralize the self and her opinions. But in the diary, she is the center, and it is all her opinion.

Blog 2.0: To Blog or Not to Blog

Hello everyone, as some of you may have noticed, I had to rebuild this website, and in the process of doing so, I’ve taken down the old blog. It’s sitting in a private WordPress archive, all eight years (2008-2016) of talking to myself and to some of you, about teaching, reading, writing, revising, and about “the industry.”

Prior to this, I kept a Blogger blog from 2004 to 2007. All of my blogs, pretty much cumulatively un-curated and super high volume. Perhaps some of it could be useful to folks other than myself. Published poems, essays, and book reviews came from my blog posts. Clarifying my ideas about syllabus creation and teaching, talking myself through manuscript revisions and submissions happened there. So yes, blogging was very productive for me.

Does anyone blog anymore? Do we lose anything, as we move away from this media, in favor of the intense, frequent, short, forgettable blasts of Facebook and Twitter? Or when we as writers move to Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, et al.

Or am I over-dramatizing? Perhaps this social media “long format” is no longer of use to most folks. I do know that what I wrote above, about my own uses of blog is what I would like to continue doing here. Even if I’m talking to myself, talking myself through my writing process, through manuscript revisions and submissions.

OK. Let’s see how this goes.