Luis H. Francia

Luis H. Francia has a chapbook coming out this summer, The Beauty of Ghosts (Ateneo de Manila University Press) as well as A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos (New York and London: Overlook Press). Previous works include the poetry collection, Museum of Absences and the autobiographical Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago. Editor and/or co-editor of three anthologies, he teaches at New York University and Hunter College.

What is (or has been) your favorite editing project and why?

In February of 1986 the long night of oppressive dictatorial rule grew in reverse, into light. Filipinos said enough was enough and chased Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos out of the country. Two years later, I was engaged in selecting stories and poems by Philippine-born authors for what would eventually turn into Brown River, White Ocean: A Twentieth Century Anthology of Philippine Literature in English, published by the Rutgers University Press in 1993. The director of the press had been moved by People Power, realized Rutgers didn’t have anything on the Philippines, and had asked me through a friend if I could suggest a book.

I thought an anthology of Philippine writing in English would be the perfect way to introduce the good people of the United States to a body of work that had existed then for close to a century, a body of work that they knew very little about, one that was a veritable treasure trove of remarkable writings. Moreover, English was introduced to that Southeast Asian archipelago because the United States had taken over after the bloody and brutal 1899 Philippine-American War, and occupied it until 1946. We were, as so aptly expressed by the title of Nick Carbo’s literary anthology, returning a borrowed tongue.

My idea was to present pieces that had already been published, whether in the U.S. or the Philippines. The book would be both a historical and a literary document. By the end of 1990, I handed in my selections, later whittled down due to production constraints. As for the cover, a mostly blue painting that suggested waves, that was a reproduction of a work by my good friend, the artist June Lacsamana. I noticed the work while at her Upper West Side studio and straightaway knew that I had found my cover. I still like looking at it, particularly how the O in Ocean is a full moon, blazingly white over the waters.

Gathering the works was a learning process, and an enjoyable one. It was a way of expanding my own knowledge of what Filipino writers had been creating. (The writers by the way had to have been born in the archipelago to be included, though they could have come over and flourished as writers in the U.S., as was the case with Carlos Bulosan, NVM Gonzalez, José Garcia Villa, Bienvenido Santos, and Jessica Hagedorn, to name a few.) I read as much and as widely as I could. Many works I was familiar with; many more I discovered. Work on the anthology made me appreciate what had been wrought in a manner very different than if I had read serendipitously—though serendipity was often involved in arriving at my choices. In a few years, it will probably be time for a revised edition, expanded, of course.

In the Belly of Being

These days between the extravagant
and the plain I have no plan for living

but living itself, at every moment to be
rich with the fullness of contradiction and

accept that every beginning is also
an end, that black will always be

white, and white, always black.
Textbooks to the contrary, I build my

education by toppling its towers. Let me
face each day raw, in rage and in bliss,

to begin anew as a baby does, tabula rasa.
To eat, to shit, to weep, to smile, to sleep,

to die and live again: to fill the belly of being
and empty it out--the universal roundelay.

This is the one moment I seek every day,
To dance with Kali and sleep with Brahma,

To arrive at the center of things,
To revolve, to be still, to revolve . . .

Hamlet Redux
(With Apologies to William Shakespeare)

Be fortune
Be mind to a nobler sea
Be arms by taking up
The question against

To be or not to be

To, to, to, to, is that the question
Whether it is nobler
In the mind to

Be a Filipino, a man, a boy, a
God, a prince, a nothing, or not
Is the, is the question to suffer

To be not the slings and
Arrows of outrageous or not

To be or not

To trouble me by killing, by
So a sea of troubles
End them, or not

To be be
To be not be
To be forget me nots, to

Be not forget, to end
Will you the doing,

So be and suffer.

If that is the answer
What is the question?

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