FOR ME, it all started, as a lot of art projects and meetups do, with writer and columnist Alfred “Krip” Yuson.
Knowing that I moved to Northern California last year, Krip connected me with Eileen Tabios, a prolific Filipino poet published in eight languages, and urged us to meet. She lives in the wine country, hours away from me in the East Bay, and it wasn’t until last week that the stars aligned for our first meeting.
Eileen invited me to a Lit Crawl, one of the activities of the San Francisco Litquake event that ran from Oct. 5-14 this year. Along with other poets, she was to give readings of her work.
Litquake is “the largest independent literary festival on the West Coast,” according to litquake.org. Its goal is to “whet a broad range of literary appetites, present the literary fare in a variety of traditional and unlikely venues, and make it vivid, real, and entertaining.”
On Oct. 14, I met Eileen for dinner in The City (what residents and Bay Area people call San Francisco) where I also met her husband Tom; Paloma Press publisher Aileen Ibardolaza-Cassinetto and her husband Paul, who gave the dinner; Veronica Montes and her husband Andrew Waghams, celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary; Steve Warner; and Paul’s delightful mother. I brought along my sister, also named Aileen, so that dinner was notable for having three E/Aileens—half of the women at that table.
After dining, we proceeded to the Dovre Club, an Irish bar on Valencia Street where the poets read from their works in a session entitled “Three Sheets to the Wind,” curated by Aileen and presented by Paloma Press, Locofo Chaps, and the Philippine American Literary House.
Eileen, Paul, Veronica, and Steve were joined on stage by John Moore Williams and Melinda Luisa de Jesus. Their words were by turns mellow and stinging, poignant and rousing. Some of the poems read were timely, referencing current events and politics. Others addressed topics such as feminism, the patriarchy, and Philippine heritage.
Here are excerpts from “PilipinZ”, one of the poems Eileen read. It’s in her latest book, ‘Love in a Time of Belligerence,’ published this year by Swan World:
“I./ I forgot how perfume cannot obliterate. / I forgot children softening harsh wool with thin fingers in exchange for broken rice kernels. / I forgot discovering the limited utility of calm seas. / I forgot the World War II concentration camp where amnesiacs tortured by tying together the legs of pregnant women. / I forgot how Beauty dislocates. / I forgot that sense of approaching a labyrinth. /...
“I forgot rough skin was a map. / I forgot you losing all Alleluias. /… / I forgot steel will bend to form a heart. / I forgot wax will freeze to form a heart. / I forgot ink will flow to form a heart. / ….
“But I will never forget we walk on the same planet and breathe the same air. I will never forget the same sun shines on us. I created my own legacy: No one is a stranger to me.”
As these words thrilled and fascinated the audience at Dovre, so did the other poems, which found their own resonances within each individual present. This is the magic of poetry – it is one thing for the poet, and another for the reader, and always something to both.
There is also power in the spoken word—when it is clothed with sound, emerging on a puff of warm breath, it is brought to life in a special way. That night, the Dovre Club witnessed litchantment.
Eileen and I made sure to let Krip know that we had finally met, taking selfies and tagging him. And with such meetings and greetings, who knows where this journey on the river of words will take us poets and writers next?
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.