R.I.P. Jeff Tagami

I just read about Jeff Tagami’s death on FB , and I’m still in shock. I wrote a brief piece about him for the wall panel on Filipino American writers for the Filipino Voices exhibit (ongoing at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas); and a couple months ago, I tried to get in touch with him for a possible appearance at the exhibit. He did not reply, and now I understand why.

I believe that he has been a very important voice in Filipino American poetry — one that deserved much more attention. Long ago, when I was just learning to write, I met Jeff Tagami and Shirley Ancheta (both excellent poets) at a reading at the Capitola Book Cafe, and the two (along with Catie Cariaga) introduced me to the writers at BAPAW (Bay Area Pilipino American Writers) and Kearney St. Workshop.

For one semester, Jeff and I both taught in the same department at UCSC, and at one point I worked with Jeff and Shirley and couple other poets on a prison poetry project, reading poems written by prisoners incarcerated in San Quentin. An essay I wrote about Bulosan and Tagami was published in the journal, Critical Mass (Spr 1995).

Jeff grew up in the Pajaro Valley, and worked in its agricultural fields. He wrote with compassion and lyricism about the lives of the workers. His poems chronicle some of the darkest moments in Filipino American history, at times with bitterness and irony. And yet he also captured moments of quiet beauty. Jeff himself was quiet and understated about his own writing, yet he was also fiercely supportive of poets—their right to be paid well for doing public readings, for example.

Meeting Jeff and Shirley and the BAPAW group really changed the direction of my writing, and opened my eyes to the history and ongoing creativity and struggles of Filipino American writers. They also introduced me to the haunted history of Filipino Americans in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys, pointing out to me, for example, where Fermin Tobera was murdered, and where stories and spirits linger in the rolling hills and agricultural fields of the area.

I live in Elkhorn, now (North Monterey County) surrounded by agricultural fields. Driving by the workers every day, seeing the dust rise from the tractors, and the patterns formed by the spray of water from the irrigation pipes, I can’t help but think of Jeff’s poems.

Quiet Day

A quiet day of writing and painting (while Michael is baking bread), as the fog rolls in on our sunny day, and the old oaks breathe mist. I just agreed to write a review (or engagment?) of Lew Welch’s Ring of Bone for Galatea Resurrects. If you are interested, there are still a number of books left on the list for reviewers.ย  Listening to a track for “Silent Hill” on Pandora.

Below is a photo of one of the ancient oaks on the property. The mowers came the other day, and cut all the field grass, allowing us to walk farther out and explore the areas around and under the trees. You can just barely see Michael in the distance, lower right, which gives you a sense of the scale of the tree.

I do love the oaks here, despite the hayfever they cause me. Some are quite immense, with great gnarley branches reaching out for yards over the ground. Through the centuries, their leafy canopies have sheltered thousands (millions?) of birds and other creatures.

Summer 2012

…and the aftermath of heavy community involvement is not always what one expects. Having come down with Bell’s palsy, I am not feeling or looking very sociable (in the face-to-face sense), so I have decided to settle into a long summer of writing (as much as possible) and working (editing & writing), and watching movies from Netflix. A quiet summer, mostly. Healing.

I recently watched several fun foreign films that I’d like to recommend:

1) Troll Hunter: the Norwegian version ofย  “Blair Witch Project” (!) — I think this is kid-watchable, though.

2) Rare Exports: a Christmas Tale: A Finnish film in which native Sami hunters track down the evil Santa Claus. Note: I do NOT recommend this for children.

3) Time Crimes: A very clever puzzle of a Spanish film about a guy who finds himself in a time-travel mess.

Other stuff I’ve been doing:

— working on a novel involving carnival queens, swatches of fabric, mysterious masonry, handwritten letters, and ocean-crossings.

— collaborating w/Michael on a 24-piece project (poems, paintings, digital images) called Parallel Words.

— writing applications for a couple of fellowships

— writing an essay on the community exhibit I was recently involved in.

— some poems of mine will soon appear in the journal Perihelion (Web del Sol), edited by Dion Farquhar and Jim Maughn.