I wanted to share it here.
Happy Butternut Squash Soup Season!
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
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.”
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.
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.
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…
Yesterday morning, I ate bacon, lime-spiced papaya, fresh scones, and lox on a jalapeño and cheddar bagel at LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Writing and Power)’s first Poetry Brunch, hosted by the wonderful Alanna Lin.
I underestimate the power of fun at times.
Participants and readers (myself included) gorged themselves on a delicious, home-cooked meal an hour or two before “getting down to business.” Which didn’t feel like business. Poetry isn’t business! But it feels this way, before I do a reading sometimes — why?
Jamie Asaye Fitzgerald and I were the featured readers. Prior to our readings, everyone at the event, around 20 people, shared five-line poems at the mic. I dig this kind of community building in a reading format; everyone eating, drinking coffee and sharing their work. By the time I got up to the mic, the reading was among friends, haiku-writers, and brunch-lovers unbuttoning the top button of their pants.
I am teaching Introduction to Poetry this coming year. I am trying to remember any “formal” introduction I’ve experienced. In the sixth grade for the poetry unit, I had to interview my best friend as Gwendolyn Brooks who dressed like her (knit cap, large glasses). Does this count?
My first workshop in college wasn’t pleasant. There were little to no poets-of-color on the reading list. I didn’t speak Workshop Language yet. I was skeptical and grouchy, the newness of first winter in New York wearing off.
How were you introduced to poetry? How did poetry introduce itself to you?
According to Maria Popov who collaborated with Michelle Legro and Wendy MacNaughton on this diagram for Longshot Magazine, Circles of Influences is “a visualization of literary, scientific and artistic influences. It’s designed to illustrate the enormous creative indebtedness that permeates humanity’s proudest intellectual output, while also demonstrating the cross-pollination of disciplines across science, art, literature, film and music.”
Below is my Circle of Influence (thank you, Paint!). Instead of renowned white male literary figureheads dominating my circle, there are writing communities such as Kundiman and the PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship, which have shaken up my world, splashed a bucket of icewater on my head, and said, YOU! These communities have expanded my worldview, poetics, process, life. There are teachers, mentors, fellow “emerging” writers (who are the heart/soul of these communities), the first Pinay writers I read, the first writers who I loved first. There isn’t enough space for all of them.
I’ve linked the different writers and artists in my circle by community: where I was when I first met/read them, who influenced/influences their work, other communities in which they belong and overlap.
I forgot to mention The Blood-Jet Writing Hour, a place where I try to link all of these communities and influences.
Pearl Buck, author of The Good Earth, is here. She was the one of the first writers who pissed me off when I encountered her in high school. Her stereotypes of Asian folks, her limited scope, her access to a world and a community that didn’t belong to her.
Last night, I met with the former 2009 Emerging Voices Fellows (now MMIX Writers Los Angeles) at Sylvia and Bonnie’s house for our not-so-regular potluck and sharing of work. We ate our usual Trader Joe’s pizza and drank sangria. We sat on Sylvia’s brilliant red couch to read last chapters of novels and memoirs, fresh poems, a new collection of photographs. Projects we began at the PEN Fellowship are being revised and close to finished.
I shared poems inspired by Sylvia’s photography collection, “I forget myself (I forget you).” A true mix. Many of us have/are attending conferences and residencies frequently, or signing up for the MFA, or getting promoted at work. This was the first community where I truly found home, and I’m grateful to come back and shake my head and laugh at how fast time flies.
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:
3.) Viscera Sucker
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?
Thanks to Jeffrey Berg for inviting me to submit poems to his blog, which you can read here! He’s been featuring the work of both emerging and established poets as a way to celebrate National Poetry Month. Be sure to read the other wonderful poets there, Rio Cortez, Jerome Murphy, Morgan Parker, just to name a few. Enjoy!