MAILEEN DUMELOD HAMTO Reviews
The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996 – 2019 by Eileen R. Tabios
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2019)
There has never been a better time to be a Filipino in America. This is no hyperbole. If one is intentional in seeking out Filipino excellence, she will find innovators in every field. Literature in English may be an unexpected beneficiary of said Filipino brilliance, but here we are at a critical moment of Filipino-American literary history, witnessing patterns of poetry deconstructed and rebuilt anew with each keyboard stroke.
Poet, publisher, novelist and editor Eileen Tabios has been working on her craft for many years, propelling her own work as well as that of other FilAms, leading notable projects with pre-eminent poets Nick Carbo, Barbara Jane Reyes, and others. Tabios’ latest volume, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996 – 2019 offers an intimate look at the process of innovating the age-old forms of the tercet and haikus through her invention of the “Hay(na)ku,” a poem of three lines, with several variations. In the annals of FilAm literary history, this volume will remain significant because it documents the evolution of a poetic pattern that was conceived, defined and refined by Tabios, in collaboration with poets and writers of Filipino descent.
Filipinos are accustomed to hybridity. Our relentless quest for cultural survival has often involved the creation of something new out of the interiority of the Filipino experience, infused with borrowings from our colonial past and present. In the book, Tabios offers commentary on the Hay(na)ku’s post-colonial implications, arising from its origins in Japanese haiku and the Kerouacian approach to the tercet.
Speakers of Tagalog would recognize the phrase “Hay naku!” as a well-worn expression that, depending on how it is exhaled, can communicate different emotions: awe, exasperation, surprise. Sometimes “Hay naku!” is a stand-in for “Susmaryosep!” as a pronouncement of either extreme astonishment or disappointment – there is no in-between. At other times, it can serve a preface to a long sermon on priorities and obligations. With multiple variations in form, the Hay(na)ku represents the essence of Pinoy poetics and creative expression, open to possibilities and layers of interpretation.
As a California-based writer whose works are in English, Tabios infuses her Filipino identity in the Hay(na)ku form. Like all Filipinos, the Hay(na)ku is a cross-breed. It is simultaneously grounded in Pinoyness, while also anchored in the trauma of American and Japanese colonization of the Philippine psyche due to the enduring problematic legacy of imperial domination and catastrophic world wars.
“Poetry rules are sometimes made to be broken,” Tabios writes. At its core, the Hay(na)ku is liberatory and emancipatory, similar in magnitude to the genius of Black American inventors and innovators in literature, music and other creative pursuits. By developing the Hay(na)ku, Tabios invited her contemporaries to define FilAm, U.S.-born-and-bred poetry from brown-skinned Filipinos, to cease conformity with white supremacist notions of “goodness” in art and the expectation of appeasing the tyranny of literary gatekeepers in order to be validated.
As an emerging critical scholar, I ask these questions: who determines the importance and significance of a word? In a literary form where every word counts, who is doing the counting? Poetic constructs are defined by rules established by dead white men. Tabios, as a decolonizing poet, takes self-determination to a whole other level by creating her own, devising a forward-looking FilAm/Pinoy literary identity that is concurrently sophisticated and approachable. Isa, dalawa, tatlo. 3-2-1. Words – not syllables – carry the full gravity of their meaning in the miscegenated structure of Hay(na)ku, undeniably Filipino.
In closing, I offer my feeble attempt at writing Hay(na)kus, dedicated to inventor Tabios.
catharsis in verse.
identity, diasporic poetics.
Innovating poetry, meaning—
Originally from Sampaloc and Tondo, Maynila, Maileen Dumelod Hamto works as an equity and inclusion leader in the ancestral lands of the Ute, Arapahoe and Cheyenne. She is pursuing doctoral studies in Leadership for Educational Equity at the University of Colorado Denver, focusing her inquiry on advancing social change through praxis that centers critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, decoloniality, and emancipatory movements. With her soulmate and soul dogs, she enjoys exploring Colorado’s alpine lakes, aspen forests, wildflower meadows and ghost towns. Share her adventures via @colorsofinfluence (IG).