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My poet friend Seni Seneviratne invited me to participate in this self-interview blog meme called The Next Big Thing, where I get to share a little more about my writing. Writers participating get to answer 8-10 questions (about their book/blog/their writing), and then tag 5 other writer friends to post their own “next big thing” the following Wednesday. Seni’s instructions were for me to post my answers by or before Wednesday, 5 December ~ so here they are!
(with thanks to Julia Katrina A. Carino for the photo of the cherub from the Baguio Cathedral)
1. What is the working title of your book?
It has been a while since my last book was published (Juan Luna’s Revolver, University of Notre Dame Press, 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize). Do you ever feel, like me, how difficult it is to move from a published book to the next thing; or to even find a place to begin again? I do. And in part to combat the terror and inertia that come with that feeling (compounded by the physical demands of work, family, and personal life), a while ago I started to try to write something, anything, toward a poem every day (I talk about this a little more in #9 below).
This summer, I sat down and looked through the writing I had amassed, and began to revise and order poems in earnest. I came up with three new poetry manuscripts, and started to send them out. One of them is titled The Saints of Streets, and it has just recently been picked up for publication by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; I am hoping the book will be released soon, hopefully in spring 2013. UST Publishing House was formerly known as the University of Santo Tomas Press. It was founded in 1593— and this makes it “probably the oldest continuing press in the world today. It is even older than Asia’s oldest university, the University of Santo Tomas, which was established [by the Dominican fathers] in 1611.”
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
This summer, as I sifted through material I had written, I looked for coherencies that would tell me where and how poems might belong to each other. Many of the poems that went into The Saints of Streets have Baguio as their emotional if not physical context. Memory and history are recurrent themes. I thought of how some of the streets and public places in my home city have (or used to have) indigenous names: for instance, Chanum Street, where a creek used to flow (chanum means “water”); Abanao Street (meaning “wide”); Lucban (meaning a kind of pomelo or grapefruit)— before some of them were renamed after colonial American or Filipino government or military figures— Wright Park, Burnham Lake, General Luna Street, Magsaysay Avenue, and so forth. Whatever poetic cartography we create expands to accommodate our interactions with memory and landscape through time and change.
3. What is the genre of the book?
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In The Saints of Streets, hungry ghosts, mullahs, would-be assassins, carnival queens, Hell Girl, and a host of other figures preside over the dioramas and museum exhibits of personal and collective memory.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency/publisher?
See #1 above
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve written every day for the last two+ years— but putting the manuscript together took a few weeks this past summer.
8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
This is a tough question— One book I might reference is Eugene Gloria’s Hoodlum Birds; or— but this might seem ambitious— one of J. Allyn Rosser’s books of poetry.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This “began”— if “begin” might even apply— in part through my daily writing practice for the last two years+ now. At the same time, I find that I am always coming back to the subjects that are closest to me— that is, much of my poetry works with recurrent themes involving place (it seems I am always writing about my hometown, Baguio), the complicated dynamics of family, the often tangled relationships between history, time, and memory. Of late, I think I have also become more conscious of the demands of form and the valuable lessons imparted by working with more attentiveness to form (though not necessarily always in form).
10. What else about your book/your writing might pique the reader’s interest?
Most poems here are in free verse, but I also experiment with other forms in this manuscript: abecedarians and reverse abecedarians, ghazals, letter-poems, parables. I’ve had fun writing all of these.
The five wonderful writers I’ve tagged for next Wednesday (December 12) are: