Eyes Swollen to the Size of Golf Balls . . .

. . . but self will seek to re-cap highlights of yesterday morning’s panel, “Archipelagos of Dust, Habitations of Language.”

Self went last, and it seemed to her, after listening to the other four writers who went ahead of her (Luisa Igloria, Grace Talusan, Angela Narciso Torres and Karen Llagas) that their reflections could be grouped (roughly) into three sections: Home/ Homelands; Emotion; and Nostalgia.

So, even though self is still bleary-eyed from lack of sleep (having had only four hours since last night), self will now attempt to re-construct the highlights:

On the Idea of Home/Homelands:

  • Luisa speaks of “invented” homelands, describes place as “artifact” (what a very neat idea, that!), directs audience’s attention to “nomadic” quality of immigrant Filipino culture, quotes _______ (Alas, self left behind the handout on Luisa’s presentation and can’t remember who the quote is from) as saying, “Literature can console — but not enough.”
  • Grace tells the audience, “All my life, I was warned about the danger of telling stories.”  People say things to her like, “Your grandmother is rolling in her grave.”  Reading from her story, “My Father’s Noose,” she describes how her grandmother once punished her father by hanging him from a noose to the ceiling.  Her grandmother warns her then 10-year-old father, “Don’t try to save yourself, don’t you dare.”
  • Karen says, “Poems might be the cheapest mode of transportation, as another poet has said, but not in my experience.”

On “Emotion”

  • Luisa mentions the writer’s “subjectivity.” Talks of process: “I’ll close my eyes and imagine . . . “
  • Grace recounts a stunning story of how her great-grandfather was one of the exhibits on display at the St. Louis World Fair.  As regards the hanging incident referred to earlier, she quotes her father saying, “Can you believe my mother did that?” Adds, “My father will never forgive his mother.”
  • Angela reads a poem, “To Return to San Juan,” about her childhood home: “summer, a river, songs the women sang.” Speaks of the pain of “physical alienation.”
  • Karen describes how she understood her “main task” as one of “watching and witnessing.”  Reads a poem by Luis Cabalquinto, “Blue Tropic.”

On “Nostalgia”

  • All the writers pretty much asserted the need to remember without nostalgia or, as Angela put it, to resist “nostalgia for what was never there.” Yet, she points out, it is “human nature to idealize what we have lost.”
  • Picking up on this thread, self counters with the idea that it is also human nature to imagine what we can never have and describes how, in her years of growing up in Manila (and self lived there until she was 21), the idea of America was ever-present, looming, so that she grew up feeling a kind of “nostalgia” for America, a land she had never lived in.
  • Self finishes up by reading from “Isa,” describing it to audience as the story of a girl on an island whose inhabitants have no knowledge of what lies beyond:

We wondered, occasionally, about other beings, the ones we guessed must inhabit the world. The world that was so far away we couldn’t smell or taste it.

Because we couldn’t imagine that other world, we decided to think only about things we could smell or taste or hear ourselves. Smells like what was cooking in each other’s houses. Tastes like the opaque, soft, peppery insides of mollusks and snails, or the juice we sucked from the bones of fish.

Self thinks it was a very cool experience, being part of a panel at AWP. (And, considering that our panel was at 9 a.m., she thinks we got a pretty good-size showing.  Counting all the people who trickled in at various points, perhaps we had an audience of 30–?  And self even recognized some people who were at the VONA reading two days earlier, woo-hoo!)

Thank you, Luisa, for inviting her to be on it; thank you, Grace, for doing such a great job moderating; thank you, Karen, for taking charge of all the logistics, especially for preparing the handouts, which must have been a bear, considering there were so many distractions; and to Angela, whose large heart and generosity were there every step of the way.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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