"Anyone reading this might say you were living “a poetics of precarity”– that various unknowns underwrote your making, your person."
– Jill Magi
The spirit of questing, innovation, and hybridization across genres and cultural boundaries runs throughout my work—a postcolonial echolalia sounded within the margins, from inside the hyphen’s generative and po(e)tential space.
I wrote this statement in a cover letter for an academic job eight years ago. I think it still holds true.
Which is astonishing for me to say in 2016, three years after leaving academia in pursuit of a steadier but vastly more demanding gig in NYC's Department of Education. But here I am submitting an updated ArsPo to the climactic issue of The Volta.
I'll be honest, though: I've never felt more estranged from my poetry communities—the Project, AAWW, BoPo, Segue, Dia. Because of the teaching load (5x a day) last year, I think I only made it to two book launches in NYC, including my own. That's an embarrassingly low number for the outgoing poet laureate of Queens.
And as a so-called "experimental" Poet of Color working in the DOE, I merely substituted one marginalized space for another. Trust me: we are but a handful of dust in the schools.
And yet, confounding the poet's own fears, the Spirit more than prattles along, sounding itself in a praxis that currently embraces non–European avant garde poetry, postcolonial and transnational studies, & international cinema.
Perhaps the new job helps to make this possible. As a schoolteacher, I can now focus solely on teaching. The security of my position will never be contingent on my writing practice or productivity. The Spirit is free/from accountability.
And with a curriculum whose reading list can include the work of Federico Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, Frances Chung, the Black Panther Party, Aime Cesaire, Lorine Niedecker, Helene Johnson, Jayne Cortez; whose topics range from migrant labor history, transgender rights, and the unprecedented ubiquity of Hamilton; the Spirit can't but hum: "how do you [not] write/like you're running out of time?"
It certainly impacts my current project, Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours, an expansive poem/song electronic artist Listening Center (David Mason) and I began working on in February, and which we are finally mixing in the studio. The piece grew out of a commission I received in January to perform at Culture Shock, a day-long, multidisciplinary festival held at the High Line during National Poetry Month. My noon set with David was totally improvised; from the–get, our ambition for Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours was to compose it after the fact. And while I likely got the notion from a supreme love for Coltrane, I undoubtedly gave myself the permission to take such a leap following my engagements in the classroom with the Jayne Cortez' poetry, and the Hamilton soundtrack.
The text of Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours is made up of short new poems that fold into a longer piece I'd drafted several winters ago on a train ride from NYC to Toronto. Its present form resembles the seriality of Frances Chung, Lorine Niedecker, & Helene Johnson's long poems. Overtly, Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours rhapsodizes about Happy Together, my favorite film of Wong Kar Wai whose DVD I kept re-watching on the train. But still-present (North American) border anxieties, racial melancholia, transnational identity—topics raised during New York Times Wednesdays and January Regents prep week—number among its spectral affections.
The unmixed recording of Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours clocks in just shy of the 18-minute mark. Yeah, it's quite epic, but quietly so: shimmering tape loops weave into a subdued reading of the poem transferred from cassette. Other music: octave drones, cassette reverb, acoustic drums, keyboard tweaks, minor sequences, march taps, & field recordings of a toddler's invented bedtime song. Throughout our studio sessions, David and I have been careful to resist the narrative trap of subordinating instruments to the reading voice. Although my full-time job will insist that I explain ad nauseam for five periods a day, it has yet to tenderize my poetry into "letting logic and argument have control" (Fred Wah).
Evidently, too, neither will the job take away from the energy necessary to continue writing strange, radiophonic poetry. For the readers of Evening Will Come, I include a brief sample of Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours, along with a selection of emails to David that relate to its composition and production.
– Paolo Javier
To: David Mason
Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 3:18 PM
great to hear from you, and no worries about not meeting up. we still have time!, though we should really get cracking on at least one dance track for our april gig. i'll shoot you an email with some ideas, but immediately i'd like to see if we could bring in some of your drum playing into the, er, mix? i'm open to you coming up with the musical themes or motifs, and even the track, and then writing lyrics or text to perform. i'll come up with a list of references asap....
off to b.c. this friday with saya! but let's def meet up after we both get our land legs back. (i return to nyc on the 20th.)
To: David Mason
Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 12:56 PM
SUBJECT: next week?
r u free next week?
i got a gig with nuyorican on 7/29 at queensbridge park in lic, and 8/7 @ citifield. would be great for us to perform at both gigs! but meantime i really wanna work on the track we built for high line. i'm finessing the text, but man is yr music off the chain, d. love it! from my end, i think i should work on the vocals a bit, which should be alrite since we'll be in the studio, but i certainly love the live quality of the performance. not really keen on over producing....
lmk what date works for you next week?
how r u doing??
To: David Mason
Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 11:43 AM
Subject: updated poem/song
okay, finally, an updated version of our poem/song! phew.
so over to your edits re the muscial cues in arial to the right of most of the sections. please feel free to revise how i describe what's going on musically, of course, with your own lingo. and do do fill out the remaining sections missing cues?
am gonna try and record at least the first three sections now, then zzz. safe travels, and let's hit the studio early next week??
ive been lapping up our collabo, btw. seen studio put out an exceptional release, i must say! definitely grows with each listen, and rewards your reading of the book with the tape being played front and back and backwards!
p.s. when you return would you mind playing back some of the o.g. gigil recordings that you used for sampling in aklopolis, and recording it?
To: David Mason
Sun, Jul 24, 2016 at 3:16 PM
Subject: updated m.s.
ok, did some addtl tweaks based on the rough edit u sent me, and i think we are prety close to done, if not done with the actual text. please give the last few pages of verses a read/listen--not sure if i heard n noted the loops sounds appropriately?
also––which title sounds right for you?
Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours
Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours Awake
Entrained has to do with rhythm/attunement. It is also the first word of a poem by O'Hara that I adore.
The forrmer two titles feature a pun on my nickname for Serena, 'maybe' (my baby). I think the title is also a line cribbed from Gertrude Stein, though I can't remember which work, lol. I guess i'm drawn to it because of how suggestive it is not only of the emotion in the poem, but also the process by which it came to be––through (mis)hearing, deep listneing, dream logic.
To: David Mason
Date: Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 2:47 PM
Subject: new cues for Maybe the Sweet Honey Pours/updated m.s.
i. ENTRAINING NORTH – DAViD JONES (cassette)
ii. MAYBE THE SWEETHONEY POURS TITLE (cassette)
iii. (MAYBE THE SWEETHONEY POURS) 1. – 4 (digital)
iv. AKLOKI (digital/altered voice)
v. (digital) 5. – 12
vi. 13 (cassette)
vii. 14–16 (digital)
viii. 17–20 (digital)
ix. 21 – (digital)
x. starman (cassette/altered voice)
xi. aklokitty hiding (digital altered voice)
xii. ENTRAINED HEART (cassette)