Zamboanguena by Corrine Fitzpatrick
(Sona Books, Brooklyn, 2007)
And sometimes the poems so write themselves that their births just seem effortless. Corrine Fitzpatrick’s Zamboanguena belongs in this category, as indicated by this Author’s Note:
In September 2005 I accompanied my grandmother, Mama Lola, on a week-long trip to Munich, Germany for a family wedding. I recorded her telling me stories on two separate evenings. In the fall of 2007 I listened to the tapes for the first time and transcribed the two-plus hours’ worth of narrative. All of the language in the following pages is hers; I did not add any words, nor did I shuffle any segments of her story-telling. While these transcripts are not in total, they are in keeping with the order in which she spoke.
But while Fitzpatrick didn’t “add any words” or “shuffle any segments”, as well as presented the text in the order of her grandmother’s telling, the poet’s effort was obviously required. For an oral transcript wouldn’t have indicated line breaks, stanza breaks, page breaks, caesuras and so on. Nor would the audio tapes have indicated how to space the stanzas in a way where the pages effect a visual sense of space or airiness. Here, for instance, is the first page’s text which is placed nearly two-thirds down the page and along its right edge:
You know how she went to Rome
She went to Rome
And this is the way
Little by little she became pregnant
There is a specific grandmother sharing a particular personal story and yet this excerpt (like much of the poem) invites in the reader for the reader’s own take or inhabitation of these lines.
Still, there is a specific story being shared. While there is sufficient narrative meat to glean that the poem is (partly) about a family in Zamboanga (in southern Philippines) during and shortly after World War II, the poem often unfolds like a dream:
A pair of slippers.
A pair of shoes
I have a dress
I have chocolates
I have cabbage which is very
Whatever Mrs. Caminas
The officers are playing poker…
But such are the vagaries of memory, right? Gaps are inherent. Loss is inevitable. Fragments are logical. And this dream-like sequence is enhanced by the chap’s design whereby small stanzas seem cutnpasted across the pages so that the words float above the page -- an effect that enhances the project’s evocativeness.
What Zamboanguena shows is how the poet is effective because she is a good listener -- and what a relief, btw, to experience a poetry of listening! It is through close listening that Fitzpatrick discerned the poem waiting to be discovered from her grandmother’s recollections. Her manner of releasing the poem is as good a method as writing from scratch (so to speak, and to the extent a poem can write from scratch).
Since the poem’s words are not the complete transcript, I did wonder whether Fitzpatrick judiciously deleted words, versus just presented a (discrete) excerpt from the transcript (which is how I’d initially interpreted her Author’s Note). Such deletion, like choice of line break, is a way of sculpting a poem out from prose. Well, that’s ultimately irrelevant perhaps (and just a practitioner’s curiosity on my part). For the result is what makes the opening Author’s Note of interest, not the other way around.
The delicately-rendered cover by Erica Weissman should be noted and applauded. It’s also evocative. Against a pale grey background, an image of a younger person and an older person (the elder manifested through her reliance on the youth’s hand to guide her walk) are depicted strolling along a map of the Philippines. But if you spread out the chap, you will see that the two are walking by what could be a blank wall or blank screen, implying a tale yet to be inscribed, yet to be told. And, perhaps, despite the existence of the poem’s text, the definitive tale can never be identified. For as Fitzpatrick writes -- as her grandmother said -- “In Zamboanga City, there are many stories.”
Zamboanguena is one of four chaps I’ve received so far from the subscription series put out by Sona Books. All chaps are consistent in their thoughtful production. Praise, too, therefore, must be given to publisher/editor Jill Magi. This project, like the others I’ve seen, attest to the necessity of Sona Books’ existence.
As remuneration for editing Galatea Resurrects, Eileen Tabios doesn't have her books reviewed here ... but she's pleased to point you elsewhere to Thomas Fink's review of her SILENCES: The Autobiography of Loss.