Mapping the Literary Constellation: 50 Key Moments in a Personal History

The Guardian UK loves lists, and they spend plenty of air time debating the purpose and usefulness of this form. Katie Kitamura waxes in her article “Literary Lists: Proof of our existence”:

Lists are used as a formally alienating device, a dehumanising agent, that is nonetheless entirely wrapped up in the question of human life.

How do we describe the fact of human existence? At a certain point, perhaps, style fails us. Language, even and in particular at its most evocative, becomes less of an aid and more of a difficulty. In these circumstances, a certain kind of writer has, again and again, reverted to the list – perhaps as the simplest proof of existence in the first place. It’s no accident that these lists often delineate material objects, the physical evidence of a life.

…[Umberto] Eco is talking about what I can only describe as a big feeling, and one that requires all the support of its formal and literary scaffolding. He is not, in the main, talking about grocery lists or lists of books read. But as long as we’re keeping lists, no matter what those lists are, we’re keeping faith with some idea of perpetuity. We are making the assumption that the list will endure even when we do not.

Furthering the idea that lists endure, The Guardian enumerated English literature’s 50 key moments from Marlowe to JK Rowling, registering historical moments and literary milestones. Here’s a taste:

Note: what follows is not merely a book list, but an attempt to identify some of the hinge moments in our literature – a composite of significant events, notable poems, plays, and novels, plus influential deaths, starting with the violent death of Shakespeare’s one serious rival …

1. The death of Christopher Marlowe (1593)

2. William Shakespeare: The Sonnets (1609)

3. The King James Bible (1611)

4. William Shakespeare: The First Folio (1623)78)

In the spirit of Eco’s perpetuity, here’s a personal record–certainly not exhaustive nor complete–noting moments of  self discovery, influential people, places, films, musicians, mentors, trailblazers to follow, and other artifacts that have shaped this literary self. The below register doesn’t follow chronological order nor an order of importance but is a haphazard attempt to pin down the brightest constellations that wheel over my literary skies. Like any piece of writing, it’s been revised nth times over, and these fidgety fingers are still tempted to make further emendations. It will be interesting to revisit ten and twenty years from now and discover how the skyscape has shifted.

1. Central Station
2. The City of Angels
3. My soul mate, PJS.
4. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

5. Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine
6. Barbara Jane Reyes
7. Lysley Tenorio
8. Rosemary Graham, Marilyn Abildskov, and Cecilia Brainard Manguerra
9. Saint Mary’s College of California MFA Creative Writing Program (2006)
10. UCLA Creative Writing Program: David Wong Louie and Paula Gunn Allen (1998)
11. Teaching Composition Classes
12. NYT article on Filipino House Bands
13. LA Weekly
14. Beethoven
15. The Smiths
16. MacDowell Colony Residency, January 2013
17. Maternal & paternal grandparents’ lives & stories
18. Virginia Woolf
19. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (short stories–not the novels!)
20. Typewriter Model #____
21. Apple
22. WordPress
23. Mi hermanito
24. BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South

25. EM Forster
26. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
27. The City of Angels

At Home in Venice, Los Angeeles
28. Andrea Levy’s Small Island
29. Joseph Conrad and his Heart of Darkness
30. Thomas Hardy (Tess of d’Ubervilles, Return of the Native, and Far From the Maddening Crowd)
31. Frederich Nietzsche
32. This Bridge Called My Back and Borderlands/Las Fronteras

33. Shakespeare’s Hamlet
34. Mr. Thurston’s Honors English class at Monte Vista High School and his extra credit reading list
35. Mr. Tato, Avocado Elementary School
36. Libraries at Highland Elementary, MVHS, Avocado, and Spring Valley Middle School
37. Elementary School Bookfairs (Scholastic Catalogs–does anyone remember these?)
38. Laura Ingalls Wilder Series
39. The Romantics: Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, and the rest of the guys in the band
40. Charlotte Bronte
41. Emily Bronte & Wuthering Heights

42. Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek and Loose Woman
43. The UCLA Ten Series and The Norton Anthology of English Literature I and II
44. The Great Chuck D, aka Charles Dickens
45. Poets & Writers
46. Mary Volmer, Nick D. Leither, and Emily Breunig
47. KPFK’s Global Village’s Yatrika Shah-Rais and Derek Rath
48. KCRW’s Tom Schnabel
49. Pa and the copies of Aesop’s Fables and Greek mythology books he gave me as a child
50. Ma, all her books and paperwork that crammed our house and her indomitable encouragement to read & write

Hopefully this inventory might give you pause to reflect over the personal and private moments that have shaped your art and passion. This could include lovers, would-be lovers, chance encounters, TV shows, songs, albums, poets, comediennes–whatever gets your engine revved. You’ll leave beloved people and places out that will make you cringe with regret, as I have, but that’s the nature of lists. As much as they stand as testament; they’re essentially ephemera like every other form we try and hold fast to. These watersheds don’t have to be explained but should mean everything to you.

Barbara Jane Reyes Shouts Out on Poetry Foundation’s Harriet the Blog

Poetry Foundation’s Harriet the Blog has the honor and pleasure of hosting a regular online column with poet and professor Barbara Jane Reyes, who’s latest poets speaks truth to power, breaking silence and representation while giving a shout out to Pinay voices, including yours truly.

Do your soul a favor, and check out her words and Pinay works:

Teaching and Writing Pinay Lives and Voices

By Barbara Jane Reyes

As an author, I’ve been very uncomfortable, being expected to “represent” an entire community. Some years back, as a guest speaker in Willie Perdomo‘s VONA workshop, Building the Poetry Manuscript, I was asked by one Pinay student what that felt like, being a Pinay expected to “represent.” I told her I disliked it; though I think my work can be resonant and relevant to a Filipina American experience, it’s my own take on that wildly divergent thing. Moreover, something I’ve known since I was young, something to which my parents can attest, is that I am never the Pinay that people expect Pinays to be.

Read the entire post here.

Maraming salamat Barbara for making community!

Barbara Jane Reyes shares developments on her latest work “Chorus,” a colloborative piece from Pinay writers, including yours truly

The laughing poet
Image from Oakland Local

Chorus: A Poetry Manuscript in Progress is writer and professor Barbara Jane Reyes most current work in development, tentatively titled, and she shares her process as well as acknowledges fellow writers for their contributions in her post “Manuscript Process Notes” :

So much of my poetry to date has been an assumption of a Filipina American or Pinay voice, an academic assumption of Pinay concerns. The demand for me to be some kind of Pinay spokesperson has come to fill me with ambivalence, and so I needed to ask, to pass the mic, to step aside and let other Pinays speak, to listen to what they have to say, how they speak, write, and make art about what is important to them…

…A debt of gratitude to my collaborators: Kimberly Alidio, Olivia Ayes, Terry Bautista, Richie Biluan, Caroline Calderon, Rachelle Cruz, Niki Escobar, Diana Q. Halog, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Camille Ikalina Robles, Leny Mendoza Strobel, for lending me their words and stories. Maraming salamat, at Diyos ti agngina.

Looking forward to poring over the finished manuscript. Read Reyes’ entire post at her site.

Traipsing through the south of England, July 15, 2011

Finally picking up the thread from 2011’s literary pilgrimage to England, Wales, and Ireland, on July 15, we had paid homage to Thomas Hardy in Dorset County, (south England) and trekked through the Isle of Purbeck from the parish of Worth Matravers to St. Aldhelm’s Head and back again. The hike along the Jurassic Coast was a dream come true since I’d imagined these places when I first read Tess of D’Ubervilles and Return of the Native back in Mr. Thurston’s Honors English class at Monte Vista High.

We stayed at the following bed & breakfast that earned strong reviews for their tasty full English breakfasts, and the meals stood up to critiques.

Ashmira Guest House
3 Westerhall Road
Weymouth, Dorset DT4 7SZ
United Kingdom
Phone: 44 (1305) 786584

Our itinerary included the following and was crafted with the assistance of PDFs from the Lonely Planet’s chapter on Dorset and Project Mapping.

Below is an epistles sent to family and friends tracking our journey:

15 July 2011

We’ve left Lymington behind and pushed on southwest to Weymouth. Lymington was a sleepy little coastal town, famous for its yacht regattas. Phil and I walked around town yesterday, met Heather’s colleagues at her two jobs on the main street. I took a very peaceful nap in the graveyard, and then we met with Andrew and Heather after their work shifts ended and sloshed a few drinks.

We took the train to Weymouth and, soon as we arrive, were greeted by the

characteristic cry of the gulls, just like in the TV and films. It is the quintessential British seaside town. We’re now settled at what’s been a highly rated bed and breakfast in Weymouth. We went immediately to the Dorset County Museum, so I could pay homage to Thomas Hardy. They had quite an impressive room of curios and memorabilia, even part of his original writing study set up in the museum. I cried as I read a poem he penned in his own handwriting dedicated to Keats.

The weather was too gorgeous yesterday, unbelievably sunny and warm, and we soaked it up with a seven hour hike through Thomas Hardy country. We were right in the thick of farmland and everywhere we trekked, sheep were bleating, cows mooing, chickens clucking, birds chirping, and horses trotting. We lost our way as we tried to get to Corfe Castle and got trapped in a jungle of brambles along a muddy creek, so by the time we got to the castle ruins, the park was closed. We’re going to make our way back to the castle by bus today instead of hiking and try to take it easy since yesterday wiped me out, and we need to recharge for Mt. Snowdon.

Pics from the Thomas Hardy hike:

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For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

We didn’t have time for the below suggested walks, which means that we’ll be back in Thomas Hardy country someday soon.

From The Guardian’s Favourite British Walks 

South Hams coast, Devon

  • Distance 13 miles
  • Time 6 hours
  • Type Coastal
  • Where Linear walk along the South Hams coast from Torcross to East Portlemouth
  • Start/End East Portlemouth (SX744387)
  • The finest coastline of south Devon is to be found in the South Hams, which extends southwards from Dartmoor, stretching from the Tamar in the west to the Dart in the east. There are five estuaries that have to be crossed if you’re walking the South West Coast Path, but not all are served by ferries throughout the year. Fortunately, on one of the very best day’s walks along this coast – from Torcross to East Portlemouth – there’s a year-round ferry across the Salcombe estuary. The walk takes in the headlands of Start and Prawle Points and boasts superb scenery all the way.
  • • Download a detailed route card at the Walk Magazine website:

Abbotsbury, Dorset

  • Distance 7½ miles
  • Time 4 hours
  • Type Downland and coast
  • Where Circular walk from Abbotsbury via Abbotsbury Castle, West Bexington and Chesil beach
  • Start/End Car park in Abbotsbury, next to church (SY578853)
  • Situated amidst gently rolling downland behind the great Chesil beach, Abbotsbury is one of the most picturesque and historically interesting villages in Dorset. Its 970-year-old Swannery is the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting mute swans. This route should be within the capabilities of most, except the very young, with shorter options available. The outward leg leads along a ridge-top path to the north-west of the village via Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron-Age hill fort, with excellent views all the way. It then heads down to the coast and returns alongside Chesil beach. A short detour at the end to climb Chapel Hill to St Catherine’s chapel affords one of the loveliest viewpoints around.
  • • Route card:

Alfriston, East Sussex, Countryside around Alfriston

  • Distance 8 miles
  • Time 4 hours
  • Type Downland and valley
  • Where Circular walk from Alfriston via South Downs Way, High and Over, and Cuckmere Valley
  • Start/End Main car park, North Street, Alfriston (TQ523034)
  • Situated in the Cuckmere valley at the eastern end of the South Downs is the picturesque old village of Alfriston. Despite its popularity, the village has lost none of its charm, and remains thankfully unspoilt. Alfriston makes an excellent base for exploring the delightful Sussex countryside, with a variety of fine walks to be enjoyed. This route combines downland and valley walking, with some lovely views along the way.
  • • Route

Quick Recap of SMC’s Parents & Family Weekend Session “Classroom as Kitchen Table” with a shout out by author Mitali Perkins

On Saturday, October 22, at SMC’s Parent & Family Weekend, “Classes Without Quizzes,” I got to meet 25 parents and family members who were eager “to see Saint Mary’s through their kids’ eyes.” In my session, titled “Classroom as Kitchen Table: Education Through Conversation and Feeding Hungry Minds,” we read aloud Sandra Cisneros’ deceptively simple short short “Eleven.” As always this bittersweet narrative got the packed classroom buzzing and was the perfect inspiration for us to dive into our own childhood memories for a little creative writing exercise of our own. Here’s a quick review from one of the parents I met at the session, author Mitali Perkins:

I’m back from parents’ weekend at Saint Mary’s College of California where we attended classes without quizzes. I, of course, signed up for a writing class taught by Rashaan Meneses, who led us through a brilliant workshop on enhancing voice with detail.

You can read the rest of her recap along with her creative exercise from our class session in her post “Writing the Empty Nest at Parents’ Weekend” at her blog Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Excerpt from “Recap on ‘The Places We Call Home’ Literary Event at Eastwind Books of Berkeley

"The Places We Call Home" at Eastwind Books of Berkeley, September 29, 2011

Here’s a sample of what went down at Eastwind Books of Berkeley on Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thanks to Veronica Montes, Bea & Harvey, Eastwind Books managers, who organized the event taking place Thursday, September 29, 2011, which kicked off the International Filipino Book Festival, where Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Oscar Bermeo, Veronica Montes, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sunny Vergara Jr. and myself read to a packed house.

Bea had a pot of adobo to greet everyone, and the reading commenced with Oscar Bermeo reading from his chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below and To the Break of Dawn. Some lines that struck bone include the following:

…those born near the sea carry a sense of salt…

born near the Pacific Ocean

…mother and aunt clean the ocean harvest…

the Atlantic tried to wash its taste out of me

For a full report, check out Ruelle Electrique’s post here.

Re-cap of Alumni Reading at Saint Mary’s with Rosemary Graham (excerpt)

Originally posted at Ruelle Electrique:

Rosemary & I, photo by PJ Sanders

Spring 2011 has been nothing but high octane action and on Wednesday, April 27 at Saint Mary’s College’s Soda Center, your salonniere was pushed into full throttle for the Alumni Reading, as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series, which featured Professor and writer Rosemary Graham who’s books include Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude and her new novel Stalker Girl. Marilyn Abildskov, the program’s director, deemed this annual event a homecoming that, thankfully, doesn’t require football matches or awkward school dances. The SMC Alumni reading is that rare occasion when former students gather together after years apart, to celebrate one another’s accomplishments, and the list of accolades and publications for 2011 was quite impressive.

Many of your salonniere’s students came out in full force support, and I couldn’t be more grateful to see their radiant faces in the audience. Much appreciated!

Elizabeth Stark, current visiting faculty and author of Shy Girl, published by FSG, introduced the reading, and your Salonniere read from her story “Like Fish to Ginger” published in UC Riverside’s The Coachella Review Fall 2010 issue.

For more on the event, stop by the salon.

And! Check out the write-up covered by fellow alum, fiction writer, and English professor, Emily Bruenig on her site, Notes from a Writing Life. Here’s an excerpt on her response:

The reading was wonderful. Most readings are wonderful, really, if you ask me. Just the act of sitting in a literary audience with a notebook will make my evening, and, I must confess, when it’s a poetry reading, the rhythm of the words often becomes the best kind of trance-inducing background music, leading me to my own surreptitious writing, rather than constant attentive listening. But I didn’t get anywhere close to that this particular evening, and not due to any lack of poetics; both Rashaan and Rosemary write beautifully, but they also each write gripping plots and extremely compelling characters. Rashaan joked that you might have to try kind of hard to imagine her as the middle aged Thai restauranteur who narrates “Like Fish to Ginger,” but I’m sorry, Rashaan, you were wrong. It didn’t take any imagination at all. Your story does all the work.

For the full review, click here.

Latest Muse: The Art of Mario De Rivera

Reading up on the Center for Babaylan Studies site, Babaylan Files, I stumbled upon the stunning art of Mario De Rivera whose work is reminiscent of Klimt and Kahlo. Someday, one of his pieces will hang on a brick and mortar wall of mine. For now, virtual admiration will have to do. For more on De Rivera’s paintings, check out the online thumbnails to his exhibit, “Fragments of Incantations” opening in June at the Hiraya Gallery in Ermita, Philippines.


Fragments of Incantation, 122 x 122 cm . Oil, Acrylic, Modeling Paste and Photo Transfers . 2003


Perfect Age: 121.5 x 121.5 cm . Oil, Acrylic, Modeling Paste and Photo Transfers . 2003