A very heartfelt salamat to Craig, who has been such an insightful reader of my work and its trajectory over the years; indeed, he’s a scholar of my work. Revisiting this interview at Jacket2 now, I think, we really are doing good work, no? Seriously though, I think this also confirms for me that it’s poets who are best representing other poets’ poetries, and/or our own poetries.
Here’s an excerpt:
I’m curious about the relation between the poet, the story, and your multiple cultures. In “The Fire, Around Which We All Gather,” you write that poets are the keeper of words and stories, and the words grow strong like a bridge. Since your poems bring together myths from various traditions and of your own invention, do you see your work as a kind of bridging between different cultural stories? Do you feel this is something that reflects your own diasporic experience and diverse listenings? Is any story still a “pure product”?
I think poetry (story, art) do bridge. “Always in a foreign country, the poet uses poetry as interpreter” (Jabès), right? Already, poetry is the thing which allows me to translate, understand, participate in this world, to be of this place. That may not be good enough for some; it does sound esoteric. But specific to my poetry, yes I do think of it as an effort to bridge my cultural and diasporic experiences. And really, it’s that neither here nor there, both here and there, not Filipino enough, not American enough feeling, which you may call diasporic or transnational experience, which informs my readings and listenings, and ultimately, my poetics. I am drawn to poems and stories in which the storyteller/poet uses the poem/story to figure out her state of being multiple and hybrid. It’s satisfying to see this worked out elegantly in language and form. I used to write in fracture, but now that doesn’t feel right, to accept an identity and language that is fracture (even using the term, “subtracted bilingual,” feels like acquiescing to fracture). So then “bridge,” could be its opposite.
That said, “pure” is also relative. I still fret a little bit about my inauthenticity, that the Filipina people are expecting to see is not there within the pages of my books. My Tagalog is bad, my knowledge of Philippine culture and history is (inter)textual, my Philippine experiences are limited and highly mediated. I’ve resisted everyone’s efforts to gender me, socially condition me as the proper Filipina. So I am conscious that in inventing myths or remythologizing, my poems may be speaking out of turn and inappropriately. The kind of reverence I exhibit in Diwata for my elders and story is something I’ve tried to negotiate on my own terms. I don’t know that I’ve told these stories “correctly” or “incorrectly.” I also don’t know who holds the right to gauge the authenticity, the purity of a story. So then stories are “pure,” in that the way we tell them is the only way that we would tell them. Until the next telling.