By Belinda A. Aquino, Ph.D.
Dr. Luisa A. Igloria, a native of the Philippines and now Professor of English and Creative Writing at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, has recently been appointed Poet Laureate of Virginia by Governor Ralph Northam from 2020 to 2022.
In an unprecedented event in the annals of the Filipino history in the United States, Luisa is the first Filipina and only one of four women of color to be so honored with this prestigious award by the state of Virginia since it was established in 1936.
Luisa was recently invited by the Filipino Association of University Women (FAUW) in Hawaii to give a guest lecture using Zoom Technology by the FAUW on August 23. Her lecture discussed the main theme of “Service and Civic Engagement Through Poetry.” Bey Aquino Lontoc, FAUW’s current president, moderated the meeting while Norman Sales, English Department chair at Farrington High School facilitated the Q&A portion.
A prominent writer and poet before she came to the United States in the 1970s, Luisa had won the Palanca Literary Award, the Philippines’ most prestigious award for Literature, 11 times and is enshrined in the institution’s Hall of Fame. Her literary output has been phenomenal.
Since arriving in the U.S., she has written 20 collections of poetry. And she continues to write at least one poem a day. This is a remarkable achievement, to say the least.
She mentioned in an email interview, “Through this medium I hope to have many conversations with others and to find meaningful ways to support and promote the voices of Virginia poets in particular, and the work of poets and poetry in general as an important part of living these times.”
Her most recent book is entitled “Migrants and Ghosts,” and was a co-winner of the Crab Orchard Open Poetry Prize. It will be published next Fall by the Southern Illinois University Press. Ever the relentless poet, Luisa has written many more books. Her latest output includes, “The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Midlife Crisis,” “Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser,” and “What is Left of Wings, I Ask.”
In 2015, Luisa received the first Resurgence of Poetry Prize” for her work on “eco poetry.” Recalling her childhood in the Philippines, particularly in her ancestral home in Baguio City, she said in the interview that she grew up “with a lot of myth, a lot of folklore, and the kind of household where the elders would say, ‘if you went into the garden beyond dusk, you have to address the spirits as you walked past.’” This is indeed a cultural practice back in the old country. It is a sign of respect for the supernatural. The essence of Luisa’s poetry resonates with a lot of local color back in the Philippines evoking scenes and practices common in the culture.
Her other poetry awards include the Mary Stevenson Prize, James Hearst Poetry Prize, Stephen Dunn Prize, and the Fugue Poetry Prize. At the peak of her career, she is bound to achieve many more distinctions and accolades.
At the end of her lecture, Luisa read one of her poems which reflects a lot of references to local color themes and traditions in Philippine culture that are bound to resonate with all Filipinos, popularly referred to as “Pinoys,” wherever they are. It is reproduced in part below:
Here is my passport, my bill of lading,
My one-way ticket, my nowhere fare,
My stub you’ve stamped
To certify. All night the lint
From rusted laundromat machines
I mop and polish schoolroom floors
All summer while you go off to Florida or France
I tend your mother’s bones, empty her bedpan
Feed her baby food as she babbles
In the granny bin. My fingers
Have pulled bodies of bitter melon from the vine
And splayed them open on the chopping board.
Come sit and eat with me sometime
I’ll make a meal from seeds and pith
A sustenance of green and
verve plucked raw from my own nerve.
The poem underscores the many touches and tastes of food and culture that would make Filipinos everywhere nostalgic for the ancestral homeland far across the seas.
Luisa is a quintessential poet not only in quality but in the range and diversity of topics that she artfully weave and convey with a lot of verve indeed
Technology and dissemination of knowledge
The success of the Luisa’s Zoom lecture exemplifies the increasing sophistication in the use and dissemination of practically all fields of knowledge in academia, government, institutions and other arenas of public discourse. It is especially instructive to have a poet of remarkable stature like Luisa addressing the role of poetry in and beyond daily life. As the famous French novelist Anais Nin once said, “The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Wisdom must be disseminated and acquired by each generation through the centuries a little bit above the ordinary.
It is worth noting that these days of advancing technology, the public gets its information and education from electronic media mainly through television and other outlets for social discourse. The content of such discourses is mostly on policy or some issues that generally do not appeal to especially younger generations. The latter mostly go for entertainment or gaming options through technology.
Hopefully, the increasing use of more engaging and wider participation in society can achieve increasing traction in the use of well-constructed Zoom events that explore more contemporary forms of human survival.
DR. BELINDA AQUINO is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she served as Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies as well as Founding Director of the Center for Philippine Studies for more more than three decades before retiring. An accomplished journalist, she is a Contributing Editor of the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle and other international publications.
The Role of FAUW
This section of the article is mostly derived from the report of Rose Churma, a long-standing member of the FAUW, expressing her comments on Dr. Igloria’s recent Zoom presentation. More information about the FAUW is also found in her statement.
In her talk on August 23, as well as in other venues where she is asked to comment on her selection as a Poet Laureate for the State of Virginia, Luisa explained “…that poetry is a unique opportunity for service and civic engagement.” Since its establishment in 1987, the FAUW has always believed in the power of self-expression, either as an art form like poetry, or in essays and letters–as a tool for civic participation, or as a catalyst for meaningful change in society.
The FAUW’s first publication in 1990 was an anthology titled Voices of the Youth—a collection of literary works written by public high school students of Filipino ancestry. During those years, FAUW was contracted to do cultural awareness workshops for outreach workers serving the immigrant youth. The anthology provided a small window to view how young people thought, dreamed, and hurt—becoming a crucial resource for these workers.
The book was also requested by several universities with Asian- American Studies academic programs because of its value to both teachers and students, a rare publication that gives voice to the young Filipino-Americans’ experience in Hawaii.
Last year, the FAUW also collaborated with other organizations and institutions with similar goals of addressing the needs of the youth and helping launch Voice: Poetry of the Youth of Kalihi—written by recently-arrived immigrant students from Farrington High School. It won a Special Citation Award from the Philippines’ Commission on Filipinos Overseas’ (PCFO) Migration and Media Awards that same year. The FAUW also generously supported the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council’s (PAAC) Global Leadership Program (GLP) and two of its participants addressed good health and well-being through poetry as a form of self-healing. In early 2020, they asked FAUW to help publish the collected poetry and expand the requests for submission to other schools. The deadline for submissions has been extended to September 30 as the FAUW continues to encourage students to write and share their poetry with the public. The FAUW will publish the book hopefully by the last quarter of this year and will include poems from the original collection published 30 years ago.
When it was announced that Luisa was appointed the Poet Laureate of the State of Virginia, it seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity to invite her as the FAUW’s guest speaker and encourage the aspiring student-poets in Hawaii to Zoom-in to her talk. The use of this Zoom technology allows wider participation beyond the beaches of Hawaii and reach FAUW members and supporters who now reside in the continental US, as well as those who have returned to the ancestral country.
Future FAUW projects will certainly maximize the use of this unique Zoom technology and allow meaningful conversations to occur among participants in different time zones. ( Additional information on the FAUW is available at its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FAUWHawaii. The proceedings of Luisa’s talk last August 23 can also be viewed at this website.