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.

Continue reading “Starting: Source Materials”


Work Post with praise for technology and its absence

We made it to the West Oakland post office yesterday evening with enough time to send out an artist in residence application with a portfolio on CD so that it would reach its destination by Monday. The application letter and CV I had already e-submitted. I did this between my home and work PC’s, and thank goodness for Google Documents.

Yesterday afternoon, I also e-submitted a letter of recommendation for a poet for a Guggenheim fellowship (w00t!) yesterday evening. And thank goodness for e-submission.

Anyway, in terms of rearticulating clearly my poetic practice and politics, it was good practice, writing my letter of application for my own potential artist in residence. This is why I was updating my CV before leaving for the Philippines. I ended up having two separate lists for guest lectures and feature performances, divided by college/university venues and then additional venues.

My super diligent letters of recommendation writers had already sent their letters in before my trip, and so that was incentive to make sure I did my part, and did it well, if not famously.

Compiling my portfolio was also (re)elucidating. I scanned the first 33 pages of Gravities of Center into a PDF file, and remembered again that I actually like my first book. I have spent so much time in discussions and presentations not talking about Gravities. It’s that thing when you look at your first book and you cringe, not because the work is “bad,” but because you have grown in many ways since your first book’s publication. And isn’t a good thing, this growth? So now I am thinking the book is not as content-wise cringe-worthy as I’ve imagined it over time. What is difficult is its formatting (which is why the PDF and not a Word file), and I think it’s the difficult formatting which led me back to more straight forward typographic form.

I also included the entire PDF’s of Poeta en San Francisco and West Oakland Sutra for the AK-47 Shooter at 3:00 AM and other Oakland poems, a MS Word file of the entire Diwata, and five book reviews (two of Gravities, three of Poeta), PDF’s, copied and pasted from online review venues, or copied and pasted from my previous blog archives (which is great since their original online locations have since vanished).

Yes, I realize that conveying the above information is tedious, but I have been thinking much about work tools and the value of e-world as it enables me to work. Still, Oscar reminds me that websites disappear over time, i.e. there is impermanence in e-world, when I tell him my attachment to “book” is a sentimental and anachronistic one, and that I am unmoved by the phenomenon called Web 2.0. He reminds me that even books out of print are still locatable artifacts.

I have been feeling like for all its networking capabilities, Web 2.0 is so much clutter of user driven drivel and noise. It’s timely then that Oscar has also fw’ed me a beautiful write-up by Frederick Smock on the fortieth death anniversary of Thomas Merton:

Much of a monk’s life is spent in silence. Much of a poet’s life is spent in silence, too — a poet spends a fraction of his time actually writing poems. Merton was both a monk and a poet, and thus well-acquainted with silence. Like meditation, and like prayer, poetry is surrounded by silence. Poetry begins and ends in silence. Silence is also inherent within a poem, like the silences between notes in music. As the great Chinese poet Yang Wan-li said, a thousand years ago, “A poem is made of words, yes, but take away the words and the poem remains.”

Still, when we think of silence, we do not necessarily think of Merton. He was a voluble man, and a prolific writer. He continues to publish, posthumously. He always seems to be speaking to us. Bookshelves groan under the accumulating weight of his oeurvre. However, late in his life, Merton lamented the fact that he had written so many editorials, and not more poems and prayers — forms that partake of silence. “More and more I see the necessity of leaving my own ridiculous ‘career’ as a religious journalist,” he wrote in his journal (Dec. 2, 1959). “Stop writing for publication — except poems and creative meditations.”

“What do I really want to do?” Merton asked himself, in his journal (June 21, 1959). “Long hours of quiet in the woods, reading a little, meditating a lot, walking up and down in the pine needles in bare feet.” What a man commits to his journal is, at once, the most private and the most authentic version of his self. Books written for public consumption are not errant, just not as heartfelt. In his journal for the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (March 7, 1961), Merton wrote, “Determined to write less, to gradually vanish.” He added, at the end of that entry, “The last thing I will give up writing will be this journal and notebooks and poems. No more books of piety.”

Here is the entire article.

In Manila, during immense periods of waiting on others, and without internet access to pass the time, I retreated into quiet spaces with books, and remembered how much I enjoyed the peace of continuous hours of doing nothing but absorbing text. My amended reading list, i.e. what I actually got through: Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants and Coraline, Dean Francis Alfar’s The Kite of Stars, Rachelle Cruz’s chapbook Honey May Soon Run Out, and Katrin de Guia’s Kapwa: The Self in the Other, which I am currently reading.

I would be remiss not to discuss Dean Francis Alfar‘s beautiful book of collected short speculative fiction, so this discussion will be forthcoming. In the meantime, here is a link to the title story, “L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars).” I am glad to be able to point you all to Alfar’s work online, though the experience of turning the pages to read his stories typeset in an old style serif font, and savor the lovely details of Alfar’s unfolding and expanding world — his land Hinirang and its Ciudad Meiora, its Mother Colonizer Ispancia, the indigenous Katao — is one I highly recommend. Perhaps there was another layer to my experience of reading Alfar, in Manila, with a typhoon off the coast of Vietnam bringing a very warm and heavy rain to an already warm and humid Manila. That experience of the city’s pockets of quiet, that air, that smell of burning wood, of mildew, of overripe fruit, of diesel fuel.

Last thing, on Merton’s lamenting his “ridiculous” career as a journalist, writing so much editorial, this is some thing I need to take to heart. Do I really want to or need to write things that take me away from poetry, the experience of writing poetry, the experience of living poetry.