Pilipinx Kapwa Poetics and Manuscript Progress

The following thoughts originally came from FB posts, which other folks — writers, authors, students, educators have engaged in dialogue with me about, and so here, I elaborate on these thoughts.

I’m so conscious that I have not been writing. This shelter-in-place popular push for productivity — “Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine” — is pretty toxic, disallowing folks from grieving, resting, honoring our exhaustion and need to heal, need for quiet, and so on.

For the past few months, I’ve been reading, moving between different texts authored mostly by Black, Indigenous, and Pinxy writers. I remain interested in myth-making, myth-remaking and re-imagining, song, prayer, and explorations of lyric I, especially based in/on kapwa. And I keep circling back to kapwa, precisely because I write (and publish) within a USA-American context, one that loves to delude itself with myths of rugged individualism.

My thoughts on kapwa within this context is as follows: In this country, and as a result of USA-American historical and contemporary, multi-pronged violences upon us, we have to resist and fight for every scrap of ourselves and our value systems. Let my poetry and poetics reflect this resistance and fight.

Too abstract? Language and education are institutional tools of violence and dehumanization.

Kapwa is how we not only survive this, as families, as communities upholding one another. Kapwa is how we honor one another’s humanity when institutions aggressively strip it from us.


A fellow Pinxy author wrote something to me yesterday, and this is something affirming and real: gutsy, true innovation happens, not in sanctioned institutional spaces, which do not have the cultural or social capacity and, I’ll add, the desire to make space for anything not holding up a mirror to its own importance.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to write, to create art, in our own communities. What allows us there to push on the boundaries of language and form.

In our spaces, we can have our own rules, our own rebellions, our own sets of transgression. We can have our own value systems, our movements of learning and unlearning. In our own spaces, we can make art for our own.

In my own practice, I have come to see that the more specifically I write for “my own,” the more I’ve pushed myself in the name of true connection and empathy — i.e. kapwa — and the farther, wider reaching outside myself, my circle, my locale, my work has become.


What I wrote before: I am glad to be surrounded by poetry and poets that you may call “edgy,” even when you mean it with an edge of derision, which some folks (not all) do. I actually like being referred to as edgy. That means my poetry is cutting somebody. Open. In two. Into pieces. And this is the kind of poetry I am grateful to find. And that “edgy” poetry does not mean it isn’t sophisticated. It can actually be quite sophisticated, emotionally, politically, structurally, in language. It has heart. It is all heart. It speaks from the heart of that lyric I and reaches, stretches outward from itself into the big gritty, ugly world.

And today, more and more, am understanding my impatience with a lot of American Contemporary Poetry is that it is written for prestigious publication, for institutions that can only imagine our writings in their own image and imaginings, with our traditions and languages being ancillary if not straight up inferior to theirs.

This is not to say our own on-the-ground communities happily and unconditionally accept our writings. As artists, we task ourselves with pushing and experimenting and challenging what is there and known, and in general, folks don’t like being challenged. It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s painful — see “cutting,” above.


OK! So I finally looked at the thing that’s supposed to be a manuscript in progress. And it’s disorganized as all hell. But there is a lot, a whole shit ton of writing, both in my Google Doc, and in my Moleskine. So then, these headings/sections/titles.

ᜀᜎᜎ Alala/Memory
ᜀᜈ Anak/Daughter
ᜀᜋ Ama/Father
ᜀᜇ Araw/Sun
ᜀᜇ Araw/Day
ᜀᜏᜒ Awit/Song
ᜊᜊᜎ Babaylan/Seer
ᜊᜊ Baybay/Spell
ᜊᜊᜌᜒ Baybayin/follow the shoreline, go along the border (?)
ᜊᜓᜆᜓ Buto/Bone
ᜑᜅᜒ Hangin/Air
ᜁᜎᜓ Ilog/River
ᜆᜓᜆᜓᜊᜒ Tutubi/Dragonfly
ᜂᜋᜄ Umaga/Morning

And so on. More to come.

Something I have learned is that sometimes, from all of the disorganized and raw materials, everything you need is already there, and it’s a matter of figuring out what is the most appropriate “container” for it.

I’ve “imposed” the above baybayin headings/titles to this inchoate manuscript. But it’s not really imposition as much as it is doing my best to understand what is there, and what is trying to make itself known to me.


OK! So perhaps I have a manuscript in progress, raw and messy as it currently is. Padayon!

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