Chapbook Review — PSL: Poetry is Our Second Language

PSL: Poetry is Our Second Language

Chapbook, 15 Workshop Participants, 25 pgs, Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts + Culture, kapisanancentre.com, $5

Formatted as a five-week workshop, the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts + Culture led 15 young poets through the fundamentals of traditional and contemporary Filipino poetry. The result — “PSL: Poetry is Our Second Language” — is a little collection worth reading, filled with the work of 15 different writers in both English and Filipino.The zine is divided into chronological thirds — each section dedicated to a different form. The brief, metered Tanaga begins, followed by the dual-authored Balagtasan (a kind of formal debate), and concluded with a free-verse section simply titled “Spoken Word.” These poems touch on a variety of subjects, but one recurring issue seems to be the neocolonial use of language, which makes up the bulk of the Balagtasan debates, along with the contemporary teenage experience in Canada as a Filipino immigrant.

The treatment of these issues seems to come from lived experience and the poems are often nuanced as a result. Take, for example, Rebecca Zala’s “In Tagalog I bawl afraid / In English I have found my strength / employers now they see my grit / finally I have earned respect” coming up against Dani Magsumbol’s “My English tongue – full fluency – / Has opened many doors for me / But Tagalog is part of me, / I wish I’d learned from infancy.” Other pieces, like Casey Garcia’s hip-hop influenced “Distant Relatives,” are able to tackle the same subject matter as effectively, and with an additional sense of Reviewed on page 37playfulness (see: “I’m hungry! I wanna eat! I’m here to get us a piece! — / And I never had foot fetishes, / Hate the taste of defeat.”)

In all, “PSL” is a varied collection with a few worthwhile throughlines. Kapisanan makes an excellent presentation of its participants’ work, and a solid case for this kind of workshop. (Joel W. Vaughan)

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