Ongoing Process Notes: Morejón, Hagedorn, Evasco


A couple of things, as I continue to plug away at the manuscript.

We were fortunate to see Nancy Morejón at La Peña a couple of days ago, and I’m glad we did. There is something about language I’m still working through in my head, something about communicating via translation, and also something about communicating in a language not your Mother Tongue. Mother Tongue has always been a complex thing for me, coming from a family that is fluent in three languages. What is Mother Tongue when you operate in a mixed system of language, what do these things — understanding, speaking, code switching/mixing, fluency, purity — even mean? And what is native?

“As a people, we do not go back,” Morejón said in response to an audience member who wanted to know what her people would do once the Castro brothers eventually pass on. First though, she said, we will bury the dead, because we respect them, something she meant literally, I believe. You literally bury the dead. But it also seemed to relate to “as a people, we do not go back,” and also related to how she described herself, her people, her culture, her language as creole, criollo, hybrid, mixed. This is a fact, not to be despised as deficiency; you take it on and you move on.

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APIA Literature that Influenced Me

Seattle-based International Examiner has recently posted lists authored by APIA writers, editors, and academics, five titles of APIA literature that have influenced them. Fellow APIA writer Claire Light has meme’ed a bunch of us on Facebook, asking us the same question. I’ve left my five items as a comment on her wall, but would like to expand my list here, and talk a bit about “influence.” Sometimes for me, it isn’t about “influence,” as much as it is about resonance. These days, in the thick of reading and teaching, I find in the post-writing and publishing process that work’s out there, and my own work has connected with it. But back to the beginning, it looks something like this:

Jessica Hagedorn, Dangerous Music (Momo’s Press, 1975), and Danger and Beauty (Penguin, 1993). Jessica is THE O.G. Pinay poet, the one we Pinays all purportedly want to be. I wanted to be Jessica Hagedorn when I was 19, 20. I’m 40 now, and while I’ve long ago shed the desire to be someone else, I admit Jessica was the first Pinay I encountered in print, and in gangsta performance. In other words, she showed me what we all could be capable of as Pinay artists. And that is some powerful juju. Her poems were funky, raw, sharp, fearless, the opposite of Maria Clara acquiescence.

I realize now though, that the pieces from Danger and Beauty which have remained with me are her essays, “Papologia,” (which serves as the collection’s intro) and “Homesick.” “Papologia” is a little burst of memories/flashback, ecstatic with belonging, carving out multicultural, multidisciplinary artist communities in the hard and contested spaces that are our Bay Area urban centers. “Homesick” is perhaps its opposite, making problematic our nostalgia for the homeland to which we can never truly return, or can we? Or returning with a different set of eyes, what then of belonging?

At UP Diliman in the early 1990’s, in my comparative lit class, Filipino Women Writing in English: Love, War, and Exile, taught by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, so many of the women (all Philippines-based) were so resistant to Hagedorn’s “Homesick,” and the general sentiment among them was, “You’re in America now, what do you have to complain about?” I remember defending the piece, and defending the position of the balikbayan, returning to a place (as I had just done) that bore no resemblance to our memories, that we now knew more from international news reports, and from our (in)formal post-colonial political and arts education — the irony of learning about Filipino colonial mentality in our First World cultural and arts spaces, and for me, in American university classrooms.

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Poem: Griotte by Marjorie Evasco

by Marjorie Evasco

the story I remember Sandie Mbanefo remembers
her Igbo father telling her the old village storyteller
sat in the moonlight middle of a circle of ears and drums
beating the story in to let each one remember
stories from the very beginning simple complete
the way to throw nets onto the center of the lake
the way to cast spells to tame spit of the black mamba
in the countless spirals of words seeking the listening
whole navel dark pit memory called Mother in any tongue
in any story remembered and passed on in time
from time to time resurfacing in another other parts
of the world woven with skein like hers like mine like
Lina Sagaral Reyes bathing in the moonlight because
Bohol Electric cut off her supply her power to tell
the moonlight to me undiminished under the candleglow
as she remembered how rain water splashed
a shiver of fireflies on her brown body washed off salt
and silt from her twilight search for mollusks at Loay Beach
with the village women who also tell stories
what they remember everyday where crabs dance mate spawn
at new moon tide extraordinary things glowing
in the mangrove swamps while my feet tread their way
back to the night Sandie showed me Nigeria
the ceremonial clay figures in the round of storytelling
pulling me into the silent stretch of words as time curves
the gesture of fishers’ nets on to another lake where
I sit listen with Mabel Alampay to the blind
storyteller of Talisay remembering Taal Volcano
spewing lightning bolts the memory burned onto thin membrane
of eyelids shut forever into seeing inward a story of awe
passed on passing

Marjorie Evasco: Why I Write, What I Write, How I Write

I have always loved Marjorie Evasco‘s work since I read it in Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s Comparative Literature class at UP Diliman. Since then, I’ve regretted not picking up Evasco’s first book, Dreamweavers, which used to be easily available and affordable at all the National Bookstore stores I went to in Metro Manila in the early 1990’s. Now I have to scour the internet and shell out ducats for it. Anyway, here’s an excerpt of a talk Evasco gave at Iowa a few years back:

How I Write

Drafts of poems are telltale signs of the work I do to shape the material at hand in order to give it its best possible hearing. I can never truly say how I write because a large part of the process remains wondrous. One necessarily resorts to reconstructions of the process, something called “memory’s fictions” by Filipino poet-novelist Bienvenido N. Santos.

I know only this: that the materials of the imagination are taken from the haphazard paddies of dreams and memories, and that each poem feeds on whatever it needs. The rich loam of time and space, lived outside and inside the self nurture the-creative process. And the poem’s making is a way of focusing this inner sight, to let something new come alive with sound, movement, taste, texture and shape, bringing us back to things as they were when we named them for the first time.

I believe that once a poem is written, the poet can become invisible again until the next urging to sing the rattlesnake, grasshopper, centipede, cow dung or buddha. For the making of a poem is an eccentric act of faith that both the conjured up thing and the living presence of the world will someday awaken in another person’s body of memories and dreams.

More here, and some poems from Dreamweavers here. Sigh. If anyone out there has a copy they are looking to, willing to part with, let me know.