Poeta y Diwata: A Playlist for KMWR’s Rhythm & Muse

Yay! Tomorrow afternoon, I will be on KWMR’s Rhythm & Muse, to be interviewed by Brian Kirven, and to read poetry from Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata. This in itself is awesomeness, but even more awesome is that I’ve been asked to bring some music. What follows is my (tentative) playlist, something like a soundtrack, not completely faithful to the original writing process, but for sure faithful to (poetic, historical, and cultural) intent:

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Starting: Source Materials

Is it just me, or do other writers and artists get this giddy and anxious feeling about starting a project. What I have in mind is barely fleshed out, but a few contributing factors to this thing I want to/have to write are these:

(1) Thomas Merton on silence, on a poet’s living in silence, on living a life of poetry rather than “ridiculous” editorialism. This is something I really need to take to heart, in the deepest way possible.

(2) Grace Nono‘s recent Bay Area visit, performance, and conversation. To read: her book The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines. And again, as she told us during her recent visit, she’s only scratched the surface of Philippine oral traditions after 15 years of finding her way in and immersing herself in it. I have noticed (it’s hard not to notice) how much tighter and focused, how cohesive as a project or cycle each subsequent CD is. Imagine what Nono’s work will be like in another five years, in another ten years. Just phenomenal.

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So literature is…

“We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.” —Emmanuel Lacaba

I begin with this line from Lacaba’s poem, “Open Letters to Filipino Artists,” in which the poet moves from the invented dramas of bourgeois art for sake of itself to becoming wild and awakened, among the people and their movements.

Anne Boyer has written a beautiful blog post, and I will include an excerpt of it here:

So literature is…

an alternate vision of how to live, or many alternate visions, ways to see beyond what is simply presented to one in one’s upbringing or sold to us in the mass culture. It is not merely an object of study, or decorative impulse, or a game for the clever, but a map of sorts. Or I mean it is a map that is made of nerves and muscles, a map that is a kind of flesh, a textual body full of directions and sensations and responses. And the best literatures, the most compelling, are those which can so fully imagine and present something else, some way of experiencing life that can help one get through it. This counts, I think, even for that work which is more mimetic/dystopian than utopian (the mimetic work is that which allows us a way to process and understand the world as it is — an alternate vision of how to comprehend).

Being a reader is wonderful. It makes one less lonely and confused. Being a writer takes something else — I don’t know what it is yet, exactly, that makes us do this. Sometimes I have thought that it takes a lot of self-love or world-weariness to feel that one should put one’s words on pages, and give these to others, to imply that they should be read. But I also think that the most worthless literature is that which comes out of self-promotion and display — or it is the most worthless in that it also is that which is most apt to simply mimic whatever accepted idea or ideas of “literature” that prevail in the moment it is made, or in that it is work that is an author imitating himself. And likewise, a really shitty literature comes out of hating the world only, or a misanthrope’s wish to punish others with the tedious volumes of her work.


Whoever is a real believer has to get used to whatever degree of scorn is heaped by cynics on those who believe…

I am with this. I am totally with this, and I think of what it is like communing with writers, authors, artists outside (in spite) of the dreaded and dreadful po-biz, which I think can erase all the wonder from a life of living poetry and creating poetry.

Or to be more inclusive of artists in other genres who comprise my community, living and creating literature and art, living and creating story, then. Storytelling, talking story, and really being excited and wonder-filled about the process which is both mechanical and mystical.

I realize I am an impatient person, but my impatience, discontentment, and disdain for the “po-biz,” or the “scene,” is one that I am understanding comes from the overwhelming flippant and cynical tone and attitude of the wordsmiths and potential storytellers around me, and what I perceive as an unwillingness to engage in dialogue about living and creating story. Being closed to the possibility of illumination, or to the possibility of dialogue which transcends what we think, know and understand, even on tacit levels. Basically, I am interested in openness and willingness to risk. And doesn’t the integrity of the art and the artist depend upon this.

I say these things suspecting that affecting an air of flippancy and aggression, or conversely, reticence, is a defense mechanism for aspiring or emerging writers who fear rejection, who equate the rejection letter with failure, and with inadequacy. I am starting to wonder more and more why so many self-proclaimed poets/writers/artists act as if they are embarrassed or inconvenienced by art. I don’t get it.

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Grace Nono at the Bayanihan Center, SF 12/14/08

At the Bayanihan Center in SF this evening, we were in the presence of the fierce, beautiful, and sublime Grace Nono. She told us that as a singer, tapping into indigenous oral traditions of chanting and prayer was something that she just knew she had to do. This as an alternative to always mimicking our colonial masters, because as a singer doing Western covers, she came to believe there was more, something deeper and much more meaningful to which she could lend her amazing voice.

In addition to her graciousness in conversation, and apart from this artful performance that just made all kinds of things bubble up in my chest and pull me into trance, I appreciated so much her admission that she is just a singer and not an authority on indigenous wisdom, that still has so much to learn, that she’s only scratched the surface of finding her indigenous self. Likewise I admitted that after writing Diwata, which I wrote trying to tap into old story, including memories of my Mama as my first pre-literate story influence, I believe there will always be more to write.

So my point here is in knowing. As artists, knowing we are meant to write poems or tell stories because that is what we have to do. And to share these with the world outside of us, with as much grace and fierceness as we can bring ourselves to have. And if we really do know that we are meant to be artists then all of the affecting and displays of flippancy, neuroses, cruelty, and aggression just won’t happen. At least in my world they won’t.