K

It occurred to me several times in the last few months to get in touch with K–when I moved back home in May it crossed my mind that maybe I should let him know I was back; on my way to a friend’s lecture in Makati in July I thought of inviting him to join me; one early morning when I was in La Salle, where he taught, to do a workshop, I remembered, and promptly forgot, to message him and ask if he was in the area; as I prepared the new edition of my first book, launched in mid-November, I finally looked up the essay he had written about it and again, for a second there, I wondered how he was and made a note to text him soon. K was one of those rare creatures not on Facebook, and that had somehow made him infinitely harder to get a hold of. In the last couple of years I was in touch with him sporadically by email and text, and occasionally, while I was living in the US, through his friends whom he sent my way. In Albany one of the first people I met for coffee was a friend of his from graduate school in Iowa. At a party in his house a month or so later, he showed me K’s winter coat, which K had asked him to transport to Albany and give to me (we decided that he should keep the coat because, well, K and I were clearly not the same size). In NYC, after listening to Cole Swensen lecture, I went up to her to have my book signed and mentioned that my friends back home in the Philippines loved her work. “Oh, do you know K?” she asked (he was her student). “Yes!” I said, most probably too enthusiastically (I get either really reticent or really wired when starstruck), but then Swensen seemed pretty thrilled too, telling me how lovely he was, that I should say hi to him for her, that she owes the title to one of her poems in her latest book to him, that she thanked him for it in the book.

I became friends with K because of friends we had in common, people who read and write poetry. Like some of these friends, K’s appetite for poetry was insatiable, his devotion to it the literary equivalent of religious. He committed his mind and life to it. He was intense. His poetry (here and here) is difficult to read; he is unafraid to be difficult. His critical work (herehere, and here) demonstrates how exacting and incisive he is as a reader. The one year we happened to teach in the same department, I was exposed (at times subjected) on a regular basis to his love for abstractions, for big ideas, for critical jargon. But I also got to know his silliness, his penchant for making weird faces, his general chumminess. He was privy to my secret guilty pleasure of watching Grey’s Anatomy and took it upon himself to supply me with a newly downloaded episode each week. He gave me a headband with devil horns equipped with a switch that could make the horns light up, which he suggested I wear to class after enduring another one of my rants about students not taking my deadlines seriously. We took a beginner’s French course together that summer, and it was funny to watch him confidently mangle his way through daily recitation despite obviously not having done the reading for class. I don’t know how many times he drove me home that year even though where I lived wasn’t exactly on his way.

Among my stash from K is Joseph Albers’s Interaction of Color (a book I’d been wanting to have after a weirdly emotional encounter with Albers’s squares in a museum), a Booksale find he bestowed on me before he left for Iowa, and a copy of Lydia Davis’s Samuel Johnson is Indignant, which he had the author inscribe for me when she visited his campus. (I would later study with Davis and enjoy the privilege of her comments scribbled on my drafts, which makes K’s gift prescient in the loveliest possible way.) He put a lot of music on my itunes, some of which I haven’t even properly listened to, but there are two albums I’ve listened to intently and have loved since, St. Vincent’s Marry Me and Challengers by the New Pornographers. I adore those albums so much they are two of the maybe seven or eight vinyls I own. Only now do I remember it was K who loaded those albums on my itunes, figuring I would like them.

I haven’t said hello to K in ages, and that is something to regret. I’m also no good at goodbyes, so no goodbyes. In the meantime I’ll listen to St. Vincent stuff her suitcase full of blues. See you around, K.

 

Hong Kong Postcard, 3

It’s been almost a year since I was in Hong Kong for a poetry festival, an opportunity I was eager to accept at the time because it meant I could meet up with A (yup, shamelessly shallow). We were still doing the long distance thing then, so a free trip for me to anywhere near the Philippines and a cheap flight for A to HK was a treat so random and amazing and undeserved (the invitation reached me by way of academia.edu–I didn’t even know people could reach you that way) that we just had to ask, how could this even happen? And so meet up in Hong Kong we did, and though the question was initially rhetorical, we started to really want to know why it happened. It took being there for me to realize the extent of my luck: I was in the same poetry festival as the Chilean poet Raul Zurita, I was in a poetry festival organized by the Chinese poet Bei Dao, I was in the presence of poets I had only read about in anthologies of avant-garde poetries and histories of art activism. What was I doing there?

I was star-struck and struck dumb almost the entire week of the festival. I had a case of timidity so severe that even A, who can be reticent himself, started to nudge me to “talk to people.” I kept wondering why I was there but was too embarrassed to ask the staff. I coordinated my trip by email with two women who were as cheery and friendly in person as they were by email, and still I was shy to ask them. Part of me figured that someone back home (the chair of the English Department? a writer friend?) recommended me to attend the festival and didn’t bother to let me know about it. I have mixed feelings about access to opportunities simply because you’re “in the loop”; I think this is also why for the longest time I didn’t bother to find out why I got invited. I didn’t want confirm that I was there because I knew or was friends with whoever. That would mean owning up to my mercenary ways.

Anyway. One night less than halfway through the festival, I unexpectedly got my answer. After attending a poetry reading, A and I stood self-consciously among the festival crowd outside the hall to wait for the bus that would take us back to the hotel. A woman caught my eye. Big smile. Clearly Pinay. She approached us and greeted me warmly, saying that I must be the Filipina participant in the festival. She squeezed my arm, told me I was pretty, said she was so happy to see me. I laughed, switched to Filipino, naku salamat, I said. Pinay ka, I said. Oo, yaya ako ng anak ni Bei Dao, she said. 

Our short conversation that night revealed this: Auntie Lorenza, chatting with Bei Dao one day while he was planning for the festival, told him he should invite a Filipino. Bei Dao, later on, got back to her with possibilities. He showed her a male writer (I guess they were Googling?), and she said, sana babae. He considered a female writer from the US, and she said sana hindi Fil-Am. Sana yung laking Pinas talaga. Somewhere along the way, Bei Dao ended up with me, and Auntie Lorenza approved. So that was my recommendation. Random, amazing, and totally undeserved. 

There Is No Emergency

I have a new poem in the latest Kritika Kultura. You can download it here. It is, for now, the central poem of the book I’m working on, There Is No Emergency, which I hope to finish before the year ends.

Periodic Table, 2

I periodically tell myself that a clear-cut work space would transform me into the productive person I would like to be, which I think is my roundabout way of justifying my perpetually subpar performance in the arena of productivity: I never have enough room, therefore, I can never assign a corner devoted solely to work, therefore, I can never be focused enough to achieve my full productivity potential. Yes, that is what I tell myself in the face of clocking in x number of hours re-watching Parks and Rec or marathon-ing Masters of Sex or getting sucked into the vortex that is 1Q84 (pahinga lang naman sandali from all the theory!) or, in the case of the last two weeks, getting well (kasi mahirap nga naman mag-concentrate kapag ubo ka nang ubo).

These days my designated work table is also the dining table. Because we have more books than shelves to put them in, the dining table also doubles (triples?) as a shelf, and because the dining table is also in between the “kitchen” (a.k.a. a corner with a counter, sink, and cabinets) and the stove (which has to be by the window so isn’t located in the “kitchen”), the dining table inevitably also functions as the space for cooking preparations–an activity I have, for most of my life, avoided, but am now beginning to try out (I’ve so far cooked simple pasta dishes and monggo, all given the highest ratings by A., who is clearly not a picky eater). Oh, and we also eat our meals at the dining table, and the cat fairly regularly parks its butt on it too, just because. Somewhere amid all that action is a dissertation waiting to happen (I hope).

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Window Treatment, 7

Have view, will write.

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Photos by A.

Half a Year in Fifteen Sentences (Sort of)

Wrote exam one (methods) on theories of aesthetic autonomy vis-à-vis postcolonial literary politics (no. of pages: 25 / no. of theorists: 5 [T. Adorno, J. Rancière, P. Casanova, R. Schwarz, E. Said, C. Dworkin] / no. of hours allotted to write exam: 72 / no. of hours spent worrying about/writing exam: 60).

Blanked out during workweek, braced self for coming weekend and second exam.

Wrote exam two (literature) on relevance of “avant-garde” as aesthetic category to study of poetries from historical avant-gardes to present (no. of pages: 28 / no. of theorists: 3 [P. Burger, M. Calinescu, H. Foster] / no. of poets: 3 [G. Stein, R. Zurita, T. Hak Kyung Cha] / no. of hours allotted to write exam: 72 / no. of hours spent worrying about/writing exam: 57).

Received package from J. Wertz (signed book! signed art!) from A. as reward for enduring written exams.

Passed written exams, celebrated good news over beers in coffee shop, spent weekend expressing more happiness at MoCCA Arts Fest (highlights: panel of A. Spiegelman and J. Swaarte / postcard box + favorite postcard signed by A. Tomine / well-loved book inscribed by M. Fayolle [who drew girl holding string attached to bird] / sighting of comic book artist crush D. Shaw [who signed new comic for A.]).

Blanked out during workweek, braced self for Friday and oral exam.

Took orals (no. of hours: 2 / no. of questions: a lot / no. of examiners/committee members: 4 [E. Keenaghan, P. Joris, P. Stasi, M.J. Ponce] / topics: aesthetics, transnationalism, postcolonialism, cosmopolitanism, culture, diaspora, the avant-garde, language politics, etc.).

Passed exams with distinction (!), happiness+++.

Drove to Amherst with friends to celebrate ABD, visited tombstone and home of E. Dickinson, partook of goods from (very timely) marijuana festival.

Wrapped up teaching in Albany, cleaned office, shipped books, packed up life.

Watched two and a half seasons of Veronica Mars.

Pang of fear over diss., hopped on bus to Boston.

Stayed with friend, spent three days in Harvard, rummaged through J.G. Villa papers for J.G. Villa diss. chapter (highlights: drafts of central poem in diss. chapter / snide letter from J.G.V. to J. Laughlin / lovelorn notebook entry / lists of beautiful/ugly words).

Back in Albany, first round of goodbyes over beers/smores/bonfire, second round of goodbyes over beers and despite noise from trivia night / third round of goodbyes in city, over buffet in K-town, fourth round of goodbyes atop West Village apartment.

Flew home, moved back in with A. and cat, found lovely fourth-floor apartment with view of buildings and crummy rooftops, moved into lovely apartment with A. and cat.

High School Life (oh my high school life)

It suddenly occurred to me as I was editing my prospectus for the nth time (for final submission week after next, the prelude to exams beginning two weeks after, gahhh) that two of the three poets I’m writing my diss on are poets I met in high school (and so probably the first Filipino poets I met). We read Jose Garcia Villa in freshman English class. The poem was “God said, ‘I made a man” and I vaguely remember it being discussed as an illustration of man’s vanity, an example of how one shouldn’t be in the presence of God. Or maybe I’m misremembering. I do remember very clearly this one class when our English teacher, for whatever reason, asked us what we liked in a guy. No one volunteered to respond so she called on my friend P to answer the question. P’s response? What do I like in a guy ba, kamo? Ang sagot ay: hairy chest. Hahaha! Yes, of course, that is what a thirteen-year-old would like in a guy, tanong-tanong ka pa kasi, e. Totally unrelated to Villa, but whatevs. I should remind the old high school crew about this when I see them again.

My encounter with Pete Lacaba was something else. I was a junior (or was I a senior? ack, I suddenly can’t remember) and one day while I was sitting around and being bored in class as usual, I was told by whoever the teacher was to step out because I was officially excused from attending my morning classes. I was met outside by my teacher in third-year English who had requested that I (and a girl from another section) be excused from class. She told us to get in her car because she was taking us somewhere to see something (parang kidnapping lang, haha, but I remember her being vague about where we were going). Turns out, we drove to the nearby museum to attend a talk by two poets: Pete Lacaba and Marra Lanot. I don’t remember much about the talk (the more I write  this, the more I realize how terrible my memory is) but I do remember hearing Lacaba talk about what he went through during martial law and read “Ang mga Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Juan de la Cruz.” I ended up writing my senior term paper on martial law protest poetry. I’m sure I wrote about Lacaba and Chari Lucero (I think I got her poem from the anthology Versus); I know there were others I wrote about but I no longer remember who they are. And now, here I am, ages later, working on a diss with Lacaba in it. The talk I attended at fifteen years old made an impression, to say the least.

A digression (or maybe not): A few years later, in UP, I once again encountered the high school English teacher who took me to see Lacaba and Lanot. She was my Eng 21 (Survey of English Lit) and Eng 122 (Beowulf to Chaucer) professor, and then my roommate when I joined the faculty of UP. Now I consider her one of my few true workplace friends (and my true friend in general, “workplace” qualifier unnecessary!)–the extraordinary book historian May a.k.a. May J a.k.a. PMB a.k.a. Patricia May Jurilla! (You should read her books, such as this and this.) I keep forgetting we go a long way back; I always think of her as my English Dep friend. And then when my high school friends occasionally ask, “How is Ms. Jurilla?” I suddenly remember that gad, she was my high school teacher. Ang losyang lang, haha.

I always think of high school as the time in my life I couldn’t wait to get out of–mostly because I found my ultra-conservative high school absurd–but good things did come out of it. Wala lang. I feel so effing wired right now, like I’ve had five cups of coffee though I’ve only had two. I really should get back to work. Pero makapag-youtube nga muna ng Sharon Cuneta…

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