One thing we’re talking about is Linmark’s skirting but ultimately steering away from sentimentality, which I think he does quite well. In a balikbayan narrative, or as Sunny writes, a “Great Philippine Novel” from the point of view of the balikbayan, sentimentality can kill the writing. But you have to come close, you have to risk it. The balikbayan narrative/hero story is necessarily an emotional one, and also a historical and political one. Questions of home and belonging, being Filipino and/or American, both, neither, invariably arise. How to handle these without falling into derivative, overdone, overfamiliar rant or tirade, didacticism and polemicizing that takes the work out of the realm of creative writing.
I just finished Leche yesterday, and am planning on teaching this in Filipino American Literature at USF in the Fall.
Some quick thoughts: I like Linmark’s portrayal of Manila, which is one of the principal characters in this novel. Manila is crazy, contradictory, it evades understanding, especially by our apparently ordered American minds. Linmark’s “hero,” is the balikbayan Vince, or Vicente. So this book is his hero journey through the morass of Manila, to try to figure himself out, as a Filipino, an American, the grandson of a Bataan death March survivor, as a Filipino American whose ancestry is very much the story of the Philippines itself – American soldiers and American teachers, immigrants/expatriates. His family is broken, fractured by immigration and economics. The microcosm/stand-in for the Philippines throughout history is Leche, the orphanage, brothel, museum, sex club, which all of the Philippines’ colonizers have had their claws in at some point in time. Even getting there is a chore for Vicente.
Whew! Lots has just happened, and Oscar and I have found ourselves in many lit spaces over the last few days, while also managing a couple of birthday feasts.
I need three more students to enroll in my Philippine/Filipino American Literature course, and it’s a go. Good news is that incoming freshmen have not yet enrolled, and I’ve also just spread the word to fellow USF faculty in Asian Studies and Asian American Studies, folks with whom I’ve recently reconnected at the 04/26 USF Growing Up Filipino American author panel, featuring Peter Jamero, Pati Navalta Poblete, and Janet Mendoza Stickmon. As I’d previously mentioned, I’d never met or heard Jamero and Poblete, so I wanted to say a few words about them, as I came away impressed with their presentations.
Bryan Thao Worra has asked for “beginning” readings in Asian American literature, and I’ve left a number of titles in my comment to his post. I think it’s worthwhile to list them here as well. Some things, questions, caveats:
- I don’t think anthologies are necessarily the best gateway into Asian American literature,
- I prefer API, to include Pacific Islander literature, which may be due to my Filipino-ness and the themes I think are relevant or common to Filipino American and Pacific Islander literature,
- I believe “beginning” readers of API literature can also “handle” less “conventional” narratives,
- Because I have lately been less interested in specifically Asian American (authored and themed) literature, there are obvious holes in this list,
- I wonder whether the API literature category includes Arab American literature,
- I feel limited to recommend work which deals somehow specifically with the API experience, and
- There are many narratives like Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, that are focused on the landscapes, histories, and politics of the “home” country and not the USA/North America.
Following up on my previous post on Martín Espada‘s The Lover of a Subversive is Also a Subversive, I would like to present some questions: Are “political poetry” and “literary activism” more palatable to those who find the political in the arts distasteful (which, by the way, is ahistorical), when these things are instead called “advocacy”?
I won’t enumerate upon the extensive history of Puerto Rican poets resisting empire, occupation, and military state brutality which Espada has provided in the book’s titular essay, “The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive.” What I want to point out is that while in this country today, such bodies as the Poetry Foundation and Ron Silliman are constantly calling our attention/linking to “Does Poetry Matter,” “Poetry Makes Nothing Happen,” “Is Poetry Still Relevant,” types of opinion pieces and e-gripes, Espada lays out this history, in rejection of that contemporary and privileged gripe. Poets have indeed throughout history resisted empire, dictatorships, war, and continue to do so. There is a courage and resolve there I can only admire and aspire to, in poets who speak and who disseminate the word which is the truth of the people, when the consequences of speaking are incarceration, torture, and execution.
Espada does not romanticize the existence of the poet dissident, and neither should we; we should recognize this as the power of the word, a potential all of us poets have when we take pen to paper, indeed why we come to poetry in the first place. Perhaps poets who bitch and moan that poetry makes nothing happen, that poetry is no longer relevant, prefer nothing to happen, and prefer irrelevance over recognizing our capabilities and responsibilities. We know which option Espada prefers; he recognizes this tradition of Puerto Rican resistance poetry as the lineage from which he’s emerged, and so the question that comes to my mind, again, is that of advocacy.
(To be continued…)
Just some thoughts for now, on Martín Espada’s The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive: Essays and Commentary.
This book of Espada’s essays on poetry and the role of poetry in political movements needs to be getting more attention than I think it’s getting. Indeed, nowhere do I see/read folks talking or writing about it. I am still reading it, and plan to write a review or series of micro-essays for doveglion.com.
Because it is a relatively well-known fact that Espada is a “poet-lawyer,” an advocate, I want to think about advocacy, what that word means, to advocate or to be an advocate:
–verb (used with object)
1. to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly: He advocated higher salaries for teachers.
2. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. (usually fol. by of ): an advocate of peace.
3. a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.
4. a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law.
Thank you to Jean Vengua for pointing me towards “I Am Not A Laughing Man,” an essay on writing penned by Carlos Bulosan, published in the out of print collection, On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan, edited by E. San Juan, Jr. I picked up this book a while back, as my original plan was to teach Bulosan’s poetry for my Filipino American Literature course which ended up being canceled.
Anyway, I have taught one of these essays, “The Writer as Worker,” for my Poets of Color class. I really appreciate Bulosan’s thoughts on the publishing industry, and what it means for him to be a writer, what his social and political role is as a writer:
Why should I write about labor unions and their struggle? Because a writer is also a worker. He writes stories, for example, and sells them or tries to sell them. They are products of his brain. They are commodities. Then again, the writer is also a citizen; and as a citizen he must safeguard his civil rights and liberties. Life is a collective work and also a social reality. Therefore the writer must participate with his fellow man in the struggle to protect, to brighten, to fulfill life. Otherwise he has no meaning — a nothing.
OK, this is giving me more insight into my ideas about Filipino Americans within or in relation to the existing publishing industry. Local activist and graduate student Jack Stephens discusses the shift in Asian American Studies from the original radical, working class, anti-imperialist stance into more middle class, identity politics based thinking. (I found this link via Jean Vengua’s Commonwealth Cafe blog, where I see her also grappling with what to do next). The other day, I blogged about the need to control our own means of production and distribution in publishing, to be the ones in editorial decision making positions, to know our communities of readers. It isn’t enough for “some of us” to find success within the larger publishing industry because this does not change the structure of this industry. To reiterate some of my points from yesterday’s blog post, the mainstream publishing industry isn’t set up with my community’s interests incorporated anywhere in their ideologies, and I believe this even when cries for diversity pop up as trendy bits and fetish objects when they do.
A fellow author just lamented via email that folks typically don’t respond to work publicly any more, whereas back in the day, folks actually used to blog substantially, thoughtfully about what we are reading, what we are thinking about poetry, poetics, and the world.
Since it feels a little bit like a vacuum over here, I’d just like to say I am grateful for some recent emails, from recent readers of Diwata:
speaking of good work: i had very little down time this weekend, but in the time i did make for myself i was able to get lost in your beautiful work, diwata. what a jewel and a blessing to read.
Thank you so much for Diwata. I found it today in a bookstore and read through it so fast my head spun. A lot of the themes you touch on — Eve, diwatas, aswang, language, dragonflies, rivers, storytellers, dreams — these are all things that I love and hold dear and do not see often enough in bookstores.
I’m writing to say that I got my copy of Diwata and have already read it cover to cover. It’s gorgeous. Just gorgeous. The book itself, as an object, the language of the poems, the treatment of these (often) painful ideas — all of it gorgeous.
It’s nice to know that people are reading the work, and that they like it enough to let me know. Salamat, folks, for taking the time.
From editors Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young:
A Megaphone collects a number of enactments that Spahr and Young did between the years of 2005-2007. In these enactments, they attempted to think with the playful dogmatism of a feminist tradition that they call “crotchless pants and a machine gun” (obviously referencing Valie Export) in order to locate what might still be useful today about the somewhat beleaguered “second wave” feminist traditions. To that end, Spahr and Young lectured in Oulipian slenderized baby talk about figures such as Carolee Schneemann and Marina Abramovic; they counted the numbers of women and men and tansgendered people in various poetry anthologies; and they invited writers from outside the US to talk about being a writer where they live (over seventy-five writers from Puerto Rico to Morocco to Croatia to South Africa to Syria to Micronesia to Korea responded). Also included in A Megaphone are discussions of that always contested relationship between feminism and “experimental” poetry by Julian T. Brolaski, E. Tracy Grinnell, Paul Foster Johnson, Christian Peet, Barbara Jane Reyes, Dale Smith, and A. E. Stallings. The book ends with a (soma)tic writing exercise from CAConrad, one designed to encourage readers and writers to create open, yet still meaningful, feminist alliances.
We like to think of A Megaphone as a shout-out to the feminist work that writers are already doing and to work that they might do in the future. Maybe work that they do together, even if they do it at separate desks. It desires a big sticky, messy feminist web.
It is a big book. About 400 pages. We’ve included a pdf of the table of contents and an index to give you an idea.
It will retail for $20. If you order from us before February 15, 2011, $18 and we will ship it free.
After February 15, please order through SPD.