gone fishing & other troubles i’m in: some scattered notes


wow. someone named “Ariadne” quoted my review of Paolo Javier’s work which appeared at Galatea Resurrects in February for their own review of Eileen Tabios’s The Singers and Others. so you should read both those reviews before reading on.


Ariadne uses my criticism of Javier’s analogy to “fishing” to Tabios’s mention of fishing in her chapbook. the problem, of course, is that Ariadne never develops this argument against Tabios, stating simply that my critique of Javier applies to Tabios. This is an obvious mistake since Tabios and Javier have COMPLETELY different projects.

Despite Ariadne’s mistake, Tabios’s comments on her blog do not dispute Ariadne for her lazy application of my critique, but instead eileen characterizes my own critique as

“some sort of *official* touchstone on what exactly is the significance of a contemporary English-language Filipino poet “fishing” to write poems — and this seems to be a possibility in that another critic is referring to Craig’s post, giving Craig’s interpretation a semblance of authority with which I guess I am not comfortable.”

first i dont know how being quoted by some obscure critic named “ariadne” in a review on an obscure site would in any way give my idio(t)syncratic critique of a completely different poet any sense of ‘officiality’ in regards to contemporary English-language Filipino poetry. what’s eileen drinking!

but that’s really beside the point. Eileen goes on to say that my critique of Javier is

“um, a tad short-sighted…in terms of thinking that Paolo’s fishing technique isn’t really tenable because Paolo wasn’t in the same position as Filipino “native listeners” being hectored by Spanish friars back when the Philippines was Spain’s colony centuries ago. If the obvious subtext to Paolo’s use of fishing is dissing colonialism, there’s no reason why Paolo (or anyone else) can’t do so by working in the aftermath of the colonial act, and centuries later, update the context of response (so that, for example, what’s moved forward in time is the impetus behind vs the specific narratives of the original situation.”

this is just a far-sighted misreading of my critique. i didn’t write that Javier’s analogy “isn’t really tenable”… i wrote that his use of homophonic transliteration as analogous to Vicente Rafael’s idea of “fishing” was a “barely tenable analogy”.

BARELY tenable is different from “isnt really tenable”. barely tenable means that the analogy IS tenable, but just barely, and does not mean “ISNT REALLY” tenable. even tho eileen’s critique depends upon this strategic misreading, i will comment more anyways 😉

eileen says:

“there’s no reason why Paolo (or anyone else) can’t do so by working in the aftermath of the colonial act, and centuries later, update the context of response”


“Neither Paolo or I or any 21st century Filipino poet need to have been the ones directly feeling the whip of the Spanish invaders 3 centuries ago to have that part of ancestral history affect the work we do today.”

I NEVER SAID either of these things. and i cant imagine how anyone would imagine ME, who comes from a STILL colonized country, would ever imply that! yes “update the context of response” … or dont!…and yes our histories affect us…”Write it!” (and i’ll review it;).

i said: “To me, this is a barely tenable analogy considering that Neruda’s Spanish is not being hurled at Javier from any pulpit; nor is he assaulted, linguistically, in as desperately strange a situation as the “native listeners.”

this doesnt mean that neither Paolo or I or etc cant do anything, nor does it mean that Paolo or I & co cant have ancestral histories affect the work. i only question his CHOICE of Neruda and the desperation of his linguistic situation as supporting his analogy of Rafael’s fishing.

more about the ‘barely’ which was for whatever reason turned into ‘isn’t really’:

one thing i wrote about my essay on MAGEE was the idea of ‘formal content’- that is, form, through theory, becomes infused with semantic content (Magee’s sense that disjunctive form means anti-racist, anti-hegemony content). This same desire to infuse form with its own content is seen in Eileen’s or Javier’s sense that “fishing” means “addressing colonialism’s legacy” or “dissing colonialism”.

it’s not that i agree or disagree with either of their theorizations of formal content, i simply recognize that they are infusing form with content. if they have support for their formal content, cool–i am more convinced by the legitimacy of that content. if they don’t support their formal content with other contents or even solid theory, i will question it (as i do in Javier’s review), and especially if the work betrays the formal content (as in Magee’s Glittering Guys).

why do i think Javier’s analogy is barely tenable? first, his analogy IS tenable because he implicitly makes the claim in the interview i quote in the review. that is, anyone can give their form semantic content (and equally, anyone can decide to leave their form contentless, or simply prosodic). his analogy is BARELY tenable because he doesnt give this formal content any other contentual support. in my review, i give an example of what he couldve done to give his formal content more weight:

“Perhaps I would be more convinced of this analogy if Javier chose an actual Spanish sermon to translate, or some other Spanish document relating to the colonization of the Philippines.”

part of this comes from my belief that FORM IS CONTESTED SPACE.

the utterance: “FORM is never more than an extension of content” is a colonizing utterance as it tries to establish a hegemonic definition of form.

same with disjunctive writing is always already “anti-racist”

same with homophonic transliteration by a filipino/a poet “addresses colonialism”

each of these positions are different attempts to inhabit and define the same SPACE, but each definition is not a defining or essential quality of FORM, but simply one way to understand, support, and defend one’s SPACE.

i LIKE javier’s analogy–i think imagining homophonic trans as “fishing” is really interesting and profound. i just don’t think there’s enough in the work, or in his speaking about the work, to make his analogy more than barely tenable.

i also still question Rafael’s claim that “native listeners”

‘for whom the priest’s words rouse in [them] other thoughts that have only the most tenuous connections to what he is actually saying. It is as if they saw other possibilities in those words, possibilities that served to mitigate the interminable verbal assaults being hurled from the pulpit. To the extent that such random possibilities occur, the native listeners manage to find another place from which to confront colonial authority.’

in my review i wrote:

We should also question Rafael’s “as if” in “as if they saw other possibilities,” which overly romanticizes native resistance (it seems less romantic that the native listeners just didn’t listen).

i wrote this because i spoke to my grandparents about their experience on Guam during Japanese Occupation (where they were forced into similar situations of linguistic estrangement). they said that when someone from the authorities spoke to them in Japanese, they simply didnt listen and stared at the person and pretended they were listening. They didnt see “other possibilities in those words” — they didnt see anything.

which is why i suggest Rafael is romanticizing the colonial subject into a post-colonial provocateur (an image of the “native” in Rafael’s own image perhaps–tho i must admit i never read his book, so this is all speculative–for all i know he couldve actually talked to the people he wrote about so he perhaps has opposing “case studies”–can someone who read his book comment on this).

anyhow, would appreciate folks comment and especially comments from Evil Eileen!!! 😉



4 thoughts on “gone fishing & other troubles i’m in: some scattered notes

  1. oh craig, you really are juvenile (as much as I’m evil 🙂 )

    the hair between not really and barely is not tenable to me (heh). More important (coz this issue can just be vicissitudes of hasty blog writing on my part and I could change my post’s reference to barely tenable and still present my points), is your critique of Javier’s fishing as a literary technique. I think you mmake too much of the particulars of your grandparents’ experience to extrapolate from such to dispute Rafael’s “theory”; Rafael, since you seem not to know, is a scholar renowned for deep research, certainly deeper research than relying on one particular set of grandparents….it may be helpful to know that Filipinos love to pun (not all may, of course, but punning is a cultural trait….like, “poet” in English can be “puwet” in Tagalog which means, synchronistically for this matter, “ass”…wink).

    As for formal content, it needn’t be a stretch that just the matter of Spanish could provide such to a Filipino, given 300 years of colonization in the Philippines (and which effects reverberate in significant ways today). This is why when Ariadne in her lovely review wonders what the difference is between a Filipino fishing technique and seemingly-similar Western literary techniques, my response is the existence of Spanish — indeed, I use what might seem to be similar Western techniques in other work (i.e., writing new work through the reading of existing work) but don’t call it “fishing” if it’s English to English…

    The point remains, if one cannot recognize that the poetic sensibility can’t be driven by the impetus (subversion) behind, rather than the same contextual narratives to, a colonial act, then you’re giving short-shrifting to the potential for a poet’s imagination. You say you don’t do that, but the existence of the Spanish language threaded throughout Javier’s work is, um, obvious. And why can’t the mere existence of Spanish in a particular work be enough for Javier to have gone riffing on it for his critique of colonialism?

    Anyway, no need for me to go on. I think if readers get beyond the surface juvenilia or “evil” you raise in this *discourse*, the merits of your arguments and mine, stand on their own for all to see….and agree with or not.

    On the point of “officiality” and why I was concerned with Ariadne referring you, it just happens that Javier’s ’60 lv bo(e)mbs’ is the first book publication to specify “fishing” as a literary technique (I’m happy to be corrected if this is wrong). Your review happens to be the first review that I’ve read that discusses Javier’s fishing as literary technique, nor has there been any other discussion yet that I’ve seen or recall seeing (and I’m happy to be corrected on this too if I’m wrong). So when I mention the sense of authority ascribed in this matter to your GR review, I refer simply to how an internet search (just as Ariadne did) will raise your opinion on fishing and unless I commented, no dissenting view would exist in the internet. I thought more balance to be useful. This is really the primary reason I wrote my “evil” blog post, not because I don’t think you’re entitled to your opinions.

    The appreciation — and concern — I have over the implications, if not power, on internet’s ability to disseminate information (including bad information) is obviously of concern to me, which is why I’d founded Galatea Resurrects (GR) in the first place.

    Nor is Ariadne “obscure” relative to GR. Her wonderful book blog is a service and been around longer than GR. Obscure? In the internet, it might be that we’re all equally all obscure or famous, depending on how a reader uses the results of an internet search…you may be “obscure” but you were cited by this other reviewer. You say you think Ariadne was “lazy” in applying your critique to hers, but I know she also researched as much in the internet as she could and no other source seemed to have existed beyond your GR review. So I thought to write mine for some E-balance.

    Onward for more E-Balance!


  2. oh eileen, it seems that working with kids for the past 5 years has regressed my maturity levels…or perhaps it’s from reading too much Flarf!

    in college, i remember at least 4 times that my professors told me i “barely passed” their class. did i take this to mean that i “didnt really pass” the class? granted i havent had hair in 12 years, the difference seems more like a hair’s length. Admit it! 😉

    yes i don’t know Rafael’s research, er deep research, but i dont see how me using ethnographic “case study rhetoric” does not dispute his claims. it quite clearly does. granted that case study rhetoric is a weak epistemological position, it is still a powerful one. and i would like to hear more about Rafael’s epistemology (how does he know what he knows he knows?) does he use first hand interviews? written testimonials? second hand accounts? a complex theoretical paradigm? if you can just give me one sentence about his deep research, i would be much obliged.


    You say that the difference between a Filipino fishing technique and seemingly-similar Western literary techniques is “the existence of Spanish”. this is exactly what i am arguing against. the difference between the two is not some formal element (ie the use of Spanish), but the difference is the content that the poet infuses into this formal element. in a sense, the formal content of the formal element of using Spanish could be whatever the poet says it is…and the reader can of course contest this (since form is always- already-only contested space).

    again, this is not short-shrifting the poet’s imagination. short-shrifting would be what you are doing, which is trying to homogenize the use of Spanish in Filipino writing as always already being fishing. again, i’m not saying it can’t be, but this one formal element has much more possible contents (which is giving the poet ultimate freedom). again, i thot Javier’s analogy was tenable, but just open to critique.

    well, no where in 60 lv bombs does it mention fishing. not in a note, not in the blurds, not in the text itself. thomas fink’s review, which is on the O Books website, doesnt mention it. joyelle mcsweeney’s review on galatea doesnt mention it. i only knew because i read the interview where he mentions it. would i have known otherwise? not a chance…no one reading 60 lv bms could have guessed he was homophonically translating…and even if they had a suspicion, they never would have guessed the source text. therefore, not so obvious as you think.

    i agree with what you’re saying about perceived authority. and i think your desire for more balance IS useful. but i dont think you’ve provided that balance. i argued that javier’s analogy of homophonic translation to Rafael’s fishing was barely tenable. and you’re saying that Javier’s analogy is Very tenable, yes?

    that the mere appearance of Spanish, or the mere fact that he translates from a Spanish text, is enough to support the claims of the formal content as taking on colonialism.

    that’s fine, i just think that’s barely tenable in relation to 60 lv boembs.

    really, i am only looking for an answer to 1 question to strengthen the analogy:

    why choose Neruda (besides the lame answer that he wrote in Spanish)?

    with love,

  3. Dear Craig,
    I don’t really wish to explicate Rafael, even as I can reach over to touch his books as they’re near enough my desk. That is, maybe it’d be a good idea if you read an author before you sought to question said author’s analysis…? Jes an idea 🙂

    I can help you out, though, in this way. I would argue that even just the single paragraph that has been quoted from Rafael can be meaningful to the poetics of a Filipino poet acutely conscious of history, e.g. the Spain/Philippine connection. It’s simplistic (and if my own writings earlier facilitated this, I apologize as it wasn’t my intent) to encapsulate that the “mere appearance” of Spanish is what caused the connections here; it’s not just the appearance of Spanish but what Spanish reminds the Filipino poet of as s/he writes the work. If you think the connection is lame or barely tenable in a lame way, you are of course entitled to your opinion… but since when are poetics always obvious in the poem anyway? To paraphrase/quote the poet Meena Alexander, “The poem is always just the tip of the iceberg” — the iceberg being the process that led to any one poem. In the interview from which you (but no other reviewer to date) lifted the fishing reference, Javier mentions many other factors — he’s not the one now emphasizing fishing over other poetic matters as to what created the formal content of his poems.

    I am happy with the e-“balance” my comments have provided to yours. Am perfectly willing to leave the matter there.

    As to other matters, I am sorry to hear that you’ve also lost your hair.


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