#allpinayeverything: micro-reviews of 2016-2017 full length pinay and pinxy authored works

“Leona and Castora,” by Katrina Pallon (2014).

So, in an effort to build upon the crowd sourced listing I’ve been doing, I open up this space to these Pinay and Pinxy micro-reviews. Here are the first four responses:

BLOOD: COLLECTED STORIES by Noelle Q. de Jesus. I’m only a handful of stories into this collection, but already I feel profoundly welcome. The confident, clear-sighted prose of de Jesus guides us deeply into the lives of her characters who are (thus far) grappling with their cross-cultural existence as they quietly, intensely search for pieces of home in landscapes grown increasingly strange. Skimming through to get a feel for the rest of the book, I see there’s much to look forward to: stories of marriages, pregnancy, children, families. Familiar subjects, to be sure, but not common, surely not in the hands of this writer. (Reviewed by Veronica Montes)

LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Erin Entrada Kelly: An engrossing story of sisterhood, community, and stories–the ones we tell and the ones we keep to ourselves. Kelly’s characters are more than meets the eye, asking us to confront our deepest fears with compassion. Sol’s growth is organically brilliant as she comes to learn that the stories of those around her are just as important as the ones she grew up with and make up on her own. Stories are here for our survival in times of abuse and loss or in the brave, hidden spaces we carve out. They shape who we are and who we want to become. (Reviewed by Princess Fernandez)

INVOCATION TO DAUGHTERS by Barbara Jane Reyes: I’ve been reading Barbara Jane Reyes’ poems since she was a young poet self-publishing her poetry through the publishing format of Xerox and the publishing house Kinko’s. As of this writing, my favorite poem of hers is “THE DAY,” which is featured in her new book Invocation to Daughters. I understand some folks have called it “angry.” It is angry. But “THE DAY,” a poem about the last day of her beloved father’s life, is set within this collection. So that it actually is reductive to summarize Reyes’ poems as (merely) angry. It would be more accurate to call it “Love”—which would explain why many of the poems are angry enough to strike back. For Love does not tolerate injustice. As Reyes notes in the book’s title poem: “Daughters, our world is beyond unkind”—an educated rather than embittered assessment. This book can both empower daughters but also hopefully educate those surrounding them. (Reviewed by Eileen R. Tabios)

LOVE IN A TIME OF BELLIGERENCE by Eileen R. Tabios. The Contents of Love In A Time of Belligerence are most inspiring. She revisits in the second section titled “From ‘The Ashbery Riff-Offs” John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” a poem that inspired part of my PhD thesis. If you wish to follow Eileen Tabios, you will have to work hard to open up all the synapses of your brain; she escapes from any classification/calculation – improvised detection – instinctive deflection any reader has to protect him- herself, and is still there to hit, entertain, surprise, enchant, and escape. (Reviewed by Anny Ballardini)

If you would like to contribute a micro-review, please do so here. Please remember: Full length Pinay and Pinxy authored works, published in 2016-2017. Four to five sentences please. Salamat!

For APIA Heritage Month: A List

A list, or listcicle, if you will. Today is May 1st, and not only is it APIA Heritage Month. Last month was National Poetry Month, so both April and May present me an opportunity to take stock.

I produce these lists to get me thinking about what I have read, and what works and authors I revisit. This helps my own writing process. I also produce these lists because I am asked frequently, in individual messages, for any advice I would give aspiring writers, aspiring MFA program applicants, Pinays newly coming into their identities or settling into identities more complex and liminal.

My response to advice is always to read. Make your reading lists your own personal, political, and aesthetics curricula. Think about what you are drawn to, and then start to think about why. What do you need to learn in any particular body of work that pulls you in, or perhaps more importantly, what do you need/have to learn in any particular body of work that (you feel) keeps kicking you out, or kicking you in the ass. What can you learn about your own poetic voice from any particular work?

Sometimes, this is not the advice that advice seekers want from me. Many times, what they want to hear from me is, wow, no one has ever done what you are doing before in poetry, you are so talented and you are going to be big; come, have coffee with me, and let me introduce you to my publishers like now. 


If I ever have to energy to respond substantially, it’s to say you have to work, and grind, and grit your teeth, and work some more. Through the rejections. Through the “writers’ blocks,” through the endless drafting and editing. Read like crazy. Learn to engage deeply what you read. Look deeply at what (you say, think) your influences are, and reflect hard on why.

That said, my list, part 1.

Frances Chung, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple. From this work, I learned about distilling down to the simplest and most concrete language possible for what I mean to say. From a Chinese American woman New Yorker POV/cosmology, examining boundary lines, what interior and exterior spaces belong to whom, what spaces we may claim, what spaces we are ghettoized into, how we may navigate bustling American urban space as “others.”

Catalina Cariaga, Cultural Evidence. What can white space, what can the page do for you. If you are a poet, then where you place the words onto the page in relation to margins, in relation to each other, in prose blocks, in spare, minimalist lines, is a substantial part of what you do. You are creating visual effect. You are as a result, setting tone and timbre.

Truong Tran, Dust and Conscience. This is one of the works that got me thinking for the first time about the prose poem and its possibilities. Again, with the visual effect, and the emotional piece. Now, omit the punctuation; what happens now. Especially when writing about memory, and family history. What do you remember? The details, or the emotional content. Are memories as neatly compartmentalized as a series of discrete right and left justified prose blocks.

Eileen Tabios, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole. This is another work that got me thinking about the prose poem and its possibilities. How may one string together seemingly disparate thoughts into something like a cohesive body. How does that make sense, when it shouldn’t really make sense. So there’s something here also about the emotional content, especially that which results from ekphrasis.

Bhanu Kapil, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. This book totally fucked with me, in terms of what was “real” response from strangers, to a certain set of questions, versus what was mediated by the poet. The devil’s in the details, I suppose. But what ended up being important to me was impact and surprise of the resulting “response.” Also of note is the fact or affect of the WOC being granted/gifted the space to speak on her own behalf.

Oliver de la Paz, Names Above Houses. First thing: The prose poem figures prominently on this list. It’s not a big secret or surprise that my own book, Diwata, has used this book as something of a model. They both rely heavily on the prose poem form. Storytelling is happening. Personal myth making from memory and family history is happening. And that the story of us migrating from our homes to this new place — this is indeed a remarkable story that defies our understanding, and enters into mythical space.

OK, so that’s it for now. More to come.

FAQ 6: You really get edited? By editors?

Indeed, I do.

Why this question? Well, a few things. There is so much sensitivity among writers of all stripes. There is so much “us” versus “them,” in which we view “them,” the editors, as these unbudging gatekeepers, elitists, trying to keep those precious doors shut, trying to disallow us entrance into the hallowed halls of authordom.

Here’s the thing. There are amazing editors who are worthy of our respect, and then there are editors who we know we wouldn’t, we shouldn’t trust with our work. It could be “simple” aesthetic differences, in which “simple” isn’t so simple. Those aesthetics are politically and culturally informed. And here, I am not playing identity politics. I’ve had American, cis-gender-hetero-white male editors on opposite sides of the country, who are amazing, amazing readers and appreciators of my work. I’ve encountered APIA editors who want nothing more than for me NOT to send them my work; they don’t like it, they don’t appreciate it, they don’t want it. I can make assumptions as to why this is the case, but that would just be me being a royal bitch, shit talking like a motherfucker.

What I have learned is this: why even submit to those editors in the latter category, those who will never appreciate our work?

I was inspired by Eileen Tabios’s recent blog post, which included images from one of her current manuscripts. It has editorial marking and comments, which I am happy and heartened to see. Yes, even the most prolific and established authors get down with a good editing experience.

“Good” is the operative word.

I have had good, satisfying, productive editing experiences with book editors. This is, for me, one of the best reasons for either establishing a longterm-ish relationship with a publisher. There is an editor there who comes to know your work, and therefore, knows how to read you and offer you editorial input.

I have had multiple publishers, and so while I do not have this longterm-ish relationship, I have met and worked with editors who are great readers of poetry, who have so much experience, and so much insight. After seeing Eileen’s blog post, I went back over my old exchanges with Peter Conners over at BOA Editions, Ltd. His reading was very hands on, line by line, page by page, and then big picture. I have to trust that an editor who I believe has edited Li-Young Lee, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sean Thomas Dougherty, would have a thing or two to teach me. We even talked through the dreaded italics talk, which we multilingual poets anticipate, know well, and have to grind through.

Our exchanges were so thorough and respectful of the work, its intentions, and ambitions. I look at what Diwata was when I first submitted to them, and what was ultimately published — two different things entirely, with a finished product that was, indeed, finished, polished, clarified, so clean.

Let me back up and talk more about my earlier experiences as an emerging author. Eileen Tabios edited my first book, Gravities of Center. This was back when I knew nothing about nothing. I was new in my MFA program; I hadn’t published in many journals or magazines. I knew nothing of the First Book of Poetry hustle that my East Coast Filipino American counterparts were undergoing, with the book contest circuit and all that stuff that I still generally keep the hell away from. All I knew was that Marie Romero at Arkipelago Books was offering me an opportunity, and that I had to take it. Eileen was both loving and rigorous with the work, taking into strong consideration the kinds of tributes I was trying to make to my poetic elders as well as to my closest friends. She knew my aesthetic concerns, the “why” of my experimentation, my cultural and political concerns.

I believe Gravities of Center is an accurate reflection of where I was at, aesthetically and poetically at the time that it was published. The work, while emotionally cringe-worthy for me today, I believe is technically sound. A young poet who was still quite naive and unexposed, at the very beginning of her long, ongoing poetic education, wrote that.

Poeta en San Francisco was taken through the wringer over the course of three or four semesters of MFA workshop with colleagues who really got to know my work, and one more semester of MFA thesis advising, with Stacy Doris at the helm of each of those workshops and advising. I loved Stacy so much, and I miss her so much. When I write, even today, I think, what would Stacy tell me now. All of those times I was so exhausted with my own work, that she would let me plead my case for being “done” with Poeta, how she would really, truly hear me, only to gently tell me, “Nope. It’s not done yet.” There was no coddling, no placating, just a straight up, “You know this needs more,” layers, complexities, an obvious gaping hole needing attention, my need to come outside of my head to read and speak from a different angle (or angel!) or POV of the growing monstrosity that was the work.

By the time I’d submitted Poeta en San Francisco to Susan Schultz at Tinfish Press, I’d already submitted it as my MFA thesis, and there was so little to be done to it except hunt for a heap of money to get it produced, so we did that.

With my chapbooks, those were also as done as possible by the time I’d submitted those, such that the editors — Carrie Hunter, Brenda Iijima, and Anisa Onofre, of Ypolita Press, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, and Aztlán Libre Press, respectively — were really just contacting me to ask me for clarifications. Same was true, working with Edwin Lozada at PAWA, on To Love as AswangSo, it’s nice when editors enact their confidence in me to submit a finished product. But, as I prepare for Invocation to Daughters to go into editing and production mode (which will happen at some point soon; I am actually in no rush), with Garrett Caples and City Lights Publishers, I look forward to what this editorial experience is going to look and feel like. I already know from the work he’s done, something about his aesthetics, and then from our email exchanges, and from our few but cool in-person encounters, how he works, and what he liked/found interesting about my work, and about the manuscript in the first place.

So then, my point in discussing all of this is not just to be open to being edited, but to be discerning about which editors to whom you are submitting your work. If you already know that editor’s repertoire, then you should know if your work may be a good or good-enough fit. If you don’t know that editor’s repertoire, you must do your research, which is as simple as looking at the publisher’s catalog. If you decide it’s not a good fit, then don’t waste your time and energy, getting worked up over unnecessary and avoidable bullshit.


Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations 6

You can find previous recommendations here: List 1 | List 2 | List 3 | List 4 | List 5.

Well, Filipino American History Month is coming to a close, but we should continue on with these reading recommendations. Every day is the perfect time to learn about Pinay authors and works we’ve never previously heard of.

her beckoning hands by Arlene Biala

“if you could keep up with her, the beating of the kulintang / the colors of her voice a dance she is challenging the drummer / she is challenging the drummer to respond she is scooping / twirling frenzied wrist neck feet into a dance all hair bracelets / beating the screams out of the slow lapping of the lake.” This is gorgeous music. Arlene Biala’s second full-length poetry collection, her beckoning hands, contains such lovely, lush, and earthy poems that are grounded in ritual object and ritual practice, mantras that resonate within the body, and plant the body firmly in the world. Biala voices defiance when she must, outrage when she must. Still, she is ever mindful that poetry is prayer, that poetry always humanizes us, that poetry is a life sustaining river.

Blood Orange by Angela Narciso Torres

Recommended by Michelle Peñaloza. Angela’s poems are lush with memory and love. Her approach is the discovery and mining of memory through highly detailed sensory landscapes. Her speaker’s powers of observation render the excavation of memory more powerful. Angela’s poems are concerned with family; the distances between home and homeland; the spaces between the present moment and the potency of remembrance; love and motherhood. Of her first collection, Blood Orange, C. Dale Young, writes: “Because paying attention is a form of prayer, [her] poems pay deep and close attention.” Throughout this first collection, Angela’s poems read as beautifully stitched tribute to childhood, motherhood, the Philippines, parents—each treated with the reverence of sacrament and elegy, yet not ensconced in nostalgia. Angela’s poems are richly tactile and full of subtle music, seeding the reader in her speaker’s vivid remembering and present questioning of what to make of what remains.

Excavating the Filipino in Me by Eileen Tabios

Recommended by Aileen Ibardaloza. Eileen Tabios’ latest 24 page chapbook published by TinFish is gorgeously transcribed and designed. “Excavating the Filipino in Me” carefully unearths the million things we forget about a birthplace, including “the placid surface… camouflaging sharply-edged stones.” The most important lesson for me is that we learn to live (peacefully) with whatever we uncover and whatever we choose to remember (or forget) by “stagger(ing) back towards love.”

The Art of Exporting by Cristina Querrer

Recommended by Eileen Tabios. Cristina Querrer’s The Art of Exporting is diasporic, nostalgic, indigenous, contemporary, concurrently realistic and symbolic—which is to say, a poetry collection that is as archipelagic as its root source, the Philippines. The complicated, conflicted, and, yes, beloved motherland is an effective muse for Querrer, inspiring many moving poems and lines as the poems’ persona is ever attuned to history: “She stands by her window / no matter how far from the sea” (from “The Cartographer”). The poems are not didactic even as they distinctly evoke their muse. Querrer’s nuanced touch amplify the resonance of their poems. Stylistically, there’s also much variety —for example, the diptych persona poems of “Maganda” and “Malakas” effectively updates the creation myth. A major strength of this collection is its diction—it’s high vocabulary at ease with itself so that its effects are harmonious and never pretentious.

Song of the Yukon by Trisha Sugarek

Recommended by Eileen Tabios. I read this book as I’m generally interested in homesteading and off-grid stories. Trisha’s novel, set in Alaska, more than satisfied my curiosity. It’s about LaVerne, a teen and budding song writer who followed the poet Robert Stiver’s trip to the wilds of Alaska. But it also delighted due to its structure of weaving poetry, song lyrics and correspondence harmoniously within the novel’s narrative. It also wove in a lesbian experience, perhaps not the first time but a rare point of view within the genre of homesteading, off-grid Alaska and Wild West stories. Sugarek’s multi-layered approach uplifts this book from the crowded field of such stories.

Economy and Gift Economy

I want to say it’s because of social media that the increase in free labor requests has flooded my in-boxes. Perhaps this is true. Back in the day, when I was an aspiring writer who didn’t know anything about anything — how to “get started,” how to make my writing “better,” whether I was ready to publish, and if so, publish where — I could never have imagined getting Jessica Hagedorn’s contact information, contacting her out of the blue, telling her I want and need her to help me, and expecting a response.

I did, however, learn to do a few things:

  1. Try and fail miserably. At writing weak sauce poems and pretentious poems I eventually scrapped. At writing stupid cover letters. At submitting and getting rejected.
  2. Recognize when mentors, Ates, Kuyas, were openly and willingly giving me free advice. When Michelle Bautista and I met Nick Carbó at his reading at Cody’s Books in Berkeley back in the 1990s, that was one of the best things. He recognized us as these former Maganda magazine editors-in-chief who had published some of his poems from El Grupo McDonalds. He had all kinds of things to tell us about submitting work, publication, self-publishing, indie presses. I was a sponge. He invited us to submit work to the Aunt Lute anthology Babaylan. I did. He then sent me a note in response, asking me for 10 more poems. I panicked. I failed. See #1, above. When Eileen Tabios moved to the Bay Area and reached out to those of us who were accepted/included in Babaylan, there was no way I was gonna play hiya. I was there. To do book events, to meet and hear other writers from the anthology, to hear and heed her publishing and writing advice. When I found myself on the same literary event roster as Jaime Jacinto, I would listen to every damn thing he would say, every nugget of wisdom. When I would run into him on campus during grad school, if he had time, I would sit with him and listen to him talk. Jaime, Nick, Eileen seem to have tracked my progress over time, as this kid who knew nothing, into an aspiring writer, into an emerging writer, into an author. I took every one of their reading recommendations and submissions recommendations they offered me. All of them challenged me to write more, to step up my game, to try things I’d never tried before. I wrote reviews of their books, did my best to include them in events I organized.
  3. Recognize when there were opportunities to learn, and to prioritize them. When $50 was a ton of money for me, when I was barely making any money at all, I set that money aside, and paid to take a KSW class with Brian Komei Dempster, on submitting to publications, on applying to writing programs. I still use Brian’s cover letter format today. When my writing stagnated, I considered VONA, but I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I enrolled in a creative writing course at a local community college, back when classes were $6 per unit, so $18 for a three-unit class. Elizabeth Treadwell was my teacher. I read everything she assigned and recommended. She put it in my ear to apply to grad school, and so I did.
  4. I DIY’ed my own chapbook. Used Microsoft Publisher to lay it out, took it to Kinko’s and copied and stapled a bunch. This cost money. I wasn’t making much at the time, but I prioritized it. I sold the chapbook out of my backpack. I applied to participate in KSW’s APAture at the zine tables, and sold my chapbooks there. Five bucks a pop. Marie Romero at Arkipelago Books recognized this, sold some in her bookstore, recognized how they sold there, and offered me my first shot at publishing my first full-length book, Gravities of Center.
  5. By the time I finished grad school (I did this while working 0.8 to 1.0 FTE in a public health job), I had a full-length manuscript called Poeta en San Francisco, my MFA thesis which I wrote under the direction of Stacy Doris, and which I submitted to Tinfish Press, upon the recommendations of Paolo Javier and Shin Yu Pai. I’d blurbed and/or reviewed their books. We talked via blogs and emails about aesthetics and venues. Susan Schultz at Tinfish Press accepted the manuscript, told me it’d be great if we could find some funding, and so we submitted Poeta en San Francisco to the Academy of American Poets for the James Laughlin Award. The Academy covered the entire first print run, 7000 copies, red ink, red pages and all.

I write frequently about these formative experiences, because that’s exactly how I came to be an author. I had a lot of teachers, a lot of help. I had a lot of gift economy going on here. You do something for me, and I will do something for you. Reciprocity. Blurbs, reviews, letters of recommendation, course adoption. Many times, editors invite me to submit work, or event organizers invite me to be a feature author. I do a lot of recommending here, fellow writers whom they should also contact and invite. I bring other authors into my projects, events, classes. I try my best to get Filipino American artists’ works on the covers of my books — the works of England Hidalgo, Maria Urbi, Christian Cabuay grace the covers of Gravities of Center, For the City that Nearly Broke Me, and Diwata, respectively.

These days, I am grumpy. I am so grumpy. I field so many requests for stuff. From so many people who seem to think I am important, who think I am well-connected, but who can’t even find it in themselves to read my blog and every piece of free advice I put down out there, and can’t find it in themselves to shell out $15 for my book, or take one of my classes which I have offered via PAWA (I have stopped doing this, due to scheduling and time issues). They try to butter me up with compliments; “you are so important,” “you are so inspiring,” but they can’t tell me about anything I have ever written which is published in a free, online journal. They offer me nothing in return. Absolutely fucking nothing. And they want, need, and expect so much personalized and detailed attention. They want a direct through-line to my editors.

Perhaps these are folks who think they have no collateral or capital. I know what that’s like. The only thing I can say in response is that you have to build it, piece by piece. You have to see what you have inside of you, and in your own circles. Once upon a time, I had perhaps two, three friends who were also aspiring writers. We tried and failed together. But we also created venues for ourselves, attended literary events together, talked about art and literature together. And we found like-minded artists in other media, and we mutually inspired one another. We did a lot of foolish shit together, in the name of art and cultural production. Once upon a time, I had nothing but a vague idea that I wanted to be a writer, and no plan on how to get there.