Friday, August 31, 2012

An exercise in translation

of the Indonesian poem I posted before, called "Metamorphosis" by Sapardi Dyoko Damono.


isang dayuhan ikaw ay unti-unting hinuhubaran
    inuupo ka sa harap ng salamin at inuudyok
  na magtanong, "kaninong katawan ang suot ko ngayon?"
isang dayuhan tahimik na sinusulat ang iyong buhay, nagwawari
  sayong kaarawan, gumagawa ng kwento sa dahilan
  ng iyong kamatayan -
isang dayuhan tahimik na nagiging ikaw


It's been awhile since I last read anything in my mother tongue, if it can still be considered that.

Here's a link to a free download of a publication of progressive writing, called Kilometer64. The issue is about the Ampatuan Massacre of 2009. It contains a mix of Filipino and English and Maguindanao writing. I liked several poems, including "Parada ng mga Bayag (Tugon sa mga Panawagan Nila)" by Lolita Go and "Follow me on Twitter" by Rustum Casia. It feels weird to critique poems based on style when their content is the point. But the style of these poems remind me of Jose F. Lacaba, who's one of my favorite poets who write in Filipino. He also writes sardonic pieces that are rooted in current events. My favorite poem of his:

Ang mga Kagilagilalas na
Pakikipagsapalaran ni Juan de la Cruz

Jose F. Lacaba

Isang gabing madilim
puno ng pangambang sumakay sa bus
si Juan de la Cruz
pusturang pustura
kahit walang laman ang bulsa
sabi ng konduktora
at minura si Juan de la Cruz.

kahit walang laman ang bulsa
nilakad ni Juan de la Cruz
ang buong Avenida
sabi ng kalsada
sabi ng bakod
kaya napagod
si Juan de la Cruz.

Nang abutan ng gutom
si Juan de la Cruz
tumapat sa Ma Mon Luk
inamoy ang mami siopao lumpia pansit
hanggang sa mabusog.

Nagdaan sa Sine Dalisay
Tinitigan ang retrato ni Chichay
tabi ng takilyera
tawa nang tawa.

Dumalaw sa Konggreso
si Juan de la Cruz
sabi ng diputado
Nagtuloy sa Malakanyang
wala namang dalang kamanyang
sabi ng hardinero
sabi ng sundalo
kay Juan de la Cruz.

Nang dapuan ng libog
si Juan de la Cruz
namasyal sa Culiculi
at nahulog sa pusali
parang espadang bali-bali
sabi ng bugaw
sabay higop ng sabaw.

kahit walang laman ang bulsa
naglibot sa Dewey
si Juan de la Cruz
sabi ng neon.
Humikab ang dagat na parang leon
masarap sanang tumalon pero
sabi ng alon.

Nagbalik sa Quiapo
si Juan de la Cruz
at medyo kinakabahan
pumasok sa simbahan
sabi ng obispo

Nang wala nang malunok
si Juan de la Cruz
dala-dala'y gulok
gula-gulanit na ang damit
wala pa rin laman ang bulsa
        Sa Arayat
                      ang namayat
na si Juan de la Cruz

sabi ng PC
at sinisi
ang walanghiyang kabataan
kung bakit sinulsulan
ang isang tahimik na mamamayan
na tulad ni Juan de la Cruz

I've been thinking about language lately, wishing I could write as easily in Filipino as I do in English. To be cut off from your own tongue is to be so much poorer.

But really, whenever I try to read anything in Filipino, I end up feeling impatient, viewing the language as onerous and indirect. Instead of the world clarified by language, it feels a little obscured by it. Maybe I'm just not finding the right works. Or maybe I need to review my diminishing vocabulary...


In terms of poetry in English, however, I didn't realize how much I've been influenced by fellow Filipino writers until I paged through locally produced anthologies and found a certain kind of stance or feel that I echo in my own poetry. I didn't really study poetry with much enthusiasm in college, but I read a pretty wide variety, especially in certain classes: women's lit, filipino lit, gay lit. I also encountered a sampling of latin american, singaporean, and anglo-american poetry.

I came to love poetry after graduating, under a poet-professor who taught us a different way of reading. So tradition-wise, I can say I follow in other people's footsteps, unconsciously, without even knowing other kinds of poetry exist.

And in a way, that's the box I'm trying so hard to escape now. If I only read certain kinds of poetry, other kinds--mostly experimental, a bit surreal--are just incomprehensible to me. And when I am trying to revise my own works, I end up going back to what tradition dictates as "good": mostly very spare poems with a central concept that unifies the images and metaphors.

I'm still trying to be less linear and rational in my own poetry, but I feel as if every poem I produce must be something I can defend, something I can explain. I still can't let a poem just be.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Poetic Identities

Poetry demands better attention than what I can spare right now. 

I find that I consume fiction books like I’m checking off a list, but reading poetry is more strenuous. There’s always something different in the way I approach a text. Whether I am looking for lines or words to use, whether I am reading for the music, or blindly grasping for some sort of emotional solace, the text shape-shifts under my gaze.

And because I often read to experience the poem rather than to debone it for meaning, the pleasure of poetry becomes transitory, and the imprint it leaves is like a bird whose wings stir the wind. You can't actually see the effects. Unless they get me to write poetry of my own.

It's really strange to read the poet interviews and realize all the things I don't know. I can barely follow their conversations about theories--psychological, ontological or cognitive--which inform their writing. I am lost whenever they bring up a certain tradition whether Modernist, Avant-Garde, or whatever, and the poets associated with each. I feel like throwing up my hands and asking, "Do I really need to know all these to be a poet?"

And I feel like someone will ask me back, "Then who do you read? What traditions or schools do you follow? How do you feel about form? How much thinking do you bring to your poems?"

One of the reasons I still don't feel like a poet is because I cannot answer these questions.

Right now, the poems I write are pale imitations of Mary Oliver, who's one of my favorite poets. Maybe it's part of the journey to find a role model. It's limiting--there are so many poets and poems out there that I cannot yet appreciate because they fall outside what I think are 'good poems'--but it could be a necessary limitation. With so many choices, I am at a loss to set my own boundaries. 

And yet right now there is this joyous impulse to experiment, to push past my own preconceived notions into the dark mystery, where inchoate poems live, or pre-live; they are getting ready to be born.

As for tradition, I have a handful of anthologies of Filipino poetry in English somewhere around the house. (A Native Clearing; A Habit of Shores; Crowns and Oranges; Palanca Winners in Poetry 1980s; etc) I do find most of what I've read appeals to me, even though I lack the vocabulary tools to articulate the tradition they are set in. (Isn't it weird? I find Filipino fiction in English really boring for the most part. Or I'm just not reading the right people.) They're not very experimental, and many are narrative-based or center around an anecdote leading to epiphanies. The most experimental I've read is Conchitina Cruz, and JG Villa. 

Whatever tradition this is, I'm happy to be a part of it.

And as for Canada, I'm still really lost. On the one hand, culturally, Canada's quite close to the US. And on the other, poetry that seeks to distinguish itself as Canadian seems to articulate certain experiences that are completely foreign to me. I have yet to see a Filipino-Canadian anthology, though there are a couple of Asian-Canadian ones. 

I did get that BC anthology that I am reading and liking. Maybe because BC distinguishes itself by its proximity to the water and by its mostly immigrant Asian population, two aspects which I am intimately familiar with.

How much does a landscape make its way into your poetry? How much does a place affect what you write about? And for immigrants, what do you bring from the Old Country, what do you discard, and how do you reconcile your divided selves?

I feel like I'm trying to define what kind of poet I am by the kind of poetry I read and the kind of poetry I write. Are labels really that useful? Maybe so. There are so much poetry out there, and very few ways to categorize them. When I go to a bookstore and look at the available collections, I'm always at a loss--all those unfamiliar names. I'm unable to buy them for fear of wasting money on poetry that fails to engage me. So I end up with anthologies and magazines. 

I want to list poets that I know and liked, or have never read, or have read but didn't really like. Then I'll read up on them and try to read everything they've written (or whatever I can find). Imitate them, argue against them, mash them up, read them aloud, parody them. Live with them awhile and let their influence seep into my skin. 

We'll see.