To enter the mind of Philippine literature in English, it is important to note the evolution of English in the Philippines. We were colonised by Spain in 1521 and sold to America in 1898. According to eminent Filipino poet and scholar, Gémino Abad, Philippine poetry in English only took flight in the 1920s – it is a considerably young poetry, being less than a hundred years old.
Filipino-ness is a weight I did not choose to be born with, but I carry on my back every day. As an immigrant to Australia, I am expected to uncritically wave the flag and do my birth country proud with my achievements; be the smiling migrant who hangs out at Australia Day parades, tags oneself on Facebook selfies beneath the Melbourne Central shot tower, lands a full-time office job, acquires property and authentic Louis Vuitton handbags, wears the trappings of aspirational middle-classness with the serenity of one who has ‘made it.’
On my frequent trips back to Manila, I often marvel at the range of books and literary material now occupying the shelves of bookstores. There’s the usual fare of fiction thrillers, children’s books, academic and scholarly reference books, and religion-based how-to guides. There’s also a flood of young adult and poetry books.
‘There is an assumption that real art only comes from the city,’ writes Winnie Siulolovao Dunn in her 2017 essay, ‘FOB: Fresh off the Books’. Dunn is writing about the stigma of hailing from both Mt Druitt and Tonga. For the young Dunn, the ethnically diverse Western Suburbs of Sydney seem far removed from any cultural centre.
I once read that the word ikebana (生け花), denoting the Japanese art of flower arrangement, can be roughly translated into English as ‘living flower,’ or ‘bringing life to the flowers.’ This summary sounds too easy, too graceful; there is an air of internet mythology to it, the truth of it smoothed and polished like a well-handled stone until it becomes convenient, small enough to tweet or swallow.
Sometime in 1953 my parents bought a house in Clayton (Victoria, Australia), then on the edge of south-east Melbourne. We moved there from a decidedly different environment: the guest house that my Grandmother owned. This was on Beaconsfield Parade in South Melbourne.
This is going to be a rather disordered list of undeveloped and not closely connected thoughts about ‘the suburban’ and its binary partner ‘the urban’. Not my thoughts, for the most part, but my list of thoughts generally available.
There is a preconception that small presses, existing as they do outside the mainstream, publish poetry that is wilder, stranger, more political, and more ethnically diverse. Poetry that the university publishers have turned away, or whose genius such presses have failed to recognise.
Cul-de-sac 1 When I was 17 and finishing my high school exams the petrol station around the corner from our house exploded. I didn’t hear it but my twin brother did: he jingled the keys and we drove in his …
I was already quite a few years into a creative writing PhD titled ‘Generic Engineering’ and flailing around quite spectacularly in a galaxy of words when an academic friend, perhaps hoping to spare me the indignity of a completed thesis and potential employment, flipped to the middle of the 526-page book he was reading and wordlessly pointed to a single sentence. ‘Due to a predilection whose origin I will leave it up to the reader to determine,’ he read, ‘I will choose the symbol ♀ for this inscription.’
In 1973, I was a post-graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, working on my Master’s degree in music composition. My principle teacher at the time was Kenneth Gaburo, well known for his work in compositional linguistics which crossed boundaries between music, language, writing, performance, and dance.