Joanna Cleary: Thanks so much for your willingness to have a conversation about your writing with us and congratulations on the publication of your most recent collection of poems: The Sea that Beckoned. According to the book’s description, these poems are “an exploration of all those places we’ve sought to call home.” Could you elaborate on that?
Angela Gabrielle Fabunan: I’ve always yearned for a home. My childhood spent in the Philippines did not feel like home because my mom and dad were always abroad; my mom came home every six months, stayed for six months, then left for six months. Even now, I live in Manila, while my mom lives in Olongapo City, Zambales, which are two different places in the Philippines. I travel for 3-4 hours every weekend to see her.
Place is very different from home. There are many places I mentioned in The Sea That Beckoned, and yet, I feel I am always searching for home, which is why it is an exploration. My home is a place, but not just a place, it is a place of comfort, where my loved ones are. Home is difficult to articulate, for me. So I thought this search for home might lead somewhere, and it did, to The Sea That Beckoned. Each place I’ve been in is ridden with memory and emotion, and I thought it might be interesting for me and for others, if I were to write it down.
Maria Prudente: At the end of your poem, “Midway,” you land on this beautiful line: “I am the mango heart left beating in your hands.” How do you approach imagery in your work? Where do you find your inspiration?
AGBF: I am a bit of a mystic when it comes to poems. I believe that the poem itself will lead me to where it wants to go. Once I have the first line, or the first image, or the first rhyme, it will take me on a journey. I have been schooled in the technical aspects of poetry, and can tell what form or meter I should use, but I wouldn’t want to manipulate the poem into what I want. I want what it wants. So the deeper into my schooling about poetry that I get, it seems the more faith I have in the mysticism of poetry. There are times, however, in revision, where I have to tweak, and I suppose that’s where my formal training comes in. But for a poem such as “Midway,” it came fairly easily, without much manipulation. The images of the foreigner is interwoven within, as are my longing to come “home” to the Philippines. I was in New York then, in 2017, and I was torn between a love and a place. I loved New York, but I had already built what I call a home in the Philippines, with my loved ones. And I thought there might be a poem there.
That image of the mango heart seems like generic Philippine imagery, and indeed the mango has been used many times in folklore or even in contemporary literature. But there’s a bit of background with that—my mom owns a mango farm in Balasiw, Zambales, and that’s where I often visited and ate delicious mangoes. I recently sold some mangoes to friends in Manila this past harvest, and they couldn’t help quoting that quote that you mentioned while I was giving them their mangoes.
I think the most artful images are those that have a back story that you don’t necessarily have to mention. I didn’t mention that my mom had a mango farm in the poem, but the remnants of the emotion I feel when it comes to my mango heart is felt because of that background. So I guess write images of what inspires you, even if it’s something as mundane as mangoes on your kitchen table.
JC: My favourite stanza from “migration story,” a poem in this collection and also published in Eastlit is:
laying down my back to the bamboo
i would count the leaves
above my head, dreaming
of snow, and my dad was bright and alive
then, there in the hot, humid december,
decades ago before he would die
in a frigid hospital while the snow fell.
In this poem, as in your other poems, you mix such intimate details of individual life with universal images of searching, longing, and home. Can you speak to the parts of The Sea that Beckoned that you found the most personally difficult, and/or personally rewarding, to write about?
AGBF: I believe that poems crafted from the heart are those most difficult to write, because it comes from a synergy of the heart and the mind, of the intricate connections between emotions and intellect. You sort of have to find a way to be able to mix the two gently. The silly love poems in the latter half of the book were, personally, because the trauma of love for me is still ongoing. The love poems such as “Murasaki,” and “To the Man Who Claimed Me” and “Visit” did not come to me as effortlessly as did the poems of place, such as “Midway” and “Abò,” perhaps because I am always thinking of place, of home, and of my tender regard for these places.
The poem you mentioned, “migration story” is an ode to my dad, and although he’s been gone for more than 10 years, every time I revisit the story of his life, it’s both difficult and rewarding. It’s the epitome of the synergy I was talking about earlier and of plumbing through loss.
MP: What advice do you have for writers interested in publishing their collection of work? What was your process for The Sea That Beckoned?
AGBF: My advice for young writers is just to read, read, read and write, write, write. One of my poetry professors always told me never to rush the poem. I always take it to wherever it leads me, and some poems take minutes and some poems take years. The poem always has a mind of its own (a muse, maybe?) and thus it can tell you if it needs to be a sonnet and a pantoum, if it needs to be in rhyme or meter, if it needs to be published now or later.
As for publishing, I have the same advice: submit submit submit. Never be afraid of rejection, because it will give you the strength to work harder to be accepted. I submitted through the regular submission cycles at Platypus Press, and the editors Michelle Tudor and Peter Barnfather were kind enough to choose my work amongst many others. If I had been afraid of submitting then, The Sea That Beckoned would never have been published.
MP: We cannot wait to read more from you! Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
AGBF: I’m working on a second manuscript, for the moment called As Memento, As Imagen, As Woman. It’s a work inspired by mythology and feminism alike, and inspired by the works of Carol Ann Duffy and Louise Glück. In these poems, I give voice to women of myth, from Greco-Roman to Philippine mythology, such as Medusa and Bakunawa, bending these myths along the way to reflect the context of the modern-day Filipina. It still needs a lot of work, but it’s getting there. Thank you for your questions and this interview! 🙂
To buy Angela Gabrielle Fabunan’s book, The Sea That Beckoned, click on the link here.
ANGELA GABRIELLE FABUNAN was born in the Philippines and raised in New York City. She graduated from Bowdoin College and attends the University of the Philippines MA Creative Writing Program. In 2016, she was awarded the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation Awards for Poetry. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Cordite Poetry Review, Asymptote Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Eastlit Magazine, and New Asian Writing, among others. She is one of the current poetry editors at Inklette Magazine. Her first book of poetry, The Sea That Beckoned, is available from Platypus Press.