Last week, as a part of Writers’ Week at UC Riverside, I heard Jennifer Kwon Dobbs read work from Paper Pavilion (her first book, published by White Pine Press) and poems from her latest manuscript. She read “River,” a mythic, trance-like long poem in Paper Pavilion. She read another poem that tapped into an imaginary meeting between the speaker’s Korean mother as a “comfort woman” and her white American, military father. This poem, which I can’t recall the title now, shook with anger, guilt, shame. The emotions here were palpable. During the Q & A session, Jennifer mentioned that this was a proleptic poem. As a Korean adoptee, she could only imagine her parents and their meeting, using speculation as a way to access history. She talked about using “the body as an essential document,” as another way of writing about history, which I found fascinating. After the reading, I told Jennifer that I had this visceral reaction to the poem, and she said she had a lot of fear when she wrote it. I shared with her some of my fear and anxiety in writing the aswang, world’s fair poems, and she said, this fear and pain comes from inventing a language. Barbara Jane Reyes is writing a lot about silence and Pinays’ voices on her blog. I wonder how much fear and pain factors into the struggles for “inventing a language,” regarding Pinay experiences. It hurts to go deeper, and in terms of craft, writers must find new ways to say it. I wonder how many opt for silence to forgo pain, fear. I’ve picked up Leny Strobel‘s A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor Babaylan recently. I appreciate how Strobel combines personal and often painful experiences of decolonization with images and stories. I like how this book is a map for her own decolonizing, for recognizing these sources of pain.
This quarter, I’ve been working with Juan Felipe Herrera on my poems about the aswang, and the St. Louis World’s Fair. During our first meeting, we brainstormed and physically mapped out who the characters are, where they are, what they’re doing in my project. Juan Felipe then randomly divided the map in four quadrants, and suggested that I follow this new structure as an experiment. This really helped me take a step back from the rigidity of the project, and I’m playing and writing new poems using this map. Juan Felipe also asked me about fuel, what is fueling this work and my writing in general? I stammered and said, to tell stories? Of course to tell stories, he said. It hurt to peel back the layers, but I realized, through this meeting, that I write to overcome silence.