On Filipino Experimental Poetics

Just some thoughts.

First, “experimental” should be in quotes, just like that. It’s a blanket term or that miscellaneous box that you throw stuff in when you can’t immediately, clearly understand or access it. And even using the term in the first place already changes the reader’s expectations for the work.

So why do/did I use the term? Well, because I wanted my students to be prepared to read and discuss texts that do not appear to give us a conventional narrative.

Some quickie history: I’ve heard all kinds of disdainful stuff said about the “experimental” poet within a Filipino American context, at least on this here side of the country. I think there may be an element of distrust involved; is the writer “tricking” us or hiding something from us. Why can’t she just give it to us straight?

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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.┬áHer 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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