Sometimes, while you’re trying to outsmart time behind your work desk, you meet with your thoughts and ask questions you dare not ask your kitties. Then you try to find a way to impart that conversation to any surface you can find. And when you do find it, the universe simply opens up its doors to usher you in.
Piso pa rin ba?
O mas malamig pa sa piseta?
Ang agahan, pananghalian
at hapunan na pinagkasya
sa isang maliit kakarampot na supot
para ipagpalit sa pangarap
na papsikel, tutunawin lang
nang panandalian, isisikmurang sa paparating na pantawid sa tag-init.
A shelter of robins, his heart breathes into mine flowerbeds of ballads not thorned nor pitted heartbreaks upon which spikes may delay the casting of spring when seasons run miles apart to dance rivers with our thoughts our fountains, deep in the roots will meet among the shadows…
Now, if only…
these words were so a garden of ours
as if I were a Wordsworth, rhymed
and you, a village his, a path shared
with the daffodils in a dream without
but we are no such garden, still, under
the metal clouds, wired with gavels
silver chains to our roots, rust a staple
and time, our enemy, is a wall sprouted
by shallow ponds, pawns to vultures
for within its arms we’ll one day wither
and settle unto grounds, craving for rain.
Half-empty words wash away
the narratives, spilt favours,
modern fatigue —
we owe the landowners —
as our worn out pleas
flee in silence.
Our kins rode the wings of fate
in begging fashion,
shoveling their own
craving for death.
We mourn for old debts,
for we are tiny pebbles
in a shore of gluttons.
What purpose do our lips serve
when we speak pass the clouds?
While we cease to embrace
the pen with our tongues?
We dug out the snare, fist and spine.
They fed on our spirit.
While polarity has often characterized these discourses, it is hard to pin down even contingent names for the resulting dichotomies: Conceptual Writing vs. Lyric Poetry? Conceptual Writing vs. Political Poetry? Conceptual Writing vs. Positivist Representation? Avant Garde Aesthetics vs. Activist Poetics? To speak in the idiom of Maestro Ilayaraaja, my muse while I edited this feature: How to name it? How to, indeed?
This moment, like many significant moments in literary history, requires better questions: questions that do not demand denouncement, do not enforce allegiance to a certain aesthetic, do not automate categorical definitions; questions that challenge how writing is institutionalized, incorporated, or made hegemonic and complicit; questions that clarify and document the contemporary moment as it is, rather than answers that produce easily instrumentalized narratives.
So, instead of asking practitioners who they are (i.e. the questions of inquisition), I asked writers why and how they work (i.e. the questions of exposition). They told us, in return, how they lean and how they work through, beside, outside of, and within what we’ve come to understand as Conceptual writing. They told us how they have grown into, grown from, outgrown, or forborne its possibilities. To pluralize prepositional relations to the thing seemed like the best way to counter polarizing discourses that focus on select individuals in an otherwise highly diverse, striated, and divergent network of poetic practitioners.