Category Archives: aswang

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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Chapbook Release: Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Just a quick hello from the other side to announce my chapbook’s recent release from Dancing Girl Press.  You can purchase it here!
















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Work Update: Summer Sessions with the Aswang

Cristina Victor, an artist friend of mine, drew this incredible aswang a year or two ago, in response to one of poems.

*The Aswang Manuscript

The aswang manuscript is undergoing some radical revision.

The manuscript is organized by the different creatures the aswang embodies:

1.) Weredog

2.) Vampira

3.) Viscera Sucker

4.) Witch

5.) Manananggal

I’ve revisited a number of poems to play with form.  I want the form to reflect the changing, elusive creatures of the aswang, which means working with the fragment and the image even more.  For a long while, I felt tied to the linear narrative of the aswang and her mother, even when it wasn’t working.  I’ve cut a bunch of lines and poems, which was liberating.  I am also letting go or saving some of the world’s fair poems I’ve written.  They just don’t fit right now.

When I sent my manuscript to friends and other poets, the question of my body came up.  Where was it?

I’m interweaving the difficult poems I wrote in Chris Abani’s workshop last spring with the aswang poems I already had.  Poems of trauma, colonization, violence among families and women, violence committed against the body, the Filipina brown body.  Poems of girlhood, motherhood and daughterhood.  Some in persona, a few not.  For a while, I’ve kept these separate, but it’s fascinating to see them in dialogue.  I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with organizing the manuscript.

During VONA, I spoke with Elmaz Abinader about her thoughts on this project.  She suggested playing with the performance of it, which speaks to the persona nature of the project.

This fall, I plan to stage a section of the aswang poems  in conjunction with UC Riverside’s Golden Mean Theater Group this fall.  If you all know of any Pinay actors, let me know!

*Writings on Filipino Mythology

TAYO founder and fellow VONA attendee, Melissa Sipin and I have been in dialogue about editing an anthology of literature inspired by Filipino mythology.

We found this call for submissions on the PAWA blog, but we want to open it up to other genres, besides fiction, and we want Filipino writers from all over the diaspora to submit.  We’re inspired by the work of Barbara Jane Reyes, Aimee Nezuhukumatahil, Ninotchka Rosca, Noel Mariano, Oliver de la Paz, Maina Minahal, Aimee Suzara and more…

We want seasoned and emerging Filipino writers represented in the anthology (which we want in both print and online venues).

Is there something like this out there already?  Who are other Filipina/o writers who could fit into this project?


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Curious, If True

Just a quick update.  I’m heading to the University of Victoria in British Columbia for “Curious, If True: The Fantastic in Literature” Conference.  I’ll be on the “Family, Childbirth and Death” creative writing panel, presenting my poetry on the aswang and reading poems from the manuscript.  I’m excited.  This will be the first time sharing my work at a conference, and many of the other panels look fascinating.

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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.


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This Sunday – Strange Cargo, an Emerging Voices Anthology

Dear Reader,

I’m very excited to invite you to the release of Strange Cargo, an Emerging Voices Anthology 1997- 2010.  A few poems of mine from the aswang series are featured!

The event will be at Skylight Books on Sunday, Sept 12th @ 5pm.
1818 North Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Click here for more information.

Refreshments will be served.

I hope to see you this Sunday!

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As I begin to order the poems I’ve written for my tenatively titled project “Ascela at the World’s Greatest Fair,” I grow more excited about the larger form these poems will take.

For the past few months of the fellowship, I’ve been trying to “write organically,”  without an agenda for any sort of product.  Many of the poems have failed.  Most of them didn’t make sense at the time of the writing, since I wasn’t writing them chronologically, but I’ve tried to trust the character, the Aswang, and let her go where she wants, even if that meant jumping in time, country, emotional space.

As I blog right now as a writing break from the project, I’m satisfied to see where the poems will go in their sections, where the gaps are, and the poems I still need to write to finish.

Yay, it’s been a while since I’ve been enthused about this project, so I must get back to work!

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Where does your mother live?

New Aswang poem:

after Barbara Jane Reyes who stole it from someone else, as well

Where does your mother live?

Between the night’s studded eyelids,

her fist-irises.

Where does your mother live?

In the sage’s unwritten book,

the witch’s catalogue, the crooked finger.

Where does your mother live?

In the libation of

the womb’s steady hand.

Beneath the star,

the tongue, flicking words

against the bearing of crosses.

Where does your mother live?

Behind the shadows of tubes,

the woman’s groan,

the razors across the forehead.

Among the cherubs with formless hands,

mash of nostrils and skin.

Their wings torn and gorgeous.

In the red heaven she greets them.

Where does your mother live?

On the top shelf, above the dining table,

even she cannot resist to cloak

Santo Nino’s with his scarlet gown,

crown him with rubied light.

Where does your mother live?

In my father’s hallucination,

she is the ocean

she calls him crazy, from here.

Where does your mother live?

Along the ocean’s path,

the footfalls of duwende,

her name carved on his front tooth.

Where does your mother live?

In another country,

she sits on the shell of my ear,

translates the monsoon in my mouth.

There is no land to release from fallow.


I’m interested in the questioning, the cross-examining of the Aswang.  I think I can create a series of poems surrounding questions, like the one above, and I wonder what the poems might look like without the question inserted in the actual text.  Perhaps the questions will serve as scaffolding for poems, but maybe they won’t?

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