Friday, November 5, 2010


THIS is an example of "Babaylan Poetics" -- like the best of poetry, it's a verb not a noun.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


there was BABAYLAN POETICS. Here's a new Babaylan video featuring timeless intellectual Leny M. Strobel. What's interesting, among many things, is how the video opens. It features Virgil Mayor Apostol (of the infamous FART) opening up one of the events during the Babaylan Conference a few months ago. Specifically, he is talking in Ilokano, saying "Bari, bari" which can be literally translated as "Go away."

But it's not an aggressive order for anyone to move away. The chant is more of a charm to drive away unwanted spirits, while allowing benevolent ones to remain. As Virgil explained to me, "This goes back to how our ancestors feared the malevolent spirits, thus much prayers and offerings going to them, rather than the good ones since they did no harm. Therefore, the focus on the chant for the opening is for the purification of the space, and everyone within."

Virgil adds, "The burning of anglem (cloth incense) is universal in northern Luzon, and used for various circumstances from the birth of a child, illness, to the death of an individual. With its inclusion in the opening ceremony, its purpose is to drive away these malevolent spirits."

Very interesting, and a helpful explanation to me since, when I first heard of the literal translation, I was struck by its use. That is, since the Babaylan is about community and inclusiveness, I found it interesting that this "Go away" is the opening. Mom said that the chant also refers to how, as we walk the earth, we are telling the spirits to move away so that we do not inadvertently step on them or otherwise harm them with our movements.

In the video opening, Virgil also goes on to say to the spirits, "We do not want anything from you..." I like that! My initial reaction was: Well, how's that for anti-colonialism!

These chants go ... deep (grin).

You know, ever since the Babaylan conference at Sonoma, I'd be walking about Galatea's mountain chanting, "Bari, Bari..."

Mom used to shush Moi, saying I'd actually bring the spirits here. Thing is, those spirits never left Moi. Blood memory and all that. Wink.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I am so grateful to Leny M. Strobel for her engagement with my book THE THORN ROSARY in the new issue of Moria Poetry! Here is an excerpt--though you can see entire review HERE:
Once upon a time the eyewitness to the rituals of a Babaylan (; told of her altered states of consciousness when she did her healing, her communing with the spirits. They didn’t understand her language but they accepted the efficacy of her relationship with the spirit world. They trusted her. They knew she had access to this world. (Why else did the Spanish friars in the 15th century embark on the project of exterminating these Babaylans?). [3]

Does a poet like Eileen also perform, symbolically, the role of a Babaylan? If the Babaylan is able to ferry a person in-between worlds, or is able to summon a wandering soul back to the body, or plead with the spirits to be kind and generous, or negotiate a propitiation—can a Babaylan-inspired poet do the same?

Sometimes reading poetry, for me, is learning how to dive for one’s own meaning. In diving one learns, senses, embodies. This I have learned from my engagement with Eileen’s body of work over the past decade. [4]

If according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The Rosary is “a meditation for the blind, the simple, the aged.” is it then possible that the The Thorn Rosary is that which pricks the meditation in order to return us to our own bodies? Our bodies that aren’t blind, not simple, not aged.

Isn’t this the work of babaylan poetics—to walk the angel back into its body in unborrowed light. Eileen creates her own light, a luminosity that is also sorrowful, joyful, glorious…the light is unborrowed because it has already taken upon itself all that there is—the world into the poem. It doesn’t ask for a return, only an invitation to dance. The dance of the babaylan.

Isn’t this what the babaylan does? She dances. In wholeness. In ecstasy. A body out of time and space. And when she doesn’t literally dance, she writes Poems that dance. The Poem, like this one, takes your hand and leads your sensuous mind, this mind that descends into the body to become whole and sacred:

—after “on God (en Garde)” by Archie Rand

The farmers are monitoring the sky. Rain dilutes sweetness in the grapes. Knuckles knot into themselves, mimic the knees of hundred-year-old grapevines. The cabernet hang like purple testicles. I am always fingering a bunch. Sometimes I pinch off a globe, split its skin before my lips and suck at its membrane. The farmers measure brix mathematically. I want my body to determine truth like Cezanne painted rocks instead of images. When I see the winged shadow glide over the fruit-laden fields of September’s wine country, I know better than to question how my body doubles over. How my mouth gasps. I feel blood flowing out of a creature, somewhere, felled on its path. Its last vision will be a vulture’s open beak. Sweetness, let the harvest begin under the most livid sun. “Sweetness” —perhaps I mean You, dear “God.” Lord, I am praying for life and living—I am making poems. (161)

Hail Mary, mother of Eileen. Blessed are we and blessed are the fruits of our wombs….

Thank you, Leny. I appreciate this Babaylan-ic perspective for reviewing my newest book. It's a unique gift!

Friday, August 27, 2010


This is actually a reprint of a post I just featured at my primary blog, but I replicate it below for convenience:


OurOwnVoice's newest issue is rather historic by focusing on the Babaylan.

I've got three poems innit, which isn't the most important detail but which I note for moi Blog-File ("Hay(na)ku with Ducktail for Leny", "The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon," and "Sacred Time"). Again for the Blog-File, I also have the novel "Dear Cloud" innit.

Having gotten Housekeeping out of the way, I found this essay by Cynthia Arias, "An American Babaylan: Living in One's Own Truth" quite useful. It's useful because modern-day Babaylanism is controversial in some circles as people grapple with the effect of the diaspora (and the resultant separation from "land"). Anyway, here's some excerpts from Arias' essay:
The concept that the Babaylan is defined by factors that override an individual’s direct experience of the originating land, the Philippine Islands, is vital to understanding the presence of the Babaylan in the Diaspora and the ways that sacred practices of the Babaylan have, as well, bridged the seas of consciousness that Pilipinos have traversed in their journeys around the world.


If we accept that Culture is a human construct, by which a group of individuals agree basic concepts of values, morals, mores to form a worldview, then it follows that Culture evolves as humans evolve.


While many may provide their perspectives, and assist in our discoveries, through critical analysis founded in scientific methodology, it is up to us to decide who we are and where we are headed.

Modern-day Babaylanism is empowering.

The Babaylan Conference, which seeded this issue, also empowered Mom to write her first book (which I'm reviewing now). But here is also one of her narratives, a memoir from 1939 entitled "Dawac". Good for Mom!

Also useful is the essay "Ways of the Babaylan" by Katrin de Guia. It's clear from her essay that empathizing/understanding (in my opinion, if you understand Babaylanism, understanding cannot occur without empathizing) cannot occur without that thing that many folks are scared to discuss: love. I do think Ben Okri's quote relevant: "Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery."

It takes courage to love as a Babaylan would/does. For, as de Guia puts it, "The first priority of the babaylan is the community."

I appreciate Babaylanism because it requires intelligent innocence.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


As I've mentioned before, my nearly 81-year-old Mom has a first book coming out! In celebration of such, she also had her first "salon" (oh my!) reading experience this weekend, as she read from her narrative (she's calling these memoir-vignettes "narratives") "Dawac" at beautiful Leny's beautiful house (it was so colorfully and, wink, indigenous-ly decorated!). Here's a photo of Mom in her reading chair--do note in the foreground a make-shift "altar" of blessings that Leny created on the spot from vegetables that I brought from my garden (that's when I realized, btw, that you're supposed to harvest zucchinis when they're smaller, not when they become human baby-sized....duh). That's the beautiful back of the beautiful Leny's beautiful head in foreground:

Here's a shot, too, of part of the audience to whom I'm so grateful for their openness and making my Mom feel really welcome as she goes on to her own literary debut. That's Jean on the far-left side of couch! It's not a good photo, but you can see the intentness of the peeps' attention....

At one point in the evening, one lady said that writing must run in my family. And I said half-jokingly, "Yes, but I didn't know it for the longest time!"

And what I was thinking of is that when some talent runs in the family, one usually sees it first in the parent and then in the child. In my and Mom's case, it was seen visibly first -- if one uses publication as a viewsight -- in me and later in Mom. But what this really means is that what was running through our blood is not linear but circular...

...evoking for me indigenous time's mythical space of creativity: where, in the space of creation, there are no delineations between past, present and future, or between geographically-defined space; in that mythical space, unity exists in the universe across all time and space. (Got that? Good!)

Last but not least, I mentioned in my introduction for Mom that "Dawac" is the first narrative in Part One of her forthcoming book, and that Part Two will be a reprint of her Master's Thesis at Silliman University when she had written (under since-recognized Philippine National Artists Edilberto and Edith Tiempo) the first critical study of "local color" in Filipino English-language short story writing. I thought it wonderfully synchronistic that Mom's own narratives will contain much local color, even as I consider her book also a recovery project for what was actually a historic literary study. The circle turns....

Thanks again to Leny for the salon idea and hosting. Thanks for making Mom and me feel so welcome. What a beautiful community you all make!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I'm pleased to be part of the Poets for Living Waters project curated by Amy King and Heidi Lynn Staples in response to the BP oil spill disaster. Innit with a poem, statement of conscience and explication of Michael and his anti-colony collapse disorder beekeeping. The poem was one I wrote after the disastrous landslides in Guinsaugon, Leyte, Philippines on February 17, 2006.

I was happy, too, to be able to meld some Babaylan Poetics/indigenized POV into that conscience-statement, which I replicate here:

I am also to blame for the BP oil disaster. I am part of the demand for oil. I do try to limit my footprint on the natural environment, in energy and other matters. For the former, say, a solar field; for the latter, say, hosting bee hives to help mitigate “colony collapse disorder” which also is a way to introduce my son to environmental concerns. But regardless of these steps, I do not wish to avoid acknowledging that I am part of the cause for the tragedy in the Gulf and many other environmental damages—to recognize blame’s expanse is a condition precedent for being part of any solution. As Acoma Pueblo poet Simon J. Ortiz has noted, there is a “moral imperative” to the making of interconnections that require, among other things, pro-active awareness including self-awareness—a stance also inherent in the Filipino indigenous trait of “kapwa” and what I call “Babaylan Poetics.” Ergo, for the BP oil disaster: I am very sorry—I will try to do better.

Colony collapse disorder, landslides from reaping trees from mountain, BP's oil spill in the Gulf -- we are all complicit, because we are interconnected.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Okay. So some of the early fruits of creativity spurred on by the Babaylan Conference are now making their way out into the world!

For Mom, this means her memoir-short story "Dawac" has been sent for future publication in the Babaylan Special Issue forthcoming from OurOwnVoice. For me, two poems ("The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon" and "Sacred Time") from the five Babaylan-poems I've written so far have just been accepted for -- UPDATE: and are now published in -- OCHO 30, a literary journal edited by Didi Menendez.

Here's an excerpt from Mom's memoir "Dawac":
I did not go to school the following day. I wanted to see what a dawac was. Apo Kattim arrived with her assistant. I noticed that she brought a long buneng (long knife) in its wooden sheath. She went to the bedroom to see Eliel right away, then returned to the descanso where we waited. Since the descanso was cleared of all the chairs, Apo Kattim and her assistant remained standing while they talked. My grandmother invited them to the kitchen for coffee. Apo Kattim said coffee would be good because although they had breakfast, they did not have time for coffee.

After they had their coffee, Apo Kattim returned to the descanso and asked to see the coconuts. She nodded her approval when she saw that they were well husked. My mother also pointed to the rolled floor mat placed against the wall. Apo Kattim unsheathed the buneng and place it on the table. She handed the sheath to her assistant who placed it under the table. The assistant took a folded dinwa and placed it on a corner of the table. Apo Kattim and her assistant unrolled the floor mat and spread it on the floor, leaving enough space between it and the wall to allow a person to walk around it. Then Apo Kattim asked for a drinking glass.

“With water?” asked Tiang Ciliang.

“No,” said the assistant, “just the glass.”

Tiang Ciliang went to the kitchen and came back with the drinking glass. The assistant took it and placed it on the table. She placed a long piece of metal beside it.

Apo Kattim looked at all the things on the table then asked for the blanket that she told my mother to prepare. My grandmother brought a folded blanket. Apo Kattim’s assistant took it and spread it on the floor. Apo Kattim told my mother to sit on the blanket. Then she turned to Manong Toring and told him to bring Eliel out. “And cover him with his blanket when you bring him out,” she said.

“And now that Eliel will not be on his bed for sometime, somebody should change all his bed linens,” Apo Kattim suggested.

Manong Toring came back with Eliel in his arms, the blanket trailing the floor.

“Don’t trip on the blanket,” cautioned Tiang Ciliang, walking toward them and catching the part of the blanket that reached all the way down to the floor. If Manong Toring had stepped on that part of the blanket, he would surely have stumbled with Eliel in his arms.

“Put him down here,” directed Apo Kattim, pointing to the spot near my mother. “Sit him facing the wall.”

As soon as Eliel was seated properly, Tiang Ciliang walked to Eliel’s bedroom. Somebody had to change Eliel’s bed linens.

“Move closer to Eliel and hold him up,” Apo Kattim told my mother. “He still can’t sit up by himself.”

Apo Kattim placed the flat basin behind Eliel. Then she turned to us and warned us not to talk or move around while she was doing the dawac. She also told Manong Toring to stand near the stairs and stop the people below from coming up when they heard her chanting, or stop them from talking in loud voices.

Some neighbors must have heard that a mannawac was in our house and they came to satisfy their curiosity. However, they sat on the benches under the house. They did not come up.

Apo Kattim took the dinwa, nodded to her assistant, and sat down near Eliel. She covered her head with the dinwa and extended her right hand. Her assistant gave her the piece of metal. Apo Kattim extended her left hand. Her assistant placed the drinking glass in her hand, guiding Apo Kattim’s fingers to hold the glass securely.

Everyone was quiet. I felt funny in the eerie silence. Apo Kattim started hitting the drinking glass with the piece of metal. The dawac started. Apo Kattim was calling to the anitos and summoning them to come to her assistance.

“O – O – O – O – O – O,” Apo Kattim ‘s ululating cry accompanied by the tinkling sounds of the glass could be heard could be heard by the whole neighborhood.

Umali cayo Isna. (Come here.) Umali cayo ta i- la-enyo od nan masakit ay anac si Inggo.” Apo Kattim was calling the anitos to come and see the sick son of Inggo. (Inggo was my late father’s name.)

“O – O – O – O – O – O. Masegang cayo. (Have pity.) Masegang cayo isnan ubing, Masegang cayo. Umali cayo,” was the repeated cry of Apo Kattim. “Umali cayo ta palaingen yo nan ubing ta umey met maki ayayam issa ayan dey appoyo.” She continued her call, then stopped striking the glass with the metal. Her assistant took the drinking glass and metal from her and put them back on the table.

Suddenly, Apo Kattim stood up, removed the dinwa that covered her head and flung it to her assistant. She looked strange to me, as though she had become a different person. She walked to the table, picked up her buneng, held it high with her right hand above her head, and started dancing around Eliel and my mother, waving her buneng in circular motions. Throughout, she chanted words in the Itneg dialect that I couldn’t understand. I began to be afraid that she might get dizzy and fall with that buneng in her hand. I looked around and saw that Manong Toring also looked concerned and was ready to come to Apo Kattim’s aid in case she fell.

Apo Kattim danced to the table and took one of the coconuts with her left hand, extended it and quickly brought her buneng down, splitting the coconut in halves. I heard everybody gasp in surprise and wonder. Who would expect a frail old woman to have the strength she showed when she split the coconut?


And here's an excerpt from my poem "The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon":

The nearby sea was calm

its clear water

mirroring distant mangroves and islets

to transform them into clouds

floating in the vast, pale blue—

In her slow and lilting voice

U’po Majiling chanted

Everything begins with a dream—

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The Babaylan Conference was so inspiring for Mom that since that weekend, she's been writing memoir-ish stories. In a matter of weeks, she's written enough for a book! And it'll actually be a useful memoir for others outside the family since much of the vignettes have to do with life during World War II, and many of Mom's peers have died or are dying (Mom is 80 years old). I actually already have a publisher for her first short story--fittingly, it will be for OurOwnVoice's special issue on Babaylan Conference Reflections...

Mom actually suffered physically from the prolonged hours spent over the computer writing her memoirs. But it's not unusual for the act of creation to take a toll on the body, the artists' bodies. It'll be worth it, though. Mom agreed with my suggestion to make her book a two-part book. The first part will be her memoirs. The second part will be -- wait for it as it's HISTORIC! -- a reprint of her May 1954 Masters of Arts Degree in English from Silliman University. Mom's thesis was on "The Use of Local Color in Philippine Short Stories in English" -- the first critical study on this topic.

I'm looking at Mom's thesis right now as I type this post--it was approved by the "Graduate Council" chaired at the time by now-Philippine National Artist Edith Tiempo, and Council members were Metta J. Silliman and Philippine National Artist Edilberto Tiempo. (Mom had studied at Silliman University with the Tiempos, but before they set up the writers' program modeled after Iowa University's.) The pages are yellowing...browning....fragile.

It will be great to get this thesis out there!

And here's a picture of my mother Beatriz Tabios reading a copy of THE THORN ROSARY. She happened to be in the kitchen when my copies of the hardback versions were delivered. It's nice to see that she thought my book was worth interrupting her mending of dish towels (grin).

When my father died a few years ago, it was just short of his and Mom's 50th wedding anniversary. It's often said that the first year of widowhood is the most difficult, and for a couple that's been together for so long, it could be even more difficult. In a way, the writing has become a new source of invigoration for Mom, a reason to look forward instead of (what she usually does): look back into her memories.

She looks forward by looking back? Hey -- time just collapsed in that mythic "sacred time and sacred place" where creativity fluorishes! Woot! And it's all because, at the last minute and a tad bored around the house, she decided to attend the Conference with me. She loved it so much she returned for the second-day attendance. And, now, she's pouring out her own contribution to ... Light!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


As I was saying, I've always felt that the Poem is only begun by its author, and that it needs to be completed by its reader or audience. Here's a "videotext" done by someone I don't know but who apparently did it for a class at Skyline College -- now THIS is what I'ma talkin' about when I say I need to see a poem mature beyond my hands--in this case, the poem "No Title Required":

Isn't it gorgeous! Thank you to WHOEVER!

Here's another example of a text-dance done on another poem, "The Secret Life of an Angel" (which in turn had been inspired by Jose Garcia Villa's poem, "Girl Singing"). This is an old poem for me, but I notice the line innit: "...I chant like the Babaylan I will become..." -- Hmmm. Anyway, this was created by London-based Mexican poet Ernesto Priego--muchas gracias!


Okay, so if you want to meet She who inspires the above and you are in New York City this Thursday, please come by the following and let me have you, per the first video above, "quaff some sweet jerez"--I promise that if you do, we'll have a good time without me having to "eat your testicles":


You are all cordially invited to:

Spring Book Launch Party
May 13th, 2010
7:00 PM — 9:00 PM

Celebrating New Titles by Phillip Lopate, Eileen R. Tabios, Sandy McIntosh and Neil de la Flor

Ceres Gallery
547 West 27th, St Suite 201, New York, NY 10001
Phone and fax: 212-947-6100

Wonderful wine and food will be available!

FOR MORE INFORMATION, including directions, please go to the Marsh Hawk Press website HERE.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I thought I had it all figured out, you see, about this Friday's (today's) reading/presentation at Small Press Traffic. For the past couple of weeks, I had planned to present poems contextualized within a discussion of how Western critics have described my work, versus what I feel now to be the more truthful underlying aspect to what I've done as a poet: IKSP (Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices). I thought that a discourse on the Western gaze might be a doorway into SPT's themes of "empires" and "community" which my talk is supposed to address.

But whenever I tried to prepare for it in the last few days, something just didn't feel right. Again, it all just seemed too much about Me, Myself and I. Finally, I got the sign -- an article in Wednesday's New York Times about Russian orphanage life, a matter raised by the prior news of a U.S.-American Mom recently returning her son to Russia where she'd adopted him. Like many who've gone through adoption (especially international adoption or "older" child adoption, both of which I've done), I've not stopped pondering how Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee sent her adopted 7-year-old son Artem Saveliev back home to Russia by himself with a note demanding the adoption be annulled.

In fact, as soon as I heard the news last month, I immediately thought to post an article on my other blog, The Blind Chatelaine's Keys, about how wonderfully my son Michael is doing (I adopted Michael from Colombia last year when he was 13; he turned 14 in March and has been in our family now for just over a year). In thinking to do a blog post in response to Torry-Ann Hansen's failed adoption, I had planned to make sure to include key phrases for Googling purposes like "Hansen adoption," "Russian orphan," "international adoption," etc. For I had wanted that blogged article about Michael's successful integration into a new (our) family, new school, new country, new language and so on to be an internet antidote to the coverage of the Hansen family difficulties. Why? Because estimates reach as high as 200 million for orphans worldwide, and the most difficult category for its members to get adopted are "older boys."

"Older", here, can mean four years or older or, for the context of the program I went through to adopt my son, seven years and older. It's horrible -- it's like, in some circles, if a boy gets past seven--or four!--years of age, people give up on them.... Michael was 13 when I adopted him--we were the first ever to express adoption interest in him (he'd already been in an orphanage for about six years); if things had not worked out with the adoption, the odds are that he would have stayed in the orphanage until he aged out of the system.

There clearly is a lot of fear and misconception out there about adopting older children (and specifically older boys), and while I've long blathered as a proud Mama over Michael's achievements since he joined our family, I didn't write the Hansen-reaction post. Because before I successfully adopted my son, I went through earlier attempts to adopt...and failed.

My first failed adoption effort is detailed in a "haybun" entitled "Looking for M." that I wrote on the plane ride from Bogota to San Francisco, published in The Blind Chatelaine's Keys (later reprinted in THE THORN ROSARY). Note what this "blurb" partly says:
“‘Looking for M.' is not just deeply moving but also educational about one of the most complicated difficulties in adoption attempts: reactive attachment disorder. Eileen Tabios reveals her psychic wounds to educate the public about the potentially dire consequences of orphanhood. M.'s story is the story of so many orphans whose interior lives are often invisible. Ms. Tabios gives them a voice through poems I read over and over, saddened that the emotions I feel become physical.”
—Sherrell J. Goolsby, Executive Director of World Child International

I don't know if the Tory-Ann Hansen matter involves a child with reactive attachment disorder, but it's clear that there were attachment problems -- my empathy with any parent in that position prevented me earlier from writing about the Hansen adoption. For while I think the decision to put a 7-year-old on a plane back to another country by himself is majorly knuckle-headed, I also know that most people interested in adoptions are not sufficiently trained or sensitized to deal with many of the issues that accompany children who've spent significant periods of time in institutions. And, it's not unusual in international adoption cases that a child's background may not be fully known or shared with adopting parents. This doesn't mean that older-child adoptions should not occur; the majority of adoptions succeed! -- but it does mean that bureaucracies worldwide involved in finding families for orphans need to do a significantly better job in preparing participants. And those interested in being adoptive parents need to get with the preparation program and not simply believe Love will conquer All.

The preparation of the adopting families is often given short shrift. The formal preparation that I was obliged to do in order to adopt (e.g. ten hours for an internet course) was inadequate. After my failed adoption attempts, I prepared myself -- in part by reading every single adoption related book I could find. That research was critical preparation because, later, when some problems came up that were to be expected of a child with an institutionalized background, our family was prepared to deal with them. The media coverage of the Tory-Ann Hansen failed adoption seems to indicate that the mother was not prepared to address the problems that surfaced.

Regardless of how many adoptions occur, no matter how much attention is raised by celebrities ranging over Angelina Jolie to Sandra Bullock, we are not anywhere near addressing the huge global humanitarian catastrophe posed by neglected orphans. But the answer is not simply placing children in families (though that step already is so difficult). As with many issues, education needs to occur. The complications related to raising formerly institutionalized children does not mean these children are not adoptable and can't thrive in new families. But there is a spectrum of complications with these children, and the more that potential parents are prepared, the more likely the adoption will succeed.

The social effects of neglecting this issue is huge -- one adoption counselor I met during my process said a social worker once told her, "In the orphanages, we are breeding millions of serial murderers." The quote, though perhaps exagerrated bears a kernel of truth: it relates to how some (some not all) children raised without family, raised in institutional settings, sometimes fail to develop their ability to attach to other people which, in turn, can have psychopathic results.

I obviously can't summarize all the issues in this blog post, but I will say that addressing this as part of my SPT reading (partly with readings from "Looking for M.") would seem to be more "moral[ly] imperative" (ref. prior post) than discussing how critics in the past have responded to my poems. As regards community, the plight of orphans requires no less than a global village approach. As regards empire, everything relates to empire; the article on Russian orphanages offers just one deplorable example:
The Russian government spends roughly $3 billion annually on orphanages and similar facilities, creating a system that is an important source of jobs and money on the regional level — and a target for corruption.

As a result, it is in the interests of regional officials to maintain the flow of children to orphanages and then not to let them leave, child welfare experts said. When adoptions are permitted, families, especially foreign families, have to pay large fees and navigate a complex bureaucracy.

“The system has one goal, which is to preserve itself,” said Boris L. Altshuler, chairman of Right of the Child, an advocacy group in Moscow, and a member of a Kremlin advisory group.

“That is why the process of adoption in Russia is like going through the circles of hell,” he said. “The system wants these children to remain orphans.”


Meanwhile, yes -- Google me through these phrases: "adoption", "Hansen adoption," "older child adoption", "Russian orphan," "international adoption," among others. And when you get to this site, let me tell you about my son Michael -- someone who once was considered by some people around him to be "a lost cause":

Adopted at age 13. At the time of his adoption, he was only in 4th grade in an orphanage one-room school situation in Colombia. Six months later, he is slotted into 7th grade (because of his age) in one of California's top public schools. At said excellent public school, he swiftly became honor roll. In less than a year, he is communicating well in English. He's developed into a reader--he reads himself to sleep every night. Last quarter, he received three top-of-his class certificates in addition to his A-average Honor Roll certificate.

In sports, he was on a championship soccer team, as well as does well in other sports new to him, from skiing to tennis to swimming. He also just received an awards certificate in P.E.--he can run a mile in just over six minutes.

His hobbies include building model rockets, photography, drawing (he's an excellent artist), bee-keeping, skateboarding, movies and exploring the night-sky through telescopes.

He knows his manners, is engaged with people, and has developed a witty sense of humor. He loves our two dogs and two cats -- when our cat was injured, he helped take care of her for six weeks so that, by the end of the healing process, the cat (which formerly was too skittish to approach him) was fully bonded with him.

He is sensitive and compassionate--today, he was telling me about seeing a group of drivers from a Ferrari rally, and thinking that those drivers need to have spent all the money acquiring their cars for "better" reasons, like solving the plight of poor people. When he's helped me bring food to the local food pantry, I can see his eyes observing, assessing, and ... caring, even as it also bolsters his fortitude for making something of himself (which he defines for now as attending college).

He wrote his first English-language poem recently and, as I note in my unbiased literary critique (feel free to go to link for the whole thing), "A close reader no doubt would glean the expansiveness of this 14-year-old’s world view—this poem is not written from [just] a personal 'I'."

I could go on. The point is: if you're prepared--and you can be prepared,


I've long felt there were two demographically-created dots that needed more connections: the first is the baby-boom generation which include many who've deferred having children (because of career-concerns), and the second are "older children" (do you really want an infant when you're already hitting age 50?). These are matches waiting to be made--this is a community needing to be expanded. This is Kapwa waiting eagerly to unfold.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Galatea Resurrects, the poetry review journal I edit, is another Kapwa-based project which began long before I focused on the word/concept "Kapwa." To date, and based solely on volunteerism by all participants involved -- and volunteerism is also known as "kusang loob" -- this site has presented 776 new poetry reviews (covering 343 publishers in 17 countries so far) and 64 reprinted reviews (to bring online a variety of reviews previously available only viz print).

The just-released 14th issue also contains my "first in a series of experimental engagements focused on gleaning indigenous Filipino traits in the poetry of Filipino poets located in the diaspora." My inaugural attempt at indigenous literary criticism focuses on three publications:
INSIDES SHE SWALLOWED by Sasha Pimentel Chacon
(West End Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2010)

EASTER SUNDAY by Barbara Jane Reyes
(ypolita press, San Francisco, 2008)

Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance, co-edited by Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez and Evelina Zuni Lucero
(University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2009)

While this version is fine for Galatea Resurrects' purpose, it's a tad rough in places and over time I'll no doubt smoothen such. But what I did like about this article is how it ended--I didn't know how it was going to end, but I just plodded along to see what would happen as I wrote the longish article. And, with the help of the words of Acoma Pueblo poet Simon J. Ortiz, the article ends by noting the "moral imperative" to the making of interconnections:
to hear ..., more deeply, the implied stories of conquest, racism, manifest elitism, and interpersonal isolation

Indigenization requires a lot of work (too much work to be "flakey", in my opinion). To "hear" in the above is to listen but also to act.

And so I was pleased at how this first attempt at an indigenized literary criticism ended up leading me to conclude that the point of the project ultimately is not the resultant essay. It is
something else, a something else that I now realize from writing this review, and without yet knowing its particular manifestations, is simply a better world.


Kapwa as "Shared Life"--including how all species co-exist harmoniously, like kitty Artemis and dawgie Achilles:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


In an earlier post, I talked about returning to my studio, "Babaylan Lodge," after the Babaylan Conference. When I arrived there, I had to look around for a while as I'd forgotten what, over recent years, I'd stored there (until I returned, it was "out of sight, out of mind"). Looking at various spots and items now, I sense that the space had been patiently waiting for my return, patiently because I hadn't been ready at the time the structure was built to be located in it. Here are some interior shots -- some signs:

My computer is positioned in front of a bulletin board. I'm struck now how, directly over my writing computer is a poster featuring an early book launch for the Babaylan anthology--which is to say, Babaylan always kept watch over my writing:

Bulol spirits feed me!

Barbies in search of decolonization. Talk about colonized--Mattel took over a former U.S Military Base in the Philippines to turn it into a factory, in which they made Barbies. I picked up these "Philippine Barbies" for a project exploring (post)colonialism while I was once at Manila Airport. They now grace the fireplace featuring a carved deer because deer a-bounds all over the mountain:

A decolonized Barbie (she's out of her box) sits on the trophy I received for the Manila Circle National Book Award in Poetry for Beyond Life Sentences. When one is decolonized, one enters Poetry. Here's the NBA trophy by Napoleon V. Abueva, considered the "Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture" and the youngest ever to receive the designation of Philippine National Artist. Nearby is a photograph of a Filipina dancer by brilliant photographer Rhett Pascual. You can also see hanging on the far wall a portrait V.C. Igarta did of me when I used to visit him in his New York studio:

In 1999, I'd curated a reading by Filipino poets to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Philippines' declaration of independence from Spanish colonialism. The reading took place at the Puffin Gallery in New York City which, for the occasion, was hung with works by Filipino artists in an exhibit entitled ""The Art of Resistance: Social Realists." I fell in love with this painting by Jose Tence Ruiz (scroll down link for more powerful images!)--the image of a blindfolded angel struggling to rise out of a garbage heap resonates for so many reasons: it's a metaphor for the Philippines' struggle for development...and for a poet's struggle...and for civilization to continue amidst horror....and I can go on and on about this work, but instead will just show the powerful image:

So many items of a past waiting for my return! Like, this wooden statue in front of a notice of a poetry reading I once did in Philadelphia (?) with that most excellent poet Ron Silliman. If I recall correctly, this woman's hair raised upwards into a cone upon learning of a lover's betrayal (?), and I always thought to offer her refuge...:

But of course -- a lady crafted from delicated Philippine shells. Beneath her, a wooden angel from New Mexico, I think, that was gifted by a former yoga teacher...I used to do a lot of yoga, which makes sense, as back in the day I was promiscous about what I let my mind pay attention to--so I think that angel is by some books exploring the philosophy of masochism or some such back-into-concrete idea that I was exploring in poetry...:

From the kitchen and looking out into the primary loft area, one can see the luminous Ganesh (from a trip to India):

A Buddha head in front of the only CD anthology I've ever participated in, this one sponsored by Gargoyle magazine:

This bowed position has always -- still does -- move me. Atop some Nota Bene Eisweins:

I once collaborated with June, a local artist, to create a glass mural of how I reconfigured the myth of Galatea (after whom my home is named). This was one of the paper drafts of the mural that would come to be placed on the wall of the wine cellar:

Birds carved from mushrooms atop bookshelves of books as "inventory" (partly from what I publish through Meritage Press):

The bed doesn't really belong here. We moved in a bed so the lodge could be used as an occasional guest house as I'd not been using the space.

Pressed paper with front drawing created from white correction fluid by brilliant Pinay artist Reanne Estrada:

A wide-angle shot featuring Santiago Bose's drawing on handmade paper atop the front door

A drawing--"Queen Puso" (1993" by Corazon Ugalde-Yellen, a Pinay artist whose work I saw at an exhibit of emerging Filipino artists at the now-defunct Puro Arte Gallery in Los Angeles when I visited there to do a poetry reading. I've always appreciated how she stands in front of what I'd earlier thought of as 'the paradox of a blue but night sky." Now that I've learned about the indigenous "sacred time and sacred place", I realize that there's no paradox at all in that sky--it's just eternal for all time:

Part I is HERE.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Alternative Title: Why I Tear Up Poetry Books!

I've always felt that the Poem is only begun by its author, and that it needs to be completed by its reader or audience. I'm pleased to share the latest incarnation of a completed poem by Cynthia M. Phillips: jewelry!!!! Gal's after my own heart! Here are pics--the first on the kitchen island, next to photos of my beloved cats Artemis and Scarlet:

Second photo of me wearing them as I pick up a bronze figurine that once resided with brilliant poet kari edwards:

Cynthia, the jewelry designer, explains some of the conceptual underpinnings to the purty bracelets--
1) Haiti--red: blood. Green for rebirth and renewal

2) "I consider the woman's choice in liberating / a red dress with pale green sandals" (a line from a poem in Beyond Life Sentences / later in THE THORN ROSARY)

I love it -- am so particularly happy when artists take on some of my poems...Thank you, Cynthia! And I'm cutnpasting below an excerpt from my presentation at the Literature Panel for the Babaylan Conference that relates as well to Cynthia's engagement--

--which also explains why, when I do gigs, I like to rip up my poetry books!!! To wit:

from "Dawac/Action: Babaylan Poetics" (with performance notes for Tearing Up Book!):

In the Philippines’ central Ilocos Sur area where I was born, the Babaylan is known as Man-nawac. “Man-nawac,” from the Itneg language, can be translated as “a healer and caller of spirits.” The Man-nawac heals by invoking the help of the anitos or spirits.

I learned about the Man-nawac from my mother who shared how she, as a child, once witnessed a Man-nawac heal her grandmother. This Man-nawac was also a relative: Apo Ak-kam. In terms of ars poetica, three points reverberated with me from my mother’s account of Apo Ak-kam’s process:

First, the healing process involved the Man-nawac calling to the spirits through statements (“Please come, please come…”) to almost ululating sounds (“woooo…wooo…woooo”). In other words, the Man-nawac does not heal others on her own; she calls to others—she must involve others.

Second, the healing process had to begin on or about high noon. My mother said that noon was the time when the most people in the community would hear the Man-nawac’s calls to the spirits. For me, the significance of noon relates to maximum light and maximum involvement of the community (versus a time like, say, midnight when most people would be asleep).

Third, while the Man-nawac was calling for the spirits to help heal my mother’s grandmother, my mother’s grandfather was on the other side of a curtain where he stood with five beaded strings. Five times, my mother’s grandfather would raise a beaded string over the curtain and each time the Man-nawac would cut off one string, releasing the beads from their tether. By the third time that the Man-nawac cut a beaded string, it was clear that the Man-nawac was “fully possessed” by the spirits….and on through to the cutting of the fifth string. For me, this relates to how, I conceive of a poem’s creation as one where the poet’s role is not to write the poem so much as to be the tool through which a poem is written. The poem writes itself—as Jose Garcia Villa once noted, I believe, about the author’s hands, “The,hands,on,the,piano,are,armless,”. The poem is more than the poet.

As a poet, I call out to you through poems. I don’t consider (my) poems to be art objects—things to be read or looked at from a distance. I offer the poem as an open hand, a space for engagement with others. If no one reaches forth to take my hand, if no one found my poem sufficiently engaging or of interest, then the poem never reached fruition.

And this is why, I approach you now with poems, these from my book Nota Bene Eiswein:

[Tear sheets from Nota Bene Eiswein and hand out to people in audience, explaining...]
1) My poems don’t mature if they remain unread, if no one engages with them….so I give them to you.

2) Note that by tearing out pages, I am destroying a book. Well, yes, the publication is not important….the poem may be what’s printed on the page. But Poetry is not something trapped by a page; it’s an engagement involving others beyond its author.

3) When I give you pages, they may be fragments – incomplete excerpts of poems…that’s fine. A poem is inherently a fragment—it is began by the author, but it can only mature into wholeness if it’s engaged by a reader; an audience.

Poetry is verb. A poem may be words. But Poetry is an act. Poetry is engagement.

Friday, April 30, 2010


My newest Kapwa-based project, a special themed issue on Poet-Editors has just been released by Otoliths, edited by poetically-stellar Mark Young. I talk more about this issue's rationale in my Editor's Introduction from which I think one can glean several indigenous values: community-making, holistic-ness, volunteerism, cultural advocacy (and I'm not just talking about myself but about many of the 43 poet-editors who discuss why they volunteer their efforts as editors). So I hope you enjoy this issue.

AND! Concurrent with the issue's release, a special Shout Out about it is posted at the Poetry Foundation Blog by Barbara Jane Reyes--click HERE for her lovely SHOUT.

Now, have you heard of the Poetry Foundation? Publisher of historic Poetry Magazine. And at its mainstream space, Barbara was kind enough to feature a statement, to wit:
I’m so happy that an issue devoted to poet-editors is out, and am grateful to Otoliths and the visionary Mark Young for publishing it! I explain more about the issue’s rationale in my Editor’s Introduction. What I don’t mention there is, with hindsight, the most important factor about it: this project reflects my eternally-held “Babaylan Poetics.” The Poet-Editor issue is a community-inspired performance act reflecting the Filipino indigenous value of “Kapwa” or “Shared Life” (interconnections). I’ve been an editor for as long as I’ve been a poet, and have also worked in such roles as “critic” and “publisher”; as a poet, I’ve also worked in multi-genre forms. Kapwa means there’s no schism between such forms and roles. Kapwa was a generative source for the Poet-Editor issue because Kapwa encourages the search for commonalities among peoples and creatures; in this case, the commonality was of poets who also serve as editors.

Bang the gongs: This is HISTORIC. The Poetry Foundation is widely read, and I bet you that 99.999999% -- of its readership has never heard of "Kapwa" until I guerilla-ized that word onto its space. All this within two weeks of the equally historic Babaylan Conference. I tell ya -- I love how Kapwa makes a loving guerilla out of me-becoming-Us!

Reference IKSP: "Biro". Mischief is one of my more succesful conceptual underpinnings for poetry projects...(Wink!)

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am a body in relation to other bodies
--Leny M. Strobel, from Introduction to
BABAYLAN: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous

The fabulously cerebral poet-scholar-critic Joi Barrios emailed recently. She complained! Okay, not really. But she said that she and others apparently wished that I had read more of my own poems during my presentation at the Literature Panel for the Babaylan Conference. I did read an excerpt from one poem but otherwise blathered prose and tore up a poetry book (more on that latter bit of theater later). But Joi said, when it comes to poetry, the poet's voice matters, you know.

Yes, I know. [Insert sigh.] But I actually haven't been eager to do poetry readings for many years now. There are many reasons...and it's all complicated. Not the most important reason because I do love my ego ("I love my ego"--get it?), but one reason I haven't done much is the whole process just seemed so ... narcissistic. Perhaps I've witnessed too many poets desperate to be heard (it's not that I don't understand the debilitating effect of not being heard, in poetry or otherwise; but I just don't ... want to be like that ...?). Perhaps I just haven't gotten the right type of feedback, like Joi letting me know of her response to my panel presentation. Anyway, simplistically, it's seemed pointless to me because the usual poetry reading is about the poet presenting his/her/hir poems and it all just seems so "me-me-me."

I once read an article about a poet who, in doing poetry readings, always begins or includes one poem by someone else. That, I thought, was fabulous. Kapwa et al. But think about it for the millions (yeah, right) of you who attend poetry readings. How often do you see poets share poems by others?

But, it is true--as Joi sez--that a poet's reading can embody a poem/poetic engagement. So I now shall give you all the ability to view and touch my body in person at an upcoming reading for the lively Small Press Traffic (SPT) in San Francisco. This reading may be of particular interest to this blog's readers as I plan to raise my new-found exploration of indigenous values--since my reading, after all, is part of the SPT series themes of "empire" and "communities". I hope to see you there next Friday -- we might even share ... gas (heh).

May 7, 2010

Eileen Tabios and Susan Gevirtz

Small Press Traffic
Literary Arts Center at CCA
1111 -- 8th Street
San Francisco, California 94107
smallpresstraffic at gmail

Susan Gevirtz's recent books include Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger (Kelsey Street Press), broadcast, and Without Event: Introductory Notes (forthcoming from eohippus labs). Along with teaching locally at various Bay Area institutions, with Greek poet Siarita Kouka she runs The Paros Symposium, on Paros island, an annual meeting of poets and translators from Greece and the United States.

Eileen R. Tabios' publications include 18 poetry collections, two novels, an art essay collection, a poetry essay/interview anthology, and a short story book. She most recently released THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS & NEW (1998-2010), selected with an introduction by Thomas Fink and an afterword by Joi Barrios. She wishes more people attending her poetry readings would bring her food.

Okay--I inserted in that last sentence in my bio at the last minute. After all, I want to swallow ... You!*

*Moments like this are what make me wonder over why people take me seriously...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Reflecting on yesterday’s posts, I want to say that the effectiveness of indigenous values concerns me more than its objectified artifacts. I said that I was interested in psychology because I’m focused more on those values—and, for one of my purposes, how they can come to create a type of literary criticism currently lacking for Filipino poetry (and all too rare, generally speaking). As with making a poem, the end goal won’t be the artifact of the review or anthology of indigenized reviews—the goal is something larger, an opening up by a still-unknown audience (and me) into…something else. (Bahala na—let’s see what that something else will be.)

But we do know that indigenous values, whether or not they are labeled as such (and that’s what’s so great about these books I’m reading—the ability to name things because people have chosen to write theories), do work even in a modern context. Intuition, for instance, is closely-aligned with the ability to conceptualize/create versus simply follow orders and rules—which is more likely to create or expand a new company?

And politics. Remember the first People Power’s Revolution in the Philippines that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and went on to inspire other such people power’s movements in other countries? That act succeeded because of the indigenous value of pakikibaka, or together-as-one. (I remember my young self as a Barnard College student doing a political science thesis on the Philippines--and how in that thesis I had expressed doubt over that country's Communist effort as so much of that seemed more rooted in poverty and political corruption, versus a belief in Marxism. As recently as last year, in response to political corruption in the Philippines, a despairing Fil-Am writer expressed his concern that It may have to take a (violent) revolution after all to resolve things. I remember my empathy for this writer's frustrated assessment, but it occurs to me now that political movements based on Kapwa and pakikibaka have more of a chance at success than the exported Communism.)

The ability to tap into community and have a larger desire create something is a very effective force. My very first book was BLACK LIGHTNING.One of its facets was that it was a book desired by the reading community, versus a book I concocted *in my own room* and then attempted to pitch to publishers. BLACK LIGHTNING was a huge success—and I talk more about this in the Introduction to a special issue on Poet-Editors that will be published by Otoliths (I’ll update link when the issue goes live later this week).

And if I look at everything I’ve done so far as a poet—a modest career as a writer for only encompassing 14 years so far—I’ve been prolifically published. To be a prolific writer is one thing, but the publication of one’s writings is a different step. Sure, I could say I’ve found many publishers because I’m a good writer—but many good writings are overlooked. My secret is Kapwa, its practice long before I knew its word: I can trace every writerly achievement to the root source of me having first tried to do something else on behalf of others. That’s the melding of Kapwa and Bahala Na—you live in the indigenous spirit without looking for rewards and yet the rewards come in terms of you thriving as a person and, in my case, poet. And I’ve done this without donning ethnic garb (unless Halloween counts) .

But let me digress to mention a baby elephant in the room (Hello Elephant!). When we start discoursing on the indigenous, people and concepts that may seem “flakey” come out of the woodwork. Whatever, you know. I’m not going to diss someone for wearing symbols—we have to wear something and I’m not going to say my German Shepherd pendant is less flakey than the silver bracelet etched with Baybayin (btw, I love my Babaylan jewelry). But we need to not judge the indigenization movement based on these trappings. The flakes that should be dismissed are those forcing themselves into an indigenizing community as a leader of sorts—someone to be followed. I’ve been contacted now by people trying to claim me as their own in exchange for presumably some spiritual revelation….Look, if you’re a leader, you don’t have to try hard to find followers, you know what I mean? If you have something relevant to say, the community will recognize you. Until then, try to manifest your interest in indigenous values in ways other than a power play, okay?

Effectiveness. How to assess said effectiveness? Look at the results. Is there something coming into existence—for the good of community/world—as a result of the results? Is there something being created versus a movement-for-the-sake-of-having a movement; is there something going on besides the creation of navel-gazing or socializing groupings? Was a book created that ended up empowering some of its readers? Was a dictator overthrown? Was a new company hatched? Did an environmental movement to green the world unfold? Et al...

The indigenous spirit is like poetry (which is why I say poetry has provided me good training): words can’t fully capture the indigenous spirit because one has to live it, not talk it.


Community and activism are forces that can create new lovely poems, especially if one is willing to abide by Bahala na (note that this Indigenous value has been debased into it being interpreted as passivity, when its true nature is one of courage—courage in the face of not knowing what will happen. I often write poems, not to say something but to discover what needs to be said).

In earlier essays and talks, I’ve raised my belief that Poetry is a Doorway Into Something. I’d like to share two examples, for which new poems were created by myself and other poets in order for these projects’ successes. Both of these projects were effective in actually raising money (I’s got the beef, son!) for poverty relief and Haiti relief. These are—
"Hay(na)ku for Haiti" relief, about which information is available HERE.

"Tiny Poetry Books Feeding The World...Literally!", about which information is available HERE

These projects involve community, involve the indigenous notion of Kusang Loob (volunteerism), bowed to respecting/preserving nature (and core to indigeneity is a tie with nature), among other things, as well as created new poems. I hope you will check out the links…and even participate!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Well, I'm looking at my prior post and feeling I didn't capture everything I wanted to say--specifically, I'm looking at the footnote
Well, how important is it anyway to conduct criticism using core values to Filipino poetry? I'm still figuring that out. But, just yesterday, I picked up a new poetry collection by a Latino poet and another Latino poet-blurber praised it as, among other things, "Whitmanic." I've been honored to have that ascribed to my work as well -- but is it better to invoke Whitman or Kapwa? And what if I, as the author, says she feels the latter is more appropriate?

But what is the point of criticism anyway? It's different from the actual art, yes? And it has separate goals from art-making, yes? And such goals often include socio-political aspects like drawing more attention to certain cultures not part of mainstream? If, as I have done, I've edited or published anthologies that draw attention to Filipino literature, why also wouldn't I use more indigenous values in criticism--not just to draw attention to the lovely literature but to address-by-diluting the Western gaze on the work? Rather than looking at Filipino art, the criticism's structure, if using appropriate indigenous values, organically presents the art so that it's not just going to be an experience of from outside-in but also from inside-out.

(What if the Latino poet-blurber had referenced Neruda instead of Whitman? Isn't using a white male reference -- even when appropriate -- by the terms of criticism rather than art-making bow down to commercialism? As in, that poetry book is not just for the Latino community but for everyone? I'm reminded now of a presentation at the Literary Panel of the conference where the academic Marie Therese Sulit had noted how Filipina-Australian writer Merlinda Bobis' short collection,
The Kissing, was first entitled The White Turtle when it was previously published in Australia. The switch to a more commercially palatable--i.e. romantic--term can be considered a marketing-based decision. Unfortunately, that decision also de-emphasized "The White Turtle" which was based on an indigenous Filipino myth.)

And I also came across Barbara Jane Reyes' reference to what I'm exploring on this blog (my five millionth blog, I know), specifically this paragraph:
One thing I appreciate about Eileen’s exploration of this babaylan and kapwa poetics is this delineation of indigeneity and tribalism. My questions: whether there can be an indigenous consciousness or world view which does not translate into appropriation of tribal gear/artifacts/titles, judging and disparaging others from an elevated or “transcendent” position because they choose to exist outside of our social and experiential contexts. Can we live our westernized, urban, professional lives with indigeneity as one lens through which we view the world and interact with one another.

And one reason I am looking at Filipino psychology is that what I want to do with my version of criticism is to rely on knowing-as-feeling, which is such an ingrained trait in Filipino culture, and frankly something I already practice in doing poetry reviews for Galatea Resurrects (but because they're not typical reviewing, I call them "engagements" versus "reviews" with the latter's attendant contextual baggage). (If knowing-as-feeling sounds flakey to you, it's really just phenomenology, okay?)

As a former banker for three multinational banks while residing in New York City, I can also say that what I'm calling indigenous values here does not conflict with living "westernized, urban, professional lives". Folks with highly-sensitized intuitive capabilities (whether or not such talents were articulated as "indigenous") are often the ones higher up professional ladders.

Have you observed how none of what I've mentioned so far require the "appropriation of tribal gear/artifacts/titles". As I've already joked with others, me wearing tribal gear means donning a table cloth and I think I'll pass on food stains as my necklaces. But I get what Barbara means about "titles"--this indigenous stuff seems to make certain people pop out of the woodwork presenting themselves as leaders of sorts. (That's why, in my first post, I made sure to say I don't claim to be a "Babaylan" but am just practicing Babaylan[-inspired] poetics. I don't want any of you trudging up to mi casa now; I ain't looking for followers!*)

For my version of indigenous literary criticism to work in the future, I think I'd need to tap into that energy from mythic, pre-colonial times. One can study indigenous culture, or even the tenets of Sikolohiyang Pilipino, but that's not sufficient, I suspect for creating the body of criticism I'm hoping to achieve. Vessel-izing that energy, to me, is going to be the key. It is about the body--the body needs to be involved. With hindsight, I think Poetry has been my preparation for this path.

Great--that clears things up, right?!

Well, no. But this blog is just a notebook--I'll post this blather anyway.


* Oh aso poop. Did I just tell y'all not to trudge up to mi casa? Such a potential bounty of home-made cooking I could have received, yes...?!


I’m reprinting below my Editor’s Introduction to my first consciously-received sign from Babaylan anitos, the anthology I co-edited with Nick Carbo which became the first U.S.-published anthology of international Filipina women writers, BABAYLAN: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers (Aunt Lute Press, San Francisco, 2000).

What I see now is how “Kapwa” arose in terms of the conceptual underpinnings to a poem “Corolla” which ends my essay. “Corolla” was written by stitching/weaving/knitting together various lines from the stories or poems written by all the writers in the book.

“Corolla” is also one of many poems that have been assessed (to the extent my poems garner any attention) in Western terms: e.g. collage, “found words”, creative plaigarism, among others (I implicate myself in this practice; I've also used these terms--see essay below). Also used in the past on my work is the concept of reader-response, something that's caused some folks to call me a "Langpo poet" (and I don't mind being called that, btw, except that I, as a poet (and human being), don't belong to just any one group but would hope to be accepted by all groups).

But what’s been missing (except for one exception whose value I am really just starting to understand is Leny M. Mendoza's essay, of which a version is available HERE) in prior discussion about "Corolla" and other of my poems—as well as other poems by many Filipino poets—is a contextualization of them in terms of core Filipino values,* for instance from the Value System of Philippine Psychology whose Wiki notes, among other things
Kapwa, meaning 'togetherness', is the core construct of Filipino Psychology. Kapwa has two categories, Ibang Tao (other people) and Hindi Ibang Tao (not other people).

Ibang Tao ("outsider") There are five domains in this construct:
Pakikitungo: civility
Pakikisalamuha: act of mixing
Pakikilahok: act of joining
Pakikibagay: conformity
Pakikisama: being united with the group.
Hindi Ibang Tao ("one-of-us")

There are three domains in this construct:
Pakikipagpalagayang-loob: act of mutual trust
Pakikisangkot: act of joining others
Pakikipagkaisa: being one with others

Looking now at my Introduction to Babaylan, the first time in years that I've done so, I recall, too, my uncertainty over how people would react to my starting the essay about Filipino literature by citing French impressionism. I'm officially relieved with the readings I've been doing on indigeneity since the Conference--not only the shared Oneness concept of Kapwa but Native American poet Simon J. Ortiz specifically noting how the indigenous is not nationalistic or tribal!**

Perhaps another sign from the Babaylan anito is the poem's acknowledgement of certain favorite words, including "azure and cobalt." Both reflect how blue is my favorite color; all are colors ascribed to sky. I've long looked to the sky for many reasons, sometimes when just feeling a longing for something not yet known. I believe this to be a reaching for that "sacred time and sacred place" where Filipino novelist N.V.M. Gonzalez describes "mythic man" as walking on ground but also touching the nearby sky, so as to be in touch with all creation and at the same time.

Anyway, here’s the essay and, naturally, the ending poem “Corolla” is included in THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010)--it was the most natural of selections for the range of a book covering the totality (so far) of a career***:


Rupturing Language for the Rapture of Beauty
…one of the most effective ideological instruments for establishing U.S. colonial domination was the teaching of the English language”
-- from

"Poetry is like painting. You say you are going to paint a portrait. You start with a blob of color and then wash, and when the lines are taking shape, you see a landscape, perhaps people. You are not quite sure what you're driving at, but it means something in the end. And the first person to be surprised is the one who made it."
-- Tita Lacambra-Ayala (born 1931), a leading member of the first group of Philippine poets to write in English

It is Thanksgiving 1998, and I am in Paris looking at the Millet/Van Gogh show at the Musee d'Orsay. Images of shoes, peasant farmers tilling the fields or taking a break by napping, haystacks, star-filled nights, individual laborers, a resting woman with a shawl and cane — again and again the comparisons depict Jean-Francois Millet’s influence on Vincent Van Gogh. With stunning clarity, the show illustrates how much Van Gogh "copied" Millet. But the show also proves that Van Gogh's artistry is not due to the images but how he painted them. By the time I have finished perusing the exhibition, I have a crick in my neck, having frequently nodded in recognition as I contemplated the paintings. For me, the show validated the approach I have come to practice in writing poetry — an approach that was birthed from each of my poems's consistent insistence that the Poem transcends authorial intent.

Recognition —the presentation of the two artists' juxtaposed works confirmed what I have come to realize as a poet: originality cannot be my goal. For my poems cannot help but reflect my identity as, in the words of Filipina American writer Lara Stapleton, a "bastard of the Philippine diaspora." As a poet, this means I have no desire to be original in my use of a language that was introduced to my birthland, the Philippines, as a tool of imperialism and colonialism. I prefer to experiment with subverting their dictionary definitions or the cultural contexts in which I perceive the words posit their referentiality. With this awareness infusing my poetry, I began to write in a surrealist vein before moving to collaging fragments from other people's written works in order to begin the poem. With the latter in particular, I wanted to use "found" words to evade the conventional stress on individuality and originality and, therefore, push both myself and the poem's reader to grasp a new level of meaning and emotion. If "plaigarism" is the most extreme application of my disinterest in originality, I believe nevertheless that such "plaigarism" is as valid a way to begin writing the poem. For the Poem (or the type of poem I wish to write) surfaces as its own entity — just as Van Gogh's works transcended his copying of the images in Millet's works.

I have found this approach to be synchronistic with my exploration of "Identity" through language. Through this process, I have found a home in "abstract poetry" — that is, poetry that doesn't rely on narrative so much as my desire that it be the reader's subjectivity to complete the poem. It is also an approach that I consider consistent with my unease with the English language which, in turn, makes me avoid having to concoct a narrative before I can begin to write the poem. I write the poem only to offer a means for generating an emotional relationship between the poem and its reader. And I do not wish to supplant the role of the Poem's reader by being the one to identify the basis (the narrative’s story or idea) — and, thus, constrain the possibilities — of that relationship. (Similarly, the abstract painter need not identify the brush stroke for the viewer, leaving it to the viewer’s eye to imagine a tree, a shoreline, a human being or other images -- if any -- from the brushstroke.)

What does this have to do with being Filipina American? I was born in 1960 and immigrated to the United States in 1970. There is first the obvious effect of becoming part of the Philippine diaspora. Had I remained in the Philippines, the influence on my poetics would have been different — certainly I don't believe that I would have been unaffected by Ferdinand Marcos' Martial Law regime. Like many Filipino poets, I might have ended up writing overtly political narrative poetry; I even might have stopped writing in English altogether to write in one of the Philippines' many dialects in order to protest (by avoiding English) the imperialism that many Filipinos thought continued with the American support enjoyed by Marcos during most of his tenure. In leaving the Philippines and being raised "Americanized," my poetry came to be influenced primarily by the visual arts, itself a catalytic inspiration for modernist American poetry.

Initially, my poetry was influenced significantly by abstract expressionism. I feel I found a home in the form of the prose poem because the avoidance of line breaks facilitate my feeling of "painting" (versus "writing") the poem with lush brush strokes laden with gesture. I write "abstractly" because I wish my poem's reader to follow the painterly gesture through emotional resonance, uninterrupted by "thinking" over meaning. Nevertheless, when I also began to "plaigarize" I didn’t think this avoided the presence of my own "I." Perhaps the use of others’s texts actually requires more from me because I have to make sure the (final draft of the) poem transcends the plaigarism.

I also consider “abstract” poems to be synchronistic with how I reconcile myself to the history of English as a tool for colonizing the Philippines. On June 12, 1898, the Philippines declared its independence from Spain, its colonial master of nearly 350 years. However, on December 10, 1898, the United States signed the Treaty of Paris with Spain through which it purchased the Philippines for $20 million and, thus, became the Philippines' new colonial master. The Philippines protested against American intervention through a bloody war that's been called the United States' "First Vietnam" as about 30,000 American soldiers but over one million Filipinos died. After their military victory, the United States also won on the cultural and linguistic terrain in their colonizing efforts. In 1901, the United States transport ship, "Thomas," arrived in Manila Bay carrying 500 young American teachers. The English they spoke spread across the Philippines, becoming the preferred language for education, administration, commerce and daily living -- thus the reference among Filipinos to English as a "borrowed tongue," though "enforced" tongue is more accurate.

My awareness of English as a tool for American imperialism bolsters my poetic approach towards abstraction as a way to transcend poetically — or subvert politically — (the dictionary definitions of) English. In writing poetry, I am not simply playing with language as material — there is a political component to my work, though that may not be evident to readers who focus on the narrative content of my poems versus their “abstract” forms.

Certainly, it also seems to me that certain words are beautiful outside their meaning, like azure or jasmine or cobalt. For me, this is also the place of abstract poetry, in addition to what's happening in that space between words, lines, sentences and paragraphs. Of course, others may disagree with how I consider other words beautiful — words like centrifuge, polychrome and lothario. But it is this same subjectivity that makes interesting the response to Art, whether it's a poem or a painting; the artist Agnes Martin once said, "The response to art is the real art field."

As someone swimming in the Philippine diaspora, I realize that my personal history as a poet ranges from ancient Greek sculptors to 19th century French painters to 20th century American artists and contemporary poets who fragment text. And, it is also informed by the Philippines whose troubled history teaches me passion, compassion, hope, of hopes thwarted, perseverance, of human frailty, humor, irony, humility, pride — influences that well up during the writing process to stain the surface of my poems with shades ranging from the lightness of watercolor to the heaviness of oil. Specifically, because my people’s history teaches me hope and compassion, I wish to continue reaching out to the reader to develop a relationship: ultimately, this means my overriding goal above all else through writing poetry is Beauty. Because my goal is beauty, it also means that (unlike other poets who are interested in fragmenting text) I don’t believe in the impossibility of communication. Simply, what I wish to show through poetry is how the definition of Beauty includes the Rapture that comes from Rupture.



Sometimes, I pray. Love is always haggled before it becomes. I clasp my hands around my disembodied truth: I am forever halved by edges—in group photos, on classroom seats, at mahogany dining tables whose lengths still fail to include me. I play myself perfectly, containing a Catholic hell within my silence to preserve the consolation of hope. Hope—once, I tipped Bing cherries into a blue bowl until I felt replete in the red overflow.

If my bones were hollow, like flutes made from reeds, I might savor the transcendence of Bach flowing through me rather than the fragile movement of marrow. "These are thoughts which occur only to those entranced by the layered auras of decay," my mother scolds me. I agree, but note the trend among artisans in sculpting prominent breasts on immobilized Virgin Marys. She replies, "But these are moments lifted out of context."

The green calyx emphasizes the burden of generously-watered corollas, though beauty can be emphasized from an opposite perspective. I have no use for calm seas, though I appreciate a delicadeza moonlight as much as any long-haired maiden. You see, my people are always hungry with an insistence found only in virgins or fools. It is my people's fate for focusing on reprieves instead of etched wrinkles on politicians' brows and mothers' cheeks. We are uncomfortable encouraging dust to rise as tears.

Attempt witnessing pain as wine staining silk—a gray wing, then grey sky. "Only God," I begin to whisper, before relenting to the tunes hummed by ladies with veiled eyes. The definition of holidays becomes the temporary diminishment of hostile noise. I do not wish to know what engenders fear from fathers, even if it means one must simulate an aging beauty queen clutching photos of tilted crowns. I prefer to appreciate from a distance those points where land meets water: I prefer the position of an ignored chandelier.

When lucidity becomes too weighty, when the calyx sunders, I concede that I make decisions out of diluting my capacity for degradation. I frequently camouflage my body into a Christmas tree. I cannot afford to consider soot-faced children stumbling out of tunnels dug deep enough to plunge into China's womb. You say the rice cooker is flirting with its lid; I say, I AM DROWNING IN AIR. I have discovered the limitations of wantonness only in the act of listening. There is no value in negative space without the intuitive grid.

I am called "Balikbayan" because the girl in me is a country of rope hammocks and waling-waling orchids—a land with irresistible gravity because, in it, I forget the world's magnificent indifference. In this country, my grandmother's birthland, even the dead are never cold and I become a child at ease with trawling through rooms in the dark. In this land, throughout this archipelago, I am capable of silencing afternoons with a finger. In this country where citizens know better than to pick tomatoes green, smiling grandmothers unfurl my petals and begin the journey of pollen from anthers to ovary. There, stigma transcends the mark of shame or grief to be the willing recipient of gold-rimmed pollen. In my grandmother's country, votive lights are driven into dark cathedrals by the flames of la luna naranja, a blood-orange sun.****


* Well, how important is it anyway to conduct criticism using core values to Filipino poetry? I'm still figuring that out. But, just yesterday, I picked up a new poetry collection by a Latino poet and another Latino poet-blurber praised it as, among other things, "Whitmanic." I've been honored to have that ascribed to my work as well -- but is it better to invoke Whitman or Kapwa? And what if I, as the author, says she feels the latter is more appropriate?

But what is the point of criticism anyway? It's different from the actual art, yes? And it has separate goals from art-making, yes? And such goals often include socio-political aspects like drawing more attention to certain cultures not part of mainstream? If, as I have done, I've edited or published anthologies that draw attention to Filipino literature, why also wouldn't I use more indigenous values in criticism--not just to draw attention to the lovely literature but to address-by-diluting the Western gaze on the work? Rather than looking at Filipino art, the criticism's structure, if using appropriate indigenous values, organically presents the art so that it's not just going to be an experience of from outside-in but also from inside-out.

(What if the Latino poet-blurber had referenced Neruda instead of Whitman? Isn't using a white male reference -- even when appropriate -- by the terms of criticism rather than art-making bow down to commercialism? As in, that poetry book is not just for the Latino community but for everyone? I'm reminded now of a presentation at the Literary Panel of the conference where the academic Marie Therese Sulit had noted how Filipina-Australian writer Merlinda Bobis' short collection,
The Kissing, was first entitled The White Turtle when it was previously published in Australia. The switch to a more commercially palatable--i.e. romantic--term can be considered a marketing-based decision. Unfortunately, that decision also de-emphasized "The White Turtle" which was based on an indigenous Filipino myth.)

These are some of the questions I'm considering today...

** from
SIMON J. ORTIZ: A POETIC LEGACY OF INDIGENOUS CONTINUANCE (Eds. Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez and Evelina Zuni Lucero, University of New Mexico Press, 2010)

*** I often feel I'm being insufferable or overweening as I talk about my poetry here, and apologize. Please bear with me (suffer me?) as I'm using my work as a guinea pig to experiment/practice on how I hope to discuss other Filipino poets' work in the future viz indigenized criticism.

**** Yes, the poem mistranslates the Spanish phrase “la luna naranja”, but it is a deliberate mistranslation…for obvious reasons, di ba?