Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Life Coach Says.

Rick Moody to his FaceBook friends June 9, 2019:

As some of you know, I operate occasionally as Rick Moody, Life Coach. My theory is that those who have sometimes botched life are in the best position to celebrate those who are doing a better job. As it happens, I need some new letters to answer. I have run out of letters. So if you're in need, send me a letter here. My only caveat is that I REALLY think long and hard about this stuff, so sometimes it takes me a while to reply. But I attempt to answer every single request, in some fashion.


Hey Rick,

Here’s my letter to life coach:

Three straight months earlier this year in the hospital, along the way a three-day coma because of renal failure, also amputation of remaining leg, then MRSA infection. Back home now and doing four-hour dialysis three times a week. Occasional incontinence, fatigue most of the day. Diabetic neuropathy--a constant pain in hands.

So when do you say it’s time to stop all this? As a writer I’ve flirted with all that Thanatos crap and find that writers are so self-centered that they can’t see what’s just about to hit them.

So life coach, is life worth it at this stage?



June 9, 2019
Hey Nick, I’m putting you in front of the line. Count on an answer. I want you to know herewith, in public, how much love and respect I have for you and your work. I am so sorry for the suffering. Your note is immensely poignant and powerful, and I will answer in kind. 
More soon, Rick


Dear Nick, 

First, as I have said elsewhere, I want to say how much I love your work, your moving, cranky, funny, profound, uplifting, tragicomic, hilarious, beautiful, human work. My experience of your work, at first—which must have been around or between your books El Grupo MacDonald’s and Secret Asian Man, when I knew you and your then wife Denise—was that you were part of a group of poets who, for me, revolutionized American poetry. In this group I would also put Campbell McGrath, and Cathy Bowman, and Dean Young, Hal Sirowitz, etc. Wherein an accessible poetics was mixed with humor, and a sense of experiment; a kind of dense dissatisfaction and melancholy hovered around the edges, too, an indictment of Americana that was welcome, even as Americana was sort of the incubator of the work. I think you were the first person in the nineties I knew who was online as much as I was in those days, and I had a sense, through you and your cultural critique, that poetry was going to become a thing online. Your work and Denise’s work and the work of these others made poetry an endeavor that all readers could delight in, and it was in every medium, in every container, and it didn’t require training in hazardous materials. There didn’t need to be a secret language, or an insider code that only the really academic writers were allowed to crack. I didn’t relate to the academic poetry, but I related to yours, I could locate the feelings, the melancholy celebration of it. And now that I am in a family of Asian American writers, it is even nearer to me, your model and its influence. I love your work, and because of it, I have always loved you, from afar, as your fellow toiler in the depths, as a fellow writer who traffics (at least some of the time) in the comic. If there is a thing that lasts and endures beyond all the suffering you have been dealing with recently, it is the legacy of your work, which, however oblivious you were to the coming storm (and, as you note in your letter, this is the common lot of writers), the work is there, and it is rich in figures and metaphors and beautiful turns of phrase, and wherever you are now that work is still kindling something in me, and I’m sure it will ever be thus. 

This morning I just punched you up on the Poetry Foundation web site, and there are bunch of good pieces to be found there. This link is for the people who need to know: “Little Brown Brother,” with its welcome indictment of Hollywood war machinery, is especially excellent. But I also really loved “For My Friend Who Complains He Can’t Dance and Has a Severe Case of Writer’s Block.” The first line, “Then, take this tambourine/Inside the sheep barn” is electrifying, so deep, so right at the heart of what we are doing when we attempt to speak to writing, to the act of it. To me “sheep barn” as an image is just very unexpected and satisfying. In a way you are making a case for the way writing is disseminatory, the sheep being an image of dissemination in, for example, the parables of Jesus of Nazareth, though the use of “barn” makes of the shepherding business a more modern one, one in which ownership of property is a feature of the enterprise. We could also speak to the image of the “tambourine” in this line as relating to Dylan’s song of the same, which some people think was about Gene Clark, the singer in the Byrds, who only played the tambourine in the band, and whose words were always so full of melancholy hues: “Nowhere is/There warmth to be found/Among those/Afraid of losing their ground.” When Clark was asked to comment on “Eight Miles High” being banned because of drug references, he made a comment about poetry having more layers in it than that, and that is true of your poetry as well. From the sheep barn you go to the “anaconda’s intestines” (and both are incredibly interesting poetical words—I think “anaconda” is a ditrochee, and “intestine” is an amphibrach), and from there across a sprawl of great and imaginative images, including Kahlo’s hair, Garcia Lorca’s leather shoes, Chaucer’s liver, Anne Sexton’s face, etc. The poem finishes with the lovely couplet: “Never feed your towel to the alligator, because he will eat you and eat you and eat you.” The loss of the towel, it seems to me, leaves the friend naked, where one often is after writing, and then the repetition of “eat you” burlesques the Frost of “Stopping by Woods.” Somehow the alligator also reminds me of J. M. Dent’s There’s an Alligator Under My Bed, which is itself a variant on Jung’s famous injunction about the lion in the basement, and how all of us will have to encounter the lion in the basement at some point, if we are to grow, and accordingly all the ages of humankind, of maturation, are there in the poem. 

If “For My Friend” is about how to achieve an end to writer’s block (and also an injunction to dance) it is beautiful because it is a gift, and right now it is a gift for all, because anyone can read this poem online. But it is a gift that is achieved through a pile up of highly imaginative and oblique images. How is the “river insect’s neon calligraphy” secret? What is the certified blue turtle? I could work on these images as I have worked on others above, but what I would amass is a system of allusions that say, in effect, that dance and language are one, and that writer’s block is resolved in nakedness and in facing one’s fears, and in the simple amassing of images, even images that are not rhetorical, but are automatic in the surrealist sense. Everything about this gift of yours is wonderful, is funny, and humane, and sympathetic, and never is the advice condescending; on the contrary, one confronts the possibility that the poem is autobiographical, too, and that the gift is to Nick Carbó, or that he is a co-recipient, that the reminder is to the author of the poem about the matter of poetry, but the great force of the gift is simply in its status as gift, and as poem as simple item of exchange between friends. A poem, in this matter, is a thing right at hand, that we might give to those we love, in times of need. 

You ask me, Nick Carbó, author of these lines, if it is worth persisting, materially, when faced with the very significant amount of suffering that you are confronting, and my first response to this is simply that if I could take from you your suffering, I would. That is, the fact of your request, and the place of your request, a public setting, brings out this intense wish to want to shield you from what you are going through, the repetitions of it, and the apparent boundlessness of it. I mean, it’s not possible to read your note and not feel tremendous sympathy and compassion, even in the obvious conundrum that your suffering is of such a cast that it’s beyond my experience, personally, and probably beyond the experience of what many people who read your note have felt. But, despite all the trouble in the world (and there sure is a lot of trouble these days), the feeling surges forth, and that is the feeling in which one cares deeply for a friend in a bad time. A couple thousand miles are separating us right now, I think (I’m in Providence, Rhode Island, this morning, parked in front of a UPS store, and it’s raining torrents.) And our stories are pretty different, in that you were raised in the East, and in languages that I mostly don’t know, but in a moment of crisis little of that matters. Certainly it doesn’t matter to me right now, and it doesn’t matter in part because of the ache and clarity of your voice. 

Which means that language, and writing, can still do things. Here are some things I have seen this week. I saw an extra large skunk in the backyard, over by the beech tree, and I had to run my son in the door as fast as I could get him, and told him not to look back. And I saw an oriole hightailing it over to the neighbors’ birdfeeder, the next morning, so bright it was almost in neon. I watched a brass band play an “extinction protest” in Boston the other day. I picked up my son’s birthday cake at the grocery store on Sunday morning. It was one of those big flat ones, and the bakery lady was really laughing about how well the cake came out, what with its strange wish list of icons: astronauts, dogs, and vegetables (!). In this spot in Providence, where I’m parked, it used to be kind of desolate, when I lived here in the early eighties. But now it’s got a lot of Mexican food, and the UPS store, and a breakfast café joint called Olga’s. I can see the cars streaking along the overpass on I-95. Those people are on their urgent business, otherwise why drive in heavy rain. I offer this list, dear Nick, to tell you that there are still possible, even in your darkest hours, perceptions, of just the kind you store up in the poem I’ve quoted above, that are the signs that a person was there, an observer who saw, and felt, and believed, and made a mark. I am sure there are a lot of times now when you feel otherwise, when writing is the last thing you can do, but you wrote me your letter, and I have seen, in these last months, that even when you were in the most trouble, you still managed to get out a few lines. And in every one of these cases, Nick, I have felt the familiar warmth and wisdom of your voice, as I do here. 

I would never be the one, ever, to tell a person that he has to stay here on earth, if he doesn’t want to stay. And having had the disease of depression, as I have, I know that sometimes people leave--they have to leave--because leaving is less painful than staying. I respect this decision, and I still feel grief. We probably both know any number of writers for whom this has been the case. I think the world should be arrayed in such a way that mercy is possible, likely, easy to come by—a mercy that we extend, for example, to our pets, when their suffering is great, but which we deny our human friends, or else we tie them up in unnecessary knots. I hope that when my suffering is great that a friend will say to me that it is okay to feel like going, that it is okay to relinquish this place and these associations, and this material self, and to go, and there doesn’t need to be regret about doing so. I think all these things, Nick, and I’m sure I would only feel these things more if I were in your position. 

But I can think all these things and still want the world to have Nick Carbó in it, still want his voice and world view, still want the sound of his tambourine, and his recollections and perceptions, and not just the work, but the potential for more work, and I don’t think that this is a selfish feeling, or a feeling that you are obliged to entertain, or at least I really hope that you do not feel in any way obliged, because that is not the way I am trying to formulate my line of reasoning here. Rather I am trying to give you a sense of what others of us may think, what our love feels like, and the untapped potential for you, and your essence, your Being, in the world, even if in pain and badly compromised, and in and out of the hospital Corpus Christi. Even in your incredibly difficult state, as the letter shows, there is still language, and still the framing up of some beautiful edifice of words, there are still the glassy shards of your critique of this tragicomic world, and your situation within it, and I can still feel it, even out front of the UPS store, from 2,000 miles away. And if you feel you have to go and there is no other way to deal with what you have in front of you, I will respect that decision, and still grieve, but if you want to know why bother to hang on, I can think of a hundred reasons, and then a hundred more, and each one is a poem, and it doesn’t matter if it has two words in it, or if you have to have it read back to you because you can’t read very well, or whether you have to dictate it into your phone, it doesn’t matter. Those one hundreds poems, which are one hundred reasons, and the hundred more, will be glorious, and they will be even more glorious for your having hung on just a bit longer to make them, for your having written what you wrote in your letter, and then hung on a bit longer to make a few more scribbles, of whatever kind, hieroglyphs, chalk marks on paving stones, crosshatchings on the arm of a wheelchair, or whatever it has to be, from whatever state of consciousness, if you want to hang on, to see what there is to be seen from where you are, then I think that is beautiful and has a sort of electrifying power to it, like it comes from the place of urgency that isn’t known to all of us waiting in line at the UPS Store or at Starbucks, how you are in your place of reckoning. 

You are brave, and you are a good man, and your journey has been exemplary, and you have made the world better, and not just for writers from the Philippines, or for Asian writers, or for Asian American writers, though you have certainly done that in a way that should be the envy of all, but you have made American literature better, and world literature better, and I won’t ever forget that, and as your life coach, today, I say take a few notes, from wherever you are, we will all be happy to read them, ever your happy audience, and then tomorrow you can reassess again, at which point I will be delighted to repeat the above, if it helps. 

With love and respect, 

Rick Moody

2 July 2019: 17:33
Hey Nick, I'm sure hoping that I didn't send something that hurt your feelings in any way, because I was trying 100% to do the opposite. If you hate it, and want me not to publish, I can . . .

3 July 15:56
Hey Rick, I thought/felt it was awesome! You earned your Life Coach badge with this one and I’m honored you put much thought into this. 
Publish right away! 

Had appointments all week with docs and labs so could not respond sooner. Let me insert my own reference with Kazantzakis’ last scene of the movie version of Zorba the Greek where Alan Bates turns to Anthony Quinn and says “Teach me to dance.” So along the desolate seashore we hear the bouzouki strings of the Theodorakis song and they dance. Quinn responds to Bates “I have so much to tell you—I’ve never loved a man more than you.” It can happen with two straight guys and your letter shows that loving spirit which, in the end, one can only dance to. For a guy that has had his lower legs and two feet amputated, I ask you to teach me to dance. I have a great imagination. 
Thanks deeply,

3 July 2019  21:09
Nick, I'm very very moved by your note. It's really incredible, and supports my theory that you are the greatest of great writers and have plenty more to say, no matter how hard it is. I'm still waiting to hear from LitHub about this (and they are not great communicators), but if I can think of way, maybe we should run the entire exchange ending with your note back? It's so beautiful!

Friday, December 14, 2018


"Was Andalusia here or there? On the land . . . or in the poem?"
-Mahmoud Darwish

I must admit to this outright theft.
Before the crickets could impede me,

I reached outside my window
to grab as much of Andalusia as

I could in the palm of my hand.
I took the evening's silver

from the olive trees, the yellow slumber
from the lemons, the recipe for gazpacho.

I made a small incision in my heart
and slipped in as much as my left

and right ventricles could hold.
I reached for a pen and a piece of paper

to ease-out the land into this poem.
I closed the small incision in my heart

and closed the wooden shutters
of my window.


"Was Andalusia here or there? On the land . . . or in the poem?"
                                                            -Mahmoud Darwish

I must admit to this outright theft.
Before the crickets could impede me,

I reached outside my window
to grab as much of Andalusia as

I could in the palm of my hand.
I took the evening's silver

from the olive trees, the yellow slumber
from the lemons, the recipe for gazpacho.

I made a small incision in my heart
and slipped in as much as my left

and right ventricles could hold.
I reached for a pen and a piece of paper

to ease-out the land into this poem.
I closed the small incision in my heart

and closed the wooden shutters
of my window.


"Was Andalusia here or there? On the land . . . or in the poem?"
                                                            -Mahmoud Darwish

I must admit to this outright theft.
Before the crickets could impede me,

I reached outside my window
to grab as much of Andalusia as

I could in the palm of my hand.
I took the evening's silver

from the olive trees, the yellow slumber
from the lemons, the recipe for gazpacho.

I made a small incision in my heart
and slipped in as much as my left

and right ventricles could hold.
I reached for a pen and a piece of paper

to ease-out the land into this poem.
I closed the small incision in my heart

and closed the wooden shutters
of my window.


above the hood of an illegally parked red Toyota Corolla
on Mabini Street. He was tired of all that descending
into and ascending from those pretentious
New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly  poems.
He asked me to give him new clothes so I dressed him
in an old barong tagalog and some black pants.
Because he wanted new friends in a new land, I introduced
him to Kapitan Kidlat, our local comic book hero.
But after a few whips of that lightning bolt, Orpheus
recognized Kidlat as Zeus in another clever disguise.
So, I took him to Mt. Makiling where Malakas & Maganda
(the mythical first Filipino man and woman) live
in a mansion with an Olympic size swimming pool.
He said Maganda's aquiline features remind him
of Eurydice and Malakas has the solid torso
of a younger Apollo. He asked me to translate
the word, threesome into Tagalog.
Malakas & Maganda agreed and they stripped
Orpheus of his clothes as they led him
to their giant bamboo bed.
I waited outside in the car all afternoon before he emerged
from the mansion smelling of Sampaguitas and Ylang-Ylang.
He was hungry so we drove to the nearest
Kamayan restaurant where he learned
how to eat rice and pork abobo with his bare hands.
"It's wonderful! This was the way it used to be.
When the industrial revolution happened, all of us on Mt. Olympus
suddenly had forks and knives appear in our hands. We used
them as garden tools at first." Afterwards, he wanted to drink
and go dancing. I paid the hundred peso cover charge
for both of us at the Hobbit House in Ermita. The first
thing he did in the dark, smokey bar was trip over
one of the dwarf waiters, all the waiters were dwarfs. "I'm sorry,
I couldn't see. It feels as if I had just walked into a Fellini film."
He placed his hands in front of him as if he were pushing
back a glass wall."No, No, I'm not in a movie,
I'm inside a fucking poem!
I can see the poet's scrunched-up face on the other side
of the computer screen!"  I told Orpheus to shut up
or the bouncers, who were not the same size as the waiters,
would throw us out of the bar. We sat
in a booth across from each other and ordered double
shots of Tanduay Rum. I asked him if he understood
the concept of "the willing suspension of disbelief." 
I asked him to look me straight
in the face before he ran out into the street.

boy in blue shorts


The screaming woman on the other side
of our tall black gate
would have thrown a rock at me.
My maid, Rosita, sheltered me from the insults--
            something about my being
            retarded and full of worms.

The woman nudged her son forward.
Blue shorts, clean T
-shirt, rubber slippers.
She said her little boy was the one
who should have been adopted, he was healthy.
He was about my age,
four or five. We were both silent.
I want to see the Mr. and the Mrs.,
they are making a big mistake.

Rosita bolted the gate, took me by the hand--
they are bad people, don't listen to them. 
I felt the crisp whiteness of her skirt all the way across
the garden, back to our house. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Interview

AL: Can you describe your first moment of awakening as a poet? Did identity politics play any role in this initial awakening ? Can you remember what your first "serious" poem was about? If identity politics did not immediately play a role during your early calling as a poet, when did you begin to gain a more politicized sensibility and what prompted it?

N: My father was fond of reciting lines from classical and modern Spanish poets like Francisco de Quevedo, Luis de Gongora, and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer that related to every day situations and my childhood was filled with phrases like—

Por una mirada un mundo;
por  una sonrisa, un cielo;
por un beso. . . yo no se
que te diera por un beso!
-GA Becquer

It was not until after my father died in 2008 that I realized that those lines of poetry came from the books he kept in his personal library. He also retold the tales of Alexandre Dumas and would add his own sound track to The Three Musketeers by singing the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini. In the Count of Monte Christo he would sing Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. So the words of the Golden Age of Spain and the rhythms of the great composers of Europe helped make me a poet. I remember writing my first serious poem and it was about the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. in the early 1980’s. It happens that my father was a childhood friend of the poet Rafael Zulueta da Costa and he often came over to our house to drink and talk about pre-war Manila. My father showed Rafael my first two or three poems and he liked my political poem so much that he sent it to a local paper, The Manila Bulletin, to be published. Of course, it wasn’t that good so it never came out. But now I know that it must have been special to be championed early on as a poet by the author of Like the Molave. Perhaps it is that book of poems by Zulueta da Costa that laid the foundation of the politics in my poems. “Not yet, Rizal, Not yet.” is a cry I took to heart.

AL:  You mention in an interview (with Elisabetta Marino) that you are "Filipino by birth, Spanish in citizenship, and American by "Permanent Residence." You continue by saying: "I believe that poetry was the most immediate form of art that could express this complicated self." Can you elaborate on the last sentence? What do you mean by "most immediate" and how does that lend itself to better  expressing the "complicated self"? How is poetry "immediate"? And how do reconcile any presumably opposing assumptions/beliefs/practices/tastes/etc. within your hybridized identity?

N: From my adopted father I received my Spanish passport and from my adopted mother I received my Greek view of the world. I also carry the name Stilianopoulos in my passport and that really complicates my presence in any environment. I can cook a good moussaka, delicious dolmades, savory souvlaki, and a sumptuous avgolemono soup. But what really makes me feel Greek is having access to Nikos Kazantzakis, Constantine Cavafy, Yannis Ritsos,
Giorgos Seferis, and Odysseus Elytis. I can say I may also have a very euro-centric/western love of poetry but it is a euro-centrism that is more informed than current white American poets of European descent who complain about “the loss of classic western literature.” If you were to look at my poetry through the lens of the New Critics, the Filipino, Spanish, and American would not come out in the lines outside of direct cultural reference in the texts. What I consider as immediate is an emotional connection to the lines. If that happens in the reader, the poem succeeds. So, that takes the poem from merely descriptive to unusually universal.

AL: Can you describe the genesis of 'Returning a Borrowed Tongue'? How did the idea come about, why did you decide to take on the project, how did you select the contributors, and what kinds of challenges did you face during the entire process of producing the anthology?

N: That was the first anthology I put together and I did it before email and the web became popular. Most of it was done through the post and took about two years before the manuscript came together. I still have most of the correspondence somewhere in my archives and it contains letters from many pioneering Filipino poets that are now dead like NVM Gonzalez, Bienvenido N. Santos, Edith Tiempo, Carlos Angeles, and Manuel Viray.  The impetus to put it together came from the fear that I would be the only Filipino poet publishing in an ocean of whiteness so I wrote to my contacts in Manila and one poet led to another. I remember having long phone conversations with NVM Gonzalez and he helped form many of the connections.

AL: You admit in your interview with Elisabetta Marino that your editing work hinders your poetry writing. And yet, you have continued to edit anthologies on Filipino American literature because "the necessity of publishing more Filipino related material for a world where there was no previous representation takes over the creative impulse. If Filipino literature does not succeed, my own poems will have little worth without the accompaniment of my fellow writers." It seems that there's a lot to unpack in this statement. First, must poetry and other writing (especially perhaps by people of color) necessarily be approached and envisioned as a collective endeavor? Must there be an alignment of at least political (if not creative) goals amongst Fil Am writers in order to gain "success" (however that can be defined -- whether positive critical reception, a wider audience, mainstream acceptance, etc.). Why is this so? 

N: My first wife used to complain that I devoted too much time on other people’s careers than focusing on making myself more famous. I think she was envious of all the attention I was getting from these young Asian women and she put a stop to some of that. But isn’t it the job of the teacher to inspire and to mentor. I believe in the raison d’etre of organizations like Cave Canem and Kundiman who foster the talents of poets of color. To experience the feeling of belonging is a natural necessity and experiencing this belonging with a bunch of poets that look like you can be mind-blowing.

AL: It's curious (and rather sad) that in all three anthologies of Fil Am literature you've edited, you've always seemed compelled to provide an overview of Filipino history and its colonial ties to the U.S. in order to combat invisibility and cultural amnesia while at the same time stressing Fil Am lit's importance and inextricable connection to American lit. You also suggest (by quoting Oscar V. Campomanes -- p. XIV of Borrowed Tongue) that America's unwillingness to acknowledge and confront the hypocrisy in its imperialist history is one reason for the persistent, pervasive, and perhaps blatantly intentional ignorance of Fil Am history and literature. So here's the question: how can we (Fil Am writers, or Fil Ams in general) change that overall dogged American unwillingness to confront historical hypocrisy? What do you think is/are the secret ingredient/s for transformation? In what ways do you think the tipping point will manifest? And why should Fil Ams even have this sort of "moral" or "ethical" obligation or responsibility or burden to educate whites or others in the first place? (p.s., I know there's a lot of big questions here, but mainly I'm just trying to get at your philosophy or ideas on Fil Am lit as a "movement" -- so again, feel free to approach this section in any way you like).

N: Yes, with the first anthology I did not know what I was doing. In all honesty, it was a tabula rasa where I could create anything I so desired. So, I read as many anthologies of Filipino writing I could get through inter library loan and also a few world literature anthologies. I decided on an alphabetical format which was as straight forward as possible. My publisher, Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press, insisted on an introduction that would provide an overview that a junior high student in the United States would understand. It was challenging to come down to that level of exposition. If some parts sound like a junior high book report on the Philippines, now you know.  Educating the colonizer by the colonized is one of the important tasks of the postcolonial citizen.  We must continue to publish books, present our work in conferences, hold rallies, and do some civic protest actions.  Why must litterature engagee be the sole province of white western writers? Jean Paul Sartre would have loved it if Fil-Am poets stormed the Poetry Society of America or the Academy of American Poets and had a sit-in reading poems of Jose Rizal and Carlos Bulosan for 24 hours straight. Fil-Am and Filipino literature in English already is in the throws of a movement, so many are publishing novels of importance like Gina Apostol and Sabina Murray, short story collections like Veronica Montes and M Evelina Galang, and poetry books like Barbara Jane Reyes, Sarah Gambito, Eileen Tabios, and Sasha Pimentel. Did I just mention all women writers? Well, that’s how powerful our women writers seem to be. The men are just as talented like Oliver de la Paz, Vince Gotera, Bino Realuyo, Eric Gamalinda, Eugene Gloria, Mike Maniquiz, Miguel Syjuco, Tony Robles, Jon Pineda, and Joseph Legaspi.  And that’s just to mention a few names from the top of my head.  There are many more coming out with really good books that I haven’t bought yet. Well, if ALL aspiring Fil Am poets and writers were to buy the books of just this amazing list, our invisibility could be resolved for good.

AL: Another thing I find interesting is the difference and change in tone that you take in your editor's introduction from 'Returning a Borrowed Tongue' to 'Pinoy Poetics.' In 'Returning a Borrowed Tongue,' you're more of a patient educator. But in 'Pinoy Poetics,' you've become downright grouchy and just plain indignant and frustrated. If you were to put together another Fil Am lit anthology today, how do you think your editor's introduction would take shape? Would you still feel a need to provide an overview of Fil Am history? Would your complaint of invisibility and amnesia still be as intensely presented? What would be different this time, what do you think has changed in the realm of Fil Am lit and its treatment (or what do you think has NOT changed)?

N: That’s funny that you would characterize it as downright cranky like some septuagenarian with a corn pipe in one hand and a shotgun in the other. I’d had reached the point where I wanted to shoot ignorance in the ass and have a good smoke afterwards. It’s not a question of “if” I will publish a follow up to Returning A Borrowed Tongue but when.  What is telling is that none of my compatriots has had the gumption to put one together.

AL:  As a pioneer, mentor, and advocate of Fil Am lit, what advice would you offer aspiring Fil Am writers? Poets? Community/movement/social justice leaders?

N: Now I feel really old but If I were to die in the near future I would advise the aspiring writers to fall in love with the act of writing and find the never ending joy of the act of reading. Don’t restrict yourself to reading poetry books, read novels, plays, essays, detective novels, comic books, science fiction, even erotica. Watch foreign films, go to the Opera, attend a symphony, anything can inspire poetry and the more details you include, the better.  It has been noted that the Fil Am community in general does not read or buy our books.  That’s not the excuse because I know some Fil Ams that devour every book we put out.  I would point to the larger general culture of willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism in American society that is the problem.  That, plus a hefty dose of “colonial mentality,” we are fighting on three fronts.

AL: What excites you now about new Fil Am writers and recent developments in Fil Am literature?

N: What excites me most is the creation and continued success of organizations like Kundiman. What may have been a doubly isolating experience of being a writer in America is less so, if you seek community.

AL: How would you characterize the evolution of your own poetry? You've mentioned that your collections have "humor, the same sense of irony, and political conviction" running through them, but do you think anything else has changed apart from the "setting"?

N: My own written poetry will continue with all the hallmarks you mentioned and it will continue to be in search of the most refined metaphor. In the past ten years I’ve also moved into the realm of visual poetry and film poetry and inter-media poetry. I think you can access some example of these in the internet or on YouTube.

AL: What types of writing or projects would you like to try or undertake in the future that you haven't done yet?

N: If I had the funding, I would like to make a feature length film poem. 70mm with surround sound and paid actors. To dream is to keep living.

AL: What's in store? What's keeping you busy these days?

N: I am trying to stay alive for the poems that demand a seat on the front row of life.

AL: What kind of legacy would you ideally like to leave behind (I posit this as broadly as possible)? 

N: I would hope that a thousand years from now my poems will still be read, performed, and visualized.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016



You don’t have horns, much
Less halos on your empty head.
Perhaps your academic whoring
Has sucked soul, lit a torch.


Shame those fat legs can’t stand
Up to your Department Chair or Dean—
Pretend to care, consult Tarot cards
That would not move even one racist hair.


Married a black woman to build
Your book shelves and street “kred.”
Disposed of her when you got tenure,
Left her in penury for a new white wife.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The case for reparations for giving us Trump

For all the emboldened racist abuse
For all the hate in your eyes murders
For all the pulling off of hijabs
For all the spitting on faces
For all the screaming to go home
For all the stabbing from the front
For all the stabbing from the back
For all the stone throwing
For all the throwing shit on our houses
For all the cutting off in traffic to yell at us
For all the smearing of dog shit on our children
For all the nooses hung on our lawns
For all the nazi graffiti
For all the false arrests
For all the hand written notes saying get the fuck out
For all the Sunday silence while all this happened
For all the glee to be able to lynch again
For all the black lists again
For all the removal of health insurance
For all the laughing in our faces as we go hungry
For all the jobs taken away
For all the dignity taken away

You will pay when you are no longer in power!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Glad you made
it to this maroon
day Ms. Maureen 

Those wasp footsteps
on your skin
behind you

in the dark 
with Melania ink
is pure black

bird you know 
unsafe, heart beat
hurry suck

you like a flame
sucks a witch before
it engulfs her soul!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Carbo Poetry Pillows. 16in x 11in. "I was given a God whose invisible thread is sewn to my soul." from Land of the Morning in El Grupo McDonald's. Pastel fabric paint on cotton/linen fabric. Signed, $150. Email for details ( Thanks.
Interview at NPR