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


Hi all, it’s been an interesting last few weeks, during which I was interviewed twice, by two different Filipino community members — Rochita Loenen-Ruiz in the Netherlands, and Anthem Salgado here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I definitely appreciate being sought after to engage in these wonderful discussions about writing and community. I am honored to be thought of as someone with knowledge worth sharing.

One thing that these conversations had in common was talk about work ethic and (for lack of a better phrasing), creating work, and working within the specific industry of publishing. It always makes me think about/reflect upon whether working within the system that we know as the publishing industry really is best for us (Fil Ams) —

If so, why. If not, why not, and then, more importantly, what’s the alternative.

I am thinking about readership and audience. I’ve talked about this in various places, but it bears repeating and thinking about again and again. Who do we want/envision as our audience and readers? How far into the world do we envision our work traveling? How are we going to get our work to that imagined, desired place?

These are not abstract questions, but questions that should inform strategy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some limited run, community based productions, and their ephemeral quality. Community ephemera then. Surely, the fact that these community based publications exist in limited quantities, or specific circles makes these productions special, and precious. The existence of these community productions is empowering. We did this. With our own hands, we did this, created something for us, by us. We have exercised freedom of expression, and no one can take that from us.

The productions do live on, usually in community memory, in personal collections, in community members’ archives. Perhaps they get mentioned in our local Asian American and Filipino American classes, as testament to the creativity and the initiative taking/DIY ethic of our community.

Years later, decades later, the existence of this ephemera becomes legendary. And the fact that they are legendary — Good thing? Bad thing?

Good, in that the members of our community who took a chance and created what they created — they show us what we are capable of creating. They show us our stories are worth documenting. We are affirmed. The creators become our mythical heroes, and we need heroes that look like us.

Bad too, in that when the work has fallen out of common knowledge, discussions of the work and the substance of the work also fall out of common knowledge.

For me, questions arise: How do we bring the work, and substantial conversations about the work, to our continually growing community, of new immigrants, of students, young artists, young activists — locally is already a challenge, but think also about beyond the local. Not just Filipino Americans in the Bay Area, in Northern California, in California, on the West Coast, in all parts of the country. And then to our “allies,” workers, activists, creators of cultural productions from other communities with whom we have shared so much history and struggle. Chicano/Latinos in California, in the Southwest. Latinos/Nuyoricans in New York. People of the African Diaspora. Various APIA communities all along the West Coast, and Hawaii, and their growing numbers mobilizing in all parts of this country. What about indigenous people of the Americas and of the Pacific Islands, what about worldwide indigenous peoples, and so many conquered and displaced people.

Then there’s Filipinos in the Philippines, and Filipinos in our own Diaspora, global, transnational Filipinos.

There are all kinds of conversations happening on the internet, regarding populating collections and archives. I wonder though, how accessible to the general public — the community outside of academic and political spaces — these collections and archives are.

I am concerned with knowing the specifics of reaching beyond our specific and our local. I don’t have definitive answers as much as I am concerned with mindful strategizing.

Thing is, there are a lot of people interested in strategy, SEO-ing, website building, being enterprising, and perhaps there’s more interest in these than in the work itself, qualitatively. There seems to be a lot of open-ended dependence in what the internet, what technology can do. If you self-pub, if you optimize, then people will buy your book. For me, not only does this lead to the same problems as I’ve just written about DIY ephemera. There are also more questions about the work itself. The manuscript, the quality of the writing, the quality of the editorial work.

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.

You know how you read a (dare I say) masterful work, and the way you come to feel is unexplainable and even unutterable. The writer leaves you unsettled, or makes you think things you had not anticipated. When you expect a clenched fist, instead you get a troublesome whisper or a question. When you think you are ready to make a judgment, you are instead presented with some kind of complication, turning you ever so slightly towards compassion. When you think you are exhausted and ready to quit, the writer somehow urges you to stick with it to the bitter end, and leaves you still with questions you take with you, into the real world, into the ways in which you see the world.

This is not just good writing that makes these things happen, nor is it raw cleverness. It’s painstaking work over time, in the writing and editing the writer does, and then in editorial collaboration with colleagues, mentors, and/or editors, who balance the integrity and effectiveness of the work with the intentions of the writer. And also in the mix are the vision and mission statement of the press, if that work has already been accepted by a publisher. Nothing I am saying here is new; it’s coming from various recent conversations I’ve been having with other writers. What do you need, what does your work need, specifically, to get there. How can you get what you and the work need?

This is unappealing stuff to think about; we want to believe in the magic and mysticism of the artist and her muses. But I write all of this, precisely because people are asking me all the time how I’ve gotten published, and how they may also get published. For me, it is not by mistake or luck or trickery that my work continues to end up in the places it has, and with every manuscript, it’s still a challenge to get placed. I am still learning, still improving, and I still receive rejection letters. I want to believe it gets easier, but I really don’t think it does. I can’t blame the professionalization of creative writing or the proliferation of MFA programs for this difficulty. I can’t blame racism for this difficulty, that if people don’t “get” me and my Filipino-ness, then I won’t be published. We know that’s not the case; there are plenty of Filipinos and POC in this country writing some formidable work, getting published in some scary amazing places, being talked about, being read, being taught. We can’t blame whitewash for their accomplishments. That’s cheap.

[To be continued.]


My First Book is Ten Years Old and a Hat Tip to Henry Rollins

gravities of center

“A snake is crawling along a desert trail that parallels a straight, black paved road. Over the horizon walking down the road in the opposite direction is a woman. The two get closer and almost pass each other, but each stops in time. They both step into the area that runs between the trail and the road. The wind gusts suddenly, and the snake is instantly transformed into a man. He has dark hair. He is marked with scars and symbols, patterns of his tribe. The two walk toward each other and embrace. Another gust of wind comes and blows all vestiges of clothing off them both. The sun holds still for a moment and starts to slowly rise, and as it rises it turns a deep crimson and gives off a low, metallic whine. The couple are fully embraced and perfectly still. Their bodies fit together like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Another gust of wind comes and blows the flesh and organs off the man and woman so all that’s left are two skeletons locked in embrace.”

– Henry Rollins, from Pissing in the Gene Pool & Art to Choke Hearts

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Poetry Manuscript is Clean, Complicated, and Grisly

Princess Urduja, Fernando Amorsolo (1892 – 1972, National Artist for Visual Arts), 1959, oil on canvas, 61 x 87 cm.

Yes it is. All at once clean, complicated. grisly. First, the clean: Palatino and Baybayin Lopez 11-point fonts. Standard one-inch margins. Lots of white space, lots of two-column multilingual poems. 64-pages. All titles in the infinitive form.

The lines, uniform stanzas, and columns are very tidy. I know, Dan Langton used to say that there’s no need for us to anchor ourselves to the left margin. Sure, I’m with that, but I think about the reasons to weigh anchor, and that I don’t have good ones. The orderliness of the pages and then the content of the poems are in some kind of tension.

My relationship with Line is an ever evolving one.

In the past, I’d shied away from the metered line, for a few reasons. First was my resistance against formal poetry — more reactionary than legitimate resistance — and then because I didn’t think I was any good at executing these without going all sing-song. These days, I am pushing the sing-song, precisely because my content has grown disturbing. My content upsets me, and (as above, regarding orderliness) the metric quality of the lines serve to upset me all the more. You know, tra-la-la, she was hacked to pieces by her estranged husband, four decades her senior, tra-la-la. Have y’all read Eve Merriam’s The Inner City Mother Goose? Yeah.

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Fil Am Writers: Stuff To Know?


OK, yesterday I received another email forward from a Fil Am writer whose name was not familiar to me, which simply means I do not know this person’s writing at all, what this person writes, where this person is based, who is this person’s direct community. The email was a very belated response to Bino Realuyo’s Huffington Post write up from a few months ago, “Dear Filipino Immigrants Who Will One Day Read Our Books.”

I am glad the article is still resonating, really. I want to keep talking about our community of readers and writers. I really do believe we do have a community (or communities) of readers and writers.

The email was a complaint about Filipino Americans who are not readers, but people who “gossip,” “watch TV,” and “dance.” The email was also a complaint that no one was buying this writer’s book, and that word of mouth was slow, mostly through family. So, these complaints are related. I think the first of the two, the accusation and judgment, is a result of this person not being able to move his/her books.

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Poetic Industrial Complex: “You must keep moving.”

Blake Butler has got an amazing post, “22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing,” over at HTML Giant. I highly recommend everyone read it! Again, the reminder to put this submissions thing into perspective. I’ve been repeating here, broken record stylee, that I recommend focusing on more important things than allowing ourselves to get swallowed up in the seamy po-biz stuff. What are the more important things? Well, writing, for one. Writing, and growing stronger as a writer, through much practice, through much success and failure, which isn’t even really failure, and as a continually growing artist, always writing, always reading, always learning, being prolific, always in movement, and rather than creating work which merely satisfies the industry’s current trends and demands, aspiring to create great work that will grow beyond us.

Here’s something of note:

If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.

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07/30/2011: PAWA Workshop: How to Submit Your Work for Publication

PAWA WORKSHOP with Barbara Jane Reyes: How to Submit Your Work for Publication

Bayanihan Center, Mission Street @ 6th, San Francisco.

Saturday, July 30th, starting promptly @ 10 am

Registration: Sliding Scale ($25-35 for students with valid student ID; $35-50 general).

Please make checks payable to:
Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.
P.O. Box 31928
San Francisco, CA 94131-0928

Include “07/30/2011 workshop” on the memo line.

Paypal option is here: http://www.pawainc.com/julyworkshop.html.

What to Bring: yourselves, your questions, your current submissions packets, your current submissions calls resources.

Who Should Attend: Aspiring and emerging writers with limited or no experience with the submissions process, or writers with some submissions experience, who would like to refine or clarify their own current processes.

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Poetic Industrial Complex: Do You Publish in Order to be Google-able?

Really, is this what the goal is, and/or is this what the goal should be? And if so, how to attain Google-ability?

This comes up as I have been preparing for the PAWA Submitting Your Work for Publication workshop. I have been asking other writers questions about what some issues and hang-up’s around publication are. Google-ability has come up.

I believe that’s beyond publishing, not necessarily a separate issue, but one that detracts from the core work and efforts of publishing.

That said, I do believe in maintaining a steady and professional web presence. This is why I have this website (and all these ancillary sites: FB, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Really, look at all these places, though I can only realistically be active in one or two, and just have RSS feeds lead back here), which I should be updating more regularly than I do. I used to post here nearly daily, but that’s becoming impossible.

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Poetic Industrial Complex: Promotion and Submitting For Publication

I have been posting calls for submissions like mad, over at the new and improved PAWA blog, and have been a little surprised at the non-response to them. I know; just because I’m not hearing any feedback does not mean folks are being unresponsive. It’s just that I have been trying to gauge community interest in submitting work for publication.

Here is what befuddles me: There’s so much dialogue over our invisibility and non-presence on bookstore shelves and on course syllabi, coupled with reticence to put work out there in a major way. As well, there’s so much interest in self-promotion, in being recognized, so much desire to be given props and praise for being poets and writers, coupled with reticence to put work out there in a major way.

What gives, with the contradictions? I am interested in untangling that, and giving substance to the picture of “poets and writers,” and the necessary work to make it so.

As my friend and fellow author Sunny Vergara has recently blogged, it’s loaded, “self-promotion,” and the term, “shameless self-promotion.” Submitting work is part of the work of self-promotion. With every cover letter we write to accompany every submissions packet we send out, we engage in self-promotion. We’re submitting to the possibility that our work is good and/or interesting enough to warrant publication in a potentially competitive field. He’s listed some truths, which I believe are important to arrive at on our own schedules, after going through our own processes:

  1. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be discovered.
  2. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be invited to speak.
  3. You cannot sit on your ass and hope to be published.

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07/30/2011: PAWA Workshop on How to Submit Your Work for Publication

OK! So I’ve got a space reserved, a date, and a time, and now just have to get materials together.

What: PAWA Workshop with Barbara Jane Reyes: How to Submit Your Work for Publication

Where: Bayanihan Center, Mission Street @ 6th, San Francisco.

When: Saturday, July 30th, starting promptly @ 10 am.

Registration: Sliding Scale ($25-35 for students with valid student ID; $35-50 general). Please make checks payable to:

Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.
P.O. Box 31928
San Francisco, CA 94131-0928
Include “07/30/2011 workshop” on the memo line.

Paypal option is here: http://www.pawainc.com/julyworkshop.html.

What to Bring: yourselves, your questions, your current submissions packets, your current submissions calls resources.

Who Should Attend: Aspiring and emerging writers with limited or no experience with the submissions process, or writers with some submissions experience, who would like to refine or clarify their own current processes.

For more information, please email: pawa@pawainc.com.

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Manuscripts in Progress: Some Thoughts

It may be time to get me to a writer’s retreat. This is what Oscar suggested this morning. I have found myself in this place where I am carrying around my multiple (e)notebooks, each a different manuscript project. Certainly, this started as I was processing the fact that Diwata was in my hands, this gorgeous book production with that wonderful fresh off the presses smell, full of gorgeous poems. So I got antsy, as I typically do, wondering what to do next and how fast I should be working before I get too comfortable, and even smug with my accomplishments thus far.

Then yesterday evening (and apologies for being necessarily vague here), an editor from one of my longtime dream indie publishing houses emailed me out of the blue, expressing interest in reading a future poetry manuscript of mine. This is someone I’d always wondered how to get on his/her radar. Now, I am being deliberately vague because everything here is abstract and full of details to work through, but this got me thinking about all of the poetic projects I’ve started, and how to get to the point that this editor will eventually have something really good to read from me.

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