Saturday, August 1, 2009


The following reprints reviews by Vince Gotera of two Meritage Press titles, Kali's Blade by Michelle Bautista and Museum of Absences by Luis H. Francia. These reviews were first published in North American Review, May-August 2009:

Kali's Blade by Michelle Bautista
Meritage Press, 2006, 70p, paper $16.95

Michelle Bautista is a gura (teacher) of the Philippine martial art Kali, and this collection of poetry, prose, drama and collaborations is rooted in the Kali tradition. Bautista's introduction, "Kali Poetics," begins, "They say the pen is mightier than the sword, yet in my life there is no difference." The goddess Kali, avatar of destruction, "has an alter ego, Devi, the goddess of creation," and Bautista's work lives at the crossroad of such opposing forces, sublimely combined and made complementary. In one poem, a mother tells her daughter, "I receive your fury with all the love I can muster.// I let you hate me because I love you." In "How to Battle a Wind Goddess," the speaker "swallowed her. Inhaled her, / held her deep, deep, [until] she became my flesh / I became a wind goddess." Blog entries live here alongside e-mail excerpts and real-life personals by men seeking out Filipina mail-order brides. The poems of other women are here: Eileen Tabios, Barbara Jane Reyes, Rosalie Zerrudo. Kali's Blade is a generous and beautiful book. Note: also look for Bautista's chapbook, my life ... as a duende (2003).

Museum of Absences by Luis H. Francia
Meritage Press / University of the Philippines, 2004, 74 p, paper $15.00

In his bio at the end of Museum of Absences, Luis H. Francia calls his life (and himself) a "tale of two cities--Manila and New York, and that is the essence of this book, an exploration of rootlessness, geographical as well as metaphysically. In one of the poems, a manong--older brother in Filipino, a term applied to the generation of immigrants from early to mid-twentieth century--a manong speaks: "Where in a white world can / This grain of unhusked rice spin?" Cinderella, at age fifty, "would like to / think it was all a bad dream, but for / the slipper ... glass encased in glass." The most powerful poems is "New York Mythologies" (on 9/11): "Our bones are marrow'd with hope / Our childhood gods and duendes in tow / Cradles and graves on our backs." Francia's signature hero is Jimi Hendrix: "Think of him as Odysseuns on / guitar ... he navigates wild riffs / with a sense of sin, but not regret." Hope, art, and love abide.