WAKING UP TO THE PATTERN LEFT BY A SNAIL OVERNIGHT Official release a day after my birthday! Poetry lovers, friends and family in the US and Singapore can now order copies! We’re still working on editions in other territories. If you know publishers we can approach, please send me a message! The book contains poems that mention or refer to Martial Law in the Philippines, the Duterte fake drug war, Jacob Zuma, Maria Ressa, Mad Max, Björk, and Taylor Swift, among others.
I’m currently in Seattle, USA to attend the AWP Conference and Book Fair where my new book, Waking Up to the Pattern Left by a Snail Overnight, will be launched and presented alongside other writers with Asian heritage. NOTE: I now have both Asian and African roots, if you ask me.
The book will be officially released in April, but pre-orders are now open. Here are my publisher’s website and some distributors you can check:
Early copies will be available during the AWP Conference and at the following events. Here are the relevant posters:
Since I was going to be in Seattle before an audience, my good friend from my university days in the Philippines, poet and musician Zosimo Quibilan (who is now based in the US) asked if I could say something about the concept album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, “Here Lies Love” – about the so-called rags to riches story of Imelda Marcos. “Here Lies Love” is now also a stage musical with audience participation that was apparently performed in Seattle, among other places, and will soon hit Broadway.
I admire the early work and solo output by David Byrne. I hate censorship, so I have no right to tell any other artist, including Byrne, what they must or must not produce. But putting out anything in the world naturally opens it to feedback and criticism.
I think his concept album is a complete misfire and should be challenged. Not because he is white. Not because he played no part in the dark Filipino history he claims to focus on. But because of how the Imelda Marcos he chose to depict was never shown as complicit and even active in the abuse and murder of countless Filipinos.
Imelda Marcos has been convicted by the Philippine courts for fraud and corruption, and should be in jail (check #ImeldaIselda). Her family, including the current president of the country – perhaps president only by some magical mathematical calculation attributable to fautly vote counting machines and invisible hands – owe a few hundred billions in taxes and refuse to admit or pay for them. Not to mention their refusal to apologize for their past deeds and to return what their clan stole under martial law.
Imelda, to cite one instance, was never held responsible for what happened to the now-abandoned and haunted Manila Film Center. During construction, part of the structure collapsed. The bodies of the workers were not dug out but simply buried with quick drying cement. Those whose bodies protruded, including survivors, had to be cut to pieces so that she could open her international film festival on time. With this concept album, and now stage production, one can only expect Imelda Marcos to be hoisted up as some nearly-mythical and desirable figure who will gain more sympathy than she deserves. The whole affair, despite the few hints of failed irony in the lyrics, tramples on the bones of the victims.
Perhaps a better concept album title and appropriate work has to be put out there to challenge Byrne’s. Before I even heard of his album I had actually started putting together a chapbook of poetry (aiming for a full collection) tentatively called “Blind as Love.” Maybe I should re-think that and replace the title with – HERE: LIES, LOVE FOR MONEY, MURDER – THE REAL “IMELDA THE CENTIPEDE STORY”
New year can be seen as a new beginning, a new opportunity. It can also be seen as nothing more than a change of numbers on a piece of paper or whatever you use to keep track of the dates.
I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while. My apologies. I think I got overwhelmed by 2022. When the year began one of the things I was almost sure to happen was to finally see my very first book get published in South Africa, my home since 1994. Then, after the launch of the book in May things just got crazy.
I managed to share on this blog some of those unexpected events and bits of recognition, but not all. Listing them now might seem like boasting, and I was taught to think tooting one’s horn – or, magbuhat ng sariling bangko (lifting one’s own chair?) – is really uncool.
But I’d like to think that mentioning such blessings should be a good way to show appreciation and thanks to whoever made such miracles happen. Also a kind of reminding yourself that a journey is never truly a solitary thing. Sometimes it’s just not that easy to see who is supporting you, who’s there to help you on your path, who might feel it worth their time to clear the path for you so that you can travel better, further, to stages and places you maybe never thought possible with the barest that you have.
So in no order, and with apologies if I may have left out some names, I owe a debt that I can never repay to the following:
Robert Berold of Deep South for BLOODRED DRAGONFLIES, Quaz Roodt and Ismail Mohamed of Poetry Africa, Jee Leong Koh of Gaudy Boy, Yeow Kai Chai who chose my manuscript for the book prize, Marianne Chan and World Literature Today Gary Cummiskey and Stanzas, the organisers and judges of the Poetry in McGregor Festival, San Anselmo Publications and the Santelmo Journal team, the readers and judges of the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards, the Johannesburg Review of Books for publishing my essay, and the generous donors to the ongoing crowd funding campaign.
I’m writing this on a second hand phone which I bought with funds from one of those gifts I received in 2022. I’ve had less time in front of my laptop (personal reasons I’d rather not explain here), so this phone has become a kind of refuge, another way to keep writing. My previous phone was a bad hand-me-down, but I was also using on the side a phone left behind by my brother-in-law. That one could take good photos and make decent audio recordings, but it wasn’t really mine and is also fairly old, I now have to give it up.
With this phone I found myself posting more on other platforms, Instagram and Facebook, short bits of writing or photos with a bit of text. Rambling and random stuff that may one day become a poem or story. Like the following paragraph.
People remember either the darkness or the light. More difficult to recall what was in between, the moments before, when there was no certainty that what would follow should be welcomed or not, when it was unsure that who became visible from the fog was friend or someone intent to end your hopes.
I posted that on Facebook today.
For now the thing that is making me uncertain and uncomfortable is the scheduled trip to Seattle. Honestly don’t have all the funds yet. It’s in March!
If you read this post, please share it and the crowd funding campaign. Donate if you feel inclined to do so, but at least spread the word.
I’m still hoping to keep going to wherever this writing life may lead, even if the Seattle plan falls through.
On 18 September, 10am ET, the online Zoom event for the announcement of the manuscript that would win the 2022 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize started. The organisers of the prize, Singapore Unbound and Gaudy Boy Press, are based in New York.
It was 4pm in Cape Town, South Africa where I was, half a world away from my country of birth, the Philippines which is six hours ahead. By the time I was about to read, the son and namesake of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, was landing in New Jersey. It was his first time to return to the USA where numerous legal cases had been filed against him and his family. But he was untouchable, having gained diplomatic immunity as the supposed president of the Philippines in the recent elections which “failed to meet the international standard of a free, honest and fair election” according to the International Observer Mission.
On 21 September 1972, the late dictator announced martial law in the country. His regime was brought to a dramatic end when the people chased his family out of the presidential palace in 1986. Now the Marcos family appears to be back in power, propped up by the brutal legacy of the Duterte regime. They are once again flaunting their excesses without a hint of remorse for all those years of tormenting a people.
So on that day, as part of the five shortlisted poets for the Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize, I decided to highlight particular poems from my manuscript, Waking Up to the Pattern Left by a Snail Overnight, that hoped to revisit the martial law years. With my voice quaking, I read from a prepared text:
This September marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines by the late deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The lies that continue to be spread by Cambridge Analytica-trained social media handlers of the Marcoses will keep trying to decimate the memory of those who fought the regime.
My manuscript doesn’t just tackle martial law, but I chose these particular poems today to highlight the anniversary of the declaration.
I did not think my manuscript would win. For many years my country of birth, sad to say, never really took to my work as I had hoped. I have had more recognition in South Africa and elsewhere. I was told not just a few times to consider stopping putting out books, for who reads them anyway?
Days after the announcement, sometimes even when I’m driving, I would still suddenly be struck by a surge of emotion not unlike when I momentarily remembered a loved one who had just died. But this time, instead of tremendous grief, it was of overflowing joy.
I will have to keep reading this press release to remind myself that maybe I should keep writing no matter what happens:
What presence, what exquisite sensitivity. Such perspicacity of mind and heart illuminates Jim Pascual Agustin’s crystalline poems. Masterfully observed, shone through with Zen penetration, these songs of innocence and experience divine a universe of complex lives lived, torn asunder, celebrated, and mended. You are enveloped in these entirely believable scenarios filled with people and creatures finding themselves in everyday moments, and extraordinary circumstances. With a few deft strokes, many of the poems here range far and delve inwards. Politics, nationality, identity, family, laws of nature – everything everywhere all at once, yet intimately, pulsatingly at home. Prize Citation by judge Yeow Kai Chai
Thank you, Yeow Kai Chai, for finding something worthy in my work. Thank you, Jee Leong Koh and the wonderful team behind the Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize.
A few years ago, when my book How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems was about to be published, my publisher asked me to contact a professional photographer so there can be a portrait of me in the book. I hate being photographed – not really camera-friendly, haha – but my publisher insisted. I got hold of SA poet and photographer Ken Barris. He took a number of shots – he was very patient with me. I should have had a proper sleep the night before. Anyway, this was the best of the lot, or so I’m told.
The organisers of the 2022 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize required me to send a photo for their social media posts for the upcoming awarding event which will be on Zoom.
The news I teased about the other day can now be revealed… My manuscript, “Waking Up to the Pattern Left by a Snail Overnight” has been selected as a finalist for the 2022 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize!!!