Introduction to & (Ampersand), The Creative Writing Journal of the UP English Department
Volume 1, 2008
We live, think, and write in a place where there are more than enough reasons not to think, not to write. Where we are, there are hardly any publication venues for creative work, and barely any readers for the work that does see print. There are more pressing matters at hand, say, hunger, shelter. Where we are, no less than our generals, officials responsible for our security, can perform the perplexing, amateurish antic of packing billions of euros in their check-in luggage, banking on blockheads like themselves in other shores to miss the obscene display of corruption. This, while those of us who teach in UP obsessively calculate the photocopying costs, at fifty centavos a page, of the readings we require, so oddly apologetic we are, at times, for the volume of required texts, so conscious we are of the price tag that comes with knowledge. Surely, the students can read, but can they afford the (photocopied) readings? Where we are, reproductive health, a right and non-issue in many other places, remains the subject of heated debate. If we still have to ask, why reproductive health, then there is no way discussions in response to the question, why write, can amount to anything encouraging.
And yet, we think, and yet, we write. Despite conditions to the contrary, vibrant conversations continue to take place in the creative writing classes of UP, and exciting work continues to be produced by its students. This, if not the premise, is at the very least the hope of &. In providing a venue for student writing to see print, & celebrates the experiments to come out of the hospitable, illuminating laboratory of ideas that is the classroom—hard evidence of fruitful conversations which ought to continue well beyond the limits of the classroom and the time frame of a semester. The pages you are about to read house an impressive range of student writing, which, in its valiant attempt to rejuvenate and re-imagine what it is to write creatively, ought to reach an audience beyond one professor and a handful of peers.
There is no denying the drudgery that also infects teaching, writing, and studying—tepid lectures, uninspired drafts, one-track minds, and dead air are all too common occurrences that they hardly need documentation. But once in a while—often enough, I’d like to think—the classroom becomes aswarm with possibilities, its residents alert, awake, and engaged. Once in a while, a student, struck by an idea or dilemma tossed in discussion, takes it home, mulls it over, and turns it into a poem, or story, or essay. Once in a while, in workshop, we find ourselves in the presence of a draft that offers a startling thought, or method, or turn of phrase. And we are only too happy to take a break from the blasé attitude that is practically a religion to many of us, and bask in the thrilling encounter with something new.
&, of course, like many things born of good intentions, cannot save the world from itself, but, if one can at the very least be given credit for trajectory, it is a whiff of a hint of a step in that direction. What it can do, after all, is provide a space where the imagination—often the first to go in the face of poverty, corruption, plain mediocrity, and sheer market-driven mentality—can be cultivated, cherished, and championed. It was William Carlos Williams who said, “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there,” with which the journal agrees. As I write this I am snickering at my own loftiness—so much drama, todo emote nga naman—but given our context, where spaces for the imagination are few and far between, a little flourish in celebrating them when they do come along cannot be excessive.
I am particularly excited about & precisely because it casts its attention on students of writing, whom I presume to be the most reckless and relentless in their pursuit of the imagination. The idea is to collect the best work of the year written by both undergraduate and graduate students in the courses of the UP Creative Writing Program. The process of gathering material for the journal is fairly straightforward. Each year, a faculty member of the CW Program takes on the role of issue editor. All other CW faculty members are expected to submit copies of the best work in their classes to the issue editor, who selects the material for inclusion in the journal and writes an introduction. Each issue, in effect, becomes a version of the year in writing in UP, and each introduction a document of what CW teachers are thinking of, interested in, or on the lookout for, when they read and write.
In “Period Piece,” among many things that Marc Gaba asserts is that there is nothing passive about anthologizing, and that the unfair hand dealt the notion of the “best” when putting together an anthology occurs when there is hardly anything said to qualify it. And so, as the editor of the maiden issue of &, I have a couple of things to say about the pages you are about to read. It being the first issue, it covers the years 2006 to 2008. For this issue, also, I chose to privilege the youngest of the young and limited myself to the work of undergraduates. Because &, fortunately, is somewhat exempt from the demands of the market, in the tug-of-war between catering to and creating audiences, the journal can tip itself more easily towards the latter, and for this reason, I chose to include many pieces that may have a hard time getting placed in the few existing venues that print creative work.
I am interested in adventurous, hard-to-classify, provocative writing. I am always on the lookout for writing that is unafraid to make claims, meticulous in its pursuit of ideas, imaginative in its treatment of genre, and unwavering in its exuberance. I like work that takes risks and isn’t so keen on maintaining a polished and poised veneer, consequently exhibiting some kind of urgency. I favor work written with an integrity that erases the division between form and content, style and substance; in other words, work that eludes paraphrase. In particular, I gravitate towards process-based, page-oriented work, i.e., work that actively exposes the process of its making and deliberately engages the page in its unfolding. Thus, there are a number of pieces in this issue that are meant to be looked at as much as read. They wrestle with matters of the said and unsaid, space and silence, fragment and fissure, finished and unfinished, version and copy, true and false. They are also about sex and violence, politics and history, humor and decadence, spacing out and ennui. These statements, of course, are crude summaries.
Inspired by the term “potential literature” borrowed from the Oulipo, I am also interested in the appropriation of nonliterary forms and ephemera into literature. In this issue you will find lists, an entire essay made of graffiti found all over UP, an exam, a dictionary entry, a story that is a draft of a story. In employing these forms, the imagination is made to come out and play, something so easy forget when we write and emote and take ourselves oh-so-seriously. There is much delight in experimentation here, much playfulness in the act of trying things out. To animate a word, to capture another lilt in thought, to trigger a shift in perception—these achievements are most surprising when accomplished by unlikely suspects.
That the journal is named after a conjunction—and not the conjunction itself but its symbol—is promise and proof of its commitment to the ongoing, the in-progress, the middle of, where minds are always thinking, always on the move, where the imagination is ever in flux. And now, a couple of thank-yous for making this possible: to Jing Hidalgo and Butch Dalisay, whose Natatanging Guro Awards from the Chancellor have provided the life source, i.e., funding, of the journal; and to friends of the CW program—Kokoy Guevara for suggesting the journal name, Adam David for the generous assistance in preparing the texts—especially those with graphics and other effects—for publication, and to book historian extraordinaire May Jurilla, for patiently working on the cover and layout of the book.
And? Of course, there is always more to say. On with the conversation.