Things and projects and stuff in motion over here.
(1) I have compiled 20 pages of poems into a chapbook entitled, "Easter Sunday," which I have submitted to a small (micro?) press for consideration. I'd been thinking about the possible connection between these manuscript-less poems, whether there are threads linking them together somehow, how or if, as Jim Murdoch had commented, they were/are these pearls which comprise a handmade necklace. I have told the editor of this small press that what I believe these poems have in common is their personal emotional openness or vulnerability that I otherwise do not allow myself in my full-length collections. Certainly, much of this work has been omitted from my Diwata manuscript precisely for its being borderline personally sentimental. Even with such a piece as I'd written for the Asian and Pacific Writer's Network, which Ivy Alvarez included in her auto/bio issue, I think even that piece shuts itself off from being too personally revealing, as apparent in its "He is dying, and that is all there is to it."
(2) With the help of some very thoughtful fellow poets, I am in the process of ironing out a mission statement and other details for the poetics e-journal I anticipate launching in 2008. More details to come, as my very thoughtful fellow poets continue coming to my aid in sorting out my ideas. Key word here is "poetics," a useful definition with which I have had to re-familiarize myself:
NOUN: (used with a sing. or pl. verb) 1. Literary criticism that deals with the nature, forms, and laws of poetry. 2. A treatise on or study of poetry or aesthetics. 3. The practice of writing poetry; poetic composition.
Ugh. I wrote this awesome comment in response to Judith's comment on private/public and self-policing borders. But now my comment's been lost. I want to blame this on my most recent blog skin tinkering, but let's not be all negative and blame-y. Maybe my comment will show up in the next time zone or something.
Judith asks a really good question regarding conventional narrative literary forms. How are these, how is utilizing these helpful and not helpful in communicating the fine points, nuances, the chaotic and contradictory aspects of our cultural practices, contemporary and historical political survival strategies. Certainly for me, this is where the alleged "experimental" comes into play. Though for me, "experimental" merely means tweaking, adjusting, discarding, defacing, radically altering already existing poetic forms, tools, devices, whatever else you like to call them, in order to get closer to what I really mean to say, closer to what I believe I am trying to reveal or (re)present. What I am saying here is nothing new.
But here's something else worth noting. What if our communities don't want our practices and beliefs to be revealed? This reminds me of Professor Robert Black's Native American History class at UC Berkeley, which I took in like 1990. A student had asked him what he thought of Leslie Marmon Silko's work, since we were on the subject of how Native American artists represent themselves and their communities, versus how American and European ethnographers and anthropologists discuss and represent Native Americans' beliefs and cultural practices.
I think what Professor Black said surprised me then, and definitely confused me (mind you, I was at the very very beginning of my Ethnic Studies education in 1990). Regarding Silko's Almanac of the Dead, that while she was writing from general experiential knowledge or community membership knowledge, still "she gave away too much."
Even now I struggle a little bit with this "giving away too much," what it means, what is "too much." Admittedly, I did not finish Almanac of the Dead (so long!) but I have read Storyteller and Ceremony. I know that Silko writes from a culturally informed place, and I read her narratives as heavily influenced by the languages and narrative devices of oral tradition and ritual. I have also heard criticism that she writes from a self-exoticizing place. I will argue against this last part, by saying that in utilizing oral tradition devices (trance-like incantatory repetition, et al), in anchoring in or ritually contextualizing cultural objects (or culturally contextualizing ritual objects), her work has that tendency to be read as manufacturing "authenticity." Precisely because she is viewing, representing, discussing fine ritual and cosmological details from the "inside," as she understands them, and/or as she means for us to understand them.
In terms of what this means for me and my writing, I think about the safety that comes with obscurity. If no one knows who you are and if no one knows your work, then personal and political attacks seldom occur. If no one knows about the practices and beliefs of your community, then appropriation seldom occurs. You remain comfortably under the radar of popular culture.
Many years ago, in a Pier One Imports store, a fellow Pinay writer and I were perusing the "World Music" section's numerous, brightly packaged, mass produced South Asian music CD's. She then said to me, "Sometimes I am so glad that Filipino culture is hella obscure." I get what she meant.
Still, one disadvantage of remaining under the radar of popular culture is the possibility of being subsumed into a larger grouping, thus allowing the blurring of historical, cultural, linguistic differences. Although this subsumption may not always feel like a "disadvantage."
But I have a problem with invisibility, and I have a problem with being silenced. I have a problem with being censored, and I have a problem with coerced ventriloquy. I have a problem with allowing others to speak for me, and I have a problem with allowing others to represent me.
And being able to speak for myself is oftentimes, many times, most times well worth the public criticism that comes with being visible and audible.
Let me end with this picture Oscar took inside the Bowery Poetry Club, just because it makes me happy to be out there, in Poetry World:
I have been thinking about my manuscript-less poems lately. These are the poems that never made it into the books. I have been wondering what to do with them, if anything must be done with them. I'd decided that I can't force them into a book manuscript, and that not all poems belong in book. I am wondering if I am really OK with that idea, that not all poems belong in book.
Still, it kind of breaks my heart to see them just sitting there. No doubt, they've found themselves in the world outside my hard drive, so it's not like they're dying of complete obscurity. It feels counterintuitive to my productivity neurosis, to allow them remain book-less. Maybe they'll one day belong in a book I have yet to write. Then again, maybe they won't.
So then I have been thinking chapbook. Why chapbook? Well, because I have forgotten the feel of a volume slimmer than book; I am wondering if there is more freedom to be had with chapbook, or whether that's a baseless assumption that chapbook entails less commitment than book. Chapbook can be seen as subset of book, and so that could entail cohesion. The only thing is, while these works may have some thematic cohesion, they lack some amount of aesthetic cohesion. And maybe that's the link right there: absence of aesthetic cohesion. Another thing too about these poems: I am not completely comfortable with how tender, perhaps even sentimental some of them are. That might be weird, but I think may also speak to what has become my ongoing private/public issue.
I wonder if I just have to loosen up on my control freaking and just let chapbook manuscript happen. At Chad Sweeney's recent book launch at Pegasus Books, I told him his reading from An Architecture, and his clear articulation on the project which became An Architecture has inspired me to find or to pick up a new project. Or to key in on something in the poems I am currently writing, to find the cohesion there, to write from that place, for somehow writing the discreet poem just wasn't/isn't fulfilling me. Although after talking with other authors in New York this past weekend, I realize that forcing myself into a project isn't the most productive thing to do either.
Anyway, this is just to say that I think I might have a chapbook in me. Something.
I am glad to have been introduced to the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and particularly "The Yellow Wallpaper," in a feminist lit survey grad seminar a couple of years ago, if only briefly. I think I may have also read some of her critical writing. I am certain it's time for me to delve into her work. Her poetry is formalistically uncomplicated, and this worked for my undergrad lower division intro to poetry (all women) students at Mills College, when I was teaching the heroic couplet.
So, on domesticity again.
I am thinking of Filipina writer Gilda Cordero Fernando's short story, "The Dust Monster," which is kind of an interesting, dream-like story, and which described as a fairy tale by some. I think "fairy tale" is quite appropriate, if you think of princesses like Cinderella, subjected to generational woman enmity ("evil stepmother"), circumscribed by domesticity, befriending the mice, not unlike Gilman's postpartum depressed heroine of "The Yellow Wallpaper," obsessed with the patterns in the yellow wallpaper, not unlike Fernando's domestic heroine in "The Dust Monster," who falls into a romance with a blob of dust that somehow fantastically becomes sentient (?). This detritus which populates (overruns?) her universe which is the home becomes her romantic interest.
I've blogged about Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Gilda Cordero Fernando before (here), right before I got to teaching Gilman's poem, "The Housewife," as well as Joy Harjo's "Perhaps the World Ends Here," at the kitchen table. With my students, we discussed the importance and power of these domestic spaces, the value of women's work in domestic spaces, and that the "big world" belittles this importance and value.
In the above works, which I admire much, there's such a pronounced divide between that domestic space and then the public space. My problem is that I believe and I experience so many intersections and transgressions between these two worlds, but that they invariably, socially become set in binary opposition.
My problem is this manufactured binary opposition, which I think is not only inaccurate, but ultimately cruel. My problem is that as women, we have to declare our alliance to one over the other, when in reality, as we work in the world and in the home, we exist in many places in between. And as women who work in the world and in the home, we are constantly pushed and coerced into forging alliances with one, disavowing the other. This is my big problem: Who are the gatekeepers, who police these borders, who insists upon these borders being so absolute? Why can't I pinpoint this, when I definitely feel that my transgressive behavior is socially policed and punished?
Regarding my previous blog posts thinking on the ways in which we women are complicit in this policing borders; I simply mean to ask if we have come to accept or if we have surrendered to that manufactured binary opposition, and if we have, why have we. Gilda Cordero Fernando's housewife who falls into a romance with a huge ball of dust, which knows and loves her better than her own husband knows and loves her, that to me is a tragedy. And other women may feel free to come to this heroine's defense, argue on behalf of this heroine's empowerment, but I feel that is a surrender because there is no other recourse but surrender.
No, this does not have to do with any kind of spousal pressure toward or away from either extreme; I think Oscar knows that the space I inhabit is tenuous, and just wants to understand the fine points of this manufactured domestic/public gender binary and why this is such a big social problem for me.
I want to know why I can't define my own terms and simply kick ass in both domestic and public (literary/publication, as well as economic) arenas without feeling like a lonely gender freak of nature? I want to know what is so bad, scary, evil, threatening about presenting the lines of questioning that I am presenting. I want to know why I can't have pointed and critical conversation with many other women of color on these issues without the masamang ugali setting in and paralyzing and scrambling the whole process before it's even begun.
What's up, Flips, Pinoys, Pinays:
Maganda Magazine is a publication I believe in hardcore. Of course, Maganda is where I got my start as a poet and editor, and I don't think I need to reiterate how in need of a Filipino American literary, artistic, cultural, scholarly publication our community was at the time of its creation, and how we are in need of this space now.
I can't help but think that much of the masamang ugali which folks who perceive themselves as marginalized exhibit and enact upon one another has to do with a perceived scarcity of public space or public platform upon which to stand and voice. And it's true; these spaces are not abundant. What spaces there are perhaps are not regulated or controlled by those who are generous.
I keep thinking of Patrick Rosal's talk for UC Berkeley's Center for Southeast Asian Studies a couple of years ago. In response to a young Pinoy poet who claimed not to want to be a part of "The Institution," but was still so interested and invested in affecting change, Pat said this young Pinoy: think of the furniture movers in Junot Diaz's Drown, trying to gain access to inside of The House, how throwing rocks at it from the outside wasn't doing much good. But once they gained access to the inside of The House, there was so much more damage they could inflict upon it once inside the space.
My interest is in pointing out or towards spaces that we can occupy, making these spaces apparent, opening up spaces that are perceived as closed. We can shape these spaces; we can influence these spaces' formations. I really believe we can, but that we must be concrete, proactive, critical, and aggressive about our work in doing so, and that inflicting masamang ugali upon one another is counterintuitive to this claiming, opening, expanding, marking of space. Don't give me this, "There can only be one Jessica Hagedorn, and we are all vying for that space."
Maganda is one space that is generous and open, and which does have the potential of affecting change through contributing in a large way to Filipino American literary and artistic visibility. And on top of that, their editors are so bright.
Their deadline is December 20th.
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