Cathy Carter invited me to read a poem from my book and chat about National Poetry Month last week, on a spot called “Arts Playlist” that aired last weekend. The longer version of the interview is archived here for online listening.
Carter is a station host and manager at WDDE 91.1, Delaware’s NPR news and public media station in Dover. I read “History Textbook, America” to fulfill her request for a short poem.
“History Textbook, America” is a poem about my father, or more accurately, about knowing little about my father, Jesus Maglanoc Balingit. Next to nothing. It’s a poem about how huge the world grows when you open yourself to Why’s paths, to wandering and wondering. As an writer I enjoy, finally, the mystery of my father. I can commemorate his mystery rather than mourn not knowing him well. In poetry, I can accept having little to go on to discover his family. My history. As if facts of our family history would make him less enigmatic, less tragic, and make me more myself. Not so sure about that. But the not-knowing drives me to write and I enjoy being the imaginative detective.
The uncle in the poem will forever be a total stranger, but a legendary figure among my siblings. The act of imagination in a poem allows great loss to become a strange euphoria. I am glad my uncle called. Even though he never called back.
The discussion in the interview is different (& shorter!). We talked about poet laureate duties. Sorry my poet laureate FAQ at this website is still forever under construction, but its completion I am afraid would not prevent the question, “What’s a poet laureate and what are your duties as Poet Laureate of Delaware?” I don’t wear a green halo, I just try to be a passionate and plain spoken representative of the art. It’s important to open opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to hear poetry, to fall in love with a poem, to try writing. Also very important to support and find ways to acknowledge Delaware’s writers.
We talked about promoting the art of poetry, finding ways to support love of the word and create love for words. Cathy and I talked about creative writing and arts in public schools. It’s not easy for me to get into schools. At least it feels more difficult to make a teacher connection these days: teachers feel their classroom time is under pressure. But when I am invited even for 50 minutes, I get students to listen to poems, read, and write — and share some writing. Even if we have only 10 minutes for some free writing, we share. Young people love to share a few words about themselves. The hands go up. Everyone wants to tell a story. And be listened to. Writing it down helps you understand what happened. It helps you become a comfortable human.