In time for Valentine’s Day, Palanca-winning poet ANGELA GABRIELLE FABUNAN discusses the process of writing about love–a complicated task she had to confront in the making of her upcoming poetry book “The Sea That Beckoned.”
In my poems, I have always tried to explore what it means to write down the beloved or the lover or love itself. I try to conceptualize what the written word does, what context does, what narrative does in writing down love. I am more preoccupied with writing down “love” because it is a way of scooping up the remnants of what has wilted away.
Indeed, the beloved “you” is closer to an idea, an idea formed in the head of the lover “I.” In Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse; Fragments, he says that “[instead] of trying to define the other (‘what is he’), I turn to myself: ‘What do I want, wanting to know you’ …my other would be defined solely by the suffering or the pleasure he affords me.” There, then, is the rub—the self is confronted by the force or the idea of the other. The feelings—which Barthes continues to delineate in the book—are usually both summed up by suffering and pleasure at the same time. My writing tries to probe this painful pleasure, this beautiful longing for another to fill or fulfill the empty darkness or stain a memory.
This lover is just an idea, albeit a complicated one. The lover sustains the idea of the beloved, yet the lover does not ultimately meld with the beloved; the beloved simply remains an idea in the head of the lover. That is how waiting comes about—in all the Barthesian anxiety of the waiting. The waiting affords the lover time to mull over or to obsess about the idea of the beloved, concretizing what the self wants to take and to give to the other.
There is an aspect of “work,” too, that relationships require effort to either sustain or to cut off. Here, too, writing the lover down comes into play, but in a more saddened way, in a shroud–not in an obsessive spell-gathering or a revelatory naming but in the painstaking method of writing.
In writing my life, I write with a caustic voice, a voice that tries to reject love or critique love as much as I try to portray the fascination or obsession with it. For that, I looked to Kim Addonizio’s poem, “Muse” for inspiration. With statements such as “No one leaves me, I’m the one that chooses,” and with images such as “They sweat with my memory, / alone in cheap rooms,” she imposes a strong feminist voice, which commands tension and invites the reader to listen to a publicized yet seemingly private reflection about desire.
Although many of my prior influences have relied on statement-driven poetry, I directed my own work more toward images to get my point across. The mind thinks in image hand-in-hand with letters formed into words. I wanted to evoke the moment of Barthesian “declaration,” in which “my language rubs against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words.” For Barthes, language is the contact with the lover. On one hand—it is a declaration for the lover; on the other hand—a declaration for the beloved. Yet, there is not an apparent separation between the two entities; language signifies both.
My language wants to both simplify and complicate that avowal of “I desire you,” so that while there are many images I am pointing to, there is still that sense of the simple avowal—because, according to Barthes, “Powerless to utter itself, powerless to speak, love nonetheless wants to proclaim itself, to exclaim, to write itself everywhere.” To be a lover is to be an artist, says Barthes. Or perhaps, as someone once wisely told me, to be an artist is to be a lover.
Modernization has lead the way for fragmentation. My generation’s way of communicating is very different from that of our elders. Our discourse occurs in text messages, in 140 characters on Twitter, and in posts on Facebook pages. Social media has changed discourse dramatically. Yet the lover has not changed, only the media which she must use to express her love. Everything instant, like a word that denotes a flash of image which connotes a momentary meaning. Due to our attention span, we now speak in fragments.
The poems and theories that appeal to me are then fragmentary. A major theme of my work is that of waiting for change, and in that change, disintegration. I believe that complicated subjects like desire or love are not easily concluded or defined, but they are shown in aspects of puzzle pieces that have to be put together. However, they may never quite fit together perfectly.
Good poetry, for me, then, and as it pertains to my work, is the intense exploration of love. There are many notions of love, many forms of love, and true, there have been many love poems in the history of mankind, but the poems that strike me are those that depict the tension between the self and the other. In gaging the reflection of the other, one sees not just reflection of the self, but something brewing, something as deep as the complex self but something completely different. I have yet to put my finger on what that something is, but it is related to words.
My focus is on the act of writing down that obsession of the self with the stimulating other—the curiosity and the brooding that goes with it. In some exercises, I have tried replacing the “you” with the “I” in my poetry, to see if they were truly mirror images—yet they are not true reflections but only reflections of each other as one does not truly see a self in an appearance, but just an inkling of the self. They are something else entirely. I want to portray the state of discovery and of ambivalence, though the “I” puts on a show of not being in a state of overt chaos. Bad poetry, for me, would be one with a dismissive quality, poems that don’t broaden the subject of love but just passes through it.
The poems in my upcoming collection, The Sea That Beckoned, are love poems, for the most part. The poems are also a coming-of-desire story. I believe that within a relationship, one has agency. But, I also believe in the ambivalence of emotion within that relationship and the added difficulty of capturing that on paper. Yet, the poems straddle the line between fictive narratives and confessional truths—choosing not to emphasize a clear distinction between the two, but to focus instead on the dynamic between the beloved and the lover, or the lover’s writing down of the beloved. The opening up of intimacy is a project of the collection as a whole, whether it be in the pronoun usage, allusions, or the domestic or outdoor scenes. It is as much a conversation between the writer and the reader as it is with the beloved and the lover.
More importantly, the woman is the central pivotal character of these pieces. She takes the male gaze and turns it on its own head, leaving behind no hair. She constructs and dreams up a lover, she refuses constricting gestures, she hopes and believes as only a lover does in the myth of a beloved. In doing so, she probes both present and past memory.
Some say writers are truth tellers—that the written word is a journalistic account of what has happened. Yet, there is something inherent in poetry, and in love, which I have chosen to explore: that deception in what has been disclosed. No lover, no writer, no poet, even the mad ones, have ever truly shown their full inner selves to the outward world. In fact, it is impossible. Yet it is possible to write love. It is the process of writing about—for, into, out of, and because of the love of—writing. In writing, we can experience and re-experience love. There are a few things that only a lover will notice, that only a writer will include. What I have in my forthcoming collection, The Sea That Beckoned, published by Platypus Press, is a small reflection of the varying undulations of writing down love.