Monday, December 17, 2012

I've been tagged in a blog chain called the Next Big Thing by fellow writer Zoe Strachan (Website: Zoe is a novelist, short story writer, librettist and playwright. Her most recent novel is Ever Fallen in Love (

Zoe has asked me to answer some questions about my latest book, and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing. So here I go, reviving this blog as well!

What is the title of your book?

Ruins and Reconstructions (Anvil Publishing, 2011)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The impetus for this collection is largely the flooding brought about by typhoon Ketsana in Metro Manila in 2009 and the sudden demise of my mother in 2010.

What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

It’s hard to think of a movie adaptation/rendition for a poetry collection. Haha.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ruins and Reconstructions explores, in four lyric sections, both the wreckage and needed recovery of a persona trying to come to terms with phenomenal, conceptual, and dialectal concerns in contemporary poetry in English. It has a patina of the postcolonial as well.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

It is published by Anvil Publishing, one of the biggest publishing houses in the Philippines. So, yeah, it’s not self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about two and a half years to finish the collection. But it began with a suite of eight to ten poems. The book was finally realized during a residency in Bellagio, Italy courtesy of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

What other books would you compare this collection to within your genre?

It’s hard to compare, content-wise, as the book is quite thematic and driven mainly by the phenomenal. But I guess some of my influences in terms of linguistic and stylistic conceits are Robert Hass, John Ashbery, and Dean Young.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Ruins and Reconstructions was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards.

Here are five authors I've tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing:

•In London, fictionist and teacher Tom Sykes

•In Singapore, editor and poet Alvin Pang

•Translator, editor, and fellow Filipino poet Marne Kilates

•In South Africa, narrative non-fictionist Kevin Bloom

•In New York, poet and fictionist Eric Gamalinda

Friday, May 11, 2012

It is pain

— Jarrell

In another

story, I don’t
set anything

up. A field

over a wall,
expands. A cow,

of course. More
cows grazing.

Pastoral comes
to mind. A stage.

Maybe uncertainty
is the principle behind

myopia. How can
you not love

the eye? Demise
inside a mug because

we are indoors.
Ants drowned and

there’s no more milk.
Let’s go back

(to the meadow
and watch how

this turns) out.
That side where

almost everything’s
green. A problem

of focus: past or
pass. Shift since

evening assembled
and even though

the view’s now
askew, balance is

timed. Study
that recent cut

on your finger,
with no lighting.

What you
will see

is not the knife
gash blood

nor whatever
else led to

this line.
Mind pain

and perhaps
gain empathy

and other
words that graze

on the one

hand. Feel pain
is, on the other,

exact. So long
as you don’t plan

it, misplace it,
it is there.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Does it Matter

Does it matter. The evening is spent.
A clutter that does not want any sort
of order. A rocking chair

and no wind, no one. Instead a creak
waits, suffers. Nobody.
And freely the arc

sits still upon this contact point.
We can agree on some kind
of settlement.
Why bother

the rust. It has the color
of copper. Day restores
the swing. In

capacity a shelter. In strain
the line learns taut,
gains momentum, speeds up

into population. Begin with
a raindrop. Pursue it
with commotion. Share

teeming under exposure. For now
a teeter, dew on a leaf:
Light too-present to neglect

that slope. Stark like a cup,
a cling. How frail the stalk must feel
against all this breaking.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Vox Populi

donec humanae voces nobis vigilemus, et nos mergimus

Implicate is a useless word. You are alone with loss, and with
out it. Try not to veer your eyes away from names and numb
ers on tombstones. No resisting it— Erasure is tedious, an infest
ation in the mind. The only claim the world allows you is that one
day, whether you expect it or not, an encumbrance will knock on
the door. A brittle phenomenon, a hold on your body. How much click
ing must it take to understand that you will hurt in so many joints?
A poet dead, pet, relatives, love. Damn it all: Love holds no hold
on the ego. It dislocates, dislodges. Either you give in first or an
other beats you to it. No one should declare he or she is dying. Fill
now, all you playing dead. Donate not to the pretense, but to
the blind. Stare at the budding flower and watch how remiss, how pre
dictable tendency is. Count the countless, the repetitive nuan
ances. Permanence will outlive all of us. Fulfill the book, a guy in dread
locks offered. Before succumbing to cancer. Intelligence, you must
be shuddering always in the presence of wisdom. You have been
betrayed from the start, by that fear of laying it all to rest. Fatal
ism, too, is learned, like Latin. Hear the drumfill, feel it in pace.

Marley, 1981 †

MCA, 2012 †

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

"Reinventing The Lyric"

An Octave Above Thunder

“The poet’s voice is heard a long way off. . .”
— Marina Tsvetaeyeva


Improbable, the voice of the poet:
it comes, as the Russian genius said,
from a long way off. Her tone, they
say, is untranslatable. The words are
translatable, but not the timbre
of her voice, her word-play—

not the blackness of her dawn,
her church bells. Her child’s fever
pealing through the Russian, resonate.
I sit at the stone gate, here by the drifting
benches of snow, just past the wind’s stumbling
pursuers, the daughter’s fixed gaze—

a rope over the rafter. Heard her voice,
may we each kneel in that swaying shadow?
Bell clapper, scythe, a military salute
unimaginable at the empty well. Let us
praise a long way off, the long shadows
in a poet’s voice. Each line, she said
(up over the rafter)—translated,

was intonation. Then, silence.
(The line taut.) Then what we still
gather, like wolves, from the swaying
distance, improbable, untranslatable:
Exile, lilac, dichtung, lucifer,
bonjour, sushchnost, blood
stumbling in the heart:
its dazzling

repetitive once, like thunder.

Carol Muske

In a longish essay that recently came out in The Boston Review (May/June 2012) titled "Poetry on The Brink," Marjorie Perloff argues that the term “appropriation” is most apropos when describing the current rise of Conceptualism in Contemporary American Poetry. And she wasn’t just implying that it’s the next wave; she’s actually championing it as the way to go toward “Reinventing the Lyric”(her words).

Perloff is unabashedly non-deferential if not outright sarcastic as she lays down her argument, the thesis of which is that there are too many poets nowadays, and there’s an “extraordinary uniformity” among poems that fit the mold of the prize-winner, the publishable, the “well-crafted”.

She expounds:

"…[T]he poems you will read in American Poetry Review or similar publications will,
with rare exceptions, exhibit the following characteristics: 1) irregular lines of free
verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the
Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional
and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor
(the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany,
usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly
sensitive person who really feels the pain…”

Perloff goes on to describe the inevitable compromise of Language poetry toward re-definition, so as to assimilate diversity and become more politically-correct in the late ‘90s, while still maintaining its staunch stance against the “delicate lyric of self-expression and direct speech” and, conversely, its demand for “an end to transparency and straightforward reference in favor of ellipsis, indirection, and intellectual-political engagement.”

Before lambasting Rita Dove (the figurehead in her tirade), she offers a gentle, almost motherly scolding of Cole Swensen and David St. John for their “safe” definition of Hybrid poetry in an anthology back in 2009. She underscores their claim of Hybrid poetry’s “avant-garde mandate” as, to paraphrase, that would be akin to joining the so-called bandwagon that is, well, the modern canon.

Perloff’s main course here is The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) and Rita Dove’s poetics and selection process. Perloff summons that infamous Harold Bloom vs. Adrianne Rich clash and wastes no time dissecting Dove’s aesthetic valuations and starts comparing notes. She reiterates her disdain of the current paradigm of the so-called contemporary lyric: “observation—triggering memory—insight” in certain poems from the Penguin anthology (including Pulitzer-winner Natasha Trethewey’s) before proceeding to offer examples of what one would surmise as her idea of the reinvented lyric: poems by Susan Howe and Srikanth Reddy. She namedrops other favorites (Christian Bök, among others), before concluding with a poem by Peter Gizzi and this claim: “increasingly, the ‘true voice of feeling’ is the one you discover with an inspired, if sometimes accidental click.”

“Uncreative writing,” posits Perloff, as though she were coining the phrase (it's in fact Kenneth Goldsmith's). Her contention should make sense, if only it doesn’t assume a plethora of First World “donnés”. To name a few: access to the web, an audience well-read on the conventions and new writing, a not just literate but English-undaunted readership. Contention is always the advantage of academics and the academized, and is a condition in itself. Is this kind of appropriation appropriate in a post-colonial milieu? Moreover, is it even applicable here?

An option in MS Word that’s quite alluring is the strike-through. Perloff leans toward this omission giddily. Dove will react to her and "strike back" the way she has to Vendler, of course, and that’s her prerogative. This is exciting on the one hand. Yet the error of erasure, lack of inclusion, or better yet of involvement may not be as necessary in these shores as it is in the minds of the directly affected/concerned. This whole issue has less to do with the merit of the included than the easily discerned demerit Perloff doles out to the editor and the publishing house. Dove is, as expected, now donning the armor of the besieged critic, not the editor. Many want to see how this shebang plays out. How many is many, though?

Muske, in the 10th and last section from the octave above, appropriates the revered Russian poet, allows the "epigraphed" line to inform her own without omission, sans the embellishment, devoid of the agenda we could call matricide. Maybe this is anti-intellectualizing. Maybe this is, instead, approximation— that which does not collide with the original text but enriches/layers it. Profounds instead of confounds.

Yes, echo always bounces back to its origin: somehow warped, slightly altered, but never outright changed. Otherwise we're left with yet another fool on the hill shouting and cursing at the world, waiting for answers that would not come. Or, so in love with the sound of his own voice, he forgets where he stands and his fall is heard a long way off.

Monday, April 30, 2012


Maybe we put too much faith in the heart
when any blockhead knows everything falls apart,
turn to mush the storied administrations of the brain,
there's no statue that won't eventually dissolve in rain,
the continents are in pieces, the empire a mess,
the fleece full of holes, the rivers distressed.
Not what we promised and swore, didn't and did,
not the terrible things that happened to us as kids
makes much diff. We're the types
who bring parasols to gunfights.
A dove backfires, a dump truck coos,
everything's out of whack since I lost you.
Worse than a job chicken-processing,
worse than a courtroom of the deaf addressing,
like trying on a shirt with the pins still in it,
listen to the heart you'll soon regret it.
The photos in their oval frames bestow blame and frown,
whatever you used all your might to heave into the air is due to
come crashing down.
Not the hatchet job you wanted but the one you took,
you stagger from the feast for a look
at a polluted brook, rather polluted yourself.
You feel like something fallen from its shelf,
a yo-yo with a busted string, chipped ceramic elf
because all you can think about is not there,
the eyes not there, not there's hair.
You still don't know what to say
and keep saying it, still trying to give your hiding place away
making a silly commotion with the leaves
of the tree you're falling from. But once that paper's creased,
there's no uncreasing. Once the numbers are deleted,
there's nothing to add up. So time for the tarry slumber
of so what who cares what's it matter,
what should be open closes, should be soft hardens
while the next set of fools scampers into the puzzle garden
detonating with laughter.

Dean Young

Fall Higher
Copper Canyon Press, 2011


Young Thinking
After Dean Young’s “Madrigal”

All the new thinking/was about collision. Still is, Dean.
All these ideas being tossed around here and there, I mean.
One goes to bank and another robs a school
because someone cancelled the fair in Scarborough shoal.
Stuck at half-contempt the moon wouldn’t round,
children keep playing tag during witching hour, a hound
snubs all excess baggage.
This is the age
of the nincompoop, doggerel, sassy pies
and we dare not venture out too long and lie
under this sun as missile debris can hold an entire court.
The cows have a slight case of the weather, is all. Man the ports,
under the flu one cuckoo is nesting, intolerant
of the maximum, of the heat, with a gun.
What has Mersault done to become a faux?
Camus? Come on, Michelle, let’s stop discussing Fouc
ault and just do wit. Don’t be a stranger.
Deride the cargo. De man the boats. Let bloom tower
over the net-picked fish. Anyway, you gotta love
the 22-year-old who gave Dean his new beat. Too young,
Dean would reason out, for loss, did not live long
enough to see him tickled pink while revising Hass with have
heart soon, does not resemble old thinking.
The misspelled word was Meditation.
He is re-typing:
C as in Collide. C in Cure (i.e., Medication).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Exit Wounds

if we insist on this idea of a force-
field a stasis an empire inside
the navel and waterfall trapped
within walls which keep bridges
spires a starfish what good is a pin-
prick what is science? a snow-
globe teeters anticipates wobble
somewhere a child weeps and no-
body hears this distress he hides
inside the cabinet a fragment
a breath discovers this act
and out comes artifice arti-
fact the air inspecting the mess
stirs itself into the animated cut

to the next scene a bare foot
close-up shard being extracted a-
side profile shot half of a sole
blood trickle quickly camera pans
to the table so abandonment is up-
played nothing on the mantle but
crust could be spotted prune
parse syllabicate all the world's re-
enacment we are playing catch
we couldn't grasp the silence
the siren drifts away yet again
and again that saturated could-
n't be saved couldn't be saved
Grandmother Mother curtain call