Poetry, Review, Summer

How Many Ways to Arrive: A Review of not so, sea by Mg Roberts

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Durga Press, 86 pages
Reviewed by Muriel Leung

“tell me how to root in sentence form, to distinguish pain from sacrifice

                                                                                                   ::

tell me where to dissolve”

–excerpt from Mg Roberts’ not so, sea

For Mg Roberts in her wildly emotive first book not so, sea, poetry is an attempt to reconcile a messy story of origin. On the one hand, origin is scripted by geographical traversal as the speaker emigrates from the Philippines. However, geography in terms of nation and borders is just one narrative strain. For Roberts, geography is not only the stuff of maps but also the textured landscape of place, the angled hurt of memory, and the indefatigable strength of the mothering body that endures birth, death, and everything in between.

It is why the text within not so, sea appears in the form of non-linear narrative and fragments parsed by white space. Fragmentation is necessary to construct this particular narrative of origin. It disrupts a linear and hegemonic narrative that privileges order and coherency. For Roberts, these fragments are jagged shards that begin with a “cut” in the book’s cinematic opening in which the speaker watches the story of her birth through performative distance. The cut at once signifies the cutting of an umbilical cord as well as the filmic technique of moving from shot to shot. Though these gestures may seem like discordant parts, they are assembled together to forge a new meaning.

This undulating movement between distance and longing characterizes the tonal complexity of the book’s fragments. In between birth and death, there is the narrative of a rich intergenerational history between women—the speaker, her mother, her grandmother, and her daughter as well. There is also the militarization of Asian countries that include the Philippines and Vietnam as well as the violent forces of racism in the speaker’s everyday encounters in the U.S. Frequently torn between spaces and time, the speaker forces herself to engage with what is most difficult in order to better comprehend her own history. She self-flagellates by watching post-Vietnam War action movies “to be closer to” an unnamed American G.I. that she addresses in a letter whose only distinction is by the number one. She ruminates on the Barbie Doll’s proportions and the expectations the toy’s measurements have placed upon young girls, particularly for the speaker’s daughter. In each turn, the speaker attempts to grow closer to violence as a way of touching it—which is a unique way of attempting to know it and master it in the hopes that she could uncover something in return that might make the future safe for her and her children.

not so, sea is a brightly dappled landscape of a text that matches its moments of clinical removal with floods of unrestrained mourn. Despite that grief, it is also a text of hope. In the lines from which Roberts draws for the book’s title, she writes, “Perched on this location, bowed against this site and elsewhere—not so, sea./ Pages turn creating distance. I must retell myself until I can see us in color.” The site that she names is non-specific but the syntactical obfuscation of the phrase “not so, sea” tells us that the sea can be both object and figure of address. The multiplicity of meaning here in the physical landscape is very much a marker of the potential of text. The process of “retell[ing]” though it may be bleak and terrifying, it is also necessary. It needs to be said because the alternative of silence also cuts. But this act of retelling is powerful for it names a distinct suffering marked by the perpetual sense of transiency and distance after immigration, removal of one’s innate sensibilities through the damaging effects of colonialism, racism and misogyny, and the cultural and familial demands in response to all this discord. Though there is a palpable fear of how this suffering will be passed down to a future generation, Roberts offers this generosity—an inheritance of pain is not without the fortitude to persist in spite of it.

***

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.

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Episode #98: Brynn Saito, author of PALACE OF CONTEMPLATING DEPARTURE, on Tuesday, July 23rd at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

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Summer

Episode #97: Jason Bayani, author of AMULET, on Tuesday, July 9th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with Jason Bayani, author of AMULET, on Tuesday, July 9th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

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Jason Bayani is a graduate of Saint Mary’s MFA program in Creative Writing. He is a Kundiman fellow and a veteran of the National Poetry Slam scene. His work has been published in Fourteen Hills, Muzzle Magazine, Mascara Review, the National Poetry Slam anthology, Rattapallax, Write Bloody’s classroom anthology, Learn Then Burn, and other publications. He has been on 7 National Poetry Slam teams, he is a National Poetry Slam finalist, and was the 2010 International World Poetry Slam representative for Oakland, California. He is also one of the founding members of the Filipino American Spoken Word troupe, Proletariat Bronze, and has been an organizer for the Asian and Pacific Islander Poetry and Spoken Word Summit. He currently lives in Austin, Texas where he is an English Instructor.

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Episode #96: Brian Teare, author of COMPANION GRASSES, on Tuesday, June 11th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with Brian Teare, author of COMPANION GRASSES, on Tuesday, June 11th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST.

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A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Brian Teare is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts and the American Antiquarian Society. He’s published four full-length books–The Room Where I Was Born (winner of the 2003 Brittingham Prize and the 2004 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry), Sight Map (A Best Poetry Book of 2009, San Francisco Chronicle), the Lambda Award-winning Pleasure (2011 Northern California Book Award Finalist, 2010 National Book Critics Circle Small Press Highlight, 2010 Best Poetry Book, San Francisco Chronicle), and Companion Grasses–as well as the chapbooks Paradise Was TypesetHelplessness, and Black Sun Crown. After over a decade of teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s now an Assistant Professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.

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Poetry, Summer

Episode #80: Bruce Snider, author of PARADISE, INDIANA, on Tues. July 24TH at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST

UPDATED 7/24/12:  Today’s show is set for 5 pm PST/8 pm EST!

Join Rachelle as she talks with Bruce Snider, author of PARADISE, INDIANA, on Tuesday, July 24th at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST.

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Bruce Snider is the author of the poetry collections, PARADISE, INDIANA, winner of the 2011 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize, and THE YEAR WE STUDIED WOMEN, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW,PLOUGHSHARESGETTYSBURG REVIEW and BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2012.  Originally from Indiana, he was a Wallace Stegner fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.  He will be the Jenny McKean Moore Fellow at George Washington University in DC for 2012-2013.

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Episode #79: j/j hastain, author of A WOMB-SHAPED WORMHOLE, on Weds. July 11th at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST

Join Rachelle as she talks with j/j hastain, author of A WOMB-SHAPED WORMHOLE, on Wednesday, July 11th at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST.

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j/j hastain lives in Colorado, USA with xir beloved. j/j is the author of numerous
cross-genre works previously published and forthcoming (a few of which are): prurient anarchic omnibus (Spuyten Duyvil), long past the presence of common (Say it with Stones), a womb-shaped wormhole (BlazeVox), treOOA(with Eileen Tabios/ Marsh Hawk Press). j/j’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Trickhouse, Vlak, Big Bridge, The Offending Adam,  Dear Sir, Eccolinguistics, Housfire, EOAGH, Aufgabe, Queerocracy Art, Masculine Femininities, Caketrain, Plath Profiles, Bombay Gin. j/j is currently in the process of curating an Anthology of Queer Nudes (Knives Spoons and Forks Press, 2013) and has helped curate (and participated in) two major Trans anthologies. j/j is an Elective Affinities participant, a member of Dusie kollektiv, writes for Lit Pub and is a regular contributor to Sous Les Paves. j/j currently writes creative reviews for Big Other, Jacket2, Horse Less Press, PANK and Emprise Review. j/j’s work appeared in a Queer-focused show at the Leslie-Lohman Annex in New York. j/j’s books have been finalists in the Kelsey Street, Grey Book Press, Grace Notes Books, Switchback, Omnidawn, DIAGRAM and Ahsahta book and essay competitions. j/j’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Publishers Triangle. j/j’s manuscript extant shamanisms won the Pavement Saw poetry award. j/j’s manuscript dear secondary umbilical, won second place in the Mad Hatter’s Wild and Wyrd Poetry Contest. In 2011 j/j’s book we in my Trans was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award and j/j’s book prurient anarchic omnibus was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.

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