Books I love and blurbed

Here are some of the books I’ve endorsed! It was a joy to thoroughly engage with these works. Please support the authors and publishers by buying these books. You can also request your local library to purchase a copy to add to their catalog. Thank you!

The Fight by Jennifer Manthey (Trio House Press, July 2023)

At the heart of The Fight is the language and meaning-making of motherhood. Drawing from complicated narratives, the speaker interrogates race to capture the messy and tangled experiences of transracial adoption. What is most striking about the poems in this collection is how they are carefully mapped and tethered to each other to hold a child’s history “across an entire ocean,” from Kinshasa to Minnesota, like an ancestral record or proof of belonging. Poignant and luminescent, this collection is also urgent and necessary particularly as questions surrounding adoption as a substitute to abortion arise.

Wildflowers by Beverly Parayno (Philippine Writers and Artists, Inc., May 2023)

Wildflowers is a feat of rigorous craft and beautiful singularity. The nine stories in this debut collection manifest bending moments of tension and compression, uncovering tangled relationships, childhood violence, sexual liaisons, the synchronously tender and savage bond between parent and child, and the burden of colonization and historical trauma which every Filipino family knows too well. From East San Jose’s Tully Road to Urdaneta in Pangasinan Province, Beverly Parayno has created sustained narrative arcs centering spirited and unforgettable protagonists formed as much by rubble and “corrugated overhangs” as by “endless [fields] of radiant color.”

All Of Us Are Cleaved by Karen Llagas (Nomadic Press, February 2023)

Karen Llagas’ much-anticipated new collection is a fresh and wonderful rendering of movement, memory, and lineation. Pay close attention to space and structure, to permeability and deliberate acts of grace. Just as there are many paths to excavating lost places and histories, the speaker in these poems takes us on an imagistic journey to rituals of grieving and cleaving (a “thirst for salt and mud”), to fields of sugarcane and the many kinds of poverty and privilege, always in proximity to the smallest of bodies—bees, spiders, yeast, rice grains, origins. (“Do you know a rosebud/ that refuses/ to bloom is called a bullet?”) These are, at once, field notes and love poems, unsentimental and unimpeachable.

What unseen thing blows wishes across my surface? by Kim Shuck, art by LisaRuth Elliott (San Francisco Arts Commission, November 2022)

“I have waited for this light.” More than two years into the pandemic, we continue to reckon with the social impacts of a disrupted and fractured world. But to truly understand “rain in the time of quarantine,” we turn to a poet who walks these unceded lands with the clarity and patience of a beader and steward of words. In Kim Shuck’s 9th book, juxtaposed with the indirect metaphors of collage artist LisaRuth Elliott, we discover symbols of healing at once radical and loving: “the smoke of old prayers, strands of rose quartz, fern fronds, hawthorn leaves, an eggshell necklace, the old map carvings, the ripples, the spin of the world, heart maps,” which is to say, Shuck’s poems shiver, expand, transfigure, hold the people whole.

Growing up Filipino 3: New Stories for Young Adults edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (PALH, October 2022)

To grow up Filipino is to understand the power of stories. What makes this collection so compelling is how each coming of age narrative is imbued with the nuances of language, ritual, and gesture, family and community dynamics, and the undercurrents of a nation’s complicated history. At the heart of Growing Up Filipino Book 3 are layered, dynamic, questioning, inspiring characters, young and Filipino, who have stayed true to their roots.

Handspun Rosaries by Dina Klarisse (Sampaguita Press, June 2022)

Fiercely tender and introspective, Handspun Rosaries meticulously explores the mythos of folk Catholicism and the nuances of an indigenized Filipinx identity. With spunk and clarity, the poet Dina Klarisse calls out from the diaspora, “across unbelieving and forgetting,” to invoke family and the allegory of home. This book merits our careful reading to find between the “lacquered talons” and “holy carbs,” an “inheritance of burden and love.”

Hell/a Mexican by Kevin Madrigal Galindo (Nomadic Press, February 2022)

Hell/a Mexican is the liminal space between what Kevin Madrigal Galindo calls “Mexican Heaven” and “Mexican Hell,” equal parts Zapopan and South City, aguas frescas and rock-hard avocado, “fermented agave & missing names + obituary.” The author, a decolonizer and powerful voice at the intersection of contemporary Latino poetry and possibilities, is careful not to refine what or who is often overlooked: both worker and shitty job, and “what holds all together.” Ultimately, Madrigal’s debut poetry chapbook is an ode to the Mexican diaspora in America’s back kitchens, “a gentle net for extra syrup & fallen stars” and to “recipes [that] were never meant to be static.”

Old Snow, White Sun by Caroline Goodwin (Jackleg Press, November 2021)

Exquisite and precise, Caroline Goodwin’s newest poetry collection, Old Snow, White Sun, begins like “a catkin [making] its way through the cracks… A coolness over the throat.” It traverses various terrains with grace and a commitment to astonishment. Here, Goodwin brilliantly gathers mothlight, herbal lore, psychedelia, heavy metal, and old charm to capture a world that is bountiful, magnificent, and impermanent. “Look now for a thin page / with very light ink, or a pelican feather / or, better yet, a creature long extinct hatching / from the mouth of the old mine.” Ferocity and decaying bodies populate these poems, but also tenderness and rhythmic hope. Find in these poems a heron, a river, a hurricane, a floodgate, a levee, a story. “The one where the girl is strong enough. The one where she survives.” Where she dwells and how she rises.

Witness in the Convex Mirror by Eileen R. Tabios (TinFish Press, May 2019)

To read Eileen R. Tabios’ Witness in the Convex Mirror is “to Ashbery,” which, to paraphrase John Ashbery—arguably the greatest American poet of the 20th century—means to “imitate the way knowledge comes, by fits and starts and by indirection.” Ms. Tabios begins each poem with 1-2 lines from Mr. Ashbery’s oeuvre, before pivoting to Asia and Asian themes: “It happened while you were inside, asleep. / The penguins now grieve over the escalation / of silt in their bath. A mother begs a child, / ‘Let go. I won’t survive, but you can!’ But…” In her new book, Ms. Tabios addresses super typhoons and modern-day slavery, and homonyms and reduplicative words such as wagwag and pagpag, with aplomb and intense imagination, permanently and expertly connecting these with the hermetic nature in John Ashbery’s poetry. Read these poems as through a fish eye mirror, where the field of view is ever more expansive, and objects are always closer than they appear.

The Google Song: And Other Rhymes for Our Times by Ed Maranan (Anvil Publishing, November 2017)

A treasure trove of enchanting, well-crafted and nature-friendly poems, from a master poet, for children of all ages.

Ed Maranan was a Filipino poet, essayist, fiction writer, playwright, diplomat, translator and writer of children’s stories. He wrote in Filipino and in English. He was inducted into the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2000.

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