The Poetry Chapbook
Jon Pineda is the author of BIRTHMARK (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition. A recipient of a Virginia Commission for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, he is a graduate of James Madison University and of the MFA program in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received an AWP INTRO Award for Poetry. His recent work has appeared in PRAIRIE SCHOONER, SOU'WESTER and various anthologies.
Was there a poem that made you a poet?
Nerudaís "Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines" ("Puedo Escribir Los Versos Mas Tristes Esta Noche") opened a door for me. Even in its translated form. I love the intimacy (and confidence) of that poem. There were others as well, but I remember this poem as being especially poignant.
Mine was wonderfully chaotic and, at the same time, laced with boredom. It was the perfect precursor to a writing life.
I donít know about other Filipino families. I know my father was the first in his family to leave the Philippines, and I also know it wasnít easy for him to come this country and make a new life. But he did, and though we occasionally have differing viewpoints on "Life" (Iíve yet to meet many fathers & sons/daughters who donít), I know a large part of his success can be attributed to his doggedly pragmatic nature. I respect what he has accomplished, the many struggles he endured as an immigrant, and when I think back on instances when perhaps he wasnít initially thrilled with my wanting to study literature and poetry, I canít exactly blame him. Poetry, of course, means different things to different people. For me, it has always meant a life outside of this one. Something hopeful.
In terms of aesthetics, where do you see yourself in the world of poetry?
I donít think about the "world
of poetry" much. There is just poetry, in all of its various forms,
its inherent mysteries. I know there are numerous schools of thought,
philosophies, publishing trends, etc., but all of that seems extremely
limiting to me. Perhaps this reveals how unsophisticated I am as a
poet! People that need to categorize my poetry will do so, regardless.
I wish them all the best.
If there is one word/one moment/one insight you can bring poetry to, what would it be?
In many ways, it's about listening, as well as silence. That sounds contradictory, right? Iím not saying a poem canít be fitful and raucous and crass. It can be those things. It can also be meditative, mellifluous, subtle. No matter what path it takes, though, the world of the poemóits sounds and turnings and intimacies and actions and communionsóeventually ends, and there, waiting for you, is that inevitable silence all readers (and poets) must face. Poetry seems to me born out of oneís relationship with that silence.
Most of my first collection makes attempts at sifting through my own childhood experiences, making sense of family tragedies, etc., but when I watched our first child being bornówhich came at a time when I was close to finishing a draft of the manuscriptóI remember being aware that everything from my life seemed to fall away. There was only that moment, the realization that my life, all I had ever known, was suddenly secondary. I like to think poetry has put me in a mode of being more receptive to whatever a moment chooses to unveil.
I write and, if Iím lucky, there is something in the writing that refuses to stay trapped in the language. Thatís the poem emerging.
I wake early in the morning and write in a room that is supposed to be, I guess, a diningroom, though we donít use it as such. There is an easel in the corner (I started painting a while back).
In landscapes, I have always been inspired by the uncertainty of the ocean. Bodies of water. Things that shift and still manage to remain whole.
I donít see poets as the ones with answers, or at least, I donít think people should be looking to poets for answers. Instead, if poets have a duty, theirs involves showering the world with little "Post-It" notes, where on each note is written the same message. I donít know what that message is exactly. Only that it somehow implicates everyone.
The poems were written over a five year period, and the final structure of the book only came about after numerous revisions, as well as with close readings by dear, dear friends.
I donít think so. I hope not.
Donít be discouraged.
Jon Pineda's Birthmark is one of those
rare first books that will make its mark on their generation just
as James Tate's The Lost Pilot and Tony Hoagland's Sweet Ruin had
on their peers. These masculine poems explore the father/son dynamic
in a mixed race context. The son is half Filipino and half white
and this cultural conflict colors his interaction with his family
members and the white American society of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
This is a book which many poetry anthologists will turn to for years
In this elegiac first book, memory takes the shape of a swimming lesson and of a house made of doors. Loss takes the shape of a scar, intimacy of a birthmark. Whatever marks a life changes, in the alchemy of this poetís language and vision, to moments that open, beyond coming and going, into the present. These are poems of great tenderness and grace.
Jon Pineda's first book is brimming with a wisdom that seems not contrived from literary ambition, but born of a joy for life quite incidental to such ambition. It is the wisdom of Telemachus, the prototypical son, gained from long hours contemplating the missing father, then reconciling to the father's return. It is a wisdom that begets tenderness, and broadcasts, with strength and humility, a vision of contraries reconciled at the core of longing. Birthmark is a fine and absorbing book, I'm sure the first of many.