#GetLit: Trump & White Supremacy

#GetLit

“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees,
then you have a serious problem.”
–Toni Morrison

This past week has been nothing short of a disaster, a crisis on repeat. After three died and several more were injured at a white supremacist, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, I looked to this video by renowned author Toni Morrison who took white supremacy to task.

To make matters worse, Trump has flip-flopped on his pseudo-condemnation of white supremacists, thereby enabling what he unleashed to begin with. If there is any lesson in all of this, I have to give it to a Libromance favorite, Rabih Alameddine:

I’m still trying to understand what provokes white supremacy, and why white people feel the need to assert their whiteness even more, as if hasn’t been the norm since time immemorial. A lot of our institutions today — whether in the government, in education, in the economy, at the workplace — have been historically rooted in preserving white supremacy, and so much back-breaking work has been done by activists, community organizers, even lawmakers over the past few decades to undo this norm. Racism is alive and kicking, although not so much the “in your face” type. But it’s looking like that’s where we’re headed to, all thanks to Trump.

Some questions I’ve been asking are: is it economic? is it political? is it insecurity? What kind of questions do these people ask themselves when they go out and go on torchlit marches, and what answers do they give themselves when someone dies?

I do know that we are all suffering from a system that prioritizes the 1%, because it is made by them after all, and they will do whatever it takes to keep the status quo. In the meantime, I’ve found the Southern Law Poverty Center’s community response guide to be helpful, as it provides context, education and different resources in the face of hate and racism.

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Over the week, I finished George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing which interestingly featured ghosts — specifically the spirits of dead people — in the storyline. I was confused Saunders’s story, but I stayed with Ward’s throughout the whole time. I like to think that there is always some underlying connection with the books I read and the time I’m reading them. Book reviews will be out in the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out.

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My book review of The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman came out this week, check it out when you got a minute — it’s a good read if you want a little bit of hope, if you want to marvel at the audacity and capacity of leaders of different nations to pull their people through.

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I leave you with this: an episode of On Being’s latest podcast, an interview of Krista Tippett with civil rights icon Ruby Sales.

“Where does it hurt?” That’s a question the civil rights legend, Ruby Sales, learned to ask during the days of that movement — a question she found to have a power to drive to the heart of the matter. It’s a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now. Ruby Sales says we must be as clear about what we love as about what we hate, if we want to make change.

 

My family home in Apalit, Pampanga (Philippines)

It must’ve been the year 2000, a few months before my elementary graduation. I was sitting on my “study table,” a wooden contraption with shelves, drawers, a pull-out chair and a fold-out desk trying to figure out what poem to write for my school’s literary journal.

In my eleven year-old mind, I’ve written so much about trees and the “beauty of nature” that I was running out of topics to write. Writing poems about nature back then, was my one true forte. I grew up in a house surrounded by greenery: acacia, banana, tamarind, coconut, jackfruit, mango and bamboo trees dotted our fields, while a variety of santan and gumamela flowers crowded the stairs of our house, with tomato, bitter melon, chili, squash, calabash gourd, cucumber plants and other varieties filled the northern section of our garden. I had an orchard of poems.

I certainly didn’t want to write about love, because I knew I didn’t really know much of it, no matter how many love poems I’ve read. I’m not entirely sure how I was able to resolve that situation but it’s one of the earliest moments of my lifelong affair with poetry.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

— Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not Luxury

These days, I don’t write much poetry although I still read a lot of it. There are so many poets whose work I swear by that I’ve dedicated parts of my body for these lines to be tatted on: Audre Lorde, Wislawa Szymborska, Hafiz, Adrienne Rich, Tomas Tranströmer, Ocean Luong, Nikky Finney, Lorena Barros, June Jordan, Danez Smith, Juan Miguel Severo, Warsan Shire, Saeed Jones.

I’ve also written so many posts on this blog about the work of beloved poets: The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry, Poems of a Half-Finished Heaven with Tomas Tranströmer and The Poetics and Physics of Hugot, with Juan Miguel Severo.

 

A page out of Juan Miguel Severo’s book, Habang Wala Pa Sila

I can remember most of the most memorable — beautiful and painful — moments of my life through poems with the likes of Cherríe Moraga’s The Welder and Warsan Shire’s For Women Who Are Difficult to Love. Everything in my life, it seems like, is punctuated by a poem.

April is National Poetry Month and I’ve been thinking about my relationship with poetry, although I don’t write much of it anymore. Some of the last poems I’ve written were back in 2014, written while riding jeepneys in the Philippines. I’ve also been featured in one of the earliest online poetry collections of Nayyirah Waheed, the very first installment of Salt on Tumblr. I read some of my poems at a Sugarcane reading event in Oakland, where I workshopped my poems with a bunch of amazing queer, women of color for months.

Maybe I’ll find my poetry groove back one of these days, but my love for reading poetry has never stopped.

There’s the writer, who is appealing to her unconscious, to her profound sense of unknowing. And then there’s the reader, who, as the poem comes into being, as I say, as one word puts itself after another, is trying to figure out what the impact of those words in that order might be from a position of knowing. Right? And it’s the negotiation between these two, the unknowing and the knowing, that, crudely put, would represent the positions of the writer and the reader. So if the first reader of the poem is the writer herself, in a strange way the poem is, indeed, only finished, only completely — becomes completely what it might be when that other person comes to it.

— Paul Muldoon, A Conversation with Verse

Here are a few of the poetry books I’m reading this month:

Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado compiled and edited by Juan Miguel Severo
(Amazon | Goodreads)

There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
(Amazon | Indiebound)

Look: Poems by Solmaz Sharif
(Amazon | Indiebound)

Check out the Academy of American Poets’ 30 Ways of Celebrating #NaPoMo, listings and other events here. Write a poem, get a book of poetry for a loved one or read with me! Happy National Poetry Month!

A Lifelong Affair with Poetry

Poetry, Soul + Spirit, Sunday Spotlight

The Difference Between Making a Living and Making a Life, with Pico Iyer

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

I first heard of Pico Iyer through Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, where he discussed the art of stillness. In the interview, Krista asked him how his life has been as an intellectual. Having been educated at Eton, Harvard and Oxford, Pico responded:

I think that everything important in my life has not come through my mind, but through my spirit or my being or my heart. Everything I trust, whether it’s the people I love or the values I cherish or the places that have moved me, have come at some much deeper level than the mind. And I sometimes think the mind makes lots of complications over what is a much more beautiful and transparent encounter with the world.


In many ways, this interview and Pico’s words were deeply imprinted in my consciousness because he opened up language and a way of thinking that speaks to the spirit. As someone who has been traveling at a young age, the travel writer and essayist’s work charts the kinds of roads worth traveling to.

I’ve always held a kind of reverence for traveling, as I’ve written in a book review of Adam Gopnik’s and Alain de Botton’s. I even gushed about the intersections of travel and literature in a previous post, as a fictional character who owned a book barge traveled through the French countryside.

As I listened to the interview, Pico revealed a truth that many wanderers and travelers share: that one travels not to move around, but in order to be moved.

This was clearest to me as I drove through the deserts of Arizona, gazed at the expanse of the Grand Canyon. It was the intimation of my inner life that I sought in these landscapes, away from the grind, the daily sleepwalking of life (as Pico referred to it).

In his book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, he writes about the necessity of sitting quietly, doing nothing, going nowhere. While he doesn’t subscribe to any religious affiliation, his work and his words echo the depth of spirituality. Much more, he proposes a turn away from the constant notifications and updates we’ve come to see as integral parts of our lives.

One could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface. One could take a few days out of every season to go on retreat or enjoy a long walk in the wilderness, recalling what lies deeper than the moment or the self. One could even, as [Leonard] Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

Charting the Inner Landscape of our Lives with Krista Tippett

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit


It was a cold Saturday morning in a hospital in San Francisco and I was huddled on a desk, silently cursing the winter chill. I wasn’t supposed to be at work that day. The department was eerily quiet, too bright with all of the fluorescent light panels on. And then from a corner of my inbox, I noticed an email from Seth Godin that has illuminated my life since then: his interview with Krista Tippet, host of the podcast On Being.

I’ve been a fan of Seth for some time now, religiously devouring his daily emails (you should really subscribe if you haven’t), books, interviews and classes. Seth’s humbling brilliance, punctuated by Krista’s insightful wisdom stunned me. The hour flew by. Even though I was unfamiliar with Krista’s tone and style, it was easy for me to slide into the show’s rhythm.

That interview made me a Krista fan, as I relished episodes wherein she conversed with luminaries I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with: Pico Iyer, Maria Popova, Alain de Botton, Paul Muldoon, David Whyte, Elizabeth Alexander. It wasn’t until later, after ten episodes or so, that I finally started to grapple the depth of the show; I slowly felt its impact within the inner workings of my own being.

What is striking with these conversations is that although Krista’s guests/partners are not necessarily spiritual nor religious, she is always able to take them to a field where the heart, spirit and soul meet, bringing her listeners with her. Each episode always leaves me feeling a little more grounded, embracing the length of being human even more.

As soon as I found out that she was releasing a book, I knew that Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living would be just as generous as Krista was (also Seth’s words in the interview).