Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Love Poem for a New Year


And now, as another year approaches, I offer a sonnet I wrote for my lovely wife Mary Ann Blue Gotera.

First Mango


Remember that June before our wedding we spent
in San Francisco? That first morning you woke
to my brother in silver sequins singing like
Diana Ross? What must have gone through your mind?
What kind of people were you marrying into?
My father who laughed a lot but was schizophrenic.
My stepmom who'd tried, they say, to stab him in the back
with scissors. Love may be blind, but not stone blind.

Then, one Sunday we bought at the corner market
one perfectly ripened red-gold mango.
How carefully I slit the skin with my penknife
. . . rivers of yellow juice, the furry seed . . .
then sliced the golden half-moons into quadrangles,
open petals. Your first bite of our sweet life.
for Mary Ann

— Vince Gotera, from Returning a Borrowed Tongue (1995).
Some of the family history behind this poem has been covered already in the blog. My half-brother Pepito's story: the whole Diana Ross and sequins thing really happened. My father's mental illness is touched on here and there in the blog, particularly in the write-up on the poem "Newly Released, Papa Tells What It's Like Inside." The story that Carolina, Papa's first wife, had tried to kill him was, it turned out, a fabrication he made up for his second wife, Candida . . . Mama. To justify in her eyes why he had left Carolina. I found that out when Papa remarried Carolina some years after Mama died. I said, "Why are you remarrying her? She tried to kill you!" And he said, "I made that up for your mom." When the events in this poem took place, during the summer of 1984, Papa and Carolina were married again.

The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, rhymed abbaabba cdecde. Of course, in my customary manner, I mix half rhyme and full rhyme. For example, the a rhyme revolves around the consonant combination /n/+/t/ or the related /n/+/d/: spent, mind, into, blind. My favorite rhyme pair in the poem is mango / quadrangles, which illustrates what a polyglot language English is. The word "mango" comes from Malayam through Portuguese, and "quadrangles" from Latin through French. So on a superficial level, both words could be considered Latinate because they both come into English from a Romance language, but at a deeper level of analysis, they are as distantly unrelated as two etymologies can be.

With regard to meter, these lines are roughly pentameter with many varieties of poetic feet mixed in. Without scanning (we don't always have to scan) we can find "effective" spondees, i.e., pairs of syllables that behave like spondees (stress stress) even though scansion might reveal them to be actually stresses belonging to different feet. Well, maybe a little scanning will be helpful; look at the second half of line 2, after the caesura/question mark:
. . . that FIRST | MORN- ing | you WOKE
The phrase "first morn-" effectively forms a spondee even if it's not structurally so. I suppose there is also an effective pyrrhic foot (unstress unstress) in the adjacent syllables "-ing you" to match and offset the preceding effective spondee.

There are also "performative" spondees: maybe someone reading the poem out loud might choose to make a pair of syllables into a spondee. For example, "half-moons" is naturally a trochee but could be spoken as a spondee; the phrase "first bite" in everyday speech is probably an iamb but could be performed as a spondee for dramatic or rhetorical effect. And with the phrase "RED-GOLD MAN- go" we have potentially a performative molossus (stress stress stress), though I gotta tell ya: the molossus is a pretty rare creature in English poetics. Besides, I can't think of the molossus with a straight face; I start flashing to some clumsy dinosaur lumbering through a swamp with mangrove trees. Hmm, "mangrove" . . . "mango"? No, don't go there.

To end, I just want to point out there is a real spondee here of which I am proud: the closing phrase "sweet life." This sonnet is, after all, a love poem, a tribute to my wife Mary Ann and to our beautiful life together. Amen. (Say it like a spondee.) AMEN.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Tis the Season


There are just two days left before Christmas Eve, so I better post my Christmas poem now, before I get crazy busy (still grading and then shopping yet to be done).

A Photo with Santa Claus

             — Naturalized American citizens living overseas
must return periodically to re-establish
residency by living one year in the States.

There were the usual screaming kids, tugging
on their Mom's and Dad's arms, whining
for a Davy Crockett coonskin cap or six-gun
with holster, a Shirley-Temple-curled doll

that really wets. His son's probably playing
in the toy department,
the other parents must
have thought about this lone man in line
at the San Francisco Emporium — in line to see

Santa. Between children jumping off
and on his lap, Santa looked off to his left
where a troupe of silvery Tinkerbells skated, the ice
cooling the air of this huge room, a cathedral

to free enterprise. I look now at this photo,
faded thirty years, of the man who livened up
Santa's workday: my father in a double-breasted
brown suit, his red tie spangled with fireworks.

In Santa's lap, Papa's holding a briefcase,
blonde leather fastened with buckle straps.
Papa beams at the camera with a mischievous twinkle
in his eye. Santa's smiling at this marvelous prank.

Everyone in line laughed to see a grown
man sitting on another grown man's knee.
A snapshot meant for a son, half the world
away in Manila. Your son who could hardly recall

your face. Papa, after you whisper your Christmas
wish into Santa's ear, shake his hand
man to man, then step back into the world
of business suits and residency rules, I want

the breeze from the skaters' ice to part your hair
— shiny and black — caress your lovely face
as you glide down the Big E slide, hugging
the briefcase to your chest like a lonesome child.

— Vince Gotera, from Premonitions: The Kaya
Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry

(1995). Also appeared in Fighting Kite (2007).

If you read the first installment of my online bio, you know that I spent part of my boyhood in the Philippines. Sometime after I was born in California, my parents moved to the Philippines, where my mother practiced medicine and my father studied law. This poem takes place during that period.

My father, as a naturalized American citizen (i.e., a citizen by law rather than by birth), had to re-establish residency in the US every so many years. He would spend that year living in San Francisco's International Hotel, among the manongs, male Filipino immigrants who had established this bachelor community on the edge of Chinatown.

During one of those residency trips, my father sent me a photo of him on Santa's lap at the Emporium department store, just as described in the poem. I no longer have this photo, but I remember it vividly as one of the defining images of my childhood. It's memorable not only because, as the poem says, it's a "marvelous prank," but because it shows Papa's love for me: Filipinos can be very shy, almost to the point of shame, a profound cultural emotion called hiya, and the very fact that Papa did this, despite his hiya, says volumes about what he would do for his absent son.

Papa and I never talked about the Santa event that I can remember. And so all the details are wholly imagined. The word "blonde" (female rather than the more accepted "blond") is intentional; the manongs had a slang term for their white girlfriends — "blondies" — and I don't doubt that Papa, himself a kind of honorary manong, had blondies.

The poem is also about manhood and the dignity of work. My father, as a Filipino immigrant citizen, was not always able to work in the US at a profession he felt he could respect. At the time the Santa photo was taken, however, he was working as a civil servant for the Navy and was quite happy during his residency year. By having Papa and Santa shake hands "man to man," I am symbolically lifting my father out of the daily experiences of racial prejudice he probably had during those times — the late 1950s. The poem is thus simultaneously familial and political.

As I said in my last post, I'll leave other fruits of this poem for others to pick. I'll just leave off now by saying, "Merry Christmas!" Go sit on Santa's lap. It'll make your day and his!
NOTE: the graphic above is from artist Charley Parker's website Lines and Colors, showing the work of four Santa illustrators. Starting at top left, clockwise, the images are by Thomas Nast, J. C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and Haddon Sundblom (for Coca-Cola).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dragonfly (pages 1-2)


Okay, now the first poem in the book. (Note: there's a navigation bar below each Dragonfly post that can help you move around in the book posts in the blog.)

First Hand-Plant: Skating the Petaluma Ramp

for my son Marty

The front wheels kiss the edge and
my son pauses for a breath then drops in

and for once his Vans don't slip
on the skateboard's sandpaper grip tape,

a flawless slide down plywood,
the face of the ten-foot half pipe

thundering with the whine of tortured
ball bearings, and now like the Silver Surfer

slicing through angular air, he climbs
the opposite slope, as thrasher buddies

and posers hook their eyes on his goofy-footed
profile arcing against California sky, then down

he drops again, the reverse swing
of a chainless pendulum, love

affair with gravity and breakneck
speed, climbing now once more,

his board pointed toward the hard light
above the metal lip of the ramp, and

his right hand reaches down
between both shoes to grip the board

as his left snakes out to plant
the hand on the rim, then

lock wrist and elbow,
pausing upside down like a pole vaulter

Page 1



at the breathless apex of impossible
flight, the wheels madly singing free, free

for a long moment's crazy pivot on a rigid
shoulder, but like rock and roll, gravity

again takes hold, and as he angles
the board back to earth, swooping

down the steep face, he steals a glance
over right shoulder, scouting new country.







Page 2

This poem brings me back to grad school at Indiana University, 20-plus years ago, when Marty would come and visit, stay for the summer. Mary Ann and I were newly-weds, and Marty was 12, 13, etc. The first summer — I think Marty was probably 11 — Mary Ann called her mom and said, "What do I do? He's eating everything!" Mom said, "Remember when I used to feed you and your brothers spaghetti and really filling food like that?" Ah, teenagedom.

What I remember most about those summers was Marty's utter devotion to skateboarding. No, I should use the skateboarder's preferred term: skating. And not skateboarders, but skaters. Marty found other skaters at the local skatepark with its rails and small ramps; they called him "The California Kid." He would eat a little breakfast and then skate all morning. Back home for lunch. Skate all afternoon. Home for dinner. Then evenings poring over Thrasher and Skateboarding magazines — new issues as well as dog-eared, thumb-worn, precious back issues he'd lugged from California. Or else watch skating videos: Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and the Bones Brigade. Hours drawing intricate skull-and-skeleton-themed graphics, Powell-Peralta style.

Marty would skate so early in the morning, out in the parking lot of our high-rise married-student-housing apartment, that once we had an awkward moment in the elevator when another resident saw Marty's skateboard and blurted out, "Oh, so you're the one who's been waking us up every morning with that skateboard!" Ah yes, skateboard noises: click-clack, grrrrind, sh-clank! The soundtrack of Marty's world back then.

"First Hand-Plant: Skating the Petaluma Ramp" is my homage to Marty's obsession. Marty was always a street skater and so hardly ever did tricks on half-pipes (the double-walled large ramps), but I was just amazed by hand-plants, which I saw over and over in Marty's videos. Vert skating, as ramp work later came to be known, connected with my fantasies of flying, and in this poem, I tried to capture and dramatize how I imagined it would feel to pull off a hand-plant.

For you poets and scholars who are interested in poetics, this poem started off as an homage to and imitation of Edward Hirsch's poem Fast Break — hence the couplets, the words "drop" and "for once" early in the poem, the single sentence overall. "First Hand-Plant" really took off in its own singular direction, different from Hirsch's impetus, so I never published this as "after Edward Hirsch." But looking at it now, it seems quite faithful to "Fast Break," so let give props right here: thanks for the inspiration, Ed, and the tremendously useful form. In your case, couplets like two forwards fast-breaking down-court, in my case, couplets like skateboard wheels in tandem, whirring in air during the frozen moment at the top of the parabola.

In "First Hand-Plant" I use quite a lot of enjambment: "tortured / ball bearings," "plant / the hand" "swooping / down the steep face." In fact, there are only a few end-stops in the poem, and even those are somewhat enjambed. My hope is that the endjambments feel relentless, like the inexorable motion and speed of skateboarding. Sorry, skating.

There is also quite a bit of soundplay. For example, the consonance of /p/ sounds in the first two or three stanzas: pauses, drops, slip, sandpaper grip tape, plywood, pipe. That last word "pipe" is of course half of an important phrase in the poem, "half pipe," which also contains the related consonant /f/. Check out the occurrences of /f/ in those same three stanzas: front, for once, flawless, ten-foot, half. Even the title of the poem visibly features /f/ and /p/.

A Filipino critic and scholar might be tempted to point out here that in Philippine languages, /f/ does not exist and so Filipinos learning English and/or Spanish mix up /f/ and /p/, and that that is why the /f/ and /p/ conjunction is appearing in this poem. A claim like that might be reaching too far, but who knows? It's entirely possible that the /f/ vs. /p/ stuff could be there in some very deep, intimate layer of my "poetry machine."

The more expected consonants — /s/ and /r/ — appear throughout the poem but most conspicuously in the last three stanzas: moment's, takes, as, angles, swooping, steep, steals, scouting, then crazy, rigid, rock and roll, gravity, board, earth, right, country (and of course one sees both in shoulder, said twice).

There is plenty more that could be said here, but I'll leave some fruit for others to pick. Break out that old skateboard from the garage! Get out there and skate. Then come back and read some more right here. Peace out.
NOTE: The photo above is of Steve Caballero executing a hand-plant, from Skateboard-World, a site by sk8rnick.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dragonfly (page ix) Introduction


Introduction


          This short book dovetails the new with the old, the imagined with lived experiences, cementing this mosaic of possibilities. Some terrifying moments are encased in chrysalises of beatific clarity and certainty. Wisdom and bewilderment stare back at us from these pages. Janus-headed: historical and futuristic.
          These poems lead us readers to search for answers in ourselves. I am not talking about profundity (though there are numerous profound moments here); in essence I am speaking about how those simple, overlooked glimpses at our common lives tend to rise to the troubled surface of this poetry. The voices here seem to be saying that if we "dream on the edge of history" we won't escape by feigning ignorance or innocence. Gotera paints the score in brilliant, bold, and brave strokes across an encompassing canvas. Like those x-ray paintings by Australian Aboriginals, his journeys are inward. And we can see inside the "hollow bones of hummingbirds" alongside the desires within us. There are not easy or unearned directives here; however, there is prophecy — not mere imagistic probes among psychological landmines. Everyday motifs align with the fantastic and bizarre. Gotera dares to glance at "Pharaoh's scimitar" through a plexiglass facade, showing us our own bewildered faces in this imagistic mix. Through this poetry we can almost see what we are becoming.
          What is most striking about Dragonfly, considering the fact it is a tapestry of lived and imagined extrusions, is how the poems seem to defy any rote definition. They are flighty, majestic, simple, confident, and risk-taking.
          The voices here are having fun. They can be heavy as war, Elvis, blood, racism, and Tutankhamun's tomb; but also light and airy as mosquitoes, dragonflies, and notes from Carlos Santana's guitar on a sunny day in Berkeley. A tension through juxtaposition is what Vince Gotera's Dragonfly achieves in a miraculous light that sobers the mind. Characters ease into each other's dreams, taking us along with them, and we are better and more complete because we have humbled ourselves long enough to peer through the eyes of these sojourners.

— Yusef Komunyakaa

Page ix

I am ever grateful to Yusef Komunyakaa, then a professor of creative writing at Indiana University, for his mentorship during my MFA days there and also for his continuing mentorship throughout my career. Some of this story is told in my article "Mentor and Friend: Yusef Komunyakaa as Teacher," published in a special issue of the literary journal Callaloo devoted to Yusef (28.3, Summer 2005).

Words can never express the extent and magnitude of my gratitude for your teaching, Yusef, for your taking me on as an apprentice. Salamat, as we say in Filipino, maraming salamat! Thanks, Yusef . . . many, many thanks.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dragonfly (pages vii-viii) Contents


And now Dragonfly's Table of Contents. The page numbers given are the same as those in the book; click on the page number for the blog post that features the poem on that page in the book.

Since the book, at this point, is still being posted in the blog little by little, not all the page-number links will be live right away. I'll fill in links as stuff gets posted.



Contents


         
ix     Introduction by Yusef Komunyakaa

1     First Hand-Plant: Skating the Petaluma Ramp

3   Gallery of the Mind

4   Tutankhamun, September 1979

6     Miraculous Dragonfly

7     Mosquito / Manila Haiku

8     Crosses

10     Pacific Crossing

12     Shiites, 1985

14     Ferdinand Marcos, Shadow Boxing at His Mirror, on the Occasion of His Wife Imelda's Arraignment in New York City, November 1988, Where She Wore a Ballroom Gown

15     Imelda Marcos discusses with Ferdinand the Gala Party She Gave on September 11, 1990, to Celebrate His 73rd Birthday Posthumously

16     Gambling

18     Uncle Ray Shoots Craps with Elvis

20     Jive Talk

22     After the Gig: Saint Agnes Teen Club Dance

23   Carlos Santana in Concert: Berkeley, 1983

24     "Are You Experienced?"



         

Page vii




         
25     Janis, 1987

26     Hot Club de France Reprise on MTV

28     Gawain's Rap

29     At the Poetry Reading in Science B 135, A Snowstorm

30     Hunter: A Sculpture in Glass

32     Morgan Kali Murray

33     An Aviation Engineer's Tribute to Leonardo

35     Halloween 1963

37     Tunnel Rat

38     Veterans Day 1987

40     Vietnam Era Vet

42     Heirloom

44     A Note About the Author

         








Page viii



It's been an interesting experience posting Dragonfly so far, even though I'm still pretty much at the beginning of the project. Looking at the table of contents brings back memories about what was going on in my life as I was writing and workshopping these poems. I'll share those in due time as more pages are posted in the blog.

Incidentally, some of these poems are still very much "alive" out in the world; for example, the two Marcos poems above are due to be published soon in the Philippines in a literary anthology about the Marcoses, and I have written a third poem to accompany these two. The new poem deals with Ferdinand and Imelda's son Bongbong (actually Ferdinand Marcos Jr., but with a childhood nickname that has unfortunately followed him into adulthood and into public life). This kind of naming, inexplicable as it may be, is fairly common in the Philippines.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dragonfly (pages i-vi)


Here are facsimiles (sorta ... close enough, anyway) of the opening pages of Dragonfly. Not very exciting, I'm afraid. But here goes:

Dragonfly



Page i



.
Page ii






Dragonfly



Vince Gotera









Pecan Grove Press
St. Mary's University     San Antonio, Texas
1994
Page iii




Copyright © 1994
by Vince Gotera







Cover design and art by
Mary Ann Blue Gotera




ISBN 1-877603-25-2

Pecan Grove Press
St. Mary's University
One Camino Santa Maria
San Antonio, Texas 78828-8608
Page iv



for Marty Gotera











Page v

My son Marty was 22 when Dragonfly came out. I remember when I gave him a copy of the book I said, "Marty, this one's for you." What I meant was that this entire book was dedicated to him, but I wonder if he thought I was merely saying that that particular copy was his. Just one of those perhaps awkward moments that lodge in one's memory, though probably Marty doesn't even remember that. And now, with this serial re-publication, I have the chance to make it right. In any case, I thought of Dragonfly as a kind of long letter to Marty about things I wanted him to know as he entered his adult years.



Grateful acknowledgement is made to the editors of the following
publications in which these poems appeared:

Amerasia • "Crosses" • "Gambling"
ART/LIFE • "Are You Experienced" • "Carlos Santana in
     Concert; Berkeley, 1983"
Asian America • "Ferdinand Marcos, Shadow Boxing at His
     Mirror, on the Occasion of His Wife Imelda's Arraignment in
     New York City, November 1988, Where She Wore a Ballroom
     Gown" • Imelda Marcos Discusses with Ferdinand the Gala
     Party She Gave on September 11, 1990, to Celebrate His 73rd
     Birthday Posthumously"
Indiana Review • "First Hand Plant: Skating the Petaluma Ramp"
The Jazz Poetry Anthology"Hot Club de France Reprise on
     MTV"
Journal of American Culture •"Vietnam Era Vet"
Kenyon Review • "Halloween 1963"
Licking River Review • "After the Gig: St. Agnes Teen Club
     Dance" • "Veterans Day 1987"
Mid-American Review • "Mosquito / Manila Haiku"
Northcoast View • "Janis, 1987" • "Jive Talk" • "Morgan Kali
     Murray"
Quarry West • "Miraculous Dragonfly"
River Styx • "Heirloom" • "Uncle Ray Shoots Craps with Elvis"
Wooster Review • "Gawain's Rap" • "Shiites, 1985"

The Quarry West double issue referenced above was marketed as a
book, Dissident Song: A Contemporary Asian American Anthology.

Page vi

Looking at this list now, I am amazed at the publishing record of these poems in my first collection. I had forgotten how hard I worked back then at getting these poems out and about in the literary magazine market while I was an assistant professor at Humboldt State University. I guess I was quite the hungry poet in those days. So different from my life these days as the editor of the North American Review, as a gatekeeper now for today's hungry young poets.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Glossolalia, Redecorated


Do you know John Barth's fiction collection Lost in the Funhouse? It contains a piece called "Glossolalia" that features several widely varying texts. When these are read aloud simultaneously, they sound like a well-known everyday text; I hesitate to say more than that, for fear of damaging your potential bliss of discovery if you don't already know Barth's "Glossolalia" — the word itself refers to speech in an unknown language that cannot be understood, perhaps even an imagined language. Go read Lost in the Funhouse. I've always admired Barth's little parlor trick of a story, or whatever it is — "Glossolia."

I also admire Robert Mezey's "Prose and Cons," which employs similar sounds to fabricate humorous "translations" or conversions of common texts we might all know. Here, for example, is s beginning whose model you will surely recognize immediately: "Our farther, whose art is heavy, / hollow bead I name. / Die, kingpin, come" and so on. The central engine of "Prose and Cons" (found in Mezey's poetry collection Evening Wind) is consonance.

These two sources confraternized in my "inner poetry machine" and the following prose poem came sliding out:

Chorus of Glories

— Instructions for performance: assign one person (or group) to
voice each speaker, then read the four “glories” aloud and in unison.
Note: readers may need to practice several times, letting go of
personal intonation in favor of group syllabics, to allow the
glossolalic effect to take hold. Marvelous for parties, choir rehearsals,
and university committee meetings.

  
— after Robert Mezey and John Barth

The Surfer

Chlorine be to the frother, and to the sand, and to the shoal we
coast. Acid wash in the beginner is gnarly, ever chill, babe.
Curl without land. We men.


The Dieter

Calories be in the fodder, and in the scent, and in the whole wheat
toast. As weight was in the beginning, is now and ever-so-Elvis,
whirl with Attends. Weigh ’em in.


The Avant-Garde Artiste

Galleries be to the Fad War, into the Scene, into the whole East
Coast. As we test ’em, the big ending is knowing if there shall be
pearls in our hand. Oh, man.


The “Pre-Owned Vehicle” Dealer

Glory be to the four-door, and to the shine, and to the full lease,
most. Mitsubishi, the beguiling, Nissan and ever Shelby,
hurled without end. Aim in.

— Vince Gotera, from Mirror Northwest (2006)

I am posting this poem now because I am just finishing teaching Craft of Poetry at the University of Northern Iowa — an upper-class and grad course in which we focused on poetry imitation. We read Denise Duhamel's Barbie-poem-collection Kinky and then wrote imitation Duhamel/Barbie (or Ken or Papa Smurf or King Kong) poems. Then Revolt of the Crash Test Dummies by Jim Daniels; Prairie Fever by Mary Biddinger; Against Which by Ross Gay; Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker; and finally Long for this World by Ronald Wallace — all the while writing and workshopping imitation poems for each poet we studied.

Now I want to show my students that there can be a larger life outside the classroom for imitation poems. In "Chorus of Glories," I am imitating John Barth and Robert Mezey, as explained above, as well as a Christian prayer. And also lampooning all sorts of people on the way, including myself and my profession.

Like a couple of other poems recently posted in the blog, "Chorus of Glories" appeared in the Contemporary Poetry anthology of the online journal Mirror Northwest — an anthology/cache of creative-writing models for students. Here is my pedagogical note about "Chorus of Glories" on that website:

This is a light-hearted experiment in poetic music, especially so-called "rich consonance." I am of course indebted to Hopkins and, more particularly, Robert Mezey's "Prose and Cons" in his book Evening Wind and also John Barth's "Glossolalia" in Lost in the Funhouse. Although my "Instructions for performance" are tongue-in-cheek, I hope you will try reading the different sections out loud chorally in unison groups.

The "rich consonance" here is easily shown by comparing the last sentence in each paragraph: "We men." "Weigh 'em in." "Oh, man." "Aim in." But, you know, I'm over-explaining. Just gather a group of people, assign different paragraphs, and try reading them all at the same time. Can you "feel" what my primary original model was? Have fun!

Graphic courtesy of GospelGifs.com.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dragonfly


My first poetry collection, titled Dragonfly (1994), came about because I was a member of a creative writing listserv called CREWRT-L during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I made many friends in that close-knit writing community, some of whom I'm still in touch with today, mostly through the social network Facebook.

One of those stalwart friends was (and is) Dr. H. Palmer Hall, founder and editor of Pecan Grove Press (PGP), a publisher of fine literature (mainly poetry), based at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. In late 1993, after we had gotten to know each other quite well online, Palmer asked me if I would be interested in publishing a poetry collection with PGP. I was indeed interested, and this publication would end up to be a boon for both of us because my book would be the first national publication by PGP. Since then, Pecan Grove Press has become one of the nation's premier poetry publishers.

At that time, I was quite aggressively sending a manuscript titled Pacific Crossing to various presses (mainly through prize competitions) and had a book in progress titled Heirloom. I thought of the PGP book as a kind of teaser, a longish trailer, for these two collections and so mined poems out of both of them. The PGP collection, Dragonfly, I planned then as a large chapbook that would be just a couple pages shy of the minimum book-length total page count of the time: 48 pages. As it turns out, Pacific Crossing has yet to find a publisher although it has been a finalist at various competitions over the years. Ditto with Heirloom. Any publishers out there seeking poetry books? Or do you, O gentle reader, know any publishers? (You just never know!)

Front Cover Image  Back Cover Image

Once I had assembled the manuscript of Dragonfly and Palmer and I had agreed on its final form, sequence, etc., I asked him if my wife Mary Ann could design the cover, and Palmer agreed. This was quite generous on his part because most publishers don't allow the writer to have any say about either design or art. So thanks for that, Palmer!

Mary Ann spent an entire summer studying dragonflies; fortunately, we lived in northern California on the coast near Oregon (Redwood country), and dragonflies were in great abundance. At one point, she needed to see one up close and I caught one for her in exactly the way I describe in the book's title poem "Miraculous Dragonfly" (she had always thought that the method of dragonfly-catching I described was imaginary!). Nonetheless, she had done sketch after sketch and none of them pleased her.

Because the pen-and-inks and pencil renderings were not working out, Mary Ann decided one day to tear a dragonfly out of white construction paper. The finished cut-out didn't feel right, so she laid it down on another piece of paper and painted it black. When Mary Ann picked up the dragonfly, she discovered that the black paint had seeped underneath and the black outline you see in the completed cover above was on the paper below. To finish the cover art, she simply added the turquoise highlights. The rest of the cover design followed in short order, resulting in just a marvelous cover, I think. Though it's possible I may be just a little biased!

While Mary Ann was working on the cover, I secured an introduction from Yusef Komunyakaa, who had been my poetry writing professor at Indiana University, as well as blurbs from two fine poets (and friends): Jessica Hagedorn and Walt MacDonald. Here are those two blurbs since they are impossible to read in the reproduction above of the back cover.

Dragonfly is a welcome collection of poems by Vince Gotera. In a simple, straightforward style, Gotera begins by writing about a father's tender love for his son. Poem by poem, and ever mindful of the big picture, Gotera goes on to explore the painful contradictions of cultural identity with dark humor, wisdom, and compassion.
— Jessica Hagedorn      

Vince Gotera’s Dragonfly has exciting images, like fine photography packed into a chapbook. These are spirited poems about legends exposed, or missed and forgiven — and about ordinary people accepted and honored for what they are. Gotera is amazed not so much by the gold of their bodies or fortunes but of their hearts. As if he wields a camera, Gotera captures the breathless moment, writes of the flesh made flesh, but often holy: the old woman who walked on her knees from Jerusalem to Calvary; the Chaplain who said Mass daily in a POW camp, who had for wine only "a raisin soaked in water, / then squeezed into a thimble." In a signature poem, a herald of more good books to come, Gotera catches the daring of his son skating a ramp — "A flawless slide down plywood," then "free, free" at the top of the ramp for a second, stealing a glance "over right shoulder, scouting new country."
— Walt McDonald          

The photograph on the back cover is of me and my infant daughter Melina (now 15 years old). I intended that particular shot to be a tribute of sorts to Jessica Hagedorn, whose photo in an anthology where we both appeared, Garrett Hongo's The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America, portrays her and one of her daughters. Thanks for all your help over the years, Jessica. And many thanks to you as well, Walt, for your help and for your fine body of poetic work that I was honored to study and interpret in my book of literary criticism Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans (1994).

Dragonfly is now out of print after going through three printings, though it is still occasionally available from rare and vintage book dealers. In fact, not long ago, a signed copy of Dragonfly was being sold in either Oregon or Washington State for something like $150.00; isn't that simply incredible? Who'd a-thunk it?

In any case, now that Dragonfly has become quite difficult to find, I am pleased to be able to present it here in the blog in serial form. I hope you enjoy it, O my faithful readers. Stay tuned to this poetry channel!

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P.S. I should have said above that, while Pacific Crossing and Heirloom have not yet been published, two other poetry collections have come out since Dragonfly: Ghost Wars (2003) and Fighting Kite (2007). Ghost Wars won the 2004 Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry.       — VG 12 Jan 2009


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