Sunday, April 29, 2007


I am so happy and grateful we in the Bay Area had a chance to celebrate kari edwards' life and poetry...

When I translated kari edward's poem -- for Friday evening's memorial celebration (see prior post), it was the first time I'd translated a poem into Ilokano, my first language. I had never thought before to translate something into Ilokano because I don't consider myself fluent in it anymore; I was ten years old when I left the Philippines to become 100% immersed in English. But as I told the SPT audience, I felt compelled to translate kari into my birth tongue because I have always felt inexplicably at home in hir poetry.

The process was revelatory. First, I translated the English to Ilokano -- the text being translated was all numbers (which I chose for numers' transgenderedness). But I could only remember the Ilokano words from 1 to 10. So when I was faced with a number larger than ten to translate, I would translate its addition to that sum. For instance, I would translate "25" into the Ilokano words that meant "ten plus ten plus five".

What this facilitated was a number of repetitions of words -- since the vocabulary being used was only ten words -- that then generated a certain rhythm....that then led to my first poem-as-chant. It's why I entitled the poem "Chant for kari".

I felt aflight as I began reading-only-to-end-up-chanting the Ilokano poem. And winging it as I read/chanted, I began to play with modulations of tone.

I felt the poem as pure abstract sound -- as pure song. It is, I feel, the most pure "song" poem I've ever written.

And that the (Ilokano) texts in it were technically/formally garbled or grammatically erroneous (as well as undoubtedly misspelled) just proved again something that I said, too, in my introduction to the poem-reading when I pointed to a black box scribbled against a page in kari's iduna as my favorite "poem", -- a black box that is illegible -- "Poetry is not words."

Later, Rebecca who was in the audience encouraged me to pod-cast the reading. I, the luddite, just said, Huh? But then Rebecca also suggested something that came to mind as I was chanting the poem -- that the poem for kari would be great with a kulintang collaborator. I appreciated hearing that -- I like the notion of gongs while chanting.

I translated the poem an hour before I left for SPT where I performed it for the first time. This meant that I hadn't yet fully developed the performative aspect of the poem. But now that I see its possibilities, I can see that kari left me with yet another gift. kari is always so good at *engendering* effects. Thank you, kari.

And another effect of the exercise is that, now, I'm looking to translate other poems into Ilokano. But I wish specifically to use my Ilokano to be what words I remember; that is, I don't wish to relearn Ilokano so that I can translate. I wish to work within the limits of, not Ilokano per se, but (my) "diasporic Ilokano."

I think that will work since my aim is pure sound.

And in this process, I also hope to combine two thoughts from Jose Garcia Villa:

young Jose: Poetry is music.

older Jose: I used to think a poem should sing; now I believe, a poem should think.

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