How do you write a review for literature that feels very personal?
Ten years ago, I picked up a poetry book that was sold for ten pesos in Booksale. During that time my only exposure to poetry was the discussion of poems by dead white men in my English classes. When I read that poetry book I was astounded by how distinct and personal it was. With all honesty, I cannot remember the exact title of the book but I know it was written by a Filipina living in the United States. Her poetry was clothed with passion, confusion and isolation, and the power I felt whenever I read them stayed with me. Ten years later, TAKE CARE, a poetry book written by another Filipina reminded me of that feeling—the feeling of being heard, healed and transformed.
TAKE CARE is a collection of poems written by Eunice Andrada, a Filipina poet and educator who is currently living in Australia. It explores the experience of being a Filipina woman in a system that is blind to their struggles and lack of agency. The title of the book itself will give you an idea of her poetry, “Take care”/ “Amping ha”/ “Pag-amping intawn” is what we, Filipina women, usually say to each other as a send-off. I say it to my younger sister, my friends and to all the women I meet, together with a little prayer in my heart that they will be safe and will come back home whole and unscarred in a world that remains to be dangerous for them.
There has been a lot of talk recently in Philippine literary circles about the merits of diaspora literature. What constitutes Philippine literature? Filipino writers most especially those living abroad have been talking about the importance of decolonising their work. Yet, when I pick up books in this genre I cannot help but ask, ‘To whom is this written for?’. I will not dismiss the literary works of the Filipino diaspora but I do wish to find more writing that I could share to my students (if I ever go back to teaching in the Philippines) that would speak to them in a familiar voice, not a foreign one. This is the reason why I am so glad to have read TAKE CARE. Andrada’s poetry is not written for white people to seek their validation but it is written for Filipinos to validate their experiences.
Her poem “Comfort Sequence”, perhaps my favourite in the collection, is innovative in form and it perfectly delivers what it feels like as a woman to live in a country that perpetuates misogynistic culture. Starting from the absurdity of removing the statue of the ‘comfort women’ to applauding a president that spews rape jokes like its nothing, reading the long poem has made me hold my breath to stop myself from exploding—it is the exact same feeling I get when I try to hold back my tears while I explain to the men around me about rape culture so they would take me seriously and not tell me to stop being too emotional. I then exploded in her poem “Vengeance Sequence” that encapsulates the rage every Filipina woman who has been told by a white person, “You must be really good at taking care of people since you are a Filipina.” In the same breath you are told that young Filipinas are gold diggers who somehow enchant old crusty white men to save them from their third world country. These are the same white people who continue to uphold the imperialism that has forced the necessity of Filipino diaspora. Many of her poems reveal the ridiculousness of how the world sees and treats Filipina women. We are only seen as carers—we take care of the world that continues to exploit and look down on us.
Eunice Andrada’s strengths as a poet do not end in her excellent command of the form and her talent to weave the right words together and evoke powerful emotions. Her greatest strength, I believe, is that her writing is aware that poetry alone will not bring forth the change that is needed. There is a lot more work to be done and her poetry will give fuel to every woman who is ready to take part in the fight to abolish the systems that dehumanise us.
Before this book was sent to me, I was working on a personal essay with the title “I don’t want to hear about your ‘tiny’ Pinay ex-girlfriend.” I have been working on that piece for months but I keep on scratching parts and sometimes throwing it altogether because it sounded too angry. I always thought that maybe I was too sensitive about the comments I get as a Filipina. However, after reading this poetry book I realised that I have every right to be angry. The candour and bravery of this book’s verses pushed me to continue writing my own stories in the hopes that collectively “our song maps the terrain/of past to future labour. /We trust the others hear us. /They are gathering.”
You can purchase the book here: https://giramondopublishing.com/books/eunice-andrada-take-care/.
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