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.

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