Tuesday, December 26, 2017


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"It Started" was previously published in UNSENT LETTERS: Selected Poems by Glynda Tejada Velasco (Vallejo, 2003)

The Poet’s Notes On Her Poem

How Jessica Hagedorn and I Are Six Degrees Separated

The first time I saw the first edition hard copy of Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters was at Cody’s Bookstore at Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. It was displayed as a new arrival. I remember the jacket has an illustration of green jungle foliage, a brown girl in a dress, and a watermelon. I coveted it immediately. I needed it in my hot little hands. I carried it with me from move to move. From the shelves of my hometown Vallejo, California to the shelves that consisted of the canon of anthologies and dog-eared second-hand novels of CSU, Chico English major years, I had it.

Finally, years later, at a Filipino American conference at UC Berkeley where she was doing the keynote address I sat patiently with that same book in my hands. I sat upfront to the side waiting to ambush her. After her speech, there was a Q & A. No response. Silence from the audience. I raised my hand slowly. I asked, “ Can you sign my book?” She replied jokingly, “Ladies and gentlemen, the plant.” I felt my cheeks turn red from embarrassment. Then she replied that book signings will be later that day. Someone asked, “If you could teach any class, what would it be.” Her response, “ I would teach not to fear.” This really touched me because I suffered from phobias of new places and public speaking.

At the conference I was volunteering my time offering free on-site chair massages to attendees. I finally took a time out to hunt Jessica Hagedorn‘s whereabouts. I found her listening to the LGBTQ pin@y panel. I crouched next to her and said, “I was moved by what you said about fear. I am going to get over my fear of public speaking by reading at an erotic poetry slam for the first time. Can you please sign my book?” She wrote, “To Glynda, Fear no more!”

I first heard about Jessica Hagedorn from something I read in the San Francisco Chronicle magazine insert. She had moved from the Philippines while young and ventured in the U.S. on her own where she met older white poets and artists in the Bay Area. I had a similar experience. I ventured into the art and literary scene befriending aging hippies and beatniks.

A Mexican American co-worker gave me an anthology of brown and yellow power poetry called “Time to Greez.” Jessica Hagedorn was published with a much longer name. Probably, most likely, a middle name that’s her mother’s maiden name which is traditional for Filipino names. Her poetry had the feel of music, like jazz. In her next novel Gangster of Love she mentioned Sly and the Family Stone. Music was the backdrop, the soundtrack for the ongoings of the Rocky Rivera, the protagonist. R&B (Rhythm and Blues) and Soul and later hip hop were my soundtrack, backdrop in my formative years and especially influential in my poem “My American Tongue, My Ilokano Tastebuds” which has a hip hop/spoken word feel to it.

I wrote the poems for my first chapbook of poetry from 1994 to 2003. I self-published Unsent Letters in 2003 sometime after my 33rd birthday. I had a manic episode and a mental breakdown through the whole process. My friend Larry was helping me with the book production and prevented me from being hospitalized because he feared me being sent into some psych ward. His own past experience in the drunk tank at jail made him empathetic to my plight. I dedicated the book to Jessica Hagedorn because reading her work motivated and inspired my own desire to be a pinay literary creative.

Avotcja, a radio personality for KPFA and KPOO, playwright for Oak-town Blues, leader of music band Modupue, self-proclaimed sound junkie, and someone I proclaim “The Queen of Poetry” wrote the introduction to this chapbook. I met Avotcja at the Listen & Be Heard weekly poetry open mic when I was an In-House Poet and admin assistant. She knew Jessica Hagedorn personally. In the introduction to Jessica Hagedorn’s anthology Jackie Chan is Dead, Jessica Hagedorn wrote how Avotcja was influential and a mentor.

Jessica Hagedorn dared to write bold characters. Her poetry reflected the beats and the jazz of the time. She dared to write a world where gossip (tsismis) was law, and ordinary people have colorful lives. Writing Unsent Letters was the boldest move for me. To write Unsent Letters and publish it I dared to be “walang hiya” (shameless). I dared to touch taboo subects: the erotic, coming out queer, abortion, suicide, and mental illness etc. I am so grateful for pinay literary greats like Jessica Hagedorn and that others like her exist.

Glynda T. Velasco is the creator of the hashtags #TheCareOfFeedingGTVelasco and #NotesFromTheMadLoveUnderground at Facebook where she writes and proclaims that everyday struggle of being alive as a psychiatric survivor and mad justice activist is a(n)  (r)evolution. She is also the creator of @Rogue Educator / @Rogue Scholar where she believes and lives in #theUniversityofLifeWithoutBorders. She is also the author of UNSENT LETTERS: Selected Poems, A Chapbook.  She is currently writing in a genre called #speculativerealness, in which she writes creative nonfiction inspired by magical realism, speculative fiction, Pilipinx Realism and Peminism, and Octavia E. Butler’s Afrofuturism.

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