Sunday, February 05, 2006


Filipino Poetics
By Cirilo F Bautista
Philippine Panorama, Manila, Sept. 12, 2004

Another book that explores the so-called “diasporic difficulties” of Filipino-American poets in the United States of America is Pinoy Poetics, edited by Nick Carbo (San Francisco & St. Helena, Meritage Press, 2004). Subtitled, “A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino-American poetics,” it features some 41 Filipino and Filipino American poets who articulate the workings of their poetic consciousness leading to the production of a poem.

The essays vary in perspective and mode of presentation, but in content, they all reflect the westernization of the writer’s consciousness. They abound with quotations from European writers, references to influences by American poets, and the intrusion of the American landscapes and values -- the major elements which have created the Filipino psyche which is forever resenting its colonization while taking advantage of the new language it has acquired. The irony is that this has produced the inescapable situation of the Filipino writers in America -- though they may cling to ideas of their native land, they will be alienated from it; while they may adapt to the American culture and environment, they will never be completely American. That is the curse of using a foreign language -- you will never be part of it even if you think you are writing in it. You will remain faceless because you have no language and your identity has not achieved a settlement. The very hyphen in “Filipino-American” indicates a perpetual transpositioning between two places, never a coming home.

That is why these essays are interesting. They clarify the complex character of that psyche through expositions on the creative process. The styles are varied, from the philosophical to the polemical to the patchwork or cut-and-paste, but all offer unique insights into the craft. Sometimes, the writers themselves are unsure of how the process works; they strive to explain the inexplicable through poems that have other explanations. That is unavoidable because, though the process, the step-by-step physical crafting, may be graspable, the evolution of the inner being at the moment of composition possesses no specific system. It is the mystery in the process that seems to lie beyond understanding and utterance.

The ars poetica exploration is just one aspect of hte book's purpose; the main intention is to bring to a forum -- and examine the reasons for -- the prevailing neglect of the Filipino writers in America. For it is a fact that they have not, after all these years, succeeded in breaking into that country’s literary mainstream. Carbo complains that this is not their deficiency, but that there seems to be a sinister plot to keep them hidden from general knowledge. Though they have been trained in the best workshops in the world, Filipino poets continue to be ignored by editors and anthologies. This glaring marginalization needs clarification. Carbo asks, “What is causing this stubborn invisibility? Is it the Filipino poet’s own fault by not publishing enough poems in the U.S. or the Philippines? Can the poetry written by Filipinos be so bad that many Americans have refused to even look our way?”

To dispel doubts about the ability of the Filipino poets, Carbo traces their development and progress in the U.S.A. He comes to the conclusion that “the literary history of Filipinos in America is a hidden history…Is literary America ready to accept the notion that Filipinos have published poems and developed their craft at the same place alongside the American poets? Taking the known historical fact of slavery, racism, and colonial domination by America, it is easy to see why literary America may not be ready to relinquish their position of cultural nad literary superiority.” Carbo has answered his own question, and we agree with him.

Literary history is written by the literary winners. In fact, they really do not have to write it. By simply ignoring the existence of other literatures, they effectively truncate them and ultimately eradicate them. Out of sight, out of mind. They would not like an admixture to the mainstream, for it would dilute the richness of their achievement. This drives the Filipinos more and more to reach back to their island origins for cultural ammunitions that would support their imagined identity -- myths, legends, folk beliefs, etc. -- while trying to show that they could function as well as anyone in the American society. But they cannot rise to any position of power, being invisible. That is, they will find it difficult to alter the direction of American letters. Why? The poets in this book give a variety of reasons, and they all help us piece together a picture of a cultural and aesthetic struggle that is almost epical in its implications.


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