Poem: the beginnings of a larger Sweetie poem

Revision:

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.

 

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Teaching Pinay Lit: In the university and on the internet

Hydra[1]

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.

What does it mean to decolonize the creative space #2

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Who makes the rules? Are we OK with that? Do we follow the rules? Do we break the rules? How do we get what we want, as individual and community artists? How do we get to do what we love to do as artists? And then finally: are we interested in social change? If we are interested in social change, what are we doing, how are we participating in movements towards social change?

Notes: Asking, Community, and Poetic Work

First, this: I’m disliking FB communications more and more. It’s the quick impulsive reactiveness versus the ways in which we, as thoughtful human beings, need time to process complex ideas and concepts, to think about work’s specificities and strategies.

In case you did not already know this about me, I tend towards misanthrope and skeptic, and am biased against spectacle, clusterfuck, and flamewar.

I also very much dislike the collector and marketer, those who collect, market, and spam, with apparent shallow understanding of you, your work, your concerns; who exhibit a sad disregard for the quality of the work in question; who jump on bandwagons because there are bandwagons upon which to jump; who habitually request social network connection with no intention of interacting with you in discerning, thoughtful, human ways.

That said, I have been appreciating “old school” means of connecting. I’ve received telephone calls from friends, colleagues, and collaborators, and for the quality of the conversations, I am very grateful. I’ve been sitting down and having face to face conversations with people, with tea, with meals, and this has been fantastic.

Now. One thing a fellow Pinay educator and I were talking about the other day is this: the act of asking. We frequently find ourselves in these authoritative positions, where we tell the community what its issues are. We do the diagnosing and prescribing. Surely, finding ourselves in these authoritative positions comes from years, decades of producing work. Folks in the community have confidence in our works and our ability to speak.

But there is also push back. And this is healthy, because each one of us is a specific subjectivity. I cringe when someone responds to my work by saying, writing, expecting that I represent them, their voice, their concerns. To me, this takes away a person’s agency and responsibility. To me, this person has consented to letting go of his/her agency and responsibility. So then I understand the push back; when a Pin@y reacts adversely to my work as not representing them, this can only be good.

I can only hope this is both an opportunity for dialogue, and an opportunity for others to write thoughtfully and produce work better representing themselves and their concerns.

As an aspiring writer, I came to writing to represent my own experiences. I was encouraged, emboldened to do so because I was able to see other Pin@ys writing, publishing, and teaching. I learned that Pin@ys, Filipin@s in America were not content to remain voiceless. This is where I came to learn learn about activism, in which our communities collectively empowered themselves to act upon their concerns.

I am troubled when hear folks claim to be “a voice for the voiceless,” because I know now that doing so is not really activism, if you are with me on my interpretation of activism as collective self-empowerment towards action. Claiming to be a “voice for the voiceless,” silences those others’ voices, and it feeds into essentialism and constructed binaries. As we indict the mainstream in its treatment of Pin@ys as a homogeneous, and even monolithic body, we need to look at how we do this to frequently ourselves, for sake of ease and simplicity.

Interviewers have asked me many times, about writing The Pinay Experience, an essentialist question. I tell them I am writing the things I know and want/need to know/find out. The work of reading, asking, researching, then drafting is an active exploration of a variety of Pinay experiences; I then write the pieces of it that resonate most, that trouble me the most, that I understand the least. My most recent manuscript was that kind of exercise in asking. similarly, my anthology project is an exercise in asking. In receiving responses from brave and willing souls, I hear in very substantial ways, concerns that I did not previously consider, lived experiences I do not share.

So where am I at now. Needing to really talk with people, needing to get better at hearing and listening. I am continually frustrated by disconnect and by assumption and defensiveness. I’m saddened that I am mansplained when I try to voice my frustrations about where and why I think disconnects are happening. I am also trying to be very clear about my subjectivity and epistemology, very clear about outlining my place, upbringing, political and artistic origins, (formal and informal) education, and intentions. I think about Harryette Mullen discussing problematizing black female subjectivity. I am surely interested in doing the same with Pin@y subjectivities. As an author, as an educator, as a community member, this is everything to me.

So then: Epistemology is very important to me. As I have been discussing with my students in Fil Am Lit at SFSU’s AAS Dept., we must examine the institutions and structures of power, which represent systems of knowledge in operation, in the works we are handling this semester. We must examine, make sense of the complex relationships our characters, narrators, speakers, and artists have with institutions and structures of power, which represent systems of knowledge.

These self-examinations bring to the surface all kinds of uncomfortable contradiction, and really, contradictions are a part of our daily lives. As I was discussing with one of my grad students yesterday evening, this is not something that should paralyze us with guilt, resentment, defensiveness, rage, blaming. If anything, knowledge of our embodying and living contradiction should really enable us to be more thoughtful, more mindful of the decisions and negotiations we make on a daily basis. Yes, this is rigorous, but I think it’s important to become accustomed to the rigor.

Spoken Word, Poetry, and Poetics: Work, Writing, Rewriting

There’s the poetic project I think I am getting fleshed out, slowly but surely. It began with “And the word was a woman,” and it’s had to grow itself from there. There are a lot of pieces here I am negotiating. The language of my project, and its lines are becoming something very interesting to me. I blogged recently about poetic difficulty, and the poetics of hip-hop — something I’ve previously avoided discussing, as I have not really considered hip-hop to be part of my cultural, hence poetic foundation.

I am thinking about it a little differently, as with our poetics, we stretch from our initial frames into others’ frames. We build from our foundations and into the cultures that surround us, and which we now inhabit. As a poet frequently referenced for my code switching/operating in multiple registers, this is a no brainer; there’s a language that’s introduced itself into my repertoire. As poets, we sponge up languages, from everywhere.

One more aspect I’d like to introduce here is allusion, something that Roger Reeves, author of King Me, discussed on the hip-hop poetics panel at AWP. Reeves’s discussion of what (in MFA workshop language) is “acceptable” allusion and what “doesn’t quite work,” (the implication here being that the “mainstream” does not “get” it) perplexed me a little, if only because in my own MFA workshop experiences as a student and a teacher, all language, and various cultural frames are on the table, based upon what is appropriate for the contexts of the works being discussed.

I had to be reminded that everyone else may still operate within much more limited and oppressive MFA frameworks, in which the Western-Euro-centric, Judeo-Christian, hetero-male perspective is always the unbudging standard by which we must gauge ourselves.

I don’t live and work in that world. I am a fortunate soul. Or maybe, it’s better said this way: that world does not break me or tell me what I should do. I am interested in the fact that parties I think of as inhabiting (and maybe even representing) that world come seeking my opinion, input, and work. Why, I am not exactly too sure.

As an author, I know the subject matter of my work may be considered “foreign,” and particular to a specific group. Then, I am surprised by the kind of responses I receive from people who do not share my foreign-ness and specificity. They tell me they are responding to the poetry, what the poetry is doing, how what the poetry is doing allows them entry.

So then, back to forms, lines, languages, allusions. I wanted to add this excerpt of a course proposal I’m currently drafting:

Contemporary APIA poetry is deeply personal and deeply political; it is both simultaneously. The poet’s aesthetic choices are also political choices. Contemporary APIA poetry has roots in our communities’ verse traditions, for example, the tanka, haiku, renga, tanaga, ghazal, balagtasan, et al. Contemporary APIA poetry may be performative, a continuation of our oral traditions, accessible in social and political movements, and meant to communicate with the broadest bases of our populations. Poetic techniques, such as rhyme, meter, and repetition, as well as compressed and figurative language and wordplay, draw in the audience, and facilitate the delivery of “meaning” and “message.”

This too, should be a no brainer. Poetry accomplishes a lot on multiple levels and media; poetry accomplishes possibly monumental things, given multiple constraints. I think of poetry as successfully executed when you do not see the “seams.” I think of the the wires used in filmed epic martial arts battles. Sometimes you see them, but then sometimes the fights are so well choreographed and executed, your willing suspension of disbelief kicks in and all you see are human beings in gravity defying magic.

And this is probably why, I believe, lots of people think poetry is just words dumped on a page in quizzical and emotional ways. How reductive is that. I mean, Pablo Neruda wasn’t just some schmuck working out his emotions on paper.

I’d recently been thinking about the rudeness, the abruptness, the subject matter of my work, that it upsets others’ sensibilities. But I know, really know deep inside, that I must write how and what I write. In fact, that’s precisely what I work towards — abrupt, upsetting poems. Surely, I can even dig deeper, push harder, be more upsetting.

And the writing, rewriting, revising, compressing will continue. Every word choice, every line, every line break, every piece of punctuation.