EILEEN TABIOS presents Foreword to
Yearnings by Ayo Gutierrez
(Amazon.com, Philippines, 2018)
As I read through Ayo Gutierrez’s Yearnings, my mind was encouraged to leap into the future where there is a next book by the author. This may seem disrespectful of the words then in front of me. But, no, the effect is more of faith that there will be a next book … and joy that there will be such a future book.
For the book now existing—and for which I have the pleasure of writing this Foreword—reveals qualities that will birth more poems that give delight as well as, being written by a more practiced hand, the wisdom of a widened perspective. This is Ayo’s first collection but in it are qualities that will serve future poems well.
We see the necessary willingness to be subversive. Subversiveness implies a willingness to go beyond convention, and poetry is often served well when the poet tries to avoid the usual and conventional. We see this trait in Ayo’s poetry through a title like “Puke Reverence” that questions organized religion, as well as in a line like “I am the new God.” The latter is not a matter of lacking humility so much as revealing the courage (to make such a statement) and ambition often necessary for creating effective art.
We see the political sensibility and analysis that serves poets well in “Fields Avenue” (re. the sexualizing of poverty) and “V Monologue (re. the plight of working women). These poems—and others—reveal an admirable interest in the world beyond the personal, despite how the book opens with poems relating to romance.
We see an interest in experimental forms—for example, “(SCENT)iment: A Triptych” whose form freshens up the trope of disillusion—which is particularly important for weathering the long voyage of exploring poetry’s many (textual and other) ways of unfolding. It’s thus, not surprising, that the poems don’t just rely on verse but travel in the realm of “visual poetry,” for instance “Warriors.”
We see elements that reveal a habit of reading much and widely—always critical for a writer. A poet who doesn’t read is not likely to contribute much to the art.
Interestingly, the poet’s discernible wide reading habit might contribute to the usage of non-contemporary English—words like “methought.” When I came across such words, I usually paused to consider the significance of such archaic words in a 21st century poem. For me, reading “methought” evokes two (English) canonical authors: William Shakespeare (“Methoughts I was enamored of an ass” by Titiana in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”) and John Milton’s Sonnet XXII (which begins with “Methought I Saw my Late Espoused Saint”). The effect of seeing these words in Ayo’s poems is not necessarily positive for me (even as it may not be bothersome to others): for me, it reminds how English spread throughout the Philippines—through colonialism—and is not native such that its use can seem dissonant. Having said that, that “dissonance” also may be an effect created by me being steeped in U.S.-American English. All of this—the surfacing of Old English in a Philippine English-language poem read by a U.S.-American reader—nonetheless increases my appetite for seeing the poet’s future works where Ayo’s English most assuredly would be even more hers.
We are pleased to see a sense of humor—evident in the title “My Brain Needs a Kitkat” (and guess what I just added to the day’s shopping list). Humor is an underrated asset in poetry, and I’m pleased this poet has the wisdom to traffic in it.
We see self-awareness—and it is, frankly, appalling how so many artists, so many people—lack this trait which is such an asset in art-making. We see self-awareness through the poet’s ability to write lines like (from “Miniscule”) “the burdens / I carry are / infinitesimally small / and irrelevant / in the grand scheme of things.”
When such self-awareness is combined with an interest in the larger world—and the latter is also exemplified by the presence of guest poets (particularly rare in a poet’s first poetry collection but certainly praise-worthy evidence of kapwa)—we see in the poet a heart and eyes open to others and other elements, which is to say, the multiplicity of the universe beyond the limits of the personal story and ego.
Thus, it is impossible for me to enjoy this book without anticipating the next. I look forward to more—a yearning created by Ayo’s poems which has been a pleasure to read.
Eileen Tabios loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1, and ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. Forthcoming is WITNESS IN A CONVEX MIRROR which will inaugurate Tinfish Press' "Pacific response to John Ashbery" as well as THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019). She also invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 is celebrated at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries. More information about her works is available at http://eileenrtabios.com.