Stories Nourish

"I would ask you to remember only this one thing," said Badger. "The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good story-tellers. Never forget these obligations."

Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez
North Point Press

Name Game

Gura's recent post: name that kid reminds me of a couple of conversations I had with my dad and uncles...

Me: What's Boy's real name?
Dad: Who?
Me (pointing in the general direction of my cousin): Kuya Boy.
Dad: Oh ya, Uncle Lubing's son. Ya, Boy.
Me: Boy is his name?
Dad: Nooooo....not really. He's named after his father.
Me: So he's actually...
Dad: yah...Junior.

Lubing, btw, is actually Illuminado, which brings me to my other uncle who I had always known as Uncle Fred, but at his funeral found out his name was actually Christino. Oddly, when we were all in the Philippines together, everyone called him Uncle Dading. So me, being nosey asks the obvious.

Auntie: Oh well, he was named Christino at birth, but his mother thought it was too strong of a name, so when he was baptised, she named him Alfredo.
Dad (nods): So then we just called him Do, you know for Alfredo and Christino. But in the service (Navy) they just called him Fred. You know, so we (from the States) called him Uncle Fred. But here, they just called him Do, or Da, or Dading. See?

Which of course just made me wonder, who named him Christino in the first place?

(One of these days I'm going to have to work on the phonetics of the FilAm accent - this transcript lacks that certain lilt - aisus!)


Romancing the Novel

There's really no other way to put it, other than I'm trying to date my novel again...romancing it, in a sense, but our relationship has been a torrid affair at times, which makes us both a bit gun shy.

But the signs have been building, most recently in Luisa Igloria's poem Olan Olan, with hints of Charles DeLint and the mention of Barry Lopez who said in an interview:

What I'm trying to get at is, look, what distinguishes literatures at the close of the 20th century? Probably the thing all English speaking literatures are after, one way or another, is a definition of community - and an elucidation of what has happened to community in the wake of colonialism, and, in contemporary terms, under the forcing pressure of capitalism.

Lopez talks about the remaking of places by colonalists in their own image and De Lint of the strength of spaces to tell stories and perhaps even possess enough magic to renew themselves into their original Beingness...or perhaps something more like the old yet irretrievably marked by the new... much like Those of Us Who Came After.


Politics of Beauty

your nose
tight and high.

your skin
from darkening sunrays.

your feet;
no shuffling steps.

your back
tall and lean.

your tongue
around English words,

words erasing,
taking away skin,

almond brown,
hair, midnight sky.

you'll pass
through golden doors,

behind paddies
and plantations ripped

jungle hillsides
where kulintang sing

songs for
darkskinned children begging,

mothers turning
tricks, sending daughters

to broken men
with violent hands,

Mebuyan weeps
the dead home.


I was going to dedicate this poem to Ver's daughters and mine as well when it occured to me that this poem is really for all the pinays who still believe that by changing their bodies, by being jealous of taller, thinner, paler women, by wishing they were different that who they are physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, that they can somehow undo the violence of colonialism and capitalism inflicted upon them since before birth.

For the silent ones whose beauty shines beneath the layered pain, this poem is given with a pledge that no more shall our daughters suffer from these injustices. So help us.



One of the other topics that came up during the Q&A of Angela Oh's keynote at CAPTIVATE was Mentors. One student asked: Who were your mentors?

She responded that she had few mentors and that none were women, let alone women of color. In her travels she has met many "first and only" Asian women in academia, women who seemed welcoming enough but only so far. She was often perceived as a threat to their "only-ness."

At dinner, two Asian women from Seattle who were part of a coalition to investigate racism on campus also mentioned their lack of mentors. This suprised me since they are women who have worked in advocacy in the Seattle area for several years, and who would likely make very good mentors to others. It was an odd juxtaposition of women I saw as mentors yearning for mentors of their own.

I have often looked for a mentor and have been fortunate to find incredibly generous teachers over the years, white men at first, but more recently women of color. But no one I could call 'mentor' on my overall journey through life or even 'mentor' of my art journey.

Last week, after giving my first public storytelling performance, one of the other storytellers advised me against taking any storytelling workshops right away. This surprised me as I have been trying to find ways to get to a storytelling workshop as soon as possible. I had fallen into my old habits - get interested in something then take as many classes as possible to learn about it. Seasoned Storyteller was backed up by Guild President - build your style first, get it firm - then go to workshops. There's nothing worse in their minds than to become a replication of another storyteller.

They told me that they could tell from a storyteller's style who they had trained with. One Teller's students barely moved on stage, performing stories within a predetermined two foot square that framed their face. Another Teller's students gestured with open palms and a slight lift of the fingers. They argued that all the Teller's were good teachers and even recommended certain ones for certain techniques, but overall, cautioned me that I had the building blocks of a very unique style that could only emerge with more practice.

I went home stunned but also very gratified - here were two people who didn't need me to be their 'student' as an ego trip and who saw in me the potential for something unique as a storyteller, something that needed to be protected until it had been strengthened. They had offered good critique of my performance, but they were comments designed to bring out the best in what they perceived as my potential and the potential of the story.

I could not help but wonder how my writing journey could have been different if I had had writers/teachers who had said the same to me - we see great potential, uniqueness. Now go and practice. Write. Submit. Don't try to anticipate market. Strengthen your unique style.

In short, mentored me. Because I'm beginning to understand that's what the difference between a mentor and a teacher is. A teacher can teach technique and the ability to see style in other work, to make connections between sets of experiences and moments in history. A teacher is about mechanics. A mentor is someone who brings out the best in their students, whatever that unique Best might be. A mentor is both knowledgable and humble. Rare indeed.


New Post Below

I started a draft of a post a few days ago and finished it tonight but can't figure out how to change the date of the post so it comes to the top of my blog.

So this post is a pointer to the post One Woman's Journey .


Arts and Astronomy

My father-in-law, a researcher with the USDA specializing in mitigating wind erosion on crop fields, once asked me what writing in specific, and art in general, had to do with feeding the world. His argument was that people had to be fed first before they could pursue art and other creative works. I half believed him - afterall, how can what I write possible make a difference to someone barely able to feed herself let alone her children?

It's one of those 'back of the mind' questions that sometimes surfaces when I'm feeling a bit unsure of myself. It was gratifying, then to find this quote by Vatican Astronomer, Guy Consolmagno. He speaks of working in the Peace Corp in Africa and finding that people there were very interested in his knowledge:

And I understood then why (Astronomy is) important. It's one of those things that makes us more than just well-fed cows. It satisfies a really deep hunger to know, to go someplace, to explore. And that is a hunger that is as human, as basic to human beings as food and shelter and anything else. And it's denied to a person only at the cost of denying them their humanity. By telling poor people, "No, no, you have to go hunt for food, you can't do astronomy," you are saying that they're less than human. And that's wrong. And it's a tragedy.

Art is the same way, I feel. No matter who we are, we are meant to do more than just hunt for food, even if that hunt is in corporate America or the heartland of Africa.

Art is not a luxury few can afford. Art is integral to our humanity.


One Woman's Journey

"I am not a writer. I am a speaker," writes Angela Oh, yet her book Open: One Woman's Journey" is a vivid memoir of her work as advocate and witness. In her words:

"My perspective is a product of who I am -- a second generation Korean woman, and first generation new American, born and raised in Los Angeles at the historical moment when Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and the Free Speech Movement were emerging in the collective consciousness of a nation."

I had the good fortune a few weeks ago to meet Angela Oh at CAPTIVATE 2006, an API women's conference at Washington State University, and I discovered she speaks as she writes - with a gentle lucidity that was both refreshing and challenging. A key presence during the days and months after the LA riots, she historicized the events and related to us her first-hand knowledge of current racial acts toward APAs:

The LA riots defined Korea America. "Because Korean Americans had been thrust violently into the headlines, a new definition of "community" emerged that helped awaken a nation. Political engagement in American society, cultural expression, social outreach, and ecumenical exchange emerged as the next step in self-reflection and community growth."

She spoke clearly on how difficult it is to build coalitions among all minorities due to the dominant structures aflicting our society.

"The desire to exclude APIs (from coalition building on college campuses) can be justified by numbers and political discourse that is popularly devoured in times of distress. The insecurity of APIs arises out of feeling of ambiguity about the data that suggest achievement (i.e. guilt, shame, pride, joy). Thus questions arise as to whether APIs are, in fact, just greedy, self-interested, and complicit with those powers tha continue to deprive Blacks and Latinos of achieving in America. Rather than take power and inspiration from the achievements to leverage more change on behalf of others who have been marginalized, oppressed, or silenced, APIs seem confused about how to define a new role in the movement for social change and justice. Just because it doesn't exist now, doesn't mean a new generation cannot create...what is needed now in order for unnecesary suffering and confusion to stop."

She had a calming presence, one very much needed considering that the conference was being held during the preparations of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce annual fundraiser. The theme this year? Orient Express, complete with red banners, gold Chinese lettering, a large statue of a meditiating Buddha, a display of Chinese women's dress, and ikebana flower arrangements. The irony was not lost on any of us in attendence.

Through her, though, I saw another face of activism, one that looks unflinchingly at racism and says "this is unjust" then moves to a space of grace which seeks healing rather than 'an eye for an eye.' She is a woman who lives and embodies her faith as Zen Buddhist Priest, Rinzai Sect. She is unapologetic of her race and the history of struggle, using it instead to reveal the cultural strengths that make Asians survivors. "APIs should not apologize for, or feel embarrased about, succeeding in a society that has a clear history of racism and bigotry against non-Europeans...we cannot ignore the face that people still link skin color and physical traits to cultural and social characteristics...but it would be a mistake to respond to ignorance with ignorant strategies."

I admired her because she also believed in the power of story:

"I am convinced that one of the ways for people of conscience to move toward a common ground is to share our stories."

She also provided clues as to why 1.5 and 2nd generation Asians often feel lost and outside both cultures in which they exist...

"Not surprisingly, (successful immigrant parents) believed if they provided money for food and after-school programs such as tutoring, or life their children home with televisions and computers, things would be find. The parents were wrong."

...while providing a possible space for healing...

"People of multi-racial heritage have opened the door for the rest of us to begin experiencing what the real issue is when it comes to racial reconciliation -- the issue of our common humanity. This humanity lies at the core of relations to one another, no matter what the physical traits, the geographic region, or level of prosperity or pverty. Recognition of our inter-connectedness is the first step toward recognition of our common humanity. Multi-racial people, in their very being, teach us ths powerful lesson...the social reality is that today's multi-racial generation insists on claiming both as having equally important bearing on their identity."

This was an issue I often heard at the conference, that the women of mixed-heritage felt as if they were embodying the disconnection and racism they saw in their society. They were conflicted, unable to settle in one culture or another, when in reality they are our hope for an integrated society, a physical presence of strength just in their Being. It is important, then for us to be mentors to this generation, even as we mentor each other on how to effectively express our inherent strengths.


Service is the rent you pay for room on this planet.

-Shirley Chisholm

Chatelaine Calls. We Must Answer.


Following the enthusiastic response to THE FIRST HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY, copublishers Meritage Press and xPress(ed) are pleased to announce a Submissions Call for THE HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY, NO. 2, co-edited by Jean Vengua and Mark Young.

Deadline: September 31, 2006.

Send submissions (cutnpasted in body of e-mail) to MeritagePress@aol.com . Be reasonable in the volume of your submissions. Also, please submit just once (rather than sending staggered submissions). Note that we are open to visual poetry (vizpo), but apologize that we must limit it to black-and-white reproductions. If you have any commentary about the form itself, please also feel free to share that as well as we'd like to incorporate other poets' thoughts about the form within the book.

The hay(na)ku is a tercet where the first line consists of one word, the second line of two words, and the third line of three words. We are also interested in your variations of this form, such as the sequence, black-and-white vizpo hay(na)ku, the reverse hay(na)ku and any other such variations as the poet may propose. Hay(na)ku in non-English languages are also acceptable, as long as they are submitted with English translations.

For examples of hay(na)ku, please check out (1) the links cited by the Hay(na)ku Blog; (2) the Hay(na)ku Poetic Form page; and (3) THE FIRST HAY(NA)KU ANTHOLOGY itself (distributed through SPD at spdbooks.org as well as Amazon.com).

Submissions can be previously published. Participants will receive contributors' copies. Expected release date will be in Spring 2007.

Jean Vengua is a writer and editor. She lives in Santa Cruz California. Her poetry has been published in various print and online journals and anthologies, including Otoliths, Proliferation, We (print and audio CD), Babaylan, Returning a Borrowed Tongue, Moria, Sidereality, Interlope, X-Stream and Fugacity. As Jean N. V. Gier, her introduction "Variations on a Circle in Blue," appears in Eileen Tabios's book of short stories, Behind the Blue Canvas; other essays appear in Jouvert ( N.C.S.U.), Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Cultural Criticism (U.C. Berkeley), and Geopolitics of the Visual: Essays on Philippine Film Cultures (University of Ateneo Press). "Flux & Abilidad: Notes on a Filipino American Poetics," is featured in PinoyPoetics, edited by Nick Carbo. She maintains the blog at Okir.

Mark Young has been publishing poetry for almost fifty years. His most recent books are from Series Magritte (Moria), Betabet (BlazeVOX) & episodes (xPress(ed)). He lives in Australia on the Tropic of Capricorn from where he edits the online journal Otoliths & maintains his weblogs, currently gamma ways & mark young's Series Magritte. He also has an author's page at the New Zealand electronic poetry centre.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: MeritagePress@aol.com


Walking Labyrinths

I've been thinking alot about Labyrinths lately, their circularity and sense of returning. Two dimensional versions of my spirals idea, labyrinths evoke movement, change, but also deliberation, a sense of pace while covering nearly the same but not exactly the same area. Although used in meditation for centuries, I have discovered that living a labyrinth is both disorienting and challenging.

I've been moving non-stop since about the middle of February, aspects of my life looping around and intersecting each other - healing arts, storytelling, writing, Filipinana, family. I have a sense that it's all building toward something, a cohesiveness within me, but it's still early and some pieces that I tried to put into place have fallen away, while others have moved forward with such a rapid pace as to be breathtaking.

I walked a labyrinth at Queenswood recently and discovered something I had not realized before - all spirals have a center, all labyrinths have a center, and my own journey has a Center, a deep abiding Center, personal and profound, One that has never left me, no matter how many loops of the spiral I have traveled and gotten lost on. It's a Center I can rely on, startling in It's Ubiquity, uncompromising in It's Love.

And in remembering this I can know that as Tolkien said, "Not all who wander are lost."


Ward Against Aswang

Jean recently mentioned the possibility of vampires in her house and I offered a Ward Against Aswang

Number puzzles are supposed to be especially effective against malevolent spiritfolk, so it seemed appropriate to use hay(na)ku.

Thanks Jean for posting the poem!


With Gratitude and Joy

Announcing the publication of Halo Halo Means Mix Mix at Haruah: Breath of Inspiration

Originally intended as a hypertext short fiction piece that I never finished coding, it appeared in Notes from the Margins, my MA thesis. Only three copies of Notes were published, so technically Halo Halo's appearance in Haruah is my first open market short story publication. I'm extremely pleased to see story out in the world.

The editors of this new zine are looking for good writers willing to share their work for the joy of expression. If there's a nugget in your basket, send it in. The staff is wonderful and enthusiastic!


Yes, all the recipes are real. Apologies in advance for creating food cravings...


Congratulations and Mabuhay!

Gods We Worship Live Next Door
by Bino A. Realuyo
Winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry

Not Even Dogs
by Ernesto Priego
The first single-author hay(na)ku poetry book.


Poems by Eileen R. Tabios
Reveals for the first time the secret lives of those gestures so small that they are often taken for granted or overlooked: punctuations.


mangyan child

With deepest gratitude to Barbara Jane for her encouragement, instruction, and mentorship, and to Chie for her unshakable faith,

I am pleased to announce the publication of mangyan child on Haruah: Breath of Heaven .