Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations 6

You can find previous recommendations here: List 1 | List 2 | List 3 | List 4 | List 5.

Well, Filipino American History Month is coming to a close, but we should continue on with these reading recommendations. Every day is the perfect time to learn about Pinay authors and works we’ve never previously heard of.

her beckoning hands by Arlene Biala

“if you could keep up with her, the beating of the kulintang / the colors of her voice a dance she is challenging the drummer / she is challenging the drummer to respond she is scooping / twirling frenzied wrist neck feet into a dance all hair bracelets / beating the screams out of the slow lapping of the lake.” This is gorgeous music. Arlene Biala’s second full-length poetry collection, her beckoning hands, contains such lovely, lush, and earthy poems that are grounded in ritual object and ritual practice, mantras that resonate within the body, and plant the body firmly in the world. Biala voices defiance when she must, outrage when she must. Still, she is ever mindful that poetry is prayer, that poetry always humanizes us, that poetry is a life sustaining river.

Blood Orange by Angela Narciso Torres

Recommended by Michelle Peñaloza. Angela’s poems are lush with memory and love. Her approach is the discovery and mining of memory through highly detailed sensory landscapes. Her speaker’s powers of observation render the excavation of memory more powerful. Angela’s poems are concerned with family; the distances between home and homeland; the spaces between the present moment and the potency of remembrance; love and motherhood. Of her first collection, Blood Orange, C. Dale Young, writes: “Because paying attention is a form of prayer, [her] poems pay deep and close attention.” Throughout this first collection, Angela’s poems read as beautifully stitched tribute to childhood, motherhood, the Philippines, parents—each treated with the reverence of sacrament and elegy, yet not ensconced in nostalgia. Angela’s poems are richly tactile and full of subtle music, seeding the reader in her speaker’s vivid remembering and present questioning of what to make of what remains.

Excavating the Filipino in Me by Eileen Tabios

Recommended by Aileen Ibardaloza. Eileen Tabios’ latest 24 page chapbook published by TinFish is gorgeously transcribed and designed. “Excavating the Filipino in Me” carefully unearths the million things we forget about a birthplace, including “the placid surface… camouflaging sharply-edged stones.” The most important lesson for me is that we learn to live (peacefully) with whatever we uncover and whatever we choose to remember (or forget) by “stagger(ing) back towards love.”

The Art of Exporting by Cristina Querrer

Recommended by Eileen Tabios. Cristina Querrer’s The Art of Exporting is diasporic, nostalgic, indigenous, contemporary, concurrently realistic and symbolic—which is to say, a poetry collection that is as archipelagic as its root source, the Philippines. The complicated, conflicted, and, yes, beloved motherland is an effective muse for Querrer, inspiring many moving poems and lines as the poems’ persona is ever attuned to history: “She stands by her window / no matter how far from the sea” (from “The Cartographer”). The poems are not didactic even as they distinctly evoke their muse. Querrer’s nuanced touch amplify the resonance of their poems. Stylistically, there’s also much variety —for example, the diptych persona poems of “Maganda” and “Malakas” effectively updates the creation myth. A major strength of this collection is its diction—it’s high vocabulary at ease with itself so that its effects are harmonious and never pretentious.

Song of the Yukon by Trisha Sugarek

Recommended by Eileen Tabios. I read this book as I’m generally interested in homesteading and off-grid stories. Trisha’s novel, set in Alaska, more than satisfied my curiosity. It’s about LaVerne, a teen and budding song writer who followed the poet Robert Stiver’s trip to the wilds of Alaska. But it also delighted due to its structure of weaving poetry, song lyrics and correspondence harmoniously within the novel’s narrative. It also wove in a lesbian experience, perhaps not the first time but a rare point of view within the genre of homesteading, off-grid Alaska and Wild West stories. Sugarek’s multi-layered approach uplifts this book from the crowded field of such stories.

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