By J. Neil C. Garcia.
My experience of Dumaguete and the Writing Workshop is palimpsestic.
After my own fellowship, back in 1990, I returned at least five other times, always around the same ardent season of the year. Each visit would evince its own textuality, and in my memory subsequent trips would write their own texts on what had come before, engendering, in the end, this complex and multilayered parchment, richly overlaid and, like my love for this city and its people, by now helplessly inscribed with both meaning and affect and thus practically irreducible to paraphrase.
That this special place is a creative prompt for me is inarguable: the evidential existence of poems and personal essays occasioned by these different trips attests embarrassingly to this fact. Imaginatively returning, then, to the “riverbed” of my very first visit is proving to be uniquely difficult: I cannot seem to visualize any single moment or aspect of it, given the shimmer and flow of intervening fathoms…
Just now I’m thinking that what would have helped were the dozen or so poems that I wrote over a two-month period immediately after the 1990 workshop ended, but the great flood of 2009 that reached my old bedroom on the first floor of our house took them away—along with boxes of countless unpublished manuscripts and other fragile mementos.
Fortunately, copies of a couple of poems from this “sequence” are available in print—to be specific, in my first collection, Closet Quivers, published by Kalikasan Press in 1992.
Here, then, is a possible ”workshop reminiscence.” Reading it now, I am overcome by fond nostalgia for my batch of beautifully self-possessed, fiercely queer, lovelorn and malong-wearing co-fellows—but also, surprisingly enough, by a profound and discomfiting alienation. The simple truth is: I can hardly recognize the person who speaks in this poem, even as I do vaguely recognize the pithy composure and “hauntedness” to which this poem fretfully aspires as being still very much my aspiration—my own poetic touchstone—to this day.
And so, among the luminous bequests that Dumaguete and its famous workshop have given me, it would seem that the most enduring and important one has been, in all my writing life, the same: desirous graciousness (which is the same thing, of course, as desirous grace.)
The boulevard is raw
with the smell of dead clams:
we are driven to it
What is there to do
in this city when sunsets
are light with the sky’s
fluster of names,
the air heavy with rot?
We stop to nibble
on our bitter green bananas,
the sea’s silent ebb
mirrored on our face.
There is only this longing
and the scent of hidden oysters
pulsing in our breath.
For Felino, Jessie, Al, and Elmar