This Alien

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Being an alien, as Craig Raine showed us many years ago in his book, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, gives one a different perspective on matters earthlings see everyday. Of course, though some may claim they truly know what an actual alien might feel or think of us, we can only imagine being an alien.

There are many ways one could imagine being one by choice. And then there are ways one is made to feel like one: the various boundaries set by nation, by society at large, by smaller groups of people. To a certain extent, bullies like pointing out with their little minds those they perceive as aliens who must be exterminated, or at least be shoved to the ground and ridiculed.

I’ve had my share of being forced to feel like an alien. In a creative sense, that is what one tries to be so that what is ordinary can be turned into something to be marvelled at.

I wrote a poem in 2015 in response to what was happening in my adopted country, South Africa, under the leadership of Jacob Zuma. I sent the poem to a number of journals hoping to get it published and found no luck.

Earlier this year, following the publication of WINGS OF SMOKE, my hopes were raised. I submitted to a local publisher a poetry manuscript (currently called CROCODILES IN BELFAST), which included the poem. The reader they asked to assess the manuscript singled out that same poem. I don’t know who the reader was, but I’m quoting his/her words here.

Most striking for me are some of the political poems – “Baleka, what do you know…?”, “Fire, the King Who is Called” – poems which are daring, in our present context, critical, perhaps even scandalous, but which doesn’t contain the demeaning language that some of our slogans, memes or cartoons may contain. This doesn’t make the poems less critical or less subversive of the powerful figures they address, but they show what a non-indulgent, properly poetic treatment of powerful figures may look like. The language of “King” is remarkably restrained, yet one can feel almost something akin to literary tectonic plates shifting in terms of traditions of South African political poetry. It is as if the author knows that they are playing with fire, tries to hold their hands from the flame, but cannot resist the draw of the flames. But irrespective of the subject matter, it is the control over language that makes “King” remarkable, and it is this quality that runs throughout the collection: clarity of expression (even if resolution may escape the reader – which in itself is not a bad thing), restraint in the expression and control over language, which creates tension and torsion.

Despite the high recommendation from that reader, the publisher got back to me, after they asked for a few revisions, with a final rejection. They cited “economic realities” as the reason. I cannot hide my disappointment. But I have to move on.

That poem has finally found a home online. The Johannesburg Review of Books, free for all to enjoy, features my poem “Fire, the King Who is Called,” alongside some fantastic poetry and short stories from leading SA authors. I am deeply honoured.

Although the poem has been slightly edited for South African readers, which I don’t really mind, I do need to point out something for those unfamiliar with local politics. The main word removed that some might find important was “Gedleyihlekisa” – the middle name of Jacob Zuma. That name’s definition is the poem’s epigram which I quoted from an SA history website.

It might also help non-SA readers to search online for stories that mention the following: firepool, ANC Women’s League, Khwezi, kanga, Nkandla, Zapiro versus Zuma, rape trial, The Spear painting, and The President’s Keepers.

Tomorrow, 16 December, the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, holds its 54th national conference to elect new leaders. Some people might see it as the beginning of the end of Zuma’s reign.

This alien will be watching.

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Poems in a unique website

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A new South African website for poetry went up a few months ago called AVBOB POETRY. I wasn’t quite sold to the idea, but in the end I submitted 26 poems (I think) and a handful got accepted. Not sure if that’s a good rate or not, but a foot in the door is better than being completely shut out, right?

The poems had to deal with themes of love, birth, death and hope.

I’m still finding it tricky navigating the site, but my poems are up and free to read.

You have to search by title. So here they are (I can’t give links to each poem, you need to enter the title in the search box):

Window of Days

My Brother Lives on the Other Side

Falling in Reverse

Would You Hate Birds for Crossing Borders?

Song for Liesl

 

 


Don’t be tricked into following the herd

Sometimes free means free. No strings attached. Here’s an early Christmas gift.

Fixional has made available my special trilogy of poems based on Krzystof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy of films.

While I’m at it, I’d like to thank the editors of the following websites and journals for publishing my work in the past. I have posted links to some of them previously.

Modern Poetry in Translation

 Aerodrome

Canopic Jar 

Houseboat

Black Friday Sales are being promoted extensively even here in South Africa. If you pause and think, it’s nothing but a way for shops and online retailers to offload old stock before the Christmas rush of new products to entice consumers. But really, they’re just material things you already have, perhaps newer versions with a few new bells and whistles. How soon after the feelgood rush of the purchase will you be made to crave for the next new iteration?

I don’t see the same when it comes to books, good books that aren’t designed to be replaced in a season. Or at least that’s the hope. So forgive my little sales pitch.

If you are outside of the Philippines, please consider ordering my new book, WINGS OF SMOKE, online via the following (or other decent retailers):

The Onslaught Press

The Book Depository

Amazon

But if you are in Manila, you’re in luck as https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FUSTPublishingHouse%2Fposts%2F1683897564963264&width=500” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>UST Publishing House has a sale of all my books they’ve published. Get all of them at a great discount!

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A few poems in response to Duterte’s so-called War on Drugs and Rebecca T. Añonuevo’s writings

There are words and there are words.

In the 2017 film “The War for the Planet of the Apes,” words and the meanings they convey are key to an evolutionary leap toward “being human.” The film is a brave effort that attacks the politics of war and the blindness of hate. It turns on its head the entire idea of what it is that makes us human. You will need to see the entire trilogy of films to fully appreciate what the filmmakers have accomplished.

My country of birth, the Philippines, has grabbed headlines worldwide due to the seeming popularity of the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, and his murderous regime that has so far resulted in the killing of between 7,000 to over 13,000 (depending on the source of data).

Dead bodies continue to turn up every single day since Duterte took to power. Most of the victims are from poor communities. This is no war on drugs but a war on the poor.

Rebecca T. Añonuevo is an award winning poet in the Philippines. She is a friend, yes, even as she chooses to support Duterte. I cannot condemn her beliefs and opinions, as we all have them. But then she uses poetry every now and again to express or cloud her views, and I cannot help but respond in an attempt to dialogue. She has since broken ties with many fellow writers, including myself.

I am posting the following poems – perhaps more to be added one day – to open the dialogue to a wider readership. There is a Philippine literary tradition called “Balagtasan,” a kind of debate using poetry – or at least rhyming verse. In this vein, you could perhaps call this a modern version of the Balagtasan.

With good poetry, one is often forced into a moment of silence. But when poetry is used to confuse what matters, silence alone should not suffice.

There are words and there are words.

ps I am unable to supply English translations for these at the moment, so I apologize to those who cannot read Filipino.

-o-

Hindi Tabla ang Laylay na Bisig, Hindi Yero ang Basag na Bungo

 

“Limpiyo ang bugso ng hangin
Kahit humahaplit ang bagyo sa mga lalawigan.
Gumagalaw ang lakas ng mamamayan,
Nagdadamayan, magkakadaop-palad
Sa pag-alalay sa mga balo at ulila.
Nagtitindig muli ng humapay na haligi’t bubungan.”
– “Limpiyo,” ni Rebecca T. Añonuevo

 

Sa pader na kay tayog, kay kinis dahil sa araw-araw,
gabi-gabin pagkuskos ng mga tagalinis, may natanaw akong
akala ay dating kakilala sa pag-aararo ng mga salita
at diwa. Ngunit bangag na alingawngaw na lamang

ang naulinigan nang siya’y magwika sa megaphone.
Balu-baluktot na tila pinaglagos-lagos sa pilipit
na tubo ang mga kataga. Sa mga taludtod na sinukat
ng bali-baling patpat, hinugot ng isipan

sa kung saang lupalop malayo sa mga eskinita
na pinagdanakan ng mga pinangakuan,
ito ang kanyang sambit: Tabla ang laylay na bisig,
yero ang basag na bungo. Kay daling gawan

ng bagong tahanan ang mga naiwan,
bigyan kaya ng pagkaing kailangan,
sabihan na para sa higit na kabutihan
ang mga pinaslang. Walang lugar

ang palahaw sa kamaong umaga. Pumalag,
nanlaban ang aking kaibuturan. Ang mga binalo
at inulila, paano kaya mapapalitan
ang kanilang minamahal na hindi na muling

mayayapos o makakahabing-hininga?
Kumaway ako sa nakaupo sa pader,
isinigaw ang iisang tinig na nilunod
ng kaskasan ng mga tagalinis.

-o-

 

Agawan ng Eksena

 

“Pero wala nang kibo ang bata.
Nakadapa. Naliligo sa dugo.
May nagsabing berdugo:
May hawak siyang baril sa kaliwa.
Kanan ang bata kapag kumakaway.”
– “Bata,” Rebecca T. Añonuevo

 

May pusod ang lahat ng tao. Pusod ang dugtungan
ng kawad na laman sa inang bukal ng buhay
na hiram, hanggang sa sandaling putulin
sa tama sanang panahon, at hindi sa ibang dahilan.

Kaya naman walang katulad ang sidhi ng dalamhati
sa paglibing sa sariling supling. Winawarak nito
ang kaayusan na magulang ang dapat mauna
sa paglisan. Lalong kay tindi kung mga kuko

ng karahasan ang humugot sa isinilang.
Sandali. Bakit tila higit na tinitimbang kung kabataan
ang pinaslang? Ang huklubang pulubi,
barya na lamang ba? Hindi kailangang mag-agawan

ng eksena, matanda man o bata
ang libo-libong pinaslang.
Sa larangan ng trahedyang pambansa,
tinutupad lamang ng utusan ang utos.

Sandali. Tandaang bawat tao, may pusod.
Pikitmatang salatin mo ang sa iyo.
Damhin. Isaisip ang hugis
ng balang naglagos.

-o-

 

Ang Balahibo Mo sa Puwet

 

“Rodrigo, pasok na, nakalatag na ang dilim!
Puli na! Uwi pa ba iyan ng matino?
Hindi mo na nakikita ang balahibo mo!
Mare, ilabas mo ang hagupit, kung kailangang dalihin
Sa puwet ang palalong espiritung lumukob sa bunso.”
– “Mareng Soleng,” Rebecca T. Añonuevo

 

May mga naniniwala sa multo,
sa mga espiritung naglilipana
pagkagat ng dilim sa lansangan.
O kaya sa halimaw na umuusbong

mula sa tadyang ng kung anong puno,
sa nakaluklok sa tatsulok na bunton ng lupa,
sa mga halos-taong naglaladlad
ng mga pakpak samantalang inihihiwalay

mula sa baywang ang katawan,
at sa di-mabilang pang nilikha
mula sa mga takot at imahinasyon
ng mga siguro ay wala lang ibang magawa.

Minsan may mga kailangang bigyan
ng anyo nang may maitukoy
sa panahon ng pagkalito
o kawalan ng unawa. Mas maigi ito

kaysa umapuhap sa usok at pagdudahan
ang di-mahablot-hablot ng sariling kamay
sa karimlan ng pag-iisa. Isang araw
magigising ka paghipo ng balahibo mo

sa puwet, sa pumipintig na latay
ng inang malaon nang yumao ngunit
hinihingan mo pa rin ng payo.
Matatakot ka sa halimaw

na walang pangalan at papalit-palit
ng anyo. Mamumukhaan ang sarili
sa huling pagliko palayo
sa inihabilin na daan.

-o-

 

Sumpa sa Pagkawasak

 

“Sumusumpa sa watawat. Busilak
Ang pag-asa, ang pangarap, para sa bayang ititindig sa pagkawasak.”
– “Mamaw Pulis,” Rebecca T. Añonuevo

 

Hindi sanay magtapon ng pagkain
ang aming angkan na mulat
sa kahirapan. Ang kaning lamig

isinasangag kinabukasan sa sibuyas
at gulay mula sa tirang ulam.
Habang makakain, ihahain.

Walang sinasayang.
Walang basta itinatapon
nang hindi hinahanapan

ng katiting mang halaga.
Tila pinsan ng ganitong pananaw
ang kintsugi ng Hapones,

sining ng pagkumpuni sa nabasag
na seramikong mangkok o tasa,
gamit ang pinaghalong pulbos na ginto,

platinum, o pilak. Inililigtas
ang nagkapira-piraso
na dati ay isa at buo,

tila ipinagdiriwang
ang bagong anyong pinunan
ang kawalan. Mainam, ano?

Pero ang mga pinaslang
ng iyong mga pinupuri
hindi maibabalik ng kitsugi.

-o-

Walang Apoy na Namukadkad sa Kaniyang Tuntungan

 

Binuhusan siya ng langis ng nagdedeliryong pangkat,
Sinindihan ang posporo, ang panggatong, pero walang apoy,
Walang apoy na namukadkad sa kaniyang tuntungan.
– “Istorya ng Makata,” Rebecca T. Añonuevo

 

Samantalang dumadaloy, pawindang-windang
sa sapot-sapot na mga ugat sa buhay
na katawan, tila tubig sa ilog ang dugo.
Mainit, kahit sa sandali ng pagputol

ng hininga, paggapang sa kalsada.
Ngunit tulad ng nilisang katawan,
magmamabagal ito, mangungunyapit
sa kahit anong malapit

bago lubusang huminto
sa malamig at magaspang
na semento, sa bingit ng biyak
na imburnal, sa balat ng kapwa

pinatumba ng bala, o kaya sa paanan
ng nagmamasid lamang,
hindi iniinda ang umaalsang likido
na lumunod na sa kanyang tinutuntungan.

-o-

 

Ang Pagsalakay ng mga Peste

 

“Ingat ka, may oras ang pagsalakay ng mga peste.”
– “Daga,”Rebecca Añonuevo

 

Hindi ako tinuruan ng aking ama
kung paano manghuli ng daga.

Mapalad daw ako dahil hindi panahon
ng taggutom at digmaan ang aking kinamulatan,
sabi niya. Pero makulit ako, mapagtanong.

“Ano’ng lasa ng daga?”
“Kung tama ang pagkaluto, parang manok na rin.”
“Paano ang balahibo? Ang nguso?
Ang buntot? Ang maliliit na paa at daliri?”

Naglagos sa akin ang titig ni Itay,
parang may kung anong nagtatatakbo
at patago-tago ang sinusundan.

Nalantad ang mga litid sa kanyang leeg,
lumukso ang mga buto
ng kanyang mga kamay sa sandaling pagpalag.

Nanlamig akong bigla,
tinangay ng kanyang mga mata sa daigdig
na hindi ko nais makita.

-o-

 


36th National Book Awards Finalists | National Book Development Board

http://booksphilippines.gov.ph/36th-national-book-awards-finalists/

My book, SANGA SA BASANG LUPA at iba pang kuwento, has been shortlisted for the Philippine National Book Award.

I’m happy for my paper child. Thankful for the nomination. Hopeful for a wider readership.


Peter Horn didn’t think his poem would one day appear as a precursor to Duterturds


Acclaimed Novelist Edgar Calabia Samar Includes SANGA SA BASANG LUPA on his “Best Filipino Books”

It came as a surprise this morning when I was notified that highly respected writer Edgar Calabia Samar included my short story collection SANGA SA BASANG LUPA among the best books in Filipino released in the past three years.

Maraming salamat, Egay. Sana maniwala sa iyong payo ang laksa-laksa mong mambabasa.

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Oh, my book gets first mention, too! And who can resist that eye-catching cover designed by… hahahaha… that fabric came all the way from Indonesia (if I remember right), on one of our last trips before the kids were born. The branch that looks like a snake came from one of our walks on Tygerberg Nature Reserve – and no, I didn’t break it off a poor plant, I found it on the side of one of the trails. The back cover image I took from NASA. You’ll have to buy the book just for the lovely cover. Hahahaha… no, really, I think it’s worthy of reading and owning. It might be my first and last short story collection in Filipino. It’s too much effort for me to write fiction. I need the space and time. Ah, we shouldn’t always be fighting for space and time.