Category Archives: Jim Pascual Agustin

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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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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An interview with Fixional: forget me, read my work instead

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I don’t like talking about myself. I prefer sharing thoughts about other things – literary, or otherwise. You can chat to me about movies, music, the ant climbing up the side of a wall, or just about anything else.

Don’t ask me how to read my writing. Unless we’re in a workshop environment, don’t ask me to explain what I’m trying to say in my writing at all.

But every now and again I get asked to respond to particular questions for an interview that will be made public. I only agree to interviews if I think they would help me find more readers. Please don’t see it as a marketing ploy. I would hate that.

Read the interview, consider giving my work a chance to be discovered by new readers. Tell your friends about the interview. Tell them that you read my blog regularly – or have just discovered it today. I want people to adopt my paper children. They need warm homes.

So… here’s the link to Fixional where my latest interview appears.

Fixional recently published my trilogy of poems that were based on the cinematic masterpiece trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Three Colors: Blue, White, Red.

Forget me. Read my work. Please. Maraming salamat.

PS – I haven’t read he final version of the interview, was too excited to. If you find typos or errors, please tell me. Fixional used to be NoiseMedium, which awarded my poem “To be an Orc” the Grand Prize last year.


Brief Bio for an Anthology

I stare at it like the beginning of a flatline,
that dash next to my year of birth.
Two lines down, a paragraph with nothing
but blurry snapshots of a life
unwillingly summarised for imagined readers,
strangers, for posterity.

Then that uncontrollable laughter kicks in.
It is shrill, like the wailing of an ambulance,
and drowns out all dramatic gestures
I have conjured for myself
on that page. Delusions of grandeur
stripped naked on a stretcher.

Sometimes oneself can be the cruelest critic,
the first to hold the blade
against such tender skin.

June 2008
-o-

(from Alien to Any Skin, UST Publishing House, Manila 2011)

This poem came to mind when a good friend, SA poet Raphael d’Abdon shared his bionote poem with his friends on Facebook. I hope I haven’t posted this before here. The book where this poem first appeared, Alien to Any Skin, was published around August six years ago (if memory serves me right).

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Wings of Smoke gets reviewed on Eclectica Magazine

ECLETICA MAGAZINE wings of smoke

I’m always thankful for every reader who spends some time with my work – whether it’s a haiku attempt, an essay,  a story, a poem. Then there’s that completely different kind of high when someone not only reads a whole book, but writes a review to share what s/he feels about it.

Wings of Smoke received very warm reviews from Aerodrome and The FilAm. And now this one from Ecletica Magazine! Lovers of poetry will find Jennifer Finstrom’s review engaging and, I hope, make readers consider getting a copy of the book.


“Like a Log” on SoundCloud to mark UN Refugee Day

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I am bothered by news from back home. Internal displacement in Mindanao due to the fighting between government forces and the Maute group comes to mind. Disturbing news of the growing number of dead from the fighting as well as in the dire situation at refugee centers.

And then, of course, there is the ever-increasing number of people fleeing their own countries in desperation due to war. They try to cross treacherous seas, and, even if they survive, they are rarely met with open arms. They face borders.

Borders, before they become fences and walls, are imagined. Applied to people, they can easily be turned into tools of abuse, tools of turning one human being against another, tools of forgetting what happens when those armed and more powerful impose their will on the vulnerable.

Listening to the radio this morning, I learned it was Refugee Day.

I have never been a refugee. I’m an immigrant by choice – by luck. Even as all of us can be struck with a longing for our place of birth, the place where we took our first breath, tasted water, touched mud, got blinded by dust on a hot day, we can only imagine the struggles of refugees.

I’m sharing my poem, “Like a Log,” which first appeared in The Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology VI. I’ve also posted a voice recording on SoundCloud. The link is HERE.

 

Like a Log

 

“I’m not going to tell you another story,
my boy. You laugh too loud,” grandfather said
as I begged. His voice sounded
like it was coming from the village well

before it was blasted. The stories he told
came from a time when the sky
was not yet something to be feared.
His eyes, clouded with cataract,
only saw white shadows.

But he could sense when someone
was stirring awake. He began to fade
into the damp wood. I whispered to him,
“I am afraid of the dark and the sound
of water splashing against the sides

of the boat.” Grandfather held
my small hands and then patted
the tied up bundle mother left me
before they threw her overboard.

-o-


Wings of Smoke at Cape Town Central Library

This past Friday I was fortunate to have been invited as a panelist at the Franschhoek Literary Festival for the first time. Renowned South African poet Antjie Krog and I were interviewed by award-winning poet Karin Schimke. I have been nervous about the event for quite some time, but felt completely relaxed when the time finally came to face a big roomful of strangers.

Karin threw some tough questions about the value or use of poetry in such terrible times we now face, both locally and in the rest of the world. I posited how poetry has never really skirted away from politics, that all along it was being written even as love and nature apparently take precedence among those who write poetry.

But how can I share more good news when the demented president of my country of birth has declared Martial Law in Mindanao – a massive island in the Philippines –when it appears the “trouble” is localized (in Marawi City) and, according to the military, largely under control?

Marawi City

Nonetheless, I shall try to use the coming invitation for me to read my work at the Cape Town Central Library this Saturday as a platform for three human rights issues:

  • Highlight the ongoing hunger strike by over a thousand Palestinian prisoners held in inhuman conditions by Israel

  • Express my support for women of South Africa who are far too often inflicted with such violence, including horrific murders, by men who should never be allowed to walk among us

  • Share the fear that people in the Philippines are now facing as a nationwide declaration of Martial Law seems imminent.

As it is also Africa month this May, I shall read not just from my new book, WINGS OF SMOKE, but also poetry by African authors.

Please join me at the Cape Town Central Library, 1400 – 1545, this Saturday 27 May 2017.