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A space to encourage writing of Filipino American literature and the arts




Philippine American Writers and Artists blog for lit/arts events, reviews, news, and opportunities.

Filtering by Category: Article and Essay

GUEST POST: Barbara Jane Reyes, Work in Progress: Rules for Ladies


I am currently writing a poem that I’ve tentatively titled, “Rules for Ladies.” It’s a long prose poem, 18 pages and counting. I thought I had let go of the prose poem, but I picked it up again while I was teaching Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manualand discussing with my students what makes a prose poem a prose poem. It was great to revisit Foster’s work, and remember what he said during one of his readings a few years ago at City Lights Bookstore. Something about avoiding or eliminating the “cuteness” of enjambment, i.e. not allowing gimmick to overtake form and function. Just writing the poem, letting the lyric or narrative be. And so then, as I return to the prose poem, I think about what characteristics of poetry we maintain even when we’re not breaking lines — music, repetition, figurative language, compressed language, et al. And then, what does the density of prose serve in the poem.

I thought about this a lot when I was writing my first book, after/while reading Truong Tran’s Dust and Conscienceand then Within the Margin, which took the idea of the long poetic line, of the unbroken poetic line, beyond the confines of a single page and then beyond the confines of a set of facing pages. That line just kept going, comprising the entire book. It was refreshing to reconsider all of this, after writing what I think of as more palatable poetic lines in For the City That Nearly Broke Meand To Love as AswangHere, I say “palatable,” to mean more straight forward, more easily, visually and musically identifiable as poetic lines, after I’d read a lot of Juan Felipe Herrera, especially the litanies in 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border.

How does the prose poem form serve the content of “Rules for Ladies.” The repetitions, “A lady must always…” “You would be pretty if…” These are the litanies we hear throughout our lives as girls, young ladies, as women that our society continues to violate, objectify, repress, infantilize. There are so many rules for correct appearance and correct behavior, many of which are contradictory, most of which are absurd. You can’t do anything right or good enough. And then it’s compounded by social expectations stemming from Filipino patriarchy and internalized oppression. The more you try to comply or adhere to unrealistic social standards, the less human you feel. Not only is my lady poetic persona already feeling hideous and animal-like, not only is she feeling consumed, devoured by others, but now a ghost has made her way into this work as well.

I’m taking language from an old school Filipino text, Tomas and Pilar Andres’s Understanding the Filipinowhich among the many cultural artifacts and phenomena it addresses, states plainly Filipino gender roles and responsibilities without a hint of irony. It’s an explanatory text, directed (I believe) at a Western audience. It’s meant to alleviate East/West cultural disconnects.

I am also taking language from fashion and beauty advertisements. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at or reading fashion or beauty magazines. I don’t think my sanity could take it right now, though I certainly will. Soon. But the language in the advertisements — for example, the daily emails I receive from Sephora and Ulta! — are great. How much money do we spend on fashion and beauty treatments, and whose standards of beauty are we trying to meet/fulfill. There’s this tendency to think we are doing the empowering #selfcare thing, being beautiful for ourselves to feel good for ourselves. We say we’re feminists, but there’s the insidious presence of Euro-hetero-dominant, patriarchal aesthetic preferences, which inform our standards of beauty for ourselves. And of course, this rabid desire to preserve youthfulness. I am in my mid-40s. I have smile lines, crows’ feet, and gray hair. I have no children. If I am not useful to the patriarchal order, then do I become invisible?

What prompted this poetic project is Miss Universe. Of course Miss Universe. One question: Can I personally have nothing against Pia Alonzo Wurzbach, can I still admire her and think she’s stunning and gorgeous, and still be a feminist, and critique beauty pageant culture, and standards of beauty, its ties to colonialism and neocolonialism. Is that too irreconcilable a contradiction? As she is the current, ultimate icon of beauty, I think she embodies contradiction. I think we all do, perhaps as a survival tactic.

In a previous blog post, I asked for Pinays’ participation in “Rules for Ladies.” I am so glad and grateful to be receiving such terrific responses. I am not surprised that these other Pinays and I have all had these, “You should…” “You should not…” rules and ultimatums leveled at us. And failing to meet these numerous, unrealistic expectations, we are at fault for not trying hard enough.

I don’t know how to end this work. I don’t know when it will feel done. I am just writing it.

Photo credit: Peter Dressel

Photo credit: Peter Dressel

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of To Love as Aswang (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2015). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the SF Bay Area, and is the author of three previous collections of poetry,Gravities of CenterPoeta en San Francisco, which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, and Diwata, which received the Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry

Gina Apostol: ‘Memory is deception’


Via The Recorder:

‘Memory is deception’

Story by Trish Crapo Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Memory is deception,” Sol, the young narrator of Gina Apostol’s new novel “Gun Dealers’ Daughter,” muses. “There’s a pall under which intentions lie, gross as an astrologer’s ball.”

To figure out how memory works is not just a passing fancy for Sol, the daughter of wealthy Filipino gun dealers. She needs memory to jog her out of a deep amnesia brought on by traumatic events she helped to instigate in Manila during the 1980s when Maoist insurgents were fighting to bring down dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Apostol, who, like her character, attended the University of the Philippines during the 1980s, drew from newspaper accounts of the time as well as her own experiences as a student protester to write her novel. She described the period of unrest the book is set within as “terrifying but at the same time, it was very exhilarating.” Apostol joined the Maoist street demonstrations because, in the face of the oppression of the Marcos dictatorship, she felt compelled to act.

“What are you going to do?” Apostol asked. “Are you just going to sit there? … If there is constant violence against the farmers, against the students, if people are being killed, it’s not enough to just sit there and read your books!”

Some of her friends ridiculed her for taking part in the demonstrations, telling her that she didn’t look the part of a radical. “It’s like you have to be a particular kind of person (to be politically involved),” she said. “You have to look like riff-raff to be thoughtful. You have to go and dress in hemp or something … So I would always have arguments. I’d also have arguments with the Maoists. I’d say, ‘Just because you believe in these kinds of things doesn’t mean you can’t read Virginia Woolf.’”

Read more. And don't forget to RSVP for Gina's 10/26/2012 San Francisco event at the Philippine Consulate!

Ninotchka Rosca: The Day Manila Fell Silent


Via The Day Manila Fell Silent by Ninotchka Rosca

[Talk at the Bliss on Bliss Studio, Queens, New York City;  September 9, 2012;  third part of Re-Collection, A Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, the first two being an art exhibit and an installation/performance.]

Ironically, the most quiet day in Manila of contemporary times began with noise:  a loud pounding on the glass door of a penthouse apartment I was using at the time.  The friend who was hollering and shouting and bruising his knuckles on the glass, blurted out, as soon I slid the door open, “martial lawna…[martial law already]”  A split second of silence;  then I pivoted and clicked on the radio.  Nothing but white noise.  Turned on the TV.   Nothing but a white screen and static.  Distraught friend said, “no TV, no radio station… everything’s closed down.”  We eyeballed each other.  The previous night’s last news item on TV flashed into my mind:  a still photo of a car, its roof collapsed, windshield shattered; a male voice saying that the car of the Secretary of National Defense had been attacked but he had not been in it… It was truncated news; I thought,  “what?  An empty car was bombed?”  As I was going to bed, I noticed that the government building behind our apartment building was all lit up:  floor after floor, from top to bottom, blazing with lights.  I said then, “something’s happening; and it’s happening all over the city.”

Read more.

Benjamin Pimentel: To young Filipinos who never knew martial law and dictatorship


Necessary words from the ever-wise Benjamin Pimentel on the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law:

We joined the fight to get rid of a tyrant. And guess what – we won. And you won.

I know it’s hard to believe, especially given all the news of corruption and abuse and of people dying and disappearing.

But trust me: it was much, much worse back then. It was a much scarier, more violent time, when even the mildest criticism of government, of Marcos, of Imelda, could land you in jail or even get you killed.

Look at it this way. Some of you don’t like the current president. And you probably even joined the fad of Noynoying, making fun of the guy, calling him all sorts of names. You know what would have happened to you if you had tried a stunt like that during the Marcos years?

Marcos’s allies want you to forget that. They want you to see the long struggle against dictatorship, and the uprising that finally brought it down as wasted effort.

Which is really an absurd view if you think about it. It’s like telling our heroes and those who waged past struggles in our history that everything that happened, everything they did was a waste.

It’s like telling Jose Rizal, “You know those novels and essays and poems you wrote, including that last one you composed shortly before you were shot to death by the Spaniards, all that was a waste of time. For look at how messed up the country is right now.”

It’s like telling my own father, “Papa, joining the guerrillas was a stupid idea, given how the country whose freedom you defended against the Japanese has turned out.”

Fighting Marcos was worth it. For we took on a bully and we won.

This is not to downplay or dismiss the problems the country faces today.

And you should speak out about them. You should complain and protest. You should demand that things should be better, and you should go out there to try to make them better.

Read more.

Interview: A Conversation on Transnational Identity and the Subtleties of Being Seen



By Michelle Dizon and Gina Osterloh

LA-based artists Michelle Dizon and Gina Osterloh have had concurrent residencies and exhibitions this summer at 18th Street Arts Center and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE). In both spaces the artists were invited to develop work on-site over an extended period of time while making their processes available to the public - giving them a unique opportunity to consider their ways of working and intentions for their art practices. Both artists are also, coincidentally, first-generation Americans with families from the Philippines, a background that informs both of their work in nuanced and potent ways. Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Sara Schnadt recently spent the day with both artists, visiting Michelle's project at 18th Street Arts Center, and Gina's project at LACE, to facilitate a discussion at each site about the artists' work and thinking. This conversation is the result.

Read more.

Rest In Peace, Jeff Tagami


[caption id="attachment_5175" align="alignnone" width="640"] Jeff Tagami and Shirley Ancheta in performance at the I-Hotel (August 2, 2007).[/caption] We are sad to report the recent passing of our friend, Jeff Tagami, poet and author of October Light (Kearny Street Workshop, 1987). A poet with a strong sense of place, he was committed to community and history. His poems are filled with loss and sadness, and serve as evidence, not simply of our having been here and of this place, but of the community’s insistence upon thriving despite institutional odds.

From the Register Pajaronian:

Nationally renowned poet Jeff Tagami dies

Modified: Tuesday, Jun 26th, 2012 BY: ERIK CHALHOUB

WATSONVILLE — Jeff Tagami, nationally renowned poet and Watsonville native, died Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Tagami, 57, was an instructor of writing, composition and literature at Cabrillo College for 20 years, just recently teaching during the spring semester. He was also a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz.

His prose and poetry appeared in many national literary magazines and anthologies. Tagami appeared in the PBS documentary “The US of Poetry,” in which his poem, “Song of Pajaro” was featured in 1995.

“Pajaro is just not something in the imagination, it is a place, it is a people and those people work and breathe off the lands; they are the lands,” Tagami said about his "Song of Pajaro" poem during an interview with the Register-Pajaronian in 2003.

A graduate of Watsonville High School in 1972, Tagami was inducted into the school's hall of fame in May.

He attended Cabrillo College in 1972, where he discovered his writing skill and received mentorship from well-known poets Morton Marcus, Joseph Stroud and Philip Levine. He also met poet Lawson Inada, considered one of the first Asian American published writers.

Tagami had said he learned about the history of Asian agricultural workers while taking a class from historian Sandy Lydon, which he said played a significant role in his writing.

"He gave voice to the marginalized people," said Shirley Ancheta, Tagami's wife and Cabrillo English instructor. "He will be greatly missed by the community. It's a really big loss."

Read more.


National Poetry Month: Bob Flor at Poets & Writers


Happy National Poetry Month to you all. This April, Seattle-based writer Bob Flor is blogging at Poets & Writers. Flor writes, "In 2006 I co-founded Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts with a friend—Maria Batayola. Our objective was to introduce the public to Filipino American writers, and we quickly discovered a number of Filipinos producing poetry, literature, and plays." You can check him out here.



"To bring the poem into the world
is to bring the world into the poem."

We are pleased to share the inauguration of POETS ON THE GREAT RECESSION at .  The project features poets presenting the many varied face(t)s of their Great Recession experience, and how such has affected (or not) their poetry.  We are looking for more poets to participate (see Call below), but poets launching the project are:

Anonymous November 2011 ("Neither of my books accepted for publication in 2008 will be issued....I have more than ten unpublished manuscripts.")

Alan BakerNovember 2011 ("England's lamentable slaverie // the kettle’s boiled")

Michelle BautistaNovember 2011 ("'s important for me to be present, forgiving, truthful, and loving.")

John Bloomberg-RissmanNovember 2011 ("The lower the level of education, the more likely a voter is to take seriously racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-science, religiously fanatical, etc etc candidates.")

Susan BrianteNovember 2011 ("... a new confessional—an economic confessional. What’s in your bank account, Poet? Who paid for your down payment? What do you owe? ...we have to locate our place in an economic continuum before we can honestly define our needs, understand the needs of others, activate our sympathies, act for change.")

Anne GorrickNovember 2011 ("The Great Recession set up a situation where I can say 'yes' to many, many things that make my own work bigger.")

j/j hastainNovember 2011 ("This is a pledge to ever couple with and to never cripple.")

Karen LlagasNovember 2011 (""Let no one say / it’s just about the money, / that slender, / grief-stricken thing, / so thirsty for company")

Barbara Jane ReyesNovember 2011 ("...surviving this recession as an artist requires that artists do away with a sense of entitlement...")

Leny M. StrobelNovember 2011 ("Decolonization is not just for the post-colonial subject anymore.")

Eileen R. TabiosNovember 2011 ("Gold for Poetry....I consider Poetry to be priceless.")

Dee ThompsonNovember 2011 ("Who is not comforted by eggs and cheese?")

Elizabeth TreadwellNovember 2011 ("male dominance obscures / the true contributions of men.")

Erin VirgilNovember 2011 ("Babies never made me sad before.")

Harriet Zinnes November 2011 ("There are no outcasts in history. / We are all in its throes.")


We are always looking for more poets to participate.  Call for Participation is at  Participating poets are asked simply to answer three questions:

1) What is (part of) your Great Recession experience?
2) How has the Great Recession affected your poetry?
3) Please share a poem(s) addressing your Great Recession experience.


POETS ON THE GREAT RECESSION is the second of a planned curated series of POETS ON ____ [insert BIG TOPIC on blank].  The first project was POETS ON ADOPTION, for which we continue to look for participants, at .  We invite you to read, participate and please spread the word.

Eileen Tabios,
Poet & Curator of POETS ON ____ series

Article: Scholar’s Views Rile State Department (On Rhacel Salazar Parreñas's Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo)


From the Chronicle of Higher Education: The author of a new scholarly book from Stanford University Press has become the target of criticism from an unusual source: the U.S. Department of State.

In recent weeks, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, has received media attention for Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyoa book about Filipina women working as bar hostesses in the Japanese capital. Bloomberg News ran excerpts of her work. She was called the “literary lovechild of Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Wolf” by Zócalo Public Square, which said the book will “inspire indignation for reasons you didn’t expect.” Parreñas also was interviewed onThe World, a program of Public Radio International. Following that broadcast, the State Department asked—essentially—for equal time.

The issue? Parreñas was highly critical of the ways in which State Department policies on international sex trafficking characterize the women who are the focus of her book, minimizing, she says, their individual agency as migrant laborers, and seeking to “rescue” them and regulate their lives in ways that Parreñas argues may leave them worse off.

Read more.

Interview: C.E. Gatchalian - "Crossing and Other Plays"


Belatedly posting this interview with Filipino Canadian playwright, C.E. Gatchalian, author of Crossing and Other Plays (Lethe Press), and whose play, Falling in Time, is currently showing in Vancouver: Vancouver playwright C.E. (Chris) Gatchalian is the author of three books of drama and one of poetry. His most recent undertaking is a collection of three dynamic plays that explore themes of sexuality and human behaviour. Crossing and Other Plays contains three plays: Crossing, Diamond and Ticks. Crossing explores the tormented, sexually charged relationship between a mother and her teenage son, bound together by guilt and fear over a horrific incident that occurred ten years prior. Diamond is an elliptical, metatheatrical dissection of one woman’s intimate story. Ticks is the frantic, metronome-accompanied monologue of a self-appointed, disease-stricken messiah, eager to bring a plague upon the city.

Here Chris talks to PGC about Crossing and Other Plays, how he feels about being called one of Canada's 'most daring' playwrights, and his upcoming projects.

PGC: Launched earlier this year, your most recent publication is a collection of three plays that have been described as "brilliant" and "disturbing". Tell us a little bit about each play.

Gatchalian: The three plays in Crossing & Other Plays were all written fairly early in my career, in the mid- to late nineties. Crossing is about the extraordinary relationship between a mother and her son who are trying to protect each other from the memory of a terrifying event ten years prior. The play is about abuse and love, truth and illusion, game-playing and harsh reality, the sacred and the profane. Diamond is a theatricalization of one woman's coming to terms with a private experience. And Ticks is about a diseased man who sees himself as a messiah, spreading what he sees as a necessary illness upon his city. These three are probably the most stylized plays I've ever written, so it's fitting they've all been gathered in one volume. While these are early plays, they are still good examples of what my work is known for: queer-themed, elliptical, non-realistic.


PGC: What advice would you give to an emerging/early career playwright?

Gatchalian: Be serious about your craft. Study, see lots of plays, read. Be conversant in all the arts, not just theatre and literature. The more you are exposed to, the more fully-fleshed your work will be. Don't use playwriting as merely a stepping stone to becoming a screenwriter--theatre is the most vital, most time-honoured of art forms and must be given due respect by anyone and everyone who chooses to practice it. Don't conform, but revere the great playwrights who've come before you.

Read more.