Patrick Rosal

Patrick Rosal is the author of My American Kundiman, winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, winner of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award. His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Brevity, and Language for a New Century. He has taught creative writing in prisons, community workshops, Kundiman and writing programs at Centre College, the University of Texas, Austin and, currently, Drew University. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Research Fellowship to the Philippines.

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

Editing, An Etymixology

Legend goes (from the Jersey side of the Hudson River), you could look up from the street and see milk crates packed with records stacked up in the apartment window where the Latin Rascals lived. And some afternoons Tony Moran would fling those windows open and improvise a dance set for the whole block and people would go wild. Every summer afternoon, I sat by the radio, rigged the tape player, slapped into it one of my dad’s old cassettes of Filipino love songs (there were two holes on the casette’s topside you had to tape up to bypass the erase-prevent). Then I waited for the Latin Rascals afternoon radio mix on 92 KTU so I could record the whole hour. They were famous for their seamless and energetic style of mixing R&B, Latin Freestyle, Hip Hop, Electronica, Rock, Mozart. They popularized shotgun edits, how they’d run back a phrase or a quick beat (or a quarter of a beat!) like a drum fill, like a rumbling, like something getting ready to explode. Mantronix, too, the production duo responsible for countless sweaty dancefloors and crew battles, with hits from T La Rock and Joyce Sims. They all gave it up. Edit: Shep Pettibone, Jellybean Benitez, Chris Barbosa, Clark Kent, Chuck Chillout, Red Alert…


The word edit can be broken down into the Latin ex-, meaning out or out of, and -dere, meaning to give. The original meaning of editing, then, did not emphasize the sense of cutting things out or purifying, but the act of giving.


I came to books late in life, so I’m grateful for a number of anthologies that stoked embers for me into a full-blown fire for reading poetry. Among the first of those books was A. Poulin’s Contemporary American Poetry, which contained selections from Robert Hayden, whose work would become central to my development as a reader and a writer. I’m now at the very nascent stages of co-editing, with Ross Gay, a collection of essays on Hayden’s life and work. Hayden did not consider himself an editor, but the convergence of his tastes, social consciousness and convictions are a sort of model for me—his ability to stitch together the rarified and the common, the language of concision and extravagance, ardor and distance, prayer and curse.


When I was maybe nine or ten, my brother (in our small kitchen in New Jersey where my mom used smash roaches with her slipper), showed my parents a superb, intricate ink drawing he made, maybe 14-by-9, of the Rouen Cathedral. (I remember wondering why such a majestic, Godly space would be named RUIN.) My brother, maybe just fifteen at the time, had captured from a photograph the structure’s immensity and detail at the same time, the stark gothic contrast between ink and white space, its intricate movements of perspective, all-in-all a damn impressive representation of the thing.

Though I’ll never pursue serious scholarly study of Catholic architecture, I have a real curiosity for it, a reverence, and irreverence too. Some of that I can credit my brother with—his drawing anyway. In the original sense of the word, my brother had edited, in a very personal and sophisticated way, a version of the Rouen Cathedral.


Brown River, White Ocean. They’re all Filipinos? For real? Blew my mind, Luis. I mean—poets!


In college, I worked at a small local TV station, editing video. Fat, analog three-quarter-inch cassettes, like vhs on steroids. You stripe the stock with code, log the raw, jog through the b-roll, the stand-ups, the wideshot, lay the VO, the bed, mark the cues, and cut all of it, as we say, together. You calculate for slippage. Some machines drop four frames. You have to know each deck’s quirks to make the edits work. Find a rhythm. Cut to black. Begin again.


Perhaps some editors aspire to produce something definitive. As much as I’m fascinated by ends, I am more interested in introductions and re-introductions.

Ralph McDaniels, Video Music Box.


Technology continues to recast our notions of expertise as well as gatekeeping and the canon in general, how it might alter (and probably in many respects affirm) the role of editor as arbiter of culture, as part of the ongoing evolution of media in stone, paper, and the zillion stings of molecular current. We have more access to text, our material, than ever before; it’s up to us to make the connections interesting. I imagine an editing project to be not so much a compendium of masters or poems arranged in a neatly cordoned-off theme, but a series of surprises, much like the composition of a poem. (And like a poem, anthologies, collections, journals, all approximate some kind of silence, aspire, in fact, to a version of silence.)



This week, I read at an event to raise money for relief efforts in Haiti. The event organizers suggested each reader share a piece by a Haitian poet. With little time to do research, I got on the internet and found the work of Jacques Viau Renaud, exiled from Haiti to the Dominican Republic in the 1950s at the age of eight, a soldier, defender of the DR’s constitution. He died as such in battle at the age of twenty-four. I came upon a handful of rich poems and excerpts from his work—mostly on blogs. In life, he wrote about Haiti, about the whole island of Hispaniola, in Spanish: “Estoy tratando de hablaros de me patria/de mis dos patrias.” (I am trying to speak to you about my country/about my two countries.”) Ten years ago, I would have gone to the library looking for an anthology, and it’s likely still, I would not have had such a joyful and profound welcome to Viau Renaud’s writing. (I, too, feel like I’m trying to speak to you about my two countries.)


Ode to Coltrane: Raindrops on roses and stacked fourths on Steinways…


I’m an aging b-boy, a once-upon-a-time eighties hip-hop DJ, apprentice to the pause button, who stayed awake for days on end, knelt in front of two makeshift belt-drive turntables, blending, cutting, scratching together just about anything I could find on wax. I’m, therefore, compelled, as a poet and as an editor, by projects that weld together the unlikely, that suggest unusual relationships. that make use of what we got. I’m trusting that excellence is, in fact, democratic, and I hope that readerships and audiences see something of themselves in the syncretic, the tensions between the mundane and the extraordinary. The act of reading, as a result, become a kind of celebration, in company, in solitude, a gathering, (a dancefloor turned chapel, or the latter’s reversion to the former), a reunion (I like to think) of faraway affections. To edit : To offer. In short, the possibilities of cramped, yellow kitchens—a gift of cathedrals.

Ars Poetica: After a Dog
                                                                                           …this baffling
multi-people         extremes and variegations                their

               —Robert Hayden

Here is a sex shop and a Bible shop
two doors down. Between them a sick hound roams.
Let's suppose this. There is also a two-
family house (where three families live)
across the street from a deli and this
check-cashing shack with a rabbit hutch out
back. Any one of these has been burned down
             Let's suppose this is America.

Over the years we have become the kind
of tribe that has forgotten how it trades,
over chess and chit-chat, a mango or
Jesus honey for knives. Now we thank God
the Almighty we don’t know what it’s like
to be close to one another. Georgy
the Idiot, for example, feeds this
sick dog flowers. And we watch him. But then

suppose two (or twenty) of us—more—
hear a sound, some familiar din, far-off
tambourines, children’s laughter, though a bit
dark, like bell and bone, and it simply grows
until we are looking at each other
wide-eyed with this small thrill calling us out,
this handsome buzz-saw racket, this rhythm
that bores the air a gurdy hum. What if,
our numbers suddenly flood a small stretch
of spoiled turnpike or dried out meadow, what
kind of sound is this that rallies us all
from precinct to nook, what noise to muster
tremors from King James and Hustler alike,
what uproar, what raucous fuss in every
American vicinity, and I
know you don’t believe any human noise
can call us all together per se, but,

listen, suppose we are moved, summoned, you,
me, and the rest of us who want to know
something about everything we’ve outlived.
By hullaballoo, we gather, beckoned,
not too far from the XXX store and
the Bible store, not too far at all for
Georgy to carry in his sleeves the scent
of mongrel or bad cheese or onion skin
and cheap ink, and you and I and Georgy
and all stand, elbow to elbow, this small
throng of the ordinary, armed for once
with our full wits, and no, let us not say
it is a singing, but say this, this sound,
as we approach, gets stranger and stranger,
so much so, we mistake it for ourselves.
It has the bony rattle of dice-quick
wrists, the abundance of olives and lake-
shore sand. It resembles the scripture and
curse you and I, in dim-lit squares and dance-
floor muck, in crawfish mud and dancehall wine,
in broken-bed and graveyard bliss have been
grinding for all our lives, this joyful wind
and rewind of the body back down and
into jubilance so old no vector
of bullet or blade could fleck the soggy
pale neck of a boy offered to God, no
battalions of angels to save him, and
what if this sound that is not a singing
becomes, one by one, the lot of us, us
improbable, us gorgeously common,
us tune’s contagion. What if us do sing
with sand caught in our teeth, mango dripping
from our mouths. Jesus-honey wild, what if
the very knives start clanging too. What if
those first no-song strains open the sex-shop
neon in us, musk in us, whiskey stink
so deep down in us we sing like this: so
funky, so loud, we refuse to neglect
what ramshackle bunkhouse, penthouse, whorehouse
we were drawn from in the first place or how
the hell we will ever find our way back.

Even so, let’s not forget, the long yawp
of the poor dog who ate fresh petals some
moron savant force-fed it, having spent
three full spring days stitching them together
with metal barbs,

                                   what if no one recalls
that sound,
                                   the few surviving dogs,
the twisted thin-wire fence and the silent
magnolia blast every May. I say,
let us not slip back through the dark to sting
and peck our beloveds with more than our
usual misdeeds. I say, let us not
forget a sick hound’s metallic hack and
skirl, for Georgy has found a few more dogs
to feed his barbed garlands to and before
we count ourselves among the blessed, let’s say,
we ain’t done yet howling into gray tombs,
ain’t yet done cracking necks. Let’s say this, once
and for all, for kicks, we won’t taste sulfur
at the end of a fuse.
                                    When one is born,
when one dies, when one steals a moldy loaf
of bread—

                   this is how it is. The dildos
go on sale, in the rabbit hutch a snake,
we’ve played checkers with all the pawns, but if
there have been any lies, we’re sure to let
everyone know now what they are and who
started them.

                           Some of us will not get fed
but let’s listen, spooning in the dark, for
                 for if we’re lucky, sometimes both
the darkness and the laughter are our own.

This is America. If we’ve no choice
but sing
                in multitude no better than
the soul of a wrongly punished dog, may
God, for once, not grant us many more things
so foolish as that, given the way we
ruin our guts on rusted steel and bloom.

                by Jacques Viau Renaud*

I’M trying to speak to you about my country
that one, beginning to slide away,
over there where the guazábaras grow,
the fragile cayennes
the thirsty, dust-ridden jugs,
the strange, yellowish grassblades,
solitary spear measuring my island’s heart.

I’M trying to speak to you about my country,
from here,
from my salty haunts,
from Santo Domingo,
perhaps I’m speaking to you about both:
they are two complementary lands
cardinal points of my sadness
struck down by the rose-bloom winds
like lovers whose embrace breaks

I’m trying to speak to you about my country,
of its foothills and hummock offspring,
of drowsy prairies,
which has often borne rivers:
a multitude of crystal gathered in its hollows.

is elevated terrain
of expansive grasslands and golden ears
which cross seas and find their own exit
while men of the mountains and plains,
stick around, starving.
It’s a terrain with many barren hills,
resounding rivers, placid fauna
and violent verdure…

I CROSSED my country in foaling season,
the count of little ones diminished,
and the leaves seem loosened
in the woods confused for the scant bark of trees.

THERE, imprisoned between two clay arms,
rock and stone,
sleeps a city smelling like death,
like over-ripe cane,
like an earthy virgin liquor
like the resin of knotty roots stuck out.

IT IS a city of streets without names
and horrifying shortcuts,
even its smallest nooks inhabited,
its sewers
cruised in silence by its bats and snitches.

IT IS a city with its plentiful young,
with thousands of children who never grew up,
who never knew the color of streetlamps
nor of a dawn with bread, without tears,
of children who ripened its graves,
the stomped-on earth adorned with sunflowers,
and the light of its blind pupils.

THERE I was born,
from there I left, tethered to its blood
alone, after some years,
I discovered in my bosom a red stain
Then I learned to read from the leaves
how to speak with the earth
and to hush when she reconstructed
the story of the many dead that nourished her
of the blood that fattened her fruits
of the weeping that nurtured
the precocity of her mountains

A LONG time has passed since I left
nothing has changed
those same bare mountains go on
the same vegetation of plants and sunflowers
of dark coffees and starry pastures
only hunger has grown
now there’s no space in the cemeteries
nor in the eyes weeping
nor on my island countries,
only dimensions of earth and rags,
of the dead dislodged in its belly of mud

THAT is my country,
prolongation of the sobbing Santo Domingo,
that is my safe house,
prolongation of the shout that tours the hills,
the little paths,
the woods,
from the other side of its blood,
from the heap of San Nicolas
to the briny glass brow
and the skeletons of mute fish piled up on the beach
growing and becoming mountains themselves
between the famished nets and blackened fishermen.
There the dead become gorgeous fish,
something vast, inaudible moss,
or a precipice of rumors the night defends.

I HAVE WANTED to speak to you about my country
about my two countries
about my Island
which men have much divvied up,
there, where they screwed around to dig up a river.


* This is my translation to English. The original text, as well as biographical notes and other selections, can be found in Spanish here:
and http://www.alterpresse.org/imprimer.php?id_article=1358

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