Filipino American Poetas en San Francisco
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.
Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She earned a BA in ethnic studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from San Francisco State University. She is the author of the poetry collections Gravities of...