Spring 2013: Filipina/o American Literature, Art, and Culture @ SFSU

So I will be back at SFSU next semester after all. Last week, as I was guest speaking in Valerie Soe’s class, I decided to drop in on Lorraine Dong, the Asian American Studies Dept. Chair, just as Allyson was also walking into Lorraine’s office. I told them I was available and interested. And this week, I’ve got rehiring paperwork in my in box. I love it when it happens like this.

The class I taught last year has grown (broadened?) from a literature course to this multi-disciplinary course which is almost the opposite of what I do at USF, where Pinay Lit is a fairly specific focus. Well, that specificity only opens up the problem of “representative” literature, of which I am trying to do the opposite.

So at SFSU then, with this larger, less focused course title, I’ve decided that rather than kick my own ass trying to cram more and more material into the syllabus, I would instead hone it down to a select number of themes instead of trying to do the broad historical sweep. As literature is my strength, I remain focused on it, and branch out into other forms from there. So here’s my preliminary list of required texts for next semester:

  1. M. Evelina Galang, One Tribe (New Issues Press, 2006)
  2. Barbara Jane Reyes, Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005)
  3. Ronaldo V. Wilson, Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008)
  4. R. Zamora Linmark, Leche (Coffee House Press, 2011)
  5. Rafe Bartholomew, Pacific Rims (NAL Trade, 2011)
  6. Lynda Barry, One Hundred Demons (Sasquatch Books, 2005)

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Writing Culture 2

So, Sunny Vergara and I are having some discussion over on FB re: R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche, as both of us have finished reading it over the weekend. Sunny’s write-up is here, and mine is here.

One thing we’re talking about is Linmark’s skirting but ultimately steering away from sentimentality, which I think he does quite well. In a balikbayan narrative, or as Sunny writes, a “Great Philippine Novel” from the point of view of the balikbayan, sentimentality can kill the writing. But you have to come close, you have to risk it. The balikbayan narrative/hero story is necessarily an emotional one, and also a historical and political one. Questions of home and belonging, being Filipino and/or American, both, neither, invariably arise. How to handle these without falling into derivative, overdone, overfamiliar rant or tirade, didacticism and polemicizing that takes the work out of the realm of creative writing.

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On R. Zamora Linmark’s LECHE

LecheLeche by R. Zamora Linmark

I just finished Leche yesterday, and am planning on teaching this in Filipino American Literature at USF in the Fall.

Some quick thoughts: I like Linmark’s portrayal of Manila, which is one of the principal characters in this novel. Manila is crazy, contradictory, it evades understanding, especially by our apparently ordered American minds. Linmark’s “hero,” is the balikbayan Vince, or Vicente. So this book is his hero journey through the morass of Manila, to try to figure himself out, as a Filipino, an American, the grandson of a Bataan death March survivor, as a Filipino American whose ancestry is very much the story of the Philippines itself – American soldiers and American teachers, immigrants/expatriates. His family is broken, fractured by immigration and economics. The microcosm/stand-in for the Philippines throughout history is Leche, the orphanage, brothel, museum, sex club, which all of the Philippines’ colonizers have had their claws in at some point in time. Even getting there is a chore for Vicente.

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Lit, Poetry, Events, Syllabus Updates, and Becoming a Dona Gangsta

Whew! Lots has just happened, and Oscar and I have found ourselves in many lit spaces over the last few days, while also managing a couple of birthday feasts.

I need three more students to enroll in my Philippine/Filipino American Literature course, and it’s a go. Good news is that incoming freshmen have not yet enrolled, and I’ve also just spread the word to fellow USF faculty in Asian Studies and Asian American Studies, folks with whom I’ve recently reconnected at the 04/26 USF Growing Up Filipino American author panel, featuring Peter Jamero, Pati Navalta Poblete, and Janet Mendoza Stickmon. As I’d previously mentioned, I’d never met or heard Jamero and Poblete, so I wanted to say a few words about them, as I came away impressed with their presentations.
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“poet as purveyor of truth for the people” (balagtasan, maganda, political poetry)

“It should be emphasized … that the balagtasan also served a higher social and political function. More than mere entertainment, it enhanced the tradition role of the poet as purveyor of truth for the people.” — Virgilio S. Almario, “Art and Politics in the Balagtasan” (2003).

I understand that real balagtaseros are expected to be in attendance in this coming Filipino American International Book Festival. I am looking for evidence of English balagtasan (and tanaga, while I’m at it) — poems, recordings, scholarly writings, that I could add to my Philippine/Filipino American Literature syllabus. I don’t like that limiting the course to English language literature must necessarily exclude balagtasan! I also think that in teaching contemporary Philippine/Filipino American spoken word, i.e. oral poetics, today’s slam and the MC (emcee), I must first talk about oral tradition and the history of performance/performative poetry as pertains to Filipinos. To be consistent, I include modern day storytelling, selections from Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor’s Pause Mid-Flight chapbook and CD, so we can also talk about modern indigeneity/Filipino American linkages to Native American stories.

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Poetry Foundation: A few things about R. Zamora Linmark’s ‘The Evolution of a Sigh’

My 12th post, A few things about R. Zamora Linmark’s The Evolution of a Sigh is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I wanted to say a few things about R. Zamora Linmark’s energetic collection The Evolution of a Sigh (Hanging Loose Press, 2008) which I’ve read and reread, and which had me cracking up at some of what I enjoy best in Linmark’s work; he mines and dredges that space between languages and all of the weirdness of that space, which facilitates communication and miscommunication. As in his first book, one of my favorites, the novel Rolling the R’s, he writes unapologetically from a place of historically and culturally misused English. This misuse leads to the creation of new sets of definitions….

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R. Zamora Linmark and Sesshu Foster

Yesterday evening I co-hosted with Jessica Wickens the Small Press Traffic’s Experimental Fiction reading, which meant that yesterday afternoon I was scrambling for online material and dredging my blog to write some lovely introductions for R. Zamora Linmark and Sesshu Foster, both of whom I’ve admired for various reasons and therefore was very happy to be introducing. Of course, months ago, I found Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual quite belatedly, more than a decade after it was first published, and then it subsequently blew my mind (previous blog post is here), as I have been invested in finding API authors (primarily poets or cross-genre authors who do poetry) whose work subverts the expectations for ethnic writers and our handling of artifact, language, and narrative. In case you haven’t noticed, I am writing from a position of fan-girl-ism for a couple of my (Flip/API) literary role models.

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Items: Pop and Lit

[Edits below.]

(1) Sunny had mentioned while at the Journey concert that he didn’t want his American Pop blog to become the Arnel Pineda show. I feel him on that, which is why I will forego writing my own lengthy review of this past weekend’s show, since my review would be completely peppered with uncritical feelgoodism (and you get it already: I *heart* Arnel Pineda). Instead, let me point you to two local papers’ reviews (San Mateo County Times | Sacramento Bee) of the other two Northern California Journey-Heart-Cheap Trick shows. If I am reading these reviews correctly, all of the Northern California shows were sold out. Some perspective: the Police reunion tour and Stevie Wonder did not sell out these amphitheater venues.

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Some quick thoughts on my UCSB visit: poetry workshop

The UCSB Filipino American student organization, Kapatirang Pilipino (KP), were such awesome young folks who took such good care of me. And I actually worried I wouldn’t be able to offer them anything valuable for all their time and effort. There really is only so much you can do in one hour of poetry workshop. I tend to want to give so much background that it really does take ~15 weeks to unravel everything I mean to say.

I’ve been told by some that in poetry workshops taught by poets of some level of renown, you wish for more engagement with texts rather than abundant time to free write. Anyway, I do try to have space for both. That said, I was able to discuss to some extent the music of the poetic line, and the orality of a good musical line, and how poetic form is a container for this music and a way to organize “expression” in order to commit to memory, and in order to drive the narrative forward.

And since the term, “spoken word” was coming up everywhere I was speaking at UCSB, I got to the point that I was saying to students:

That line between spoken word and poetry – erase it. It’s the same thing.

Poetry has always existed in human cultures, and its many musics are culturally and geographically specific, and based upon orality and performance. I know folks also make the distinction between orature and literature, but I am not going to make that distinction because some measure of value invariably gets attached to either term.

We discussed Nellie Wong’s pantoum, “Grandmother’s Song,” for what the progression and repetition of lines accomplishes within this metrically consistent poem. We discussed the shift from the golden pomelo days to peeling shrimp for pennies a day, working in the mud and the erosion of tradition, etc. That shift just kind of sneaks up on us, and so as readers, what do we do with this? As poets, especially poets wanting to write politically relevant work, how can we make these devices useful to us?

What I asked the students to write was based off Huu Thinh’s “Asking,” and Oscar Bermeo’s “I’m Jus Askin”; questions that they want answered, questions whose answers they haven’t been satisfied with hearing, rearticulations of these questions aimed at/indicting different parties, each question its own line. And then to go about either answering those questions, or to write lines that are reasons why they are asking those questions. Given that each of the sample poems are written from culturally, historically, geographically specific spaces, what are our specifics? I told them to throw conventional grammar to the curb and just write lines. What came out of this free write was defiant, pointed, philosophical/lofty as well as concrete and practical.

We ended with a pretty hefty conversation regarding R. Zamora Linmark’s “They Like You Because You Eat Dog,” which, even when fully aware of the poet’s use of irony, is still a tough read: worshipers of blue passports, machine gunning your own kind, unable to fill out an application form. It elicits all kinds of questions of colonial mentality, self-hatred, economic necessity, and perceived cultural and moral deficiency, given the power relationship between the “they,” those of the dominant American culture, and the “you,” the allegedly colonized Filipino. Even the sentences’ grammar places the “they” in the power position (the viewer and doer) and the “you” in the viewed, receiving position. “They like you because,” “They like you because,” over and over again is relentless, until the final line when the refrain ends and the, “when the time comes [that you are more and more like them], will they like you more?”

I asked the students what their poetic responses would be to this poem. Some possibilities they brought up: Changing the sentences’ grammar so that the “you” is no longer in the viewed, receiving position. Responding to each indictment without irony but with a pointed message of we do these things to survive and you don’t have to like me/us. In this way too, I see how “they” become “you,” and the Filipino becomes the “we/us,” taking front and center.

OK. That’s what I got for now, and I do hope that the students have gotten the message that thoughtfully composed poetry with structural integrity can be a very pointed weapon.

Independent. Indie. Small Press.

In related news, Poeta en San Francisco is back on SPDBooks’ Bestseller List for January 2008.

And in related news, here’s an announcement from Susan Schultz:

ANOTHER new Tinfish title!!!

A Communion of Saints, by Meg Withers.

R. Zamora Linmark, author of Rolling the R’s and other books, writes of Withers’s new volume of prose poems:

Welcome to Meg Withers’ Hawai’i: the eighties’ Eden for exiles, outcasts, and the “eternally tormented,” where Rose is sometimes Bob, Arlene used to be Allen, George is Georgia, and “hard sex (is) by Pfizer.” These saints, living on the margins of Honolulu, get dolled up, get high on coke and cocktails, whore day and night, bar fly from Hotel Street to Kuhio Avenue, find home in each other, and, when tragedy strikes, seek healing and wisdom from na po mokole. Divided into three books and interspersed with Biblical passages that offer an alternative, if not more happening, way of interpreting Luke et al, A Communion of Saints reverberates with the street beat of the eighties and captures the glam and heart of that era. Unapologetic, vibrant, and at times, elegiac; in short, a fine work from a promising poet.

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