PINOY POETICS Edited by NICK CARBOROCHITA LOENEN-RUIZ reviews
Pinoy Poetics, A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino-American Poetics Edited by Nick Carbo
(Meritage Press, 2004)
Pinoy Poetics contains forty-one essays penned mostly by poets from the Filipino-American community. Edited by Nick Carbo to be the first international poetics anthology of Filipino English-language poets, the essays reveal a wealth of heritage, diversity of background and mastery of the language as well as the craft of poetry.
Pinoy Poetics is related to struggle, be it spiritual, political, historical or a struggle for identity. In many of these essays, we see poets addressing the question raised by Carbo, in his introductory essay, regarding what he calls the “plague of invisibility for Filipino poetry” in America.
That Pinoy Poetics is grounded in its complex relationship with the language and with the long history between the Philippines and the United States emerges in the essays of poets like Ricardo M. de Ungria who speaks of how writing well in English becomes his revenge against English and Leny Strobel who writes about an urgent desire to connect with Eileen Tabios’s poetry as springing from a need to learn about what might come after one has decolonized.
It is revealed, too, in essays like those of Luisa M. Igloria whose poem “The Incredible Tale of the Ice Cream Cone Dog” is grounded in history, wherein the poet moves from distance to a point of identification with the native Filipinos who were put on display during the 1904 World’s Fair and Exposition in Missouri.
This same event is referenced in Barbara Jane Reyes’ essay on “The Building of Anthropologic”. Here she speaks of her adamant refusal to include translations or glossaries in her poetry as stemming from her refusal to compromise the artistry of her poetry, as well as her refusal to act as journalist or historian for her class.
Interesting is the diversity of form given to these essays: Oliver de la Paz writes about his process in the form of an outline for unwritten book, Vince Gotera supplies answers to an interview given by an absent Nick Carbo and Paolo Javier provides us with an abakada of his poetics.
Here are poets who come from different walks of life, and who are influenced by different disciplines, such as Patrick Rosal who comes to poetry from a hiphop culture, Mila D. Aguilar’s poetry which emerges from a political, personal and spiritual struggle, and Marlon Unas Esguerra who feels the responsibility to his art as intrinsically political, anti-empire, and anti-assimilationist.
Then, there is Eileen Tabios with “A Poetics of Everything, Everything, Everything”, which reveals how poetry becomes more than words on a page. Here we see how the artist embraces poetry so it becomes a means of confronting an audience with truths that may make them uncomfortable.
Observing how, for these poets, there are no delineations between poetry and life, I see how life and art flow seamlessly into each other.
Michelle Macaraeg Bautista relates the art of Kali to her poetics, and how she does not compartmentalize these from each other. She speaks of the poem as becoming “a space for both the writer and reader to explore”.
We further see how Pinoy Poetics is grounded in the personal through Bino Realuyo’s, “Dear Warrior”, a touching tribute to a father who has been a source of inspiration to his son. We see it as well in Eugene Gloria’s questioning of this idea of “home” when we are neither American nor Filipino”, and in Cristina Querrer’s writing for her own theraphy and analysis, “even if it’s just something to live behind for my family”.
Gemino H. Abad’s statement regarding context comes back to haunt the reader throughout the collection. Here he says: “we are looking for a country and, simultaneously, looking for our language, which are both essentially poetic tasks – work of imagination.”
The struggle for identity, for mastery, for visibility, is one that is personal as well as cultural and political. Pinoy Poetics is a revelation of how much of our poetry stems from our being a diasporic people, a people forced to migrate by circumstance, whose language has been wrested from us by events beyond our control.
Jean Vengua puts it so beautifully when she writes: “We are a people of a land or lands, and also a floating nation and culture. For such people, stories, myths, poems and histories are crucial; we take them with us, so that we will know always where we are and who we are in the world.”
In his essay "Binalaybay: Soul of the Island", Efren Noblefranca Padilla writes: “If we wish to know the soul of our people, we must read our poetry. It is through poetry that we hear the authentic voices of our people who spoke and sang years and years ago.”
There are so many poets in this anthology whose words continue to speak to me. Reading Pinoy Poetics, moves the reader beyond an appreciation of wordsmithery, that beyond the words lies a connection that comes from being bound together by a shared history, a common struggle, and the complex nature of our relationship with words, language and all the baggage that is part of who we are.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in the Netherlands where she writes speculative fiction and poetry. She writes a regular interview column for The Sword Review and the Authors and Books column for Munting Nayon, the Filipino-Dutch newspaper. Visit her at http://rcloenen-ruiz.blogspot.com