It’s no big secret, that I am gaga over Eduardo Galeano. Since being introduced to his work some years ago, something has opened and has continued to open in me. The things he does in his work, those are the things I need in the world, in my writing and reading life — I have just found this: Galeano, “Why I Write,” posted a few days ago at The Progressive. It’s a brief thing, but it is certainly not lean, and it is more than enough; there’s no reason to be verbose in explaining oneself as an author. You let the work explain yourself:
* I tried and I go on trying, to say more with less, looking for words better than the wisest silence, naked words free of rhetorical clothes. Writing has been, and still is, quite difficult but frequently it gives me deep feelings and high pleasure, far away from solitude and oblivion.
You let language do its thing, you let words work cut, penetrate, linger, redirect/reorient, transform.
To Be Bound [poem edits below!]
We are not scarred –
indicate space tell stories
For Of unbound bodies
To heal Healing – proud flesh.
We are wounds, vessels
Bound, together, dark-
Flesh our birthright.
We are beasts, broken.
We are small, darker
Than your binds, opening
Our unmended flesh.
This one is in response to Jane Hirshfield’s “For What Binds Us,” which I think is a lovely poem, and then I find it a little dishonest, and then I find it a little offensive, this thing about “binding” and “darkness” in her poem. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve been experiencing ongoing horror at the treatment of women’s bodies, not just in popular culture, not just in Philippine/Pinay inter/transnationalism, but in American current events. It isn’t enough, for example, that of the girls and young women who have gone “missing,” for them to have been so easily taken, and so easily concealed, and so easily abused and tortured in this country. I’m sickened by this. I am trying not to look away, but I am sickened by this.
A fellow Pinay writer and I have been engaged in some interesting and much needed conversation about teaching and writing “ethnic” “identity” literature — this comes about as a result of my previous blog post on Resisting Objectification and Cultivating Readers.
Another word to use here would be essentialism. How does that strip us of our agency as readers and as authors. How does that also strip our students of their agency as readers and critical thinkers.
A long time ago — eleven years ago, April 2002, to be nearly exact — I handed the first draft of my first book manuscript, Gravities of Center, in its first drafted iteration, to my editor Eileen Tabios. We were in a bar on Folsom Street, South of Market, SF, after having attended a Diasporic Poetics reading featuring Summi Kaipa and K. Silem Mohammad. It was such a good moment, as I’d never known I had a 72-page body of poetic work in me. (The book turns a decade old, this coming June, which is — holy shite! — next month.)
Who knows now, how “good” this manuscript draft was, but at the time, handing it over, Eileen had one of many words of advice for me, about the “ethnic artifact.” It’s not about the presence of the ethnic artifact in our work. It’s never been about the presence of the ethnic artifact in our work. It’s always been about what we are doing with the ethnic artifact, why and how we are doing what we are doing with the ethnic artifact.
How am I minding the ethnic artifact in my work.
OK, what do I have to offer today to push forward any discussion of Filipino American Literature. How about a reiteration that we need to push past the identity politics and past theorizing the work into abstraction. Where is the middle ground, or the place where we handle the work not just as Filipino American cultural artifact, but as creative writing, as literary work. Literary work that is written by an author of Filipino descent (or maybe not!), that may be read within various traditions and contexts, that should resist objectification.
And how does a work itself resist objectification in the first place. Or is it the writer writing in an effort to resist objectification. Or is it the teacher teaching against objectification.
To Love as Aswang
With razorblade eyes The Filipina is most sincere
With too much water And will make a very good wife.
With animal teeth The Filipina is a loyal partner,
We sometimes kill Deserving of all your love.
With splintered hands The Filipina is the total package,
With too much life Much more than meets the eye.
With ribcage unlocked The Filipina is not for you,
We wither your roots If you cannot handle her claws.
To Be Prey
With sway, sashay Blame the Filipina
The prancing paloma, For being so attractive.
With hips and heart Blame the Filipina
Cooing coquette. Materialistic migrant woman.
With lips and lilt Blame the Filipina
He sets his snares, If he cannot help himself.
With swish and spunk Blame the Filipina
He plucks his prey. Surely, she asks him for it.
Some things I am building on, for now. Of course, the multivocal aspect of the manuscript. I can’t embed here the poems which contain baybayin text, but that’s also a growing part of the manuscript.
I’ve been tightening up on the lines to be little and taut, to appear simple, straightforward, to utilize (generally) simple, common words (“materialistic,” while common, is the exception to simple).
Text in the right column come from Google searches for “The Filipina is,” and “Blame the Filipina.” Rereading James Fallows’s “A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines?” in The Atlantic has something to do with it. Blaming, essentializing, quick to judgment.
I ask this as a question, because I am finding it harder and harder to answer. I’ve come across a few editorial pieces and writerly blog posts about whether or not readers owe writers anything. I’ll extend the parameters of the question and ask whether specific communities owe “their” or “our” writers anything.
Recently, a Fil Am author said that he had a specific audience and reader in mind when writing his novel. That audience he envisioned did not buy the book. The author decided, if that’s the way it was going to be, then to stop writing with a specific reader in mind.
A couple of things. This is already too complicated. As authors, we write. We write what we need to write. We do not hold focus groups to gather consensus from which we then create manuscripts.
[Of course, the conversation on this manuscript, and on breaking open the manuscript -- this is continued or extended in FB, though honestly, I wish, folks, that it was in an open space, that actually has space. Curse you, FB.]
Some great questions have come up. First, about writing, approximating that horror of which humans are capable, not descending into the gratuitous and pornographic, but really plumbing these dark territories. What are we capable of thinking and enacting upon one another.
As a Pinay, this should concern me precisely because these things can happen to the Pinay body in the world, where “the world” is not just “out there,” in foreign spaces torn apart by war and poverty and hunger, but right here, in our homes and quiet neighborhoods. I am potentially one of those bodies, and this is a tension that I believe has happened in my work for a long time now.
I understand why Suheir Hammad would write an entire volume of poetry on breaking, a necessary thing to do or have done when writing the book. After I blogged last time about breaking my manuscript open, I had some time to read it and sit with it. I had some time to think about what aspects of it I was disliking in a big way. Breaking is also a big theme in my manuscript. How do bodies break. How do Pinay bodies break. This breaking was not originally one of my concerns when I started outlining the questions I would ask other Pinays to answer.
It’s been a while since I’ve actually looked at the manuscript, and I am ambivalent about what I’ve been doing (and not doing) about it. Indeed, I’ve been busy with teaching, with all kinds of community work, stuff that end up taking precedence whether I want them to or not.
Even though it’s better not to rush a body of work, I am still disappointed with myself, generally, that I haven’t moved it forward, if even in my own mind, with a list of next steps.
I had a moment yesterday morning, while I was on the Mills College campus discussing MFA theses. For me, this is a concrete and empirical place to talk about growing a body of work from scratch to some semblance of completion. Whatever y’all out there think of the Poetry MFA phenomenon, I still believe that the fact of producing a cohesive body of poetic work in a professional environment is indeed that. Not the only fact, but a fact indeed.
I gave my For the City That Nearly Broke Me talk in Filipino Lit class yesterday evening. I’d realized, as I was preparing my presentation, that not only was I (and the collection) asking the more obvious question of “where is home,” for the immigrant woman of color poet, and even, where is home for the exile and/or the expatriate, which I have been asking in my work for a long time now.