Who I’m reading right now: Marianne Chan, Jan-Henry Gray

A couple of young Filipinx poets’ works have recently caught my attention, and I am happy to see they both have first books forthcoming. I am thinking already, of how and where to fit them into my Filipinx Lit syllabi.


Dang, do I dare submit another new course proposal, specific to Filipinx American Poetry.

I just might.

Every poem of Marianne Chan’s that I encounter is full of that spiky, back talking, sass mouth attitude I love so much. Her work is new to me, and I haven’t spent so much time with it, but I very much crave a full volume of it. Her book, All Heathens is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in 2020, and I’m really happy about this. Part of this is my personal set of aesthetic preferences. But larger than myself, politically, culturally — yes, let there be more and more Pinays writing poetry of social and historical relevance and transgression. Yes, let the poems be pointed, let them be filled with implication and indictment. Let them lash out with irreverence.  And yes, let them weave history with oral tradition, family story, filled with cultural knowledge and lore that need not be explained for the benefit of others — let that all just be what it is, the everyday. Let these poetic lines and forms be well executed. Let them burst with life and texture. No need to be polite or lovely or affected. Just real. Read: “Origin Story.” Read: “When the Man at the Party Said He Wanted to Own a Filipino.” Read: “Lansing Sinulog Rehearsal 2010.”

I recently finished reading Jan-Henry Gray’s manuscript, Documents, which is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd. in 2019. Gray won the Poulin Prize, and was selected by D.A. Powell. I am glad for this. I am honored to have blurbed the book. You know, I first read Gray’s poem, “Acknowledgments” a few years ago, on the Tupelo Quarterly website. My response to the poem was more like multiple responses, starting with a simultaneous exhilaration and revulsion, which made me come back to the poem again and again. I was like, dang, this child is talking SHIT. And then I thought, wow, I am implicated in this poem, and why the fuck is that, and is it fair, what the fuck did I do to deserve being implicated by someone I didn’t know, and wasn’t it much easier to be invisible to him. And then I was irritated, and thought, shit if you’re so disconnected, then fucking read all the people you state you haven’t read. It’s that easy.

And then a few years away from this poem, and it started to dawn on me, there is indeed a simultaneous exhilaration and revulsion which is communicated to me frequently, from Filipinx Americans who are readers of books, who may never have had “our” works in their proximity or radar when they were students, young readers. The desire to yell, where the fuck were you all when I was trying to work my shit out. Where the fuck were you when I needed you. this anger that is projected, but it is valid, real, visceral, justified. And then there’s the fear of rejection; what if I don’t see myself and my experiences in their work. And there’s the fear of the connection that’s been sought after; what if I see exactly myself in their work. Now I’m visible. Now I’m exposed. Now I’m vulnerable to everybody’s cruelty. And then there’s the fear that if you put your own words out there, others will reject you, tell you you are a fraud, a fake Filipinx. The fear of being told your Filipinx experience is inauthentic.

And all of this back and forth, all of what is problematic about visibility, of being seen as a Filipinx writer by another Filipinx writer is something I think about every day — Gray has put on the page with all its neuroses and fear. It is a real thing. We try not to talk about it, but it informs so much of how we regard, how we acknowledge or disavow one another not just in Po Biz, but in the world.

Anyway, so this is very much the direction I want to see Filipinx American poetry go. Smart, rigorous, real, ambitious, well-executed.


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