Pinays, We Can Have Nice Things

Elsewhere on the interwebs, someone asks how our Filipino American community orgs. are evolving with the times. Given technology. Given other innovations. Given all of this change, how do we garner community engagement, and (how) can we sustain it? How do we garner support for our orgs., given the state of art funding in this country. How do we create as artists today? Central to the question of support is this: what are our community members willing to support monetarily, such that we are able to sustain what new work we are doing as artists and community workers.

As the VP of the Board of Directors of PAWA, I have always believed in providing a space that is reflective, meaningful, and of value to community members. I am also a minimalist. Not into spectacle and circus. Minimize administrative costs.

I am also a firm believer in paying the artists.

At PAWA, we created a regular reading series maybe five or six years ago, but interest in that fluctuates, and attendance is kind of sad to me. We have offered workshops; attendance and participation in these have also been quite sad. We offered poetry manuscript consultation, which brought in pretty good revenue, but that was really hard for me to sustain. And there was definitely interest, but not too many people able to afford, even with the sliding scale. That’s for real.

Now, we are offering a 10-week, online Pinay literature and writing workshop, and are using generally the same sliding scale as the manuscript consultation. And people are signing up! So this is telling me something about what our (my?) community members value and think of as beneficial, such that they are willing to commit their time and money to 10 weeks of a pilot, internet-based workshop program.

One thing I’m thinking more and more about is that we must learn to work, operate, interact, and communicate much better in e-space. As the teacher of the Pinay Lit class at USF, I’d received all kinds of comments on FB, from folks in the general community that they wished they could take my class. So then I sent out an informal “feeler” via FB post, regarding interest in such a course if it were to be offered via PAWA and with a creative writing focus. The feedback was enthusiastic that online, much more so than in an actual brick-and-mortar space, folks would hella totally do it. And they really are.

It’s great. You don’t have to leave your families and commute, pay for gas and parking. You carve out the space in your own home life, a couple of hours here and there. You do it. You plug away, and you do it. You work independently, and you do it.

And we do this, not with set e-meeting times, but with a schedule of what to read and write and by when. As the instructor, I create the structure and the schedule. I can record myself speaking if I must, or I can just write. Just like this.

This is great for our org., in that we do not have to worry about finding, reserving, and paying for spaces. This is great for me, because I don’t have to leave my home or my work desk. I can open up the option of Google Hang-Out or Chat or whatever it’s called these days, and it can be optional, by appointment.

As an org., we have to charge, because there is indeed value to what we offer, and so that people know there’s a commitment involved. And for me as the instructor, this is a lot of hard work.

But yeah. You know what, Pinays? Yes, we can have nice things. PAWA Pinay workshop info is here.


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.


Teaching Pinay Lit: In the university and on the internet


Once again, ’tis that adjunct anxiety setting in. Will my class be a go next semester, and please God, let my class be a go next semester. That, and a DIY course, which I will offer via PAWA, online.

(I keep thinking about Kim Addonizio, who’s taught creative writing independent of institution for a long time now. That’s something I can totally respect and admire. I’m such a weird, many-headed animal, with pieces of myself in all kinds of different places. It works for me, and I like it, but it also requires a lot of moving, shifting, being crafty, negotiating, and having people look at me like I am a crazy bitch they will never understand.)

I rewrote my course description for USF’s Pinay Lit class, and I changed its official title to Pinay Lit. Let’s call it what it is, right? I needed the description to sound more appealing. I hope this sounds more appealing:

Course Description: This class is dedicated entirely to Pinay Lit. This semester, we will read and discuss poems, stories, memoir, novels, and comix all written by Filipino women, about the lives and life experiences of Filipino women and girls in the world. In order to supplement the literature, facilitating our multiple entryways into the texts, we will view/listen to Filipina/Pinay visual and performing art, mixtapes, and video. We will also have the opportunity to interact with local Pinay writers, who will discuss the writing life, and the significance of the Bay Area for their work.

Required Reading:

  1. Barry, Lynda J. One! Hundred! Demons! (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2002).
  2. Bobis, Merlinda. Banana Heart Summer (NY: Random House, 2008).
  3. Galang, M. Evelina. One Tribe (Kalamazoo, IL: New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2006).
  4. Hagedorn, Jessica. Danger and Beauty (SF: City Lights Publishers, 2002).
  5. Monrayo, Angeles. Tomorrow’s Memories (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press).
  6. Reyes, Barbara Jane. For the City That Nearly Broke Me (San Antonio, TX: Aztlan Libre Press, 2012).
  7. Suzara, Aimee, Souvenir (Cincinnati, OH: Wordtech Editions, 2014).
  8. Villanueva, Marianne. Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila (Corvalis, OR: Calyx Books, 1991).

A couple of texts here, which I have not previously taught, and am excited about the possibility of handling in a classroom setting, with younger students (first year university students, who still have intact all of the great reading and study habits that got them into college in the first place).

Now, as for PAWA online Pinay Lit and Creative Writing course: I am still working on a course description, which is sounding a lot like a manifesto. Some excerpts, from my draft:

In this eight [or ten?] week course, we will be reading Pinay narratives, writing creative responses, formulating questions and generating writing prompts from our readings of the texts. And of course, we will be generating new writing, based on our readings, and based on the writing prompts we’ve created.

What this course is interested in: fleshing out and complicating Filipina subjectivity, centering a multiplicity of Filipina narrators, speakers, characters, voices.

A note on my teaching. I tend to discourage abstraction-heavy work, and idea-heavy work when it is unmoored from concretes and specifics — scenes, situations, speakers we can see, and touch, and smell. I love ornate and ornamental work, but will discourage it when it is for the sake of itself, and not the narrative.

What I do encourage is the erasure of any perceived line between ethnic and aesthetic concerns — between craft, form, literary devices on the one hand; and language, politics, history, and culture on the other. Let’s talk about how these elements mutually inform one another.

So I figured it would be important to say some things about my teaching and aesthetics/sensibilities, so that folks who would think of joining me and a community of writers online, would have an idea of what to expect. I think, the super-condensed version of the PAWA course description above would be what I’d been asking my grad students about their manuscripts in progress: What’s at stake? Cutting to the heart of the work. Not that our creative writing must be utilitarian! But — perhaps because I’m a poet — I am interested in work that gets into it without wasting any time. You know how sometimes you want to nix opening and closing stanzas out of people’s poems? Oh, um, I want to do that. A lot.

Writing Prompts for Poetry Chapbook Projects

‘Tis that time of the semester again, when I start compiling writing prompts based upon the work we have read and discussed, for my students’ creative final projects. Here is what I have so far, for Poets of Color class.

  • Poems with a strong sense of place. Here, place can be the specifics of the natural world you inhabit, flora and fauna, geological features, textures, colors, smells, weather patterns. In addition to the natural world, what are the features of the modern world interacting or intruding upon it? What technology, industry including tourism, what new cultural and religious institutions from new settlers, invaders, what new languages are changing the landscape of your place.
  • Here, place can also mean the urban landscape you inhabit. How do languages and cultures, economies, political values intersect and/or collide in your urban space. What gets erased? What gets replaced?
  • What is your specific subjectivity in these places? Are you a tourist, visitor, native, transplant, migrant, invader? What are your interactions with your place’s various inhabitants and their subjectivities? What is your viewing position? Are you street level, in the mix, viewing through camera lenses, windows, from balconies/perches or other distanced positions? Are you talking to people or eavesdropping on their conversations?
  • Poems that focus on language, establishing or reclaiming languages. What are the official languages of the places you inhabit? What are the official languages of your community or family? How do you compose and communicate in these languages, and to/with whom?
  • Poems examining your relationship with the specific institutions in which you are immersed. What are the specific cultures, cultural artifacts, forms of these institutions?
  • Poems re: the body, what composes or comprises the body? Here, I mean not just physically and physiologically, but politically and culturally. What structures of power are writing your body? What violences are associated with those structure of power? What narratives have been written about/imposed upon your body, how do you make sense of these narratives? Which of these narratives, what fables, what mythologies, what official documents and sacred texts do you accept, reject, rewrite, revise, erase, blackout, whiteout? What do you appropriate?
  • Poems re: cultural, artistic/aesthetic, political foremothers or forefathers, and/or colleagues. How do your texts interact with theirs? How do you incorporate their texts into yours? What kind of dialogue are you in with them? What do write of your artistic and political concerns in your letters to them (if you were to write letters to them)?

OK, that’s what I’ve got for now. More soon.