The best of poetry and art is the stuff of friendship and community. Offerings to the era's muses that grow truthfully from a milieu of diverse hearts united in the exploration of the times and the history that led to those times. The digital realm has opened more of our world to each of us, and it allowed Bear Review to thrive when we could not have afforded the print-only world. It also brought us Kabel Mishka Ligot, a poet we might not have met in an analog world of stamps and letters.
We Bear Review editors carry the magazine largely on the strength of our friendship. And, from the beginning, we wanted to create something surprising that, apropos of nothing, highlighted not only exciting art but also exciting individuals who themselves are effecting community. To that end, we decided recently that writers who paid to submit would be automatically considered for a prize. A little added bonus in a world where extras are rare.
So, given all that, it was with little hesitation we selected Kabel Mishka Ligot our first-ever Bear Review Editors Prize winner. The person you will encounter below—we felt his generosity, genuine inquisitiveness and wonderfully conflicted mind as we read and reread his poems. Mishka may only be in the U.S. a little while... Or, maybe we all can convince him to stay longer. Who knows. What we do know is we have him now, for a little while, and that is a good thing.
I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.
Co-editor, Bear Review
The annual Bear Review Editors Prize includes an interview and $50 honorarium. All submission-fee-paying writers whose work we publish are automatically entered.
Haines Eason: How did you come to poetry? If love is an apt word, when did you fall in love with it, and why?
Kabel Mishka Ligot: Stories have fascinated me for as long as I can recall. I loved getting to know people through the stories they told. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer—I was definitely a voracious reader as a child, but poetry wasn't as readily available to me as fiction was because of where I lived. I majored in Comp Lit at the University of Philippines-Diliman, which certainly broadened by understanding of what writing was and has been. Prior to college, I only encountered poetry as required reading (mostly dead white men—can you believe?) in high school. I didn't even know of any Filipino poets until well into my bachelor's. Mind you, I had lived in the country all my life! I fell more and more in love with poetry as I discovered how expansive the field was. It was in college where I discovered the works of contemporary Filipino poets both in the country and abroad, poets like Fatima Lim-Wilson, Luisa Igloria, Allan Popa, Merlinda Bobis, Marjorie Evasco. I was fortunate enough to have lauded poets like Paolo Manalo and Isabela Banzon as my literature professors as well. American literature classes introduced me to names such as Lucie Brock-Broido, Charles Simic, Maxine Kumin. I'm a child of the internet—when I wasn't reading poetry from my professors' photocopied packets, I was discovering folks (mostly American) from sam sax and Yusef Komunyakaa online.
While my exposure to poetry as a more tangible, living, material thing kicked off in college, I'd like to believe that young Mishka's attraction to poetry began in music. I was a huge pop punk fan since high school—think Fall Out Boy and pretty much any band that was on the Vans Warped Tour. I was the farthest thing from an angsty white teenager dying to leave their small American town, but something about how these bands articulated ennui and extremely shallow heartbreak just got to me. I also listened to a lot of Björk, whose songs bent the English language with such strangeness and wonder. Above all, I've been profoundly impacted by the work of Sufjan Stevens, who remains my favorite musician of all time. Stevens wove complex and layered narratives in his songs about apocrypha and Americana in this most charming ways, which absolutely perplexed and dazzled me.
As a bilingual person who grew up in a multilingual environment, poetry's hyper-attention to language was something that I was already exercising in day-to-day life. I also say this mostly as a joke, but I don't have the mental stamina and attention span for prose—I envy fiction writers for this very reason! I run my mouth a lot in person and poetry allows me to be more careful and deliberate about what I want to bring into the world.
HE: How is poetry situated in Philippine culture? Is it a popular means of artistic expression, an academic one...?
KML: The Philippines is a semi-feudal semi-colony of over seven thousand islands in which nearly 200 languages are spoken—this already establishes a multiplicity of identities and histories alive and extant within the country. There's also massive economic striation in its population, and life in the major cities is vastly different from life in the rural areas where the majority of the population live. With that in mind, I can only speak of an understanding of "poetry" informed—and limited—by living in the metropolis as a middle-class English speaker with a college degree.
Across the archipelago, the peoples who would eventually be called Filipinos have had strong and extensive traditions of chanted epics before colonial contact. While these practices are not completely lost today (a good amount had actually adapted to the constraints of Spanish colonization), they're critically endangered and no longer appear to carry an explicit lineage into the contemporary scene. Cultures in the Philippines, I've observed, tend to be more aural/oral than textual, so prose, as we know it, isn't necessarily a common thing—poetry is even more so “inaccessible.” Media such as film, television and radio dramas are larger fields than printed work. Publishing in the country is also in a bit of a bind—local literature exists, but because of monopolies in printing and distribution, its (re)production and circulation is significantly weaker and smaller than the already-small demand for foreign-published work (mostly fiction). It's easier to find a Harry Potter or Nicholas Sparks book in our bookstores than any poetry—whether Filipino or otherwise. To begin to understand poetry in the Philippines is to be critical and conscious of notions such as “readership”—poetry then, in its most pedestrian, contemporary sense, still remains a small and bourgeois endeavor mostly limited to academic institutions and more cosmopolitan consumers of art.