A small poem unexpectedly got the attention of judges in a mini competition I joined in March 2023 soon after I returned to Cape Town. (I know that I still have to share stories about my trip to the USA to attend the 2023 AWP Conference and Bookfair – one of these days I promise to get around to that.)
You Were Never Alone apologies to Sting
This is a way to mend what I did not know was broken. For how could someone missing something like a leg or an arm keep on running? Keep on flapping? Yet you did, and further than anyone ever dreamed of one born beneath an angry star. You did perhaps despite that absence or because. Too late now that all the feathers have been pushed out like titanium needles through bone, through skin, filament by filament drying in the evening sun. Sting of dawn a blessing, a promise of flight of youth and all that would be lost. So long ago. So long to go.
This is what I sent to the AVBOB people when they asked for some background on the writing of the poem:
I always look at calls for submissions to journals and entries for competitions as both a game and a challenge. It just so happens that back in December 2022 I had written a poem that I thought might be a good fit with the AVBOB theme, so I entered that one. (I also wrote a new poem, but that one wasn’t as lucky.) “You were Never Alone” is a bit like a letter to myself, but as if I were someone else at the same time. It interchanges the “I” and the “you” and looks at a personal history as something in the past and still about to happen. In the subtitle I had to say “apologies to Sting,” as I borrowed a few images from him. The title of my very first book which was published in 1992, Beneath an Angry Star, comes from his song “Fragile” which goes “For all those born beneath an angry star, lest we forget how fragile we are.”
I’ll be reading my work online to a live audience next week. On Zoom. I’ve avoided Zoom for more than a year because I honestly don’t like being on video. But it’s there, and I’ve been invited to share my work on this format.
So first of, thank you to OFF THE WALL for inviting me again. I do miss having chance to read before a real live audience, but thanks to COVID-19 we’ve all had to do things differently for a long time now.
If you happen to be up despite the difference in time zones, maybe you can say hi. I’ll try not to be too silly. Hey, if you even know some of my work that you would like me to read, send me a message. Thanks in advance.
Last year I was invited to participate at the 2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival. Acclaimed poet Karin Schimke interviewed highly respected bilingual author Antjie Krog and myself. Antjie was promoting her book, Lady Anne (translated from the original Afrikaans) and I was presenting work from Wings of Smoke.
The engaging discussion was so wonderful and relaxed that we went a bit over the allotted time. Karin gave us more than enough room to read our poetry before an appreciative audience.
I’m fortunate to share the news that I’ll be at the Franschhoek Literary Festival again this year!
The event, WINNING WORKS ALOUD, is sponsored by Jacana Media and will feature the three winners of the most recent Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.
René Bohnen, Moses Shimo Seletisha and myself will be in conversation with Rabbie Serumula. It promises to be an exciting discussion as we tackle the challenges of writing in South Africa with special note of the various languages employed by the three poets.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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).
Some people have little care for words. Some learn a few that stick to them like bubblegum to orange hair, they end up using the same words over and over on television or Twitter. Surprisingly, one such person apparently managed to convince millions, mesmerised by his words, to vote him into power.
I don’t pretend to know more words than the average writer, but I try to care for the words that I let go, the words I allow to land on a page. In a world that seems to be increasingly overtaken by the loud and forceful, rather than those who seek truth and a common humanity, one has to be thankful for being read at all.
Wings of Smoke (The Onslaught Press, UK, 2017) is Agustin’s latest poetry collection, launched in the UK and worldwide in February 2017. The book may be ordered via the publisher’s website – www.onslaughtpress.com – and Amazon. It will be made available in South Africa from March 2017 mainly through the author who will be reading and launching the book at various venues: at the Writing for Liberty Conference at the Centre for the Book on 28 March, at Off the Wall (A Touch of Madness Restaurant) in Observatory on 30 March and at Kalk Bay Books on 4 April. More readings are to follow during the year.
Huge things are happening in my country of birth. A retired policeman has corroborated the testimony of one of the hired killers of the dreaded Davao Death Squad, saying the former mayor, now elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, created and conducted the vigilante-style group. During Duterte’s term as mayor of Davao City thousands were claimed to have been murdered or made to disappear by the DDS. Will this revelation change the course of my country of birth? One hopes for the better, as worse scenarios have been floated by various critics such as self-initiated revolution in order to force a change to federalism or even dictatorship (as Duterte’s hero, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos did in the 70s).
But the title of this post said something else! Yes, it did. My apologies. Here goes.
It is one thing an author wishes for his/her paper child – to be read. So I always thank readers who can find time to delve deeper into my work and come up with their own ideas about it.
Thank you to Marius Carlos, Jr for this review with two versions. One appears on his Medium.com page. The other version appears on The FilAm.
Wings of Smoke may be ordered via my publisher’s website – www.onslaughtpress.com – and Amazon. It will be made available in South Africa in March 2017 mainly through the author who will be reading and launching the book at various venues: at the Writing for Liberty Conference at the Centre for the Book on 28 March, at Off the Wall (A Touch of Madness Restaurant) in Observatory on 30 March and at Kalk Bay Books on 4 April. More to follow during the year.