More variations on the ongoing theme.
I am continuing on with both the slow process of writing the next (fifth) book, and gearing up for production and PR for the fourth book, To Love as Aswang. I like this work and this pace, both slow-going, meditative, and then just faster than I can breathe and take care of things needing care and attention. I like this life, I like that I’ve chosen to write what and how I want to write. Poeming. Reveling in poem, reveling in musicality. Loving compressed language. Loving poetic lines. Loving these things well-formed on the page. (I’ve also become very pointed in my criteria for poetry, to the point that I encounter others’ poetry and quietly ask myself, is that really a poem s/he has written — apart from its being left justified and broken into lines somehow, how is it a poem.)
I’d been experiencing quiet misgivings about how I’ve chosen for the fourth book to go down. But that’s all kind of dumb to be worrying about micro-pressing locally, with exactly who I want to be working with. I should say though, that this nebulous thing called “prestige,” nags at me sometimes, this “what are people saying” when I don’t know (or care) who constitutes “people,” this “keeping up with the Joneses,” when I really don’t (or shouldn’t) care who the Joneses are.
I remind myself about “prestige”:
1650-60 for an earlier sense; < French (orig. plural): deceits, delusions, juggler’s tricks < Latin praestīgiae juggler’s tricks, variant of praestrīgiae, derivative from base of praestringere to blunt (sight or mind), literally, to tie up so as to constrict, equivalent to prae- pre- + stringere to bind fast; see stringent.
Recognition is a different thing, and it comes in many forms. And shit. If we are writing for either prestige or for recognition in the first place, then we are not writing what we want to write for ourselves. We are worrying what others think before we’ve even committed the pen to the page, we are passive to what is faddish/trendy and “publishable,” but determined by whom, using what/whose criteria?
How to keep writing, how to sustain our writing, how to sort through all the bullshit of the publishing industry, how to maintain our integrity in this bullshit industry, how to still be ambitious — and ambition is not a bad thing — on our own terms. I keep thinking, Carlos Bulosan was ambitious. Jose Garcia Villa was ambitious.
And how to be Literary and Poetic (yes, upper-case Literary and Poetic), and simultaneously honor our ancestors.
I think our community has willingly (and willfully) allowed itself to exist in a prolonged state of selective amnesia about our ancestors’ literary work and aspirations. I keep thinking of the apparently unabashed difficulty of Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s novel, But for the Lovers, not necessarily something which I aspire to accomplish, but definitely to approach understanding. Why so difficult? The writer had his reasons; they were not arbitrary or undeliberate.
“Why don’t you just say what you mean…”
I think of that criticism often deployed at so-called “difficult” writers in our community, and I have to ask, “difficult,” by whose standards?
Who told us that our kind were not capable of creating or comprehending sophisticated bodies of literary work in the first place? And what happens when we come to believe this about ourselves and our own?
So I have to respond to that question, “Why don’t you just say what you mean…”
I read painstakingly crafted and constructed literary work as doing just that, as saying what is meant to be said, with a precision of language working double-time/overtime, in narrative both literal and figurative, in thoughtful use of form. Right? Hella meaning crammed into tight, concise spaces. More bang for your buck. No pandering, especially when pandering means internalizing that absence of capability.
So maybe you are reading this, and thinking that I am contradicting myself all over the place. I will say that my ambivalence runs deep. I am still trying to figure out “my place” in all of this. I am continuing to question so many of the givens I was told to believe, not just by those invested in the MFA and Publishing Industrial Complex, but also by those who stand in absolute opposition to it.