Thursday, February 22, 2007


"The history of the Philippines is the history of the world."
--Eric Gamalinda

Huh. Well whaddya know? The first reading related to Jean Vengua's PRAU (see penultimate post) won't involve the poet, publisher, or ... anyone on the American continents! That is, in celebration of PRAU's and its author's prize, Alfred "Krip" Yuson plans to read Jean's "Turncoat" at the closing ceremonies/"Word of Mouth" event for the historic exhibition "Chromatext Reloaded" in Manila.

Well, the transnational character of the celebration seems apt, since "prau" is a type of boat.

But not just any ol' boat! A boat typically without a deck and propelled by sails and paddles....doesn't that sound as ever-shifting as poetry? And the poets "in the longboats row and row."

Oh, and prau was once popular with Malayan pirates...just sayin'.

UPDATE: Oscar Penaranda also notes that "prau" a prau can be a womb (as how his mother carried him during WWII as they fled Manila to return to their home in the Island of Leyte, as well as that "prau" is the provenance, according to folktale, of Princess Urduha's historical and original name.

All to say -- Jean's come up with quite a unique collection. It's complicated, multi-layered, often despairing, always simmering with desire, tensile, diasporic, always stunning...the poem samples featured in the Meritage Press announcement don't capture the depths and circularities in the manuscript. There's a poem "Momentum" in the deceptive form of essay that begins:

Gustav Mahler died in 1911. He saw himself as an outsider. "I am thrice homeless," he wrote, "as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." His music is polyphonic, bursting with emotion. He is inspired by the cacophony of the carnival fairground. My mother was born in 1911, in Fort Stotsenberg, now the abandoned Clark Air Force Base in Iba, Zambales, in the shadow of the volcano, Pinatubo.

and the poem continues to span a wide historical range, encompassing how Moses Browning developed the M-1911 Colt 45 to kill intransigent Filipino "Moros" in Mindanao; 1911's "Buffalo Soldiers"; Marie Curie isolating radium (for which she'd receive the Nobel Prize); Filipino Alaskero workers; the ukelele; Eniwetok where in 1952 the first hydrogen bomb exploded (500 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima); the relevance of Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta to all of this ... and how Vengua's ancestors were related to all these developments -- as we all are.

So Jean's first book begins:

She dredges up old boats, barkentines, praus, longboats
vessels with rigging. There is no more new. A lot of

nakedness around here lately, though. it shuffles, goes
everyday under the radar, shifts sightlines (a surface thing)

we anesthetize. the long trip home.

The manuscript will go through Meritage Press' rigorous in-house copyediting as part of the publication process (I love this sentence for implying I have a staff of editors? heh). That slippage in capitalizations is interesting. Inconsistent grammatically but effective poetically. But, duh, maybe just typos (wink).

Anyway, this is a poetry collection that makes the art "new" ... by making it fresh. Hope you all will check it out when the time comes!