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Filipino American Poetas en San Francisco

By Barbara Jane Reyes

Hello all. So I’ve neglected to mention that I co-curate (with poet and editor Edwin Lozada) and host a monthly reading series in San Francisco, for a lovely non-profit organization called the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc. (I am not too thrilled with the “Inc.” part of the name, but the organization itself is very good). For those of you not in the know, the Filipino American artist community in the SF Bay Area majorly overlaps with our activist community. Many of our organizations are homegrown, and have formed completely outside of academic and institutional settings. Poetry for us happens in community centers’ storytelling circles, and the best publicity is word of mouth.

These community centers are multi-disciplinary and multi-purpose spaces. Musical and theater performances, art exhibits, and literary readings take place in the same spaces as meetings to organize political demonstrations for Filipino WWII Veterans’ benefits, and for the tenant rights of this gentrified city’s low income Asian elderly. A couple of our activist and artist hot spots are South of Market (SoMa) and the new I-Hotel rebuilt in our former Manilatown, wedged between the Financial District, Chinatown, and North Beach.

And always, as with most Filipino gatherings, there’s food, and lots of enthusiastic picture taking. The vibe in the place becomes nothing like monotone automaton reading from behind a podium, eyes glaze over literary event; it’s more like a Philippine palengke, or bustling marketplace.

One of the challenges or experiments I have taken on as the readings co-curator for PAWA is bringing Filipino American and multicultural authors and literary figures from outside of the Bay Area and our local writers together and into our Filipino extended family gatherings.

In July, we featured Randall Mann and Kristin Naca, who had never met each other, and who ended up realizing that they were the boy and girl versions of each other. Randall read mostly from Breakfast with Thom Gunn, and Kristin read from her forthcoming Bird Eating Bird (which won the 2008 National Poetry Series and mtvU Prize). We brought in Kundiman fellow Debbie Yee, and Spanish poet Mariano Zaro. I was a little anxious that our readers would think the atmosphere was not formal, prestigious, or “literary” enough; you know how you want to die of embarrassment when you bring your new boyfriend into your crazy family’s gatherings? Well, that didn’t happen. The mix was fabulous. The writers were pleased. The audience loved them. In the meantime, I had to remember; the last time I saw Randall read was at Joe’s Barbershop (an actual barbershop) for the excellent Barbershop Reading Series, curated by Michael McAllister. Prior to this, Randall told us, he read in a motorcycle club. Anyway, you can see video and photos here.

Just last week, we brought in Oliver de la Paz and Joseph O. Legaspi, and they were joined by local poet Mari L’Esperance and Filipina classical guitarist Theresa Calpotura. Edwin has used McAllister’s writers and musician format as our model, and I think this works well. I mentioned something during my introductions about the Xicano/Latino tradition of Floricanto, or Flor y Canto (Flower and Song), what I have been introduced to as celebrations of Latino literature, and the inclusion of song in literature. As this post is going way long, let me end by first saying that Joseph rocked mad shoe game, and that Mari said something I really appreciated about her elegiac poems, that poetry is a place where we can address darkness and loss in meaningful and substantial ways. Absolutely. Videos and photos are here.

Comments (5)

  • On September 24, 2009 at 4:49 pm Jill wrote:

    These readings sound heavenly. Seriously. I want to go. Are there analogues in other cities that you know of?

    • On September 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm Don Share wrote:

      The Guild Complex in Chicago, I would say, and in particular their Palabra Pura series. Other programs of theirs include:

      B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own People)
      The Exchange
      Guild Complex Prose Series & Awards
      Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award
      Muslim Women Writers Event
      Poetry Performance Incubator
      The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry national tour
      Andrés Montoya and Cave Canem Literary Prizes cohort residencies and reading

      • On September 24, 2009 at 10:58 pm Latino Poetry Review wrote:

        Hi Don:

        Thanks for the plug. We just did our sixth Wind Shifts reading in Kansas City, MO last night and the tour winds to a close at Poet’s House in NYC on October 29 with a panel discussion before hand with Rich Villar, Urayoán Noel joining Brenda Cardenas and Gina Franco.

        Barbara, I love the curatorial work you’re doing in the Bay Area.

        F

    • On September 24, 2009 at 5:06 pm Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

      HI folks, thanks for your comments. I also forgot to mention that Arkipelago Books, a Fil-Am owned, local indie bookstore, orders these authors’ books, and am glad to see that a good number of books are sold.

      I don’t know if in other cities this happens, but there are also a number of reading series run in people’s private homes in the Bay Area, so that also lends itself to food and booze potluck style.

    • On September 24, 2009 at 5:31 pm Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

      HI again, Jill, I have been to a very festive reading full of food and family in Fresno. It was organized by Lee Herrick, editor of the journal In the Grove.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Barbara Jane Reyes.