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?

Monday, April 26, 2010


For years, my writing studio has been a laptop. That's what happens when the body need not be relevant in one's poetics. As a state of being, rather state of affairs, this certainly reflects the modern's separation from nature.

I note, however, that my prior comfort in laptop-as-studio had been because of linking to the internet as "world", and I'd wanted my "local to be global." That impetus towards world reflected, if unconsciously, Kapwa as Shared Life.

Still, once I name what I'm doing with Babaylan, a disembodied state of affairs can't continue. And so, as I said in this blog's very first post, I now have to recover the physical space the mountain offered me years ago for art: the Babaylan Lodge, a building away from the house, over the garage:

It was a generous gift by the mountain: a loft space of bout 900 square feet. Sure, I furnished it with furniture and artifacts from poetry projects. But I didn't spend time in it so that it just became a storage space. As I began walking towards it this past Sunday, I wondered what I would discover...

As I walked towards the lodge, I wondered about the spirits in the place, and how they would respond to my return. This is Sapphire, an oak tree on the lodge's patio which came here from Los Angeles as a baby and now has blossomed. I remember asking the ancient, scraggly oak trees on the mountain to welcome her and help her blossom -- it seems to me now that Sapphire is a metaphor for another transplant, me!

I could see signs of neglect, like the unswept leaves and other debris beneath the table on the patio. The outdoor table is bereft of chairs as it wasn't being visited by anyone.

I felt guilty as I approached the lodge and emanated a request for forgiveness.

Interestingly, I felt welcomed as I got closer to the front door...though perhaps that was partly caused by the presence of my beloved German Shepherds as I noticed the doormat gifted to me by one of the dogs' best friends. I apologized again as I saw the cobwebs about the door frame.

I opened the door, and the image was suddenly ... familiar.

Fittingly, my eyes were drawn first to a Robert Lowe painting--three women who I'd always felt were from my past-and-future. I feel these women surfaced in a painting during my art-gallery hopping days in New York City. They blossomed on canvas because I wasn't paying attention to them and others from a more "sacred time and place." Well, finally: they have my attention! And they are anitos of ... Babaylan...

Part II is HERE.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Here is a close-up shot of the cake mirroring the book cover to BABAYLAN: FILIPINOS AND THE CALL OF THE INDIGENOUS edited by Leny M. Strobel:

And here are some of the anthology contributors marrying each other to cut cake (our postures remind me of the point in wedding receptions where bride and groom hold the cutting knife together...). I’m in pink feeling slightly confused as I’m sensing an Igorot head-hunting axe in my hand instead of a cake-cutting knife (I think “head-hunting” is a “Biro” pun).

All the festivities move me to remember, and display, my lovely German Shepherds Achilles (left) and Gabriela with my guapo son Michael. My female dog is indeed named after Gabriela Silang, the first woman general of the Philippines who had battled Spanish colonialism):

Aren't they lovely! Anyway, the dawgs have a message about the cake made to mimic the book cover of Leny Strobel's Babaylan anthology:


Well, no, the dogs aren't allowed cake (allergies). But they still feel


Why? Because the cake was eaten by the attendees of the Babaylan conference. And when we are talking about indigenization, aren't we talking about going back into the body for the memories contained therein? Blood memory, that is. The contributions in the Babaylan anthology came from the body, and with cake, returns to the body!

The dogs would know about ingrained memory. Both are 100% domesticated and have received extensive dog-training. But when a rabbit shows its cute ears above the grass lining the mountain where we live, Gabriela takes off and no amount of "Stop! Stop!" will cause her to halt! The centuries of history programmed into her sinews just take over.

The body remembers. When we proceed towards rediscovering our indigenous nature, we don't proceed forward or backward. We just become what we already are. So go forth now and eat cake! And here’s Gabriela when she’s resting from chasing wabbits; her Momma cats Artemis and Scarlet keep watch--that's right, through Kapwa we are all the same species:


This, of course, relates to poetics (a ragged segue but it’ll do) and speaking of Gabriela Silang, I wrote about her living a 21st century life in Menage A Trois with the 21st Century. She was one of two women for whom I imagined a contemporary life, the other being Enheduanna, “the earliest author and poet in the world that history knows by name.”

For both Gabriela Silang and Enheduanna, the issue of persona poems came up in some discussion with other poet-critics shortly after the book’s release in 2004. At the time, the discussion was complicated for me, because I didn’t think that imagination and persona really captured what I was doing in order to write poems on--rather, by--these women. After the Babaylan conference, I have a better clue on articulating my process. Basically, I’m not pretending to be these two women or imagining what it would be like to be these two women. I’m channeling them….I channeled them. I became them.

Both series of poems were written—and I think this significant—fairly quickly. I always felt like I was in a fever when I wrote both series, quite often looking around my immediate environs for words that I could lift (e.g. from what magazines happened to be about) to manifest the energy I was feeling—it was almost as if words couldn’t come quickly enough. Well, my mother (who attended the Babaylan conference with me) explained just a few days ago that when anitos speak to humans, the humans often end up sick in a fever--Mom witnessed several occasions of this in the Philippines. I found that interesting as I often describe "the poem taking over" my hand writing the poem whenever I get in a fevered state of creating poems.

Not necessarily contradicting the above is my understanding, post-Babaylan conference, that I was in those gifted spaces when poems were rushing out easily. That is, I believe I was in what Filipino novelist N.V.M. Gonzalez* called “sacred time and sacred place” where, among other things, creativity runs unfettered. And, given that such is the place of primordial oneness with all creatures in all time, then I was Gabriela Silang when I wrote the Gabriela Silang poems, and likewise with Enheduanna. I wasn’t imagining their personas. At the particular moments of creativity, I was/am them.

And such explains why I was moved at the time to have an old college photo stand-in as the image of these women. The "menage a trois" referenced in the title was not just Gabriela, Enheduanna and the Reader, but Gabriela, Enheduanna and Eileen.

I wasn’t imagining (or re-imagining) Gabriela’s or Enheduanna’s lives. I brought them to the 21st century to be in my lives. In the book, Enheduanna is visiting New York City (as I was during the writing of the book), and Gabriela Silang is living through my everyday life—setting a dining table, doing laundry, walking the streets of San Francisco, etc.—as I was during the writing of the book).

I remember now one conversation with a would-be critic several years ago; she was critical of my approach that seemed to be so focused ultimately on me (no doubt she was reflecting her times which sometimes included what I felt was an often too dogmatic focus on the "I" versus the "non-I"). I wish I had known then about Kapwa, that what I was feeling-knowing then was Kapwa which, as a literary strategy, also encourages the transformation of autobiography into a biography of a “We”. These, too, arose in other books, including POST BLING BLING and The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography, as well as THE BLIND CHATELAINE’S KEYS: Her Biography Through Your Poetics. As regards The Light Sang…, the title is very explicit in manifesting this concept, and THE BLIND CHATELAINE’S KEYS is a book presumably authored by me but where all of the text was written by other people. The conceptual underpinning to these books, however, occurred before I became conscious of the indigenous knowledge/practices that I'm now learning.

I’m not scared to seem crazy as I say all this—because there exists an object that comprises my proof. There is the book, Menage a Trois with the 21st Century. If you wish to check the authenticity of what I’m saying, HAVE AT IT! I stand by the energy that I feel still surfaces from its pages.

And it is energy. To re-indigenize is not, in terms of my engagement with the issue, one of co-opting much of the cultural artifacts of indigenous times (though of course I also enjoy seeing others in colorful gorgeous “tribal” wear); as I was telling Barbara Jane Reyes (whose forthcoming book DIWATA I’m so looking forward to seeing) this week, I won’t be donning tribal garb—I’ll still be dressed in Manhattan black or St. Helena farming wear (the latter being mostly my father’s shirts). It’s about the wholistically-oriented, shared-Life ( kapwa) energy that permeated pre-modernity—it’s about tapping into that energy.

Simon J. Ortiz, in his essay “Song, Poetry and Language,”** says something similar (and remember that indigenous transcends nationalism so that what he says based on indigenous Native American culture can apply when discussing pre-colonial Philippines):
Language is more than just a functional mechanism. It is spiritual energy that is available to all. It includes all of us and is not exclusively in the power of human beings—we are part of that power as human beings. [My emphasis: human beings are only part of that power, that energy…]

Oftentimes, I think we become convinced of the efficiency of our use of language. We begin to read language too casually, thereby taking it for granted, and we forget the sacredness of it. Losing this regard, we become quite careless with how we use and perceive with language. We forget that language beyond the mechanics of it is a spiritual force.

When you regard the sacred nature of language, then you realize that yo are part of it and it is a part of you, and you are not necessarily in control of it, and that if you do control some of it, it is not in your exclusive control. Upon this realization, I think there are all possibilities of expression and perception which become available.

If interested, there are some reviews available on line of Menage a Trois with the 21st Century:

Review by Ric Carfagna, Poetic Inhalation

Review by Dave Johnson, The Asian Reporter

Nicholas Manning's review of The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography also may be of interest; it's published by Cordite and available HERE.

Happy reading...and hopefully, too, Happy Feeling-As-Knowing*!

* The summary of N.V.M. Gonzalez's mythic "sacred time and sacred place", as well as the discourse on the indigenous Filipino trait of "feeling-as-knowing" are from KAPWA: THE SELF IN THE OTHER—WORLDVIEWS AND LIFESTYLES OF FILIPINO CULTURE-BEARERS by Katrin De Guia (Anvil Publishing, Pasig City, 2005)

** in
Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance, Edited by Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez and Evelina Zuni Lucero (University of New Mexico Press, Alburquerque, NM, 2009)

Friday, April 23, 2010


This is my first attempt to contextualize poems and poetry acts within the framework of Filipino core values or indigenous values. As a newbie to IKSP( Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices), I’m starting out by locating my work (I chose mine as I'm the least likely victim to complain at this approach which I'm forming as I'm doing/experimenting) through the help of Katrin De Guia’s Kapwa: The Self in the Other. I'm referencing Katrin's book because it’s the first book I’m reading on these issues after the Babaylan Conference widened my eyes inward. Other books, perhaps more primary sources, exist and I hope to share my read of them someday in this blog. I also long have walked with Leny M. Strobel but, with hindsight, can see that I wasn’t ready to really hear/understand all the lessons she’d been gifting through the years—perhaps another one of the messengers of the Babaylan anitos that I’ve ignored.

What this after-the-fact theorizing allows me to do is to explore IKSP on work I’d done prior to being consciously aware of indigenous values—I like this position today as I’m curious, too, on the strength of (my) blood memory. My first exercise in this series, for example, theorizes the implication of a conference performance I gave that concluded with me sharing a fart* with the audience. In my analysis below, my use of IKSP terms is possible only after reading several books after the conference—in other words, theory follows practice (as I usually prefer to be the case in poetry- or art-making).

I also am using my own poetry work as a laboratory for developing indigenous criticism, not because I want to aggrandize myself (though I don’t deny that my ego may find such to be gratifying). I’m undergoing this exercise, too, because I’d like to create a book-length project of indigenous criticism on Filipino poetry in the diaspora (I just finished a draft on another poet’s work, and if I feel it appropriate, plan to see it published in the next issue of
Galatea Resurrects: A Poetry Engagement), and I felt it best to make early errors on myself rather than others. I think it apt that I learn indigenous criticism by doing it--experientiality is an IKSP practice, yah?

Bahala Na. And as I’ve often blathered in the past as a poetics statement: Let’s see what happens!


Babaylan Poetics is a community-oriented poetics. It doesn’t try to avoid the personal “I” (as with some styles of Western contemporary poetry). It tries to make the “I” a “We” to reflect Kapwa—an indigenous value that’s been called the “Shared Self, the "Self in the Other," or the “Shared Life.”

During the Babaylan Conference (April 17-18, 2010), a book launch also was held for BABAYLAN: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous, edited by Leny Mendoza Strobel. As one of the contributors to the anthology (with the essay “Dawac/Action: A Babaylan Poetics”), I was asked for a five-minute presentation. I thought about reading a poem, or an excerpt from my anthology essay. Instead, I decided to let how the conference unfolded dictate what would become my presentation. The conference took place over two days, and the book launch was scheduled towards the end of Sunday, the second day—the timing, I thought, would allow me to experience enough of the conference and then have that experience dictate what I would present.

My approach was intended to reflect Kapwa as “shared identity”—I wanted the presence of conference participants in my presentation. As it turned out, my presentation also would come to reflect several IKSP values and practices (see the ending below).

An hour or so before the book launch, I still wasn’t sure what I would do for my presentation. I formulated its underlying strategy, however, after that Sunday’s morning’s plenary speaker presentation by Virgil J. Mayor Apostol. During his speech, he would come to break up his presentation by involving audience members to create a visual movement metaphor for a point he wanted to make. He asked audience members dressed (primarily) in white or black to come up by the podium. He divided them into two color-based groups, then whispered instructions to them.

Then he began the participatory performance. First, he showed the white-clad participants moving back and forth across the stage in flowing, circular patterns. Then, he asked the black-clad participants to walk back and forth in straight lines, making 90-degree turns when they had to turn. Then, with each group at either end of the stage, he asked them to walk towards each other.

For the black-clad participants, the result was chaos as they often had to break their linear patterns of movement when they intersected with white-clad participants. The result was smoother for the white-clad participants as they were more able to adjust with the flow of action, turning in smoother motions or enlarging/minimizing the shape of the curvatures of their walks.

The lesson was simple and clear: indigenous man behaved with flexibility like the white-clad participants, manifesting a harmony with their environment, versus the linear-thinking modern man. The white-clad participants were also showing the effectiveness of “Bahala na”, an IKSP trait that simplistically also can be summed up as an openness to seeing what happens (rather than attempting to control what will happen) and effectively interacting with what unfolds. Certainly, he noted, a wonderful example of the better effectiveness to going-with-the flow is maneuvering through modern-day Manila traffic....

Apostol’s means of communication also was community-based; he involved others in sharing his points rather than simply lecturing at the audience. Indigenous values are rooted in community.

During his presentation, Apostol also frequently made jokes, reflecting a widespread Filipino tendency and which, in IKSP terms, can be described as “biro” (see below). At one point, he remembered another conference he attended where he had to make a speech after a meal involving much beans. Thus, at that other conference, he occasionally felt the need to “pass gas” and then had to pretend to do a relevant tap-dance by the podium whenever he did so in order to hide the sound of a fart. This would come to inform my own book launch presentation, as I describe below.

The other Conference-sponsored event which would come to be of influence was a performance the prior Saturday evening by musical performing artist Grace Nono. The evening ended with most of the audience dancing in the aisles as well as on stage with her. Again, community was manifested—the stage was shared.

I, however, was one of the very few in the audience who did not dance. I might have hitched a shoulder once or twice, perhaps hiccupped, but I basically remained by my seat (though I did stand instead of remained sitting). What is probably significant, too, is that as a child I loved to dance. I was thoroughly into the disco craze in my teens. I even once took flamenco classes in New York City and, while not being very good, nonetheless was able as a result to write a flamenco book entitled Nota Bene Eiswein. Today, I’m still a major fan of the television show So You Think You Can Dance, while tolerating but nonetheless following Dancing with the Stars. But at the Grace Nono performance, I basically just ... stood.

The audience-integrated performances by Apostol and Nono came to dictate my five minute-presentation during the book launch. Reflecting the recognition of signs when one is located in what Filipino novelist N.V.M. Gonzalez (lauded for his notion of the Filipino as the “mythic man”) called “sacred time and space” where, among other things, creativity is unfettered (Guia, P. 4-5), I realized the significance of my own wardrobe during the conference. That is, the first day when I was scheduled to do a panel presentation on “Babaylan Poetics,” I wore a white outfit. That second day, though, I wore black pants, a pale pink blouse, and a black shawl. My choice of colors had been made prior to hearing Apostol speak and utilize black and white as metaphors (“talinhaga” is the IKSP practice whereby one communicates by metaphor).

Thus, for my book launch presentation, I thought of a performance that would utilize Apostol's and Nono's involvements, including the fart. But I was very nervous about it—how would the audience relate to said … fart? To try to elevate my presentation in case it bombed, I decided to bring one of my poetry books, I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved, and chose this poem to read as my ending
Tell me more of the unending radiance
your eyes discovered when pressed

against the hole into a honeycomb.
Say turquoise. Say my uncut hair

coiling around your eyes. Say berry.
Say your finger circled hard around

my toe. Tell me more of the unending
Radiance erupting when eyes pressed

against honeyed wombs. Say my name.
You don’t know my name? Make it

up. Then say our name. Tell me more
of the unending radiance of honeyed eyes.

I hope it’s a sign of my evolution that I thought to edit the last couplet before presenting it; the original (published) version features the phrase “Say my name” instead of what I now feel** is a better outcome, “Say our name.”

I thought to present the poem with some statement over the radiance of Filipina women and audience members, etcetera etcetera, which I thought would be a nice way to “save” a presentation-gone-awry.

Anyway, I went up to the podium and looked at the audience. I was clad in my second-day conference outfit of black pants, pale pink blouse, and a long black shawl; I made sure to draw the shawl around me so that my body looked encased in black.

There had been several presenters before me and we were ensconsed in the various ways to celebrate the launch of Leny’s latest and marvelous project. Dramatically, I began by announcing (words to the effect of, since I never specifically wrote down a speech),

[insert pause]


Having grabbed much of the audience’s attention, I then went on to explain that I was so SAD because, during the prior evening, while many in the audience were dancing about the auditorium to Grace Nono’s music, I was one of the few just standing there like a dead coconut tree (okay, maybe I didn’t say dead coconut tree—but you get the drift). Twice, I stepped out from behind the audience to illustrate my posture the prior night: in black clothes, I stood there still for a moment, entirely rhythm-less.

Returning to the podium, I then explained that, as inspired by Virgil Apostol’s plenary speech, I would first throw off the black shawl (this metaphor for how modernity had stultified my indigenous soul). With much ma-drama, I shook off my shawl and flung it towards the middle of the stage. Well, it didn’t actually end up in the middle of the stage as it got snagged by one of the tree branches from the art-altar created for the conference by none other than Katrin de Guia, the artist-author of the Kapwa book with which I'd come to spend much time. With hindsight, I now see how the snagging of the shawl physically manifested a connection with this author whose writings have so swiftly become important to me.

Oooops, I thought, even as I felt-heard a few snickers as the snagged shawl made me blanch. But I persevered. I knew most of the audience understood the significance of how I then stood before them in a light-colored outfit. I dramatically announced, “To celebrate this book, I shall now—in my post-black(ened) body, …

The audience erupted in laughter which only rose as I slowly walked out from behind the podium towards the middle of the stage. The hoots and hollers continued as I slowly turned my back to the audience and then, flung both hands up as I farted!

I didn’t apologize to those seated on the front row as, to more laughter and loud applause, I returned to the podium. Clearly, what someone would later call my “theater” was a resounding success. As an aside, this performance would later cause me to be accosted by two beautiful people—a young stud of a man and a woman my age (moithinks I’m a perpetual baket)—who would offer their willingness for a ménage a trois; but I digress…

As I reached the podium, the emcee Perla Daly approached to whisper I had “one second” left. Obviously, I didn’t have time to read a poem, but its role also was made unnecessary by the audience’s positive reception to my … gas. So I ended with the impromptu announcement (which, actually, is frequently tossed about my house whenever someone in the family unexpectedly belches or farts): “I hope that was as good for you as it was for me…”


Well. What happened in terms of my blood memory rising during the Conference? Note that I hadn’t thought about and was mostly ignorant of these practices whose terms first were developed through Sikolohiyang Pilipino, Filipino Psychology (much of it articulated by the work of Virgilio Enriquez). But my book launch presentation would come to manifest them (unconsciously on my part in terms of how I wasn’t creating what I presented from a paradigmatic approach aware of IKSP practices, core values and behavior patterns associated with such values):

Kapwa: shared Self or Shared identity

Pakiramdam: a “shared inner perception” that complements Kapwa and is a participatory event (Guia)

Bahala Na: long misinterpreted as passivity when it actually challenges people to act in their best capacity regarding problematic situations. Involves taking a risk in the face of possible failure and accepting the nature of things. Operates in uncertain and uncharted situations. Improvisational nature. Correlates with fields of chaos and complexities rather than with linear predicitona dn control. (These paraphrased phrases from Guia. Note to self: also see P. 31, 85, 86, 87-88, 102)

Pagkatao: Interconnection

Biro: joking around. Second nature to Filipinos, and is not just kidding around—it’s a playful tendency of teasing and joking acts as a psychological defusing mechanism, e.g. to reduce tension in arguments. A “surface value” reflecting the core values of Kapwa (shared identity or shared Self).

Talinhaga: the use of metaphor to communicate. A link HERE.

There undoubtedly are/were more things going on as I created my impromptu, improvised presentation. But I’ll stop here for now, except to note: I am quite early in articulating the role of indigenous values so feel free to let me know if I mis-use terms.

Cheers….and I hope this paper was “as good for you as it was for me.”

* Did I actually fart or not? I’m not telling. But, everything I do is perfumed….

** "I feel" versus "I think" reflects a long-time tendency that, once, I thought was simply a more modest way of proclaiming something (for example, when one inserts "For me" before presenting an opinion. I now understand that knowing-through-feeling (Guia) is actually an IKSP value.


At the Conference, we also celebrated the book launch with a cake designed to mirror the beautiful cover of the BABAYLAN anthology designed by Perla Daly:

Left to Right: Perla Daley, Lily Mendoza, Venus Herbito, Leny Mendoza, Lissa Romero, Eileen Tabios, Karen Villanueva and Maiana Minahal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010!

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, ... forget the world’s magnificent indifference.
-cited in Aileen Ibardaloza's review of

This blog is one of the effects of having just attended the very resonantly effective Babaylan Conference sponsored by the Center for Babaylan Studies at Sonoma State University, April 17-18, 2010.

Among other things, the Conference--specifically with its focus on Indigenous Continuance*--forced me to finally pay attention to Calls I've been receiving for over a decade now from the Babaylan anitos.** Their calls began early, but their silky ululations started to become discernible to my diaspora-ed mind in the late 1990s when I and Nick Carbo were working to create what would become BABAYLAN: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FILIPINA AND FILIPINA AMERICAN WRITERS, the first international anthology of Filipina writers published in the United States. This anthology was my first introduction to the word "Babaylan". But after the anthology, I confess to not focusing much on these historical/archetypal figures who were community leaders from pre-Spanish Philippine history who served as warriors, teachers, healers and visionaries.

I didn't focus on the Babaylan, but she clearly wanted to dance with me; with hindsight, I see their presence in many poems I've written over the past decade, and specifically note them lurking in poems I wrote as a newbie-poet (as regards the latter, I was very unhappy in my pre-poetry "career" and it was almost as if the anitos converged robustly and enthusiastically--as if they'd long been waiting for my move--as soon as I quit banking for poetry).

Among other signs is, within my home, a separate building that I was moved years ago to name "Babaylan Lodge". The lodge was intended to be my writing studio. Having said that, I've ignored its existence for years and basically office-d from my laptop (the latter making sense to me since I've long thought--or desired-- that as a poet, "Moi local is global" ). After the Babaylan Conference, I can see that it's time to draw aside the curtains to the lodge and let in the light... that it's time to create what I thought I'd do "some day" -- a physical space extending how my family moved to where we live to get back to the land. After the Babaylan Conference, I can see that it's time to make manifest that sculpture I've long seen-by-feeling its presence on the mountain: the tip of a shoulder and the face of a long-haired woman rising from the hilltop behind my writing lodge.

But even as the Babaylan danced with me -- and I do mean that literally, including with someone I would consider to be a modern-day Babaylan, Pearl Ubungen, with whom I did a poetry-dance collaboration for a book launch of the Babaylan anthology -- I didn't focus on the Babaylan's face: I didn't look into her eyes.

It wasn't until the Conference that I learned that the Babaylan long had ignored my indifference and continued looking at me, dancing with me even as I remained unmoved (Conference attendees might recall my inability to dance). Through the Conference, I discovered that I had been practicing "Babaylan poetics" all along (upcoming posts on poems will provide examples). But I did not learn the tools to label my poems and related activities as such, until I discovered these three publications through the Conference, whose importance include the means for theorizing (and some of us have learned the hard and heart's way, haven't we, that theory can be more empowering than, uh, boring):

THE SHARED VOICE: CHANTED AND SPOKEN NARRATIVES FORM THE PHILIPPINES by Grace Nono, with Mendung Sabal,Henio Estakio, Baryus Gawid, Salvador Placido, Sarah Mandegan, Gadu Ugal, Florencia Havana, Sindao Banisil, Elena Rivera-Mirano (Anvil Publishing and Fundacion Santiago, Pasig City, 2010)

BABAYLAN: FILIPINOS AND THE CALL OF THE INDIGENOUS edited by Leny M. Strobel (Ateneo de Davao University Research and Publications Office, Davao, 2010)

I actually don't mind discovering the theory belatedly--in art, I believe theory comes after the making of the art. But now that my mind has been opened up, I also realize that the timing is perfect -- I needed to write what poems and poetry acts I've created to date before I could name my poetry practice with "Babaylan Poetics."***

Indeed, the above three books moved me to read once more--with more enlightened eyes than when I first read--decolonialism poet-scholar Leny Strobel's radiant book, A BOOK OF HER OWN: WORDS AND IMAGES TO HONOR THE BABAYLAN. Leny's own journey has been inspirational for my own.

It should be noted, by the way, that I am not calling myself a "Babaylan"; I am only practicing "Babaylan Poetics".

I think the acceptance of what I do as Babaylan Poetics is a turning point of sorts. I'm a prolific poet who just released my first Selected Poems Project and 18th poetry book, THE THORN ROSARY. What my publication record hides (partly because publication occurs with time lags from the initial writings) is how I've not been creating many poems for the past few years. I've long felt that what I'd created to date also has been preparation for something else. After the Babaylan Conference, I think I'm now ready to see what that something else will be.

This is my diary then towards something else. Perhaps you will join my dance to make it what it should be: our dance. If it needs to be said, this invitation is not just for Filipinos. Indigineity is not tribalism or nationalism. And we are all indigenous.

Hopefully you will help create Our Dance because the Poem cannot mature without you, Dear Reader. Another way to express my hope for your presence is this Haptic drawing that poet-artist-critic Jean Vengua created while she was listening to my presentation at the Babaylan Conference:

Thank you Jean. And what I most appreciate is clearly the open-ended nature of the drawing, how that line at the bottom of the page displays the energy to continue past the constraints of the page. Its life beyond the page results in the involvement of its audience (how the audience might see/interpret the image)--a metaphor for a poetics scaffolding for poems I desire to create. Interestingly, I think that Jean drew that line (please correct me if I'm wrong) in specific response to a performance I did during my presentation when I started ripping pages from a poetry book (NOTA BENE EISWEIN) to hand out to the audience. As I handed out the pages, I noted (from my presentation notes):
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—say, 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 or its audience.

In other words,
In Poetry, I cannot exist without You.

Though I've long believed in the above statement, it's only through the Babaylan Conference that I am finally able to identify this poetics as pure Kapwa***.

* I derive this from the title of 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) that I was synchronistically moved to begin reading the evening after I returned home from the Babaylan Conference.

** There's a significance to sensing the Babaylans' presence by specifically feeling their spirit. Probably relevant is something Grace Nono said during a Q&A period--that, as "not a Babaylan but a Babaylan-inspired artist" she serves to be the vessel for that same
something that channeled their way into the oralists from whom she first learned in order to make her contemporary chants.

*** On May 7, 2010, I will be doing a presentation on "empire", including "communities" at Small Press Traffic, San Francisco. Much of this presentation will revolve around Babaylan Poetics. Naturally,
You are invited!

Monday, April 19, 2010


BABAYLAN POETICS' Table of Contents
(in chronological order)
April 20, 2010

Theorizing A Fart
April 23, 2010

Vessel-izing "Mythic Spirit" Vs. "Persona Poems"
April 25, 2010

Returning to Babaylan Lodge
April 26, 2010

Revisiting Editor's Introduction to Babaylan Anthology
April 27, 2010

P.S. Re. Forming Indigenous Literary Criticism
April 27, 2010

Effectiveness, Not Co-Optation
April 28, 2010

I Got A Complaint Over My Body
April 29, 2010

A Focus on Poet-Editors, With A Historic Introduction
April 30, 2010

Kapwa, "Shared Life", In Action...Through a Poem!
(Alternative Title: Why I Tear Up Poetry Books!)
May 1, 2010

Babaylan Lodge, Part II
May 5, 2010

Galatea Resurrects...Towards Something Else
May 6, 2010

Empire Vs. Community--Older Child Adoption
May 7, 2010

"Beyond The Frame"
May 11, 2010

Mom's Forthcoming and First Book!
May 18, 2010

...Making Their Way Out To The World...Which Had Never Left Their Words...
June 5, 2010

Poets for Living Waters
June 12, 2010

Mom's First Reading
Aug. 1, 2010

Babaylanism at Our Own Voice
Aug. 27, 2010

A Babaylan-ic Perspective on Reviewing The Thorn Rosary
October 8, 2010

Before Eco-Poetics,
October 10, 2010

November 5, 2010

February 6, 2011

April 2, 2011

December 24, 2011

May 9, 2013