Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Poetry and Media #021

Al Robles's first and only collection of poems, Rappin' With Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark, was published in 1996. Long out of print, the book's second life officially began this month with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center's publication of an expanded edition. "The struggle and promise of becoming a Pilipino in America can be found in the poetry of Al Robles," wrote Russell Leong in his preface to the 1996 edition. Robles was a pillar of the San Francisco Filipino American and Asian American literary scene. Through his work at the Kearny Street Workshop, Robles mentored countless young writers, including Barbara Jane Reyes. "Academically bound poets will probably not know a lick about Manong Al, and will probably not care so much about his 'loose' poetic style," Reyes wrote. "But it wasn't loose. It was a lifetime of practice, reflecting street level lived experience." One such experience that Robles was well-known for was his activist work in response to elderly Filipino residents being evicted from San Francisco's International Hotel. "The I-Hotel housed elderly and low income tenants, many of whom we've come to know as the 'Manongs,' which is an Ilocano term of respect for our olders," Reyes wrote. The battle to preserve the I-Hotel as a home for manongs ended on August 4th, 1977 with police forcibly removing the fifty-five remaining tenants from the premises (To learn more about the I-Hotel, click here to watch a short documentary from Vox that explains the history). "Uncle Al's walk of life took him into the terrain of our community, our history, our fears, our passions, our joy, our sorrows, and our love," wrote Robles's nephew, Tony Robles. "Uncle Al was chronicling the life of the manongs. I didn't know what a manong was. But he brought them into my imagination with stories of a manong cooking alligator adobo, a 5'1" manong who fought five men at once and won, a manong healer who would perform surgery without implements while eating at the same time." Many of Robles's poems were portraits of particular manongs, with titles like "The Hawaiian Sugarcane Wild Boar Manong" and "Manong O'Campo." Here's an excerpt from "Manong Felix": 

 
dear manong felix
when i see
your brown face
i see
the rain forest
of my people
before white man's history
the luzon mountain landscape
clears my mind
in the deep crevasses
of your ancient face
the pasig river flows
in agbayani village
your family
was celebrating
your life
 
Click here to buy Rappin' With Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark. For more on Robles, there's a veritable treasure trove of archival and documentary materials that includes these two documentaries about Robles: Manilatown Is In the Heart and The Al Robles Express. A third documentary, The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983), was directed by Curtis Choy and narrated by Robles. The San Francisco Public Library YouTube page has an audio recording of a conversation between Robles and Roberto V. Vallangca, author of Pinoy, The First Wave. Robles is also featured in a long, vérité-style film about manongs that's currently up on the Cabinent of Asian American Media Vimeo page. Finally, check out this beautiful musical performance by "The Forgotten Manongs" that concluded a short play starring Robles and Carlos Villa.
 
More November releases worth checking out:
 
Sub Verse Workshop by Giancarlo Huapaya
Sorrowland Oracle by Ayodele Nzinga
Life in Space by Galina Rymbu
Scherzos Benjyosos by Keston Sutherland
We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel
 
And now, the Poetry and Media digest:
 
  • Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod is one of seven New Zealand-based poets whose lockdown-inspired writing was chosen to adorn utility boxes around Auckland. Click here to learn more.
  • Derek Beaulieu appeared on Jonathan Ball's podcast Writing the Wrong Way to discuss conceptual writing and concrete poetry. "Look at all these other ways of writing," Beaulieu said. "Whether it's using only one vowel or only sentences with a certain number of words, you're seeing that in pre-Roman poetry. The idea of plagiarizing or lifting lines directly out of other people's writing, this something Eliot was doing. None of these tools are new." Click here to listen.
  • Wu Changshuo was a prominent poet and calligrapher during the late Qing dynasty and the early Republic of China.Wu was a founding member of the Xiling Seal Society, which remains a leading organization of Chinese epigraphy to this day. Artifcats from the Xiling Seal Society, including some beautiful inscription by Wus, are currently on display at the Zhejiang Museum. Click here to take a look.
  • Carson Daly, former host of MTV's Total Request Live and current co-host of Today on NBC, recently launched a video series entitled "Mind Matters" that attempts to dismantle stigmas around mental illness. A recent episode features poet Theo Legro discussing her love of music, her lifelong struggle with depression, and how one does not have to be miserable to be an artist. "Your depression is one very small part of what makes you who you are," Legro said. "You will not be a less interesting person if you go to therapy, if you figure out how to make life a little bit easier for yourself. You're still you. You'll still be able to create. You just gotta trust." Click here to watch. For more from Legro, click the titles to check out her poems "Shame Psalm," "A Kind of Surviving," and "Nights I Dream of Things Not Living." 
  • Joyce Ashuntantang appeared on STV Cameroon's Hard Talk to discuss anglophone poetry currently being written in the country. "Anglophone Cameroon literature is Cameroon literature, it is African literature, it is Black literature," Ashuntantang said. "All those identity markers are relevant. So, for me to mark it as Anglophone Cameroon literature doesn't mean I'm taking away the other markers that open it up to other critical lenses." Click here to watch.
  • Antonio López, whose debut collection Gentefication won the 2019 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry, recently won a seat on the East Palo Alto City Council by a razor-thin margin. Click here to learn more
  • Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century feminist poet from Mexico. Her likeness now adorns a 100-peso banknote that was just placed in circulation by Mexico's central bank. Click here to learn more
  • Rachel Oates, a 27 year-old British vlogger with nearly 200,000 subscribers on YouTube, best known for her videos on atheism, science, book reviews, and social issues, has now taken on the writing of poetry with a new video explaining how to stop writing bad poetry. "When you start writing it doesn't matter if you're any good or not," Oates said. "The only way to get better is to actually write and practice." Oates then shares a series of writing exercises and prompts, such as taking a poem and rewriting it in a different style. Click here to watch.
  • Mohamed Hassan's experience immigrating from Egypt to New Zealand was detailed in a recent profile that Lee Kenny wrote for Stuff. The piece explores how Hassan got his start "on a whim, with a terribly written love poem" that he performed at a poetry slam, as well as how he's used poetry to navigate New Zealand society in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Click here to read.
  • Finally, it's once again that time of year when magazines begin to unleash their collective onslaught of "Best Books of the Year" lists. Click on the name of the organization to check out "Best Poetry" lists from the Washington Post, the New York Public Library, and Goodreads.
 
For tips, comments, questions, or anything in between, drop us a line at pswebed@unl.edu.

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