[November 9, 1948: Gotham Book Mart, NY.]
Can you find the Filipino in this picture? Look harder. He’s not quite blended into the background, back against the back wall. That’s our kababayan, Jose Garcia Villa, the Doveglion, model minority among the literati/culturati, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Marianne Moore, WH Auden, et al.
Not to be denigrating, of course, but rather, empathetic, compassionate. I am a big fan of the Doveglion, or of the poet who comes from Doveglion, the “strange country with no boundaries,” the country “that moves to follow fire.” I don’t know what he thought of being Dame Edith Sitwell’s exotic “magic iguana.” Then again, I also don’t know what it’s like to be published by James Laughlin on New Directions.
I guess I have to dredge my blog once again, as I am supposed to be writing a poetics essay for a new poetics journal coming out of (I think) University of Akron. It’s timely then, that Eileen Tabios has been writing about Kapwa poetics, and has written up my chapbook Easter Sunday for Galatea Resurrects, after reading it through a kapwa lens.
(To review, kapwa is Tagalog for kindred, fellow, or shared humanity. It’s a Philippine indigenous psychology term discussed by Katrin de Guia in her book entitled Kapwa, which I actually ended up not liking at all. Still, this does not mean I am not interested in the concept and practice of it as a community artist.)
So I am thinking about what I have been calling “we poetics,” as something operating in Diwata, though I don’t believe I was conscious of it at the time; I previously wouldn’t have articulated it that way. But Diwata‘s speaker is invested in a “we,” and she embodies a “we,” in that she is a vessel and conveyor of historical and community wisdom. If a storyteller is a bridge, between what and whom is she a bridge? She exists then in relation to others; I do not want to say she is a mouthpiece of others. This doesn’t jibe with my poetics or my activism, to speak for others, to be a voice for the voiceless. This too easily translates into “she speaks and so others don’t have to,” or it can easily be enacted as such, in spite of her intentions. Her intentions, in my book, are to speak and sing the story so to bring people together, so to remind them why they come together, what makes them a community.
I am winding down on my Poetry Foundation blog posts for National Poetry Month. That space always makes me cautious, and defensive. My first time around, the comment sections were heinous and even obscene with commenters who I really believe ought to get their own blog or work on getting their poetry into the world rather than stew then explode over not being noticed. It’s so toxic and harmful to folks who love poetry, who still have wonder for poetry, even when steeped in the necessary hustle.
I’m inspired, or touched, or feeling warm fuzzies in general about Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor’s and Veronica Montes’s recent blog posts. With Growing Up Filipino II, Bec is now experiencing her first publication in an anthology (as she notes, an actual book), feeling “less a could-be writer and more a in-fact writer.” Inspired by Bec’s post, Veronica, who is reading for the PAWA-sponsored San Francisco book launch, is remembering her own first anthology publication. In both of their cases, Cecilia Brainard was the editor responsible for selecting their work for publication.
I am moved to think back on my own first anthology publication, which was Babaylan (Aunt Lute, 2000), edited by Nick Carbó and Eileen Tabios. Years later, as Eileen came to speak on her work as a poet and editor at SFSU for Justin Chin’s class, I remember her saying that there were some newbie or emerging poets who’d submitted work, and whom she chose to include in the anthology because she believed publication would encourage or propel these poets to continue with their poetic work. Sitting in the lecture hall audience, I thought to myself, “She must mean (poets like) me.”
[Some edits below]
My current threads:
I’ve just submitted my selections to Didi Menendez for the Best of MiPOesias 2000 to 2010 anthology, from OCHO #16. Debbie Yee’s “Cinderella’s Last Will and Testament,” included in this issue, is already included in the anthology as it’s been selected for Best American Poetry 2009. That said, my selections for Best of MiPOesias are Dillon Westbrook’s long poem excerpt from “long life,” and Jaime Jacinto’s “World’s Fair.” I’d already previously nominated Jaime’s poem, “Manong’s Gift” for a Pushcart Prize; biased as I am, I believe very much that he is an exceptional poet.
Eileen Tabios has written on her blog this morning something I find myself really very much agreeing with: “…if you believe poetry is marginalized in today’s (U.S.) culture and want to know why poetry is marginalized, it’s NOT BECAUSE POETS ARE WRITING IRRELEVANTLY. It’s not because poets aren’t writing about what’s ‘important’ to write about like politics (what’s ‘important’ is subjective, yah?). It’s not because poets are writing ‘elliptically.’ It’s not because poets are writing ‘narcissistically.’ It’s not because poets are ‘writing to each other.’ It’s not because poets are flarf-in’. It’s not because they’re too ‘quiet’ or too ‘avant.’ It’s not because too many poets write ‘academically’ or got their MFAs. It’s not because poets aren’t doing their job — anyone who feels they can define a poet’s ‘job’ is generally just arrogant or looking for a way to grab attention for himself (yes, it’s usually a him). // If you believe poetry is marginalized (and that is an ‘if’), then poetry is marginalized today in large part because K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th grade) education has, in too many cases, eliminated the relevance of the arts….including any notion that a particular art form can be expanded beyond what is inherited by an artist.”
Responding to Kristin Naca‘s recent great news, Eileen Tabios asks: So, like, haven’t you all noticed how more and more of these contests are being won by Filipino poets?
Yep, I’ve certainly noticed and experienced this.
Many of these Filipino poets and writers are folks who’ve kept in contact with one another or who have met one another via our FLIPS listserv, which was started by Vince Gotera and Nick Carbó back in 1997. We’ve been featured in many of the same journals and anthologies, we’ve included one another in our various publication projects, we’ve organized literary readings for and including one another in various parts of the country, we’ve crashed on one another’s couches, shared meals and drinks, we’ve commiserated about writing programs (in fact, I know a few of us consulted the listserv as we were thinking of applying to our respective writing programs) and manuscript woes, we’ve read one another’s manuscripts. We’ve grappled and argued (and we continue to argue) over politics, language, aesthetics, and approaches to publication, we teach one another’s works, review one another’s books, promote one another’s works in various other ways, and we’ve shared our good news with one another. Others’ individual successes have motivated and encouraged (and even emboldened) us to find our own.
Keeping in contact via blogworld is an extension of what began on FLIPS.
For us, this is beyond any simple nationalism or feelgoodism (certainly, it isn’t always pleasant, and it’s never unanimous), and this is what I mean by community. It’s practical and it’s necessary in order to constantly be challenged and to thus work effectively within the poetic industrial complex.
For a list of Filipino American authored books (many of whom are FLIPS listservers), see here.