Friday, February 3, 2017


This Feature presents readers sharing some love about the talent of Filipino authors. We would welcome your participation. This section is for readers. You don't have to write "like a professional," "like a critic," "like an intellectual," "like a well-rounded reader," etc. Just write honestly about how you were moved. Live authors (let alone the dead) don't get to hear enough from reader(s) they may not know even read their works. To know someone read their stories and poems and books is already to receive a gift. Just share from your heart. It will be more than enough. DEADLINE: Nov. 15, 2017 for Issue #5. Duplications of authors and more than one testimonial are fine.

Mangozine's Issue #4 Presents

Sheila Bare on Carlos Bulosan
Michael Simms on Jose Padua
Eileen R. Tabios on Mg Roberts
Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan on Gemino H. Abad


Sheila Bare on Carlos Bulosan

Is America Still in the Heart?  An Exhortation to (Re)member Carlos Bulosan

The newly elected U.S. administration, still in its infancy, has proven itself most burdensome—oppressive, really—to many.  The recent executive order banning people of a certain faith from several countries most of whom were seeking refuge from war-torn lands, from conflicts and hostilities in which the U.S. itself has been engaged, has caused widespread upheavals: confusion, protestations, litigations, a lifting of the ban, a staying of the ban, a paroxysm.  Indeed, since the inauguration, thousands, perhaps even millions now have been marching against this new president, his policies and agenda, and the members of his administration.  While I am heartened by the protest movement, I fear that the energy might diminish and we find ourselves passively acquiescing to a new normal where “alternative facts” pervade and we are stripped of our inalienable rights.  In trying times as this political moment, I tend to look to writers for hope and inspiration.  These I find in Carlos Bulosan, a pioneering writer in Filipino American literature, an “old timer,” or manong, an immigrant who labored in the fields, the canneries, and the kitchens across his beloved “America[1].”

            Born in what was then a U.S. colony, the Philippines, Bulosan emigrated to the United States in 1930, hoping to find relief from the impoverishment of his childhood.  War-torn from the Spanish American War and then the Philippine American War immediately after, the Philippines was in economic turmoil.  Filipino nationalists, the petty bourgeoisie, replicated their Spanish colonizers through absentee landlords and exploited their tenants.  At the same time, the establishment of public schools by the U.S. taught the restive populace the U.S. ideals of democracy that was inaccessible to many.  It isn’t any wonder that in the early decades of the twentieth century, more than 60,000 Filipinos left the Philippines for the U.S. to seek these ideals.  But in the U.S., Bulosan was met with racism and exploitation, and more of the poverty he was hoping to escape.  America would hold out on her democratic promises for the likes of Bulosan.  Though he had little to no schooling, Bulosan became an avid reader and came to believe that writing is empowerment.  For him, history is one continuous struggle against tyranny.  To liberate himself, he must tell his history; he must write:

I [. . .] started a letter to my brother Macario [. . .].  Then it came to me, like a revelation, that I could actually write understandable English.  I was seized with happiness.  I wrote slowly and boldly, drinking the wine when I stopped, laughing silently and crying.  When the long letter was finished, a letter which was actually a story of my life, I jumped to my feet and shouted through the tears:
‘They can’t silence me any more [sic]!  I’ll tell the world what they have done to me!”[2]

And so he wrote.  Before there was Ceasar Chavez, there was Bulosan, writing tracks to embolden the farm laborers to unite.  Bulosan wrote poetry and fiction.  And he wrote his autobiography, America Is in the Heart.  His writings tell of the racism and exploitations he and his compatriots encountered.  Bulosan’s writings will be the site of controversy.  It hardly seems plausible that one individual could be witness to the numerous events in his autobiography.  And yet no one to this day could debunk his claims.  His autobiography is itself a challenge to the genre.  As bildungsroman, an autobiography depicts a narrative telos of the innocence and impotence of youth to the mobility and potency of maturity, from poverty to wealth, or immigrant foreigner to assimilated citizen subject—a linear history from beginning to end.  But Bulosan’s autobiography is one of endless movement, a circular narrative.  An itinerant laborer, Bulosan sought employment wherever he can.  And this immigrant does not assimilate into the national body politic.  As poor, immigrant, and person of color, the “American Dream” is out of reach for Bulosan.  Had he the wherewithal, alien land laws would have prevented him from owning land and property, amplifying his rootlessness and detachment to an American land.  Although he arrives in America as a U.S. national, by 1934, with the signing of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, at the stroke of a pen, Bulosan becomes an illegal alien.  Moreover, his leftist leanings, writings, and activism earned him the ire of the FBI; he was blacklisted.  Indeed, the FBI would have preferred to deport him.  But how could they?  His autobiography was so well received that even President Franklin D. Roosevelt had commissioned him to write an essay for his 1941 State of the Union address on the Four Freedoms.  Bulosan’s essay, “Freedom from Want” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 along with Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting of a family celebrating what looks to be Thanksgiving.  No, the FBI could not touch him; instead, he was blacklisted.  In both his essay and autobiography, the titles belie their content; both disclose that equality and freedom are not accessible to all.  “But sometimes we wonder if we are really part of America[3],” Bulosan reflects in his essay. 

            Bulosan’s time has passed, and fifty years after the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, I dare hope that his experiences will not be ours to live.  But in this time of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” we are tasked to write our stories as Bulosan did, bravely, lest we be silenced.  We must remain vigilant and resist an increasingly oppressive administration and fight for an American ideal that is yet to come, that is constantly evolving.  And we must claim our part in the landscape of a democratic America.  I end with  Bulosan’s words, exhorting us to “Write your guts out.  Write with thunder and blood.”[4]

[1] I use the word “America” in keeping with Bulosan, whose autobiography, America Is In the Heart, brought him critical acclaim.  I keep the scare quotes to emphasize the ways in which the term participates and maintains the myths of U.S. exceptionalism in that it elides many countries that belong in the Americas of the Western Hemisphere.
[2] Bulosan, Carlos.  America Is in the Heart.  Seattle and London: U of Washington P, 1996.
[4] Bulosan.  America.  183


Michael Simms on Jose Padua

The Very American Poetry of Jose Padua
What are poets for in destitute times? — Hölderlin

Every poem is a subversive act.

In an age when our senses are benumbed by competing media screaming for our attention, the radical quietism of a well-made poem is in itself revolutionary. Sitting quietly and listening to a person share his or her most important experiences expressed in a coherent form goes against our entire twenty-first century Western culture. Poetry is the only antidote for the insanity of post-modern life. This is the reason why poets have been in the vanguard of the contemporary progressive movement and also the reason why poetry’s small audience must be nurtured and expanded.

It is very difficult for a contemporary American to sit still and listen to a poem because the experience requires patient attentiveness to another person’s feelings. Having few chances to practice this kind of empathy, we are simply not very good at it. We are constantly assaulted by advertisements, besieged by email messages, jangled by message alerts, battered by music videos, frustrated by traffic jams, and disturbed by snatches of news. The coherence and silence that human beings need have been shattered and replaced by a fragmented and nervous existence. For our abused sensibilities, poetry offers an oasis of ordered calm, a quiet subversion which, given time, heals the wounded disordered spirit. Not being used to experiencing the music of language for its own sake, we at first rebel against it, reacting with impatience, boredom, frustration, anger. “But what does it mean?” the novice poetry listener asks, throwing up his hands.

The idea that poetry should be free from politics, as many argue, is absurd. Writing a poem, whatever its subject, is by its very nature a political act because artistic creation requires a new way of looking at the world. Pushing the boundaries of awareness is the quality that makes poetry essential, and it is the reason that in a totalitarian society, poets are the first to be arrested, and why in our society poetry has been for the most part assiduously ignored by mainstream media. Poetry provides something that helps make sense of these confusing times. As evidence we need look no further than the aftermath of the recent presidential election during which poetry websites saw a surge of popularity. Vox Populi, for example, recorded over a million hits in the few weeks after Donald Trump’s election, a new record for us. America needs its small presses, its poetry readings, its poetry radio shows, and, yes, its poetry websites, because without them, we are at the mercy of those who make it their business to tell us what to think and how to feel.

Sometimes the subversive quality of a poem is clear and emphatic — for example Pablo Neruda’s poem The United Fruit Company in which the poet excoriates the multinational corporations that have exploited Latin America. However, as great as Neruda’s poem is, most of my favorite poems practice a more subtle subversion. For example, notice the nuanced tone and gentle rhythms in this poem by Jose Padua in which he captures the beauty of the evening rituals in a working class family’s home:

And So the Brightness of Evening

I shine these minutes in the evening,
so heavy with the space of living,
rooms to walk into and leave, floors
to step upon to do a task and walk
away from. The end of the day is
like a polishing of time. You wipe
the table, I listen to its clearing from
the living room then take the plastic
bags of trash out the front door.
It’s a cleaning of the hours, and
for us, an emptying of what’s left
of the week. Work is what keeps
us here, what feeds us from bank
to store to hand to mouth. We keep
it clean, we let it get dirty, we mop,
we scrub, we rinse. Our clothes pile
up in the back of the house no matter
how hard we try to keep up with it.
We don’t try that hard. There are other
things to do, other things to see,
a show about tiny birds flying just
above the roofs; a book about the
end of the world, the stopping of
time, and the sailing of Greek boats.
Before I turn off the ceiling light
in the dining room I see the plates and
tumblers behind the cabinet’s glass
door gleam. It’s the quiet kind
of shining that moves us best,
a glowing with no need to make
its own sound, because upstairs
all the lights are switched on, and
I hear the soft voice of our daughter
getting ready for bed as she sings.

Of course, those who are familiar with Padua’s work know that he is also capable of harsh criticism of American attitudes, as in this poem in which the ambiguity of a single nod becomes an anthem for the uncertain times in which we live:

My True Love and Other Colors

Just off the exit
from the Interstate,
the man with the red, white,
and blue American
flag painted on the wall
of his garage has the words
Love These Colors or
Leave This Country
printed beneath it
in big bold letters,
and when he sees me
drive past he nods
at me so slowly
I can’t tell if it’s
more greeting or threat,
and because in twenty-first century
America I must consider
how a single movement
or motion can
mean two completely
different things
depending on who’s
doing the perceiving,
I nod back briefly and
quickly so as not to be misinterpreted
or misconstrued and
continue down the road
thinking only
about the colors
of the things in this world I
truly love.

Even when Padua is being overtly political, he never loses his ability to modulate his ironic tone and spin breathtaking metaphors:

American Sadness 

Of all the sadness in the world
there is nothing that can compare
with American sadness. When
America is sad the whole world
weeps. Whenever one American
is sad, at least two non-Americans
somewhere else in the world consider
the possibility of ending it all. When
a hundred Americans are sad, wars
are fought in faraway lands for
the great purpose of making these
hundred Americans happy again.
When a million Americans are sad,
every flag in America droops, then
slides an inch and then another inch
down the flag pole and nothing can
stop this descent until bold, confident
smiles return to these Americans’ faces.
American sadness, let’s make it clear,
is exceptional. Unlike what you may
have heard, it doesn’t always talk
softly, but it always carries a big stick
because no one is sad the way an
American is sad. No one drags his feet
through the dullness of a day, or
walks with her eyes looking downward
quite as sadly as an American who
feels sad because America is losing
a battle, coming in second, or washing
ashore with empty pockets and bad breath.
American sadness, of course, is the greatest
sadness in the world—do not look it
in the eye unless your intention is
to make amends. Do not settle for a
knowing grin, or a sliding into place
of the proper order of thought or things.
Work hard, do your best, and fight
whenever a fist is called for, or a bomb
needs to be dropped upon a civilian population
whose greatest misfortune is not being American.
But above all, keep American sadness at bay
like a ship that wrecks off shore through
instability or from fault of navigation.
Let’s remember to keep America happy.
Let’s keep America entertained.

In capturing the beauty and terror of one life, Jose Padua’s poems are subtle, ironic, precise, and socially aware. Seeing an American flag painted on a garage, remembering the taste of meals that his mother learned to cook when she was growing up in the Philippines, putting his children to bed knowing that he cannot protect them from an unjust society, watching the evening news with a jaundiced eye—these are the moments Jose Padua evokes to wake us from our long unhappy American dream.

Essay copyright 2017 Michael Simms. Poems copyright 2016 Jose Padua. All rights reserved. First published in VOX POPULLI: A PUBLIC SPHERE FOR POLITICS AND POETRY. To read more poems by Jose Padua, click here.


Eileen R. Tabios on Mg Roberts

Several of my first interactions with Mg Roberts share something in common, and which move me to write this "love note." The first time I engaged with Mg was when Mg contacted me to request a blurb for the anthology Nests and Strangers: on Asian American Women Poets edited by Timothy Yu. I would discover later that not only was Mg the production manager for the book but the writer of its Afterword. Shortly thereafter, I would meet Mg during a Board meeting for Kelsey Street Press (I serve on its Board). The last time I saw Mg in person was during a poetry reading Mg curated in San Francisco. Most recently, we were in discussion about an anthology-in-progress involving poetics by poets of color. What these interactions display is Mg's fulsome commitment to a poetry community or communities by being of service. Mg volunteers here, volunteers there to move forward Poetry's cause ... and Mg does it all while raising three young kids! Last but not least, Mg's a fine poet--I was happy to recommend, along with Meta Samma, Mg's new book to Black Radish Press entitled Anemal Uter Meck (it's just been released; do check it out!). So this note is, I'm sure, also on behalf of the many who have benefited from Mg's interest, care and love: THANK YOU, MG! And congratulations on your next book which we look forward to reading with the same interest, care and love that you have shown to others.


Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan on Gemino H. Abad

I’ve long appreciated the works of Gemino H. Abad. His latest, Where No Words Break: New Poems and Past, is a wonderful book. Here are just five utterances which stand out for their didactic impact and the demonstration of Abad’s knack with logic and lyricism:

beware then. be wary. choose well from language, for each word there has predestination. and only the poet knows.
—from "eric has father-longings" (2011)

for words refuse their mirror
and build their mazes
—from "To Speak then of Poetry" (2012)

the silences that sometimes fell
between were even more telling.
—from "Stories" (2012)

Did I think poems could chart Love's continent?
I have found only runnels moment to moment
where glints a little snake of water.
—from "Prayer" (2011)

The past is never quite obliterated, and one great cause for its persistence is literature. It is good that the case is so, for a people without memory has no country.
—from "In My Craft or Sullen Art: A Poetics of Writing"

This is a very challenging book and heightens my appreciation of Abad’s work.

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