Saturday, April 27, 2024



What You Refuse to Remember by MT Vallarta 

(Harbor Editions, 2023)



MT Vallarta’s debut book is a coming-of-age replete with powerful caesuras, as if to indicate how so much was left unsaid or could not be articulated. If this collection deserves a longer review, I failed because one can only review pauses with another pause, not the stubborn linearity of text.


The language in What You Refused to Remember is beautiful. The language, thus, makes the poems beautiful. But the Beauty is by a poet who, these poems encourage me to imagine, was the girl who was “scorche[d] with flames” and then “just pretties into scars.”(16) This poet certainly knows pretty—she can even turn brown self-hatred into a blossom as she does in “The Science of Flowers”; in the poem, the self-hatred is not the persona’s but the referenced relatives admiring the paleness of their relatives in Pennsylvania, a whiteness  “from lack of sun exposure”(21). Elevating this poem is the offered contextualization of how the Philippines “is a site of imperial botany” due to participating in the history of moving “botanical knowledge from colonized terrain to Europe.” This exemplifies what strengthens MT’s collection of linguistically beautiful poems: politics, especially when the core subject of something else (in this case, the trauma in a personal history that includes addressing the queer, Filipinix identity as well as losing a loved one to suicide). In this sense, MT’s book surpasses the range of much U.S. American poetry which skirts the political.


Flowers die but pressing flowers creates proof they’ll last. But that pressing can require that the bloom is “crushed, delayed or turned into something else.”(22) The collection presents metaphors without losing the needed directness of confrontation—that’s poetic and political mastery. I’ll never think of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the same way as before I read “Martial Law Trauma.” To explain why, here’s an excerpt of the poem:


My complaint then about this collection is that, as one who had loved her PBJ samwiches, I’ll never think of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the same way as before I read “Martial Law Trauma.” With language, the poet lays waste to Beauty but, through poetry’s paradox, she creates a more lovely Beauty—a similar effect as articulated by the well-chosen Sara Ahmed epigraph of “To kill joy… is to open a life.” I am reminded of  the evocative power of Evelyn Lau ... though there seems to be more light flickering through MT's wings. I wonder about that light—its persistence. Perhaps the light shimmers from the sincerity of those love poems. I can’t think of a more powerful—and romantic—line right now than the paradox-fleshed sentence:


I salivate at the thought of your survival


from “At the Huntington Gardens”—it’s not italicized in the poem but becomes italicized in my reading, so potent is it when in the poem’s context of a lover’s death.


Ultimately, MT’s poems achieve what poets strive for, albeit sometimes secretly: after reading the poems the reader is changed, and changed into something bigger than who they were pre-readingsomeone bigger because their vision has been enlarged.


Eileen R. Tabios has released over 70 collections of poetry, fiction, and diverse types of prose. In 2024 (Asia) & 2025 (World), Penguin Random House SEA will publish her second novel The Balikbayan Artist. Other recent releases an art monograph Drawing Six Directions; a poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War; an autobiography,The Inventor; and a flash fiction collection collaboration with harry k stammer, Getting To One. Other recent books include a first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times which was subsequently translated by Danton Remoto into Filipino as KalapatingLeon (UST Publishing House, 2024). Her work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form; the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity; the “Flooid” poetry form that’s rooted in a good deed; and the monobon poetry form based on the monostich. Translated into 13 languages, she has seen her writing and editing works receive recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at



No comments:

Post a Comment