POEM: And the Word was a Woman

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Woman, and the Word was Woman

And the word was a woman a damn rib an absence malfeasance a (mis)played piece a parcel of speech

And the word was a woman a damned dame a bane to blame to set aflame

And the word was a woman an abscessed peace to please to preen to plea beseeched deity

And the word was a woman a besmirched virtue tidal surging pride purging upskirt urging chiding pervert searching

And the word was a woman a stutter a daughter a dutiful other a beauty to utter and smother

And the word was a woman a bridled bride an invite inside

And the word was a woman just an old bag an old nag a fag hag a chick to snag and shag

And the word was a woman raven ravished a maven brandishing rivers of symbol sinful simple skinfolk

And the word was a woman mnemonic she mimic and cry signing ape she make shit up on the fly

And the world was a woman nuestra señora ave maria salve regina

And the word was a woman maiden made of heaving blade bleeding brave breathing keening unseemly ably she wield her steel

And the word was a woman so loving she salving fevering she birthing grieving she giving forgiving forgoing

And the world was a woman walang nakakilala ngiti-ngiting dalaga mahinhin dalagita magiging manggahasa

And the word was a woman she slang soul searing swagger straying straining not abstaining

And the word was a woman thorny crone on the approach crouching unbound slow honing horns growing

And the word was a woman a handsome missus sandwich fixin’ hands for dishes washing rinsing hands delicious banishing our angst our ash axé aché to her we pray

And the word was a woman a kitchen kitten whisking fixture

And the word was a woman’s lady parts parted lady parsed farce

And the word was a woman eyes her straight razor gaze gotta turn away she burn you son

And the world was a woman puta que bruta siya ay bruja kontrabida y demonia wala siyang hiya ay que bárbara

And the word was a woman lowing lowly of homethings sewing hopes stings bowstrings consoling

And the word was a woman a mother a weathered withered other cursed and mercy thirsting

And the word was a woman chanting incanting her spell she can’t recall it all

And the world was a womb a wound a ruin a ruby entombed

And the world was a woman third world baby throw you shade she crazy ain’t no lady

And the word was a woman riot rhyming stylin’ in the night high as the almighty smiling wired diving wild dying child

And the word was a woman speaking womanspeak singing womansong sirensong succorsong singalong

And the word was a woman not a beautiful thing not the way you think of beauty a caged thing a waged thing a thing to be tamed and blamed and hewn in two

And the word was a woman a bitch spitting witch splitting the hissing hussy tongue fussy

And the world was a woman well warned well worn will torn spurned scorned

And the world was a woman wheel-turning water-bearing barely breathing

And the word was a woman working weaving webbing wellspring waxing

And the word was a woman an unmapped space a basketcase

And the word was a woman laden ladylike diminutive as advertised she came when he culled

And the word was a woman spitting guttural strange on the tongue caught in the throat a fishbone a needle a spine an impolite whine

And the word was woo and woe manhandled wholly man-made unholy man-entered hole

And the word was a woman trope token tokin’ blowin’ up this joint smokin’

And the word was a woman a brassy broad a bitch a boss

And the word was a woman tsismosa she loca y loba disgracia borracha usap-usap bunganga

And the word was a woman a whore a chore a deity of need

And the word was a woman nothing but a thing nobody but an owned body of everybody a no one of everyone

And the word was a woman rendered illegal tender beat her spend her meek girl bend her

And the word was a woman splayed a mislaid doll a little star a mauled thrall mewling muling she a musing she a monstrous bejeweled thing

And the world was a woman pearl serving girl whirled and hurled slurred and hurt herded dirtied blurring

And the word was a woman say hey baby she taint your taste unchaste wasteland

And the word was a woman she cupcake fuck bait funk fake hunt take cunt snake truncate drunk hate run straight she luster and flush she funk fake blood plait booty shake

And the word was a woman a venus a phoenix a fox a polygot remix

And the world was a womb’s warm walls



Some Thoughts on Poetry, Difficulty, Language

Belated thoughts here, on my last lecture in Pinay Lit, in which we read Janice Sapigao‘s microchips for millions, and my For the City that Nearly Broke Me. This thing came up about use of languages not “readable” or readily accessible to readers. In Janice’s work, it’s the pervasiveness of the binary code. In mine, specifically the piece, “Malaya,” it’s the Tagalog/Indo-Malay “mash-up.”  

First, we recognize that binary code is indeed a language. We agree that it is a language, and we agree it is a language used widely in Silicon Valley, which is the setting for Janice’s work. We also agree that while we cannot read it, someone (or something) does; many someones (and many somethings) read it, function in it. It is directly related to the affluence of this area, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

If we cannot read it though, then is it enough, for us as readers, to have that recognition which I just described? Does that make the appearance of the language in Janice’s text effective?

Consider also, that while we readers cannot read this language, do the low-paid, overworked immigrant labor force of Silicon Valley, who are central to Janice’s poems read that language? Or are they as “in the dark” as we are, not knowing what is being communicated in that language? And if they are in the dark as we readers are, which I suspect is the case, then as readers, does that help us create a more layered reading experience?

(Similar questions arise regarding my “mash-up.” Can you read it? Probably not. If not, then what do you “do” with the poem? What is this poem about then?)

And does the presence of these languages in these works make the works, “difficult.” And if so, then is this a “bad” thing, this difficulty? In our communities, where so many readers and community members expect and demand narratives to be handed to them in the most non-threatening manner ever, especially narratives authored by women, and especially narratives authored by “younger” women. This perceived poetic cleverness, what I call a willingness to handle difficulty, is a thing if not disliked, then definitely discouraged. Anti-rigor.

I am thinking more and more about layers in poem, and layers in bodies of poetry. I am thinking I can’t write any other way, if I mean to write what and how I mean to write. And it is a challenge to write a layered, multilingual thing that both immediately disturbs you, and also unravels itself over time with a lot of thoughtfulness, and for readers and editors, it seems to become a terrible inconvenience.

Virtual Blog Tour, Is Pinay Lit a Genre, and Tagging Others

From Vince Gotera: The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.

The person who invited me to take part in the blog tour is Vince himself, a poet and educator, who, like me, hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, though, he’s a landlocked Pinoy in Iowa. A more formal biographical statement is as follows: Vince Gotera is the Editor of the North American Review and a creative writing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. His collections of poetry include the forthcoming Pacific Crossing as well as Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and Fighting Kite. His work has also appeared widely in magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and online venues. Visit his blog, “The Man with the Blue Guitar” at http://vincegotera.blogspot.com.

Allow me to introduce to you, his poem, “Aswang,” a Philippine mythological creature that continues to fascinate so many of us. Perhaps this excerpt may help you understand the fascination:

… and I saw his mother, a pretty mestiza widow,
her face hidden by hair hanging down
as she bent far forward from the waist.
A manananggal, the worst kind of aswang:
women who can detach themselves at the hips,
shucking their legs at night like a wrinkled slip.
They fly, just face and breasts, to prey on infants.
For a moment, a shadow like a giant bat
darkened the moon…

"Aswang," by Hellen Jo.

“Aswang,” by Hellen Jo. helllllen.org

I would like to think the writing we are doing stateside is contributing to the lore.

Vince has also written up some wonderful explanatory text on the creature and on the poem, so let me not say too much more, except that our aswang poems will be sharing space in the forthcoming anthology Kuwento: Lost Things (An Anthology of New Philippines Myths) (Carayan Press). Go read this poem, and allow yourself to be spooked. Though, please notice the stanzas that comprise this poem are in sonnet form. He has written about formalism, and his use of form as well.

Here are the four questions I’ve answered about my own work:

"Gabriela Silang," by Francisco Coching.

“Gabriela Silang,” by Francisco Coching.

1. What are you currently working on?

Many things — developing and teaching college classes and community workshop, and editing an anthology, all of which are centered around Pinay Lit. Pinay, for those of you not in the know, is a term we use for Filipina, or Filipino girl or woman. Some use it in casual conversation, as affirmation, and others have politicized it (shouting with fist raised: “Pinay Power!”).

I have also completed my own poetry manuscript centered around Pinay voice, writing on the Pinay body.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Is Pinay Lit a genre? Let’s go ahead and say it is. However conversational or politicized the usage of Pinay, I’ve been interested in some time now, in potentially Pinay-centered literary space, in writing, reading, and teaching. Can we push the discussion to where it’s most sharp, most difficult — regarding historical and social issues, and just as important, narrative, craft, language, form.

Can we do this in spaces where those who identify as Pinay are both encouraged and emboldened to speak and push their writing, without the kinds of gendered, racialized pressures exerted upon us by our Filipino male community members who want to tell us what to do and what to think, by our white women colleagues who want to save us and speak for us, by our oblivious American classmates who just don’t give a shit. Can we do this without descending into an uncritical Kumbayah. Can we create a strong foundation on our own terms, welcome and maintain rigor, be empowered and articulate wordsmiths. I hope we can.

3. Why do you write/create what you do?

Much of my interest in Pinay lit is not just in the fact that I identify as Pinay and a Pinay author, but in my general observations and experience interacting with other Pinay writers. There’s so much fear, reticence, and timidity that I want to understand and dispel, not because all of us should be shouting and showing our teeth, bearing machetes and fists (though, isn’t that some kind of fierce, wonderful image), but because of how that fear hinders us from writing our stories and getting them into the world.

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

I am always online! The internet has become a place that concerns me, as much as the geographical places I’ve been writing about. I’ve been trolling Filipina bride websites for advertisements and testimonies (from brides and “clients”), and news stories about Pinay OFWs. Perhaps it’s morbid, but I am always looking for narratives about these women and girls being bought, sold, and broken, and I do this because I want to know what is happening to them in the world, and why. I don’t want to pretend none of this matters to me. I also don’t want to pretend that what happens to them also is happening to me. But I need to write about these women and girls. I’ve been crafting poetic lines, trying to flesh out narratives, to humanize the sound bytes and statistics I’ve been gathering. I need to find their resistances. I need to know that they fight back.

Now, as for the four bloggers I am tagging — yes, I’m only supposed to tag three, but these four are good:

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in the Netherlands. She attended Clarion West in 2009 and is an Octavia Butler Scholar. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Clarkesworld Magazine, The End of the Road anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, Philippine Genre Stories, the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies and We See a Different Frontier. Her Movements column appears regularly on the online magazine, Strange Horizons. http://rcloenenruiz.com

Rashaan Alexis Meneses: Born and raised in the seismically fractured and diverse landscape of southern California, Rashaan Alexis Meneses was recently awarded 2013 fellowships at The MacDowell Colony and The International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. Current publications include a personal essay in Doveglion Press, short stories in New Letters, Kurungabaa, UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review, University of North Carolina’s Pembroke Magazine, and the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults. http://rashaanalexismeneses.com

Anthem Salgado founded professional development program and web resource, Art of Hustle, providing training and consulting for creative entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. His experience spans 15 years across industries that include arts, education, nightlife, cultural and community affairs, and more. He focuses on marketing, helping maximize on audience development, referral building, and income generation opportunities. http://www.artofhustle.com

Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, CA. She won First Place in the 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open and her writing has been published/forthcoming in Glimmer Train Stories, PANK Magazine, Fjords Review, 580 Split, and Kweli Journal, among others. She cofounded and is editor-in-chief of TAYO Literary Magazine. As a Kundiman Fiction Fellow, VONA/Voices Fellow, and U.S. Navy wife, she splits her time writing on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and blogs at www.msipin.com. She is currently working on a novel. http://msipin.com/blog

Poem: continuation of a larger Sweetie poem in progress

They seem to come out in 14-line measures:

We are devastated by the thought of you, Sweetie
We are rooting for you to defy the odds, Sweetie

We are entitled to your story is ours too, Sweetie
We are deconstructing your construction, Sweetie

We are checking our status updates for you, Sweetie
We are seeking solidarity in likes and reshares, Sweetie

We are writing ourselves into your sad narrative, Sweetie
We are raising our virtual fists for you, Sweetie

We are displaying placards of protest for you, Sweetie
We are creating memes of defiance for you, Sweetie

We are creating distance between us and you, Sweetie
We are confused about ourselves because of you, Sweetie

We are consumed with ourselves because of you, Sweetie
We are consumed, like you but not like you, Sweetie

Poem: the beginnings of a larger Sweetie poem


When Sweetie was born, the soundtrack of fetid rain clacking on corrugated roofs.

Not roofs, really, but slattern shacks tied with plastic shopping bag rope binding

Corner posts, not really posts but demolished parts stacked, rebar reaching as

Petrified extremities, brittle, begging for coins. The shrieking thing’s birth was swift,

A tiny thing, barely the size of a man’s swinging fist. She was the daughter of a whore,

The sister of a whore. A whore begets a whore weans a whore, then gets back to work.

When Sweetie was born, market research findings revealed what the world wide web

Catalogued, user posts on bulletin boards, blogged testimonials boasting cottage industry

Pages illustrated with pixellated, Third World motion capture money shots. Catholic charities’

Videos capture Hollywood has-beens in squatter encampments, donning linen, immunized.

Here, you meet Sweetie’s harelipped kin, feral, big-eyed, swarming. Flipflops worn to concrete,

Matted hair, patella bones and open wounds, distended bellies. Petrified extremities, begging,

Broadcasting toll free numbers, websites, prime time, suppertime. You call because parasites

In the drinking water. You log in because you want the young, pure. Sweetie was born ready.