Blogging progress and “Writing the Difficult” Workshop

At the “The Writer is Also a Citizen” reading at Japanese American National Museum the other day (see Barbara Jane Reyes’ post for a fantastic write-up of the event), I met Sarita See, author of The Decolonized Eye and Executive Director of Center for Art and Thought.  She referred me to Kimberly Alidio’s Artist-in-Residency blog posts over at the organization’s website. Reading Kimberly’s posts inspire me to document the writing / thinking / percolating / banging-one’s-head-against-the-wall process.

Sometimes, I forget that the blog is a useful way for me to process the work I’m doing, trying to do.

So, after receiving a batch of MS rejections, I am re-rethinking the organization of my Aswang manuscript, chopping extraneous poems and writing seeds of poems.  Again.  And again.  The manuscript is as unruly as the creature herself.

I just finished taking a wonderful and generative online workshop, entitled “Writing the Difficult” via Creativity Squared.  I worked with a talented duo of instructors, poet Jenn Givhan and non-fictioneer and blogger Lauren Fleming (AKA Queerie Bradshaw), who gave me a wealth of feedback and ideas about new poems and the manuscript I’ve been chipping away at for the past couple years.  Lauren gave me some incredible advice in regards to the structure of the book, and Jenn helped me to focus on my voice in a lot of the very emotionally difficult poems I wrote for the workshop.  (Psst, I highly, highly recommend you take their classes or sign up for one-on-one consultations!).

Along with implementing the workshop feedback I received, I’ve been using the following strategies to get back into the flow of manuscripting:

-Writing titles of possible poems.

-Writing poems that have nothing to do with the manuscript.

-Writing with a pen, using my left hand.

-Doing the Daily Grind (writing/revising a poem everyday for a month).

What do you do to stay focused and refreshed?

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Reviews:Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

This is so belated, but I wanted to thank Henry for his review of my chapbook; and Iris for recommending it as part of their Staff Reads in 2012!

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Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood
by Rachelle Cruz
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris:
 ”Another fabulous Dancing Girl title. Notable for the courageous viscerality of its voice, Cruz’s chap is tonally very different from Eliason’s, but also intensely powerful. Cruz’s speaker is a shape-shifter, slipping easily in and out of voices and narratives from across time and space in order to weave together a portrait that glistens as much with sinew as it does with the force of its story.”

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And from Henry’s review:

“The final note of the chapbook embraces the wild and vindictive for its possibilities. In the final title poem, “Self-Portrait as Blood,” the speaker invokes her blood as a genealogical but also mythic heritage, as a river (cf. Langston Hughes reclaiming tradition when he sang, “I’ve known rivers”), as a “magic of return,” and, finally, as a “wild, wild water.” Water as sustenance, but also as something in constant motion, flowing, refusing to stagnate or be penned in.”

 

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National Poetry Month Happenings

Hi, everyone!

Just a quick update with a few poetry events.  Hope to see you there!

*Sunday, April 14th – FREE Poetry Workshop and Reading at Skylight Books.  Hosted by the wonderful Terry Wolverton.

FREE POETRY WORKSHOP FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
You want to celebrate National Poetry Month but you’re chagrinned to admit you just don’t understand poetry? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to write poetry, but don’t really know how it’s done? Join Skylight Books and Writers At Work’s Terry Wolverton on Sunday, April 14 from 2-4 p.m. for a free workshop, The Secret Life of Poems. Terry has invited 6 next generation poets—Ashley Blakeney, Rachelle Cruz, Ashaki M. Jackson, Eden Jeffries, Menhaz Sahibzada and Andrew Wessels —  to discuss their writing process and the techniques they use to create their poems. Participants will learn the fundamentals of writing and reading poetry.

FREE READING FOR NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
Poetry is meant to be heard as well as read.  Join us on Sunday, April 14 at 5 p.m. as we hear the delightful and provocative poems of Poets At Work members Kim Dower, Yvonne M. Estrada, Steven Fleet, Dylan Cameron Gailey, Brett Guitar Hofer, Eric Howard, Sharon Venezio, Terry Wolverton and Helen Yeoman.  They will be joined by a dynamic group of next generation poets—Ashley Blakeney, Rachelle Cruz, Ashaki M. Jackson, Eden Jeffries, Menhaz Sahibzada and Andrew Wessels.

 
*Sunday, April 20th, 12-2 pm – Dancing Girl Press and Finishing Line Press at the Smokin’ Hot Literary Lounge.  Hosted by Kaya Press at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.  Booth #380.
 
Reading by Dancing Girl Press and FInishing Line Press authors at 1 pm:
*Rachelle Cruz
*Kate Durbin
*Lauren Eggret-Crowe
*Vickie Vertiz
 
And more on the Smoking Hot Lit Lounge below!
 
The booth will feature indie presses from LA, readings and workshops in our lounge (couches! rugs! lamps!), and fun interactive literary games. Stop by and make a bookmark, participate and watch our special #HOTLIT Instagram feed, or just curl up on our couch with some smokin’ hot indie literature. Readings & Workshops by: Deborah Miranda (Bad Indians, HeyDay Press), Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut (Magnetic Refrain, Kaya Press), Richard Rayner, Dancing Girl Press, Boxcar Poetry Review, Writ Large Press, Southern California Review, and SO MUCH MORE.

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The Next Big Thing

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Thank you to Vickie Vertiz, Melissa Sipin-Gabon and Iris Law for tagging and inviting me to be a part of this blog project.  It’s awesome to hear what folks are up to.  Be sure to check out their blogs/websites for their responses!

What is the title of your book?


The Gossip Tree or The Aswang’s Particular Thirst.  I’ve been going back and forth…

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


The aswang witch meets Imelda Marcos meets a young girl from Hayward, CA, and they talk (or refuse to talk) about beauty pageants, motherhood/daughterhood, haunted suburbia, familial violence, shoes, shape-shifting and celebrities over blueberry pancakes.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.

Where did the idea come from for the book?


I started writing about the aswang witch back in 2005-2006.  I found it difficult to write poems from my personal “I” and the persona form helped a lot.  The aswang helped me access and confront my body in ways I previously couldn’t.  

My mother told me the story of the aswang witch when I was a child, and she’s haunted me since.  The aswang, who appears in many manifestations (weredog, vampira, ghoul, viscera-sucker), is best known for her appetite for human fetuses.  When I first started writing about the aswang, I was interested in this notion of shape-shifting that the aswang inhabits; everyone seems to have a different story about her.  During my research on the aswang, I came upon Carolyn Brewer’s book, Shamanism, Catholicism, and Gender Relations in the Philippines, 1521-1685, and  discovered that during Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the Catholic Church dismantled many women community leaders (also known as babaylans), deeming them brujas, unfit to rule their villages.  I intuited this history as I wrote about the aswang prior to my research, but it was affirming to realize that my hunch was right.

What does it mean for a woman to exercise her power?  How does this power become terrifying?  When it confronts patriarchy?  What does it mean to both challenge and affirm patriarchy?

Imelda Marcos appears in the book as well, and I was interested in her monstrosity and her similarities to the aswang.  She shifts shape and personality depending on her audience.  She demands to be heard, despite what banal and ridiculous shit comes out of her mouth.  

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?


About six years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Imelda Marcos, the aswang, Nicki Minaj, Jack in the Box tacos, Hayward (the “Heart of the Bay”), Philippine history, babaylans, my mother, sister and cousins, mythology,the Book of Symbols, surrealism, Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman, Jennifer Tamayo, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sylvia Sukop…

Who will publish your book?


Dancing Girl Press published my chapbook Self Portrait as Rumor and Blood, which contains some of these poems.  I’m still submitting my full-length manuscript.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?


In his review of my chapbook and Jane Wong’s Dendrochronology, Henry Leung makes reference to Diane di Prima’s Loba.  I’d say Barbara Jane Reyes’ Diwata, Arlene Kim’s What have you done to our ears to make us hear echos?, Jennifer Tamyo’s Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes, Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience, and Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage in the World Unite!

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?


Oh, I have no idea.  Imelda Marcos would play herself.  Perhaps a collective of Pinay actors could play the aswang.  Maybe a puppet would do.  Oooh, like a lion-dragon size puppet for the aswang.  That would be incredible.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Poems are delicious, and you should eat them for a well-balanced diet.

Five writers I’m tagging:

Sylvia Sukop

Kamala Puligandla

Angel Garcia

Dan Lau

Mehnaz Sahibzada

& one more:

Marissa Tinloy-Eisengart

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[PANK] Blog Interview

I wanted to share it here.

Happy Butternut Squash Soup Season!

oh, and P.S. Thinking more about Imelda, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Tamayo and more as I write this essay for Barbara Jane Reyes’ guest edited issue of The Bakery.

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Staying Sharp: A Post in Four Sections

As my funemployment continues, I’ve decided to make this time as fruitful for my writing as possible. To me, this means reading my butt off, scheduling shows for The Blood-Jet, submitting work, and editing Kuwento for Lost Things, an anthology of Philippine myths with co-editor and lovely fiction writer, Melissa Sipin.

Since my brain has been all over the place, this post is broken into sections as an attempt to organize my thoughts.

I. Ana Mendieta

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I’ve committed myself to writing for 3-4 hour blocks at least once a week (on top of daily writing).  I’m diving in and grazing the ocean floor.  During my first session, I used Cuban artist, Ana Mendieta’s Silhueta series, as sparks to begin writing.  The transitory nature of these works and Mendieta’s use of the body and nature that isn’t idyllic intrigues me.  They’re grotesque, mythic and downright scary.

As I wrote from her images, I thought about Akin’s legitimate rape, the shadows and imprints we leave everywhere we go, women’s bodies.  What is my connection to the earth?  I came across Emily Kendal Frey’s poem, My Definition of Rape.  What is my definition of rape?

II. Create Dangerously

Melissa reminded me of Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, which she’s been reading and I completely forgot I owned.  I read the first chapter last night, and much of what she writes about in regards to lineage resonates with me:

“…the artist immigrant, or immigrant artist, inevitably ponders the deaths that brought her here, along with the deaths that keep her here, the deaths from hunger and executions and cataclysmic devastation at home, the deaths from paralyzing chagrin in exile, and the other small, daily deaths in between.”

The small, daily deaths in between.  “I’ve sacrificed so much for you to grow up here,” the immigrant parent says.  Danticat cites the Colonel’s wife in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude: “If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here…then I will die.”  I spoke with my friend Angel about the lives of our ancestors, and how are they living through us now?  I’ve just finished Daytripper, a graphic novel by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.  The protagonist states: “We carry our family with us.”

III. Workshop
I’ve also decided to take an online poetry workshop with Toronto-based poet, Hoa Nguyen.  The workshop itself is focused on the work of Alice Notley, which is new to me.  I’ve never taken a class dedicated to the work of a single poet, so I’m excited to delve into her oeuvre.  I want to keep reading widely and diversely, and I’m hoping that this workshop will help.

IV. Fun

I also want to use this time to catch up on handwritten correspondences, brush up on my arroz caldo and chicken adobo recipes, write for 3-4 hours at a time, and hike.

All of this is to say, I’m grateful.

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MS Progress, and I don’t want summer to end…

I love school.  Which is why these back-to-school commercials unnerve me.  I’m not going back in the fall to the (wonderfully) structured stress of the MFA.

However, I’m excited about figuring out my own writing schedule again and reconnecting with my writing communities outside of UCR, namely the MMIX writers (formerly known as the PEN USA Emerging Voices 2009).  We met last week after a long break in our bimonthly meetings, and it was great to check-in with everyone and their writing.  And of course, there was fruit and samosas and wine galore!  It was also very exciting to see how far long folks were with the manuscripts they just began writing or had just proposed during the PEN fellowship.  A few of us have chapbooks from the work we’ve done, others are finishing their novels.

As far as my manuscript is going (tenatively titled, The Gossip Tree), I’ve finished revisions back in June and spent most of this summer submitting it to various open submissions and first book contests.  Some poems from my chapbook, Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood, appear in the full-length MS.  How do folks feel back that?  I read an interview with J.P. Dancing Bear who mentions that it’s unfair for writers and their readers who buy both chapbook and full-length. I’m reminded by Kate Durbin’s work.  A section from her book The Ravenous Audience, entitled Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot, was published as a chapbook by Dancing Girl Press.  The section as chapbook definitely worked independently from the book itself but added to the choral of voices and stages in the full-length.

I suppose this brings me back to the question of the chapbook form.  I know some poets use it as a “mix-tape” of sorts; a preview before the album drops.  Others prefer the chapbook for the contained space that the short form provides.

In thinking about my own chapbook, I was interested in the “self-portrait” poems as mirrors.  The poems, “Self-Portrait as Rumor” and “Self-Portrait as Blood” bookend the chapbook.  Mirrors, and reflections they fleetingly hold.  The ones they cannot.  The voices that bounce between them.  Perhaps, a nightmare funhouse of family, colonialism, and violence.  When two mirrors face each other, you see yourself and multitudes of yourself waving back. Unnerving.  You hear gossip, but cannot see the women.  You can see the bat wings, but don’t know for sure where they belong.   The mother telling you that you’re too dark.  She wants to keep you but flushes you out.  You’re unraveling silences in front of both mirrors.

I’m wondering if I’ve accomplished that with the chapbook.

So, with The Gossip Tree.  There is more humor.  Imelda Marcos throws shoes at your head.  She snaps Minnie Mouse ears in half.  There is also a collective of voices, speaking through the remittance message.   The limit of 25 words per message.  I’m hoping to do what Durbin does in her collection.  Have the voices rage at each other.  Support each other.  Betray.

I’m trying not to pick at the MS , or rub that dirt spot off with my saliva.  During the submission process, do folks continually revise, providing a different form of the MS to each press?  What are your best strategies for leaving it alone?

I suppose my best strategy is continuing to write new stuff.  I’ve just started a poetry correspondence over email with a friend from UCR.  We write everyday, borrowing words, ideas and lines from each other’s poems to create new ones.  We send them to encourage our accountability.  I hope to continue this practice.

So, that’s just a quick update on where things are progressing.  Since I’m no longer in the space of structured stress, I’m going to hash out more writing stuff here.  To be continued…

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