Thursday, February 4, 2016



Four books by R. Zamora Linmark:

Rolling the R’s 
(Kaya Press, New York, 1997)--BOOK LINK

Prime Time Apparitions 
(Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, 2005)--BOOK LINK

The Evolution of a Sigh 
(Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, 2008)--BOOK LINK

(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2011)--BOOK LINK

Playing with Tongues: The Use of Language in the Works of R. Zamora Linmark

            Born in Manila, raised in Hawai’i; lives in Hawai’i or Manila or San Francisco; citizen of two countries; speaker of many languages and dialects, R. Zamora Linmark is the quintessential transnational.  Faye Kicknosway calls “Zack,” as he is known to his friends, “a trickster” (Prime Time Apparitions).  His works, Rolling the R’s[i] (1995); Prime Time Apparitions[ii] (2005); The Evolution of a Sigh[iii] (2008); and Leche (2011), like the writer himself, defy categorization.  Leche, for instance, is at once historical fiction, satire, hyperrealism; it contains a play, vintage postcards, dream sequels, tourist tips, and excerpts from a fictional textbook entitled Decolonization for Beginners: A Filipino Glossary by Bonifacio Dumpit, a fictional professor from the University of Hawai’i.  The many tongues he speaks find utterance in all his works.  But despite the dizzying complexity of his works, Linmark, the writer, tends to return to recurring themes throughout his oeuvre.  Here, I will touch very briefly on his use of language to de-center and dis-locate.

            The epigraph in Linmark’s first poetry collection, Prime, reads, “Fluft drin Yalerick Dwuldum prasrad mirplush,” a nonsense sentence from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, aptly welcoming—or I should say confounding—readers into the pages of his text where we see, in Linmark’s deft hands, the malleability of language.  But seasoned readers of Linmark’s work know how deftly he can slip in and out of different tongues.  His first novel, Rolling, is colored not only with pidgin and Tagalog, but also the cadences and patois of the 1970s disco generation.  When Edgar speaks to Katrina-Trina about the price of books and magazines, for example, he tells her, “Expensive, you know, especially now cuz of in-fel-lay-tion” (Rolling, 7).  The hyphenation in the word “inflation” slows down its elocution and adds the double entendre by which many of the characters in this novel are preoccupied and makes Edgar’s point about the off-color book he is about to lend.  In Prime, even before it’s middle section, “Slippery When English,” indeed from its epigraph through its entirety, we see Linmark’s playfulness with language.  In “Screening Desire,” Linmark’s speaker speaks cyberspeak:

                                    Friday cybersexing all night Saturday
                                    with Hot&Horny35 from Denmark blond
                                    blue-eyed swimmer’s body in search of Asian
                                    or Latin American bottom it must’ve been
                                    his lucky night found both continents
                                    in you as Pablo Sanchez PuertoRican
                                    Pinoy 22 str8acting gay son of
                                    Cultural Attaché stationed in Manila
                                    Posh bungalow brokenglasscapped subdivision
                                    MadMax security guards indoorpool
(Prime, 18)
Here it is apparent that the titillation comes not from a movie but rather the “screen” of a computer screen and desire is what the participants of cybersex are experiencing or seeking: they are looking for love in front of their computer.  The transfer of desire from celluloid to hard drive makes the process even more participatory in that, aside from onanistic activities, participants also splash their own images onto the screen.  Participants are much like actors on screen, pretending and creating a persona, a desirable alter ego.  Above, the speaker is Pablo Sanchez, a Puerto Rican Pinoy, son of a cultural attaché; later, 

                                    you christen yourself not Mark
                                    that was earlier this week
                                    not John that was last week what’s left?
                                    two options Luke17 cute
                                    afterschooldaddy bicurious cyber
                                    phone okay or Matthew37 6’1 brwnhair
                                    hazeleyes Italian FilAm from Big Aple
                                    will be visiting in two weeks you
                                    compromise and enter the chatroom as
                                    Paul26 into 69 top please no fems or
                                    drags a macho ritual you picked up along
                                    with lying
(Prime 17-18)

To be desirable in language necessitates not just a masquerade, but also the need to sell oneself.  Hence, the tone of advertising.  The use of enjambment here only increases the reader’s experience of bombardment of technology but also advertisement.

            And when it comes to advertisement, or adspeak, there Linmark is fluent also.  The poem “ESL, or English as a Sign Language,” is a list poem where “ESL” does not mean the sign language the deaf and mute use to communicate but rather is a list of signs—ads—where English is used creatively or as malapropism and where the speaker gives readers her/his “interpretation” of said sign.  “ALLOWANCE 70,” begins the poem; but “allowance” here does not mean the income one receives but rather “Airline regulation for maximum weight of a / balikbayan box” (Prime, 19; original emphasis).  “PETAL ATTRACTION” is the name of the “florist right next to Edgar Scissorhands Hair & Beauty Salon” (19) and “LOOKING FOR SEWERS” hangs on the glass door of “Elizabeth Tailoring” (19).  A line in “Doris Day & Night Eatery,” also a list poem, reads: “BLOCK & WHITE, best-selling skin-whitening cream.  ‘IT BLOCKS /     THE SUN AND WHITENS THE SKIN” (Evolution, 20).  Even Linmark’s novel, Leche, is not immune to this wordplay, as another list poem, “Signs of the Times,” makes an appearance: where “CULTURE SHACK specializes in native handicrafts” and “MANG DONALD’S makes the best PRINCE FRIES” or “DEAR HUNTER helps you find rich, old, white husbands” and “WALTER MART carries designer labels like CHRISTINE DIOR jeans and GEORGIO NOMANI T-shirts” (Leche, 267; original emphasis).  Perhaps some of these “signs” are from what the writer observes around him when he is in the Philippines, perhaps some are the writer’s own invention.  And while they may be humorous, what they demonstrate are the ways in which the colonial tongue, that monolithic, dominating, and oppressive language, is malleable; it can be bastardized and disavowed, whether purposefully or by accident or ignorance.  What we have, then, is an admixture of culture in language and where the authority of English sits side-by-side with the colors of the local patois.

            But, lest we forget our history—an amnesiac act as Oscar Campomanes calls it—Linmark reminds us quite often of the violent incursions of a colonial language, and, more importantly, of the ways in which language can shape, define, and (dis)locate the self.  In “Rhapsody,” we see the speaker’s classmates from high school who had “2-4-1 double-eye operations that came with color contacts” (Prime, 25); and in “Surviving the Post-American Tropics,” the speaker tells us of

                                    A now-extinct word among Americans
                                    but alive and making lots of money
                                    in the spa and skin-whitening enterprise
                                    is ‘avail,’ usually tagged to ‘promo’        
                                    and ‘special,’ as in: ‘Sir, have you availed
                                    already of the 2-4-1 skin-bleaching promo
                                    special?’  Last night, inside the arctic
                                    dome of Starbucks, while waiting for
                                    my espresso and blood pressure pills
                                    to kick in after a run-in with a meteor-sized
                                    hole on the sidewalk, I heard a blond-
                                    dyed Filipina use ‘avail’ in the same sentence
                                    as the 16th-century Latin ocularis.
(Evolution, 14)

In both poems, the speaker discloses the ways in which bodies of color are defined as other in two languages: the colonial English tongue, and the neo-colonial language of capitalism.  The “double-eye operations,” “color contacts,” “skin-bleaching,” and the “blond- / dyed Filipina” are all attempts, most of which are quite invasive, towards a particular standard of beauty, a normalization of the “othered” body.  At the same time, the use of pidgin in “Rhapsody,” and the use of what the speaker is calling an “extinct word among Americans” but makes, for the colonized native, “lots of money,” in the latter poem tells us that there are ways to profit from the use of these languages.

            Language, in the hands of that trickster, Linmark, is thus at once limiting—it defines bodies as others—and liberatory—in that it empowers by the ways in which it can be manipulated by colonized natives; thus, language allows for self-expressions. Faye Kicknosway tells us that because of the “many tongues in [Linmark’s] mouth,” it becomes very “difficult to be a fixed anything in the kind of locating of the self that language is supposed to be when there are several of them doing the locating.”  Linmark’s works show the irony and disavowal present in the use of these languages.


Sheila Bare is an independent scholar and a life-long student. Lately, she has been studying Buddhism. When her nose is not in a book or in a cooking pan, you may find her on a yoga mat or out for a run. And there are those days when she tries to write. Best to stay away from her during those times. Unless, of, course you bring with you a good bottle of wine and talk about books. She was raised by two parents and now lives somewhere on planet earth.

[i] Hereafter Rolling.
[ii] Hereafter Prime.
[iii] Hereafter Evolution.

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