60 LV BO(E)MBS by PAOLO JAVIERALLEN GABORRO reviews
60 lv bo(e)mbs by Paolo Javier
(O Books, 2005)
[Review first appeared in the Philippine News, Feb. 20, 2006]
Paolo Javier's poems in his newest publication, 60 lv bo(e)mbs, reflect his capacity for improvising liberally with words, places, languages, spaces, images, genres, people, and narratives. His musings on topics running from history to racism, from Philippine culture to American culture, and from lust to love, share a panache and a radicalism that stimulates deregulated meaning and salutary disorder.
Constructive confusion and an aversion towards certitude happen to be two of Javier's predispositions in 60 lv bo(e)mbs. In the book's poems, he drops a name here, a metaphor there, a description in this corner, a historical figure or location in that corner. These are clues that Javier has laid out for us to collect and to cogitate over. However, the reader will be better off savoring the interpretive journey more so than trying to reach a singular closure to Javier's poems. There is no final score in his work; the disparate parts count for more than the whole.
While structure and linearity are rendered all but invisible in his book, there really is a method to Javier's madness. That said, it will take some work and imagination to find at minimum the shadow of his intent. Anyone hoping to shake the tree of Javier's protean verses for fast and easy interpretations are sure to be confounded. The pieces contained in 60 lv bo(e)mbs are not for conventionalists or for those seeking a quick poetic fix. So be forewarned: you will find few if any resemblances to the lyrical continuity of Emily Dickinson or to the reverential clarity of the Lord's Prayer in Javier's collection.
One of the things that Javier does in 60 lv bo(e)mbs is collapse the construct of Western classical poetry and send it flying into a thousand bits, which is what his poetry comes across like on the surface: copious iotas of vocabulary, expressions, and jargon are unsystematically garnished on his pages. Indeed, to the empirical reader, Javier's poetry in this form and appearance makes little sense and gestates even less poetic rhythm or artistry. By utilizing this fragmented style, Javier mimics the bohemian tradition of Philippine National Artist Jose Garcia Villa. It was Villa who once chided Philippine poetry for what he called its "outmoded conventionality" and "thematic timidity." For Villa, defying the standard rules of English was his way of decentering, or better yet, decolonizing, the Filipino identity. His literary insurgency paved the way for greater autochthonous influences in Philippine poetry.
Javier is one of many postmodernistic Filipino and FilAm artists who have taken up where Villa left off. He uses Villa as a major jumping-off point for his multilayered poetry as he conjures up the great artist's name throughout 60 lv bo(e)mbs. Though Javier prominently bandies about Villa's name, he also puts iconoclastic philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida in the spotlight as demonstrated by their respective surnames' constant reappearance in the book. Javier, Villa, Nietzsche, and Derrida emerge as deconstructionist soulmates separated only by the temporality of history.
From out of Javier's postmodernistic sensibilities arise his postcolonial reflections. Many of these poetic reflections implicitly and explicitly refer to the Philippines and to Filipinos. Javier hopes that these reflections, if consumed on an intellectual as well as on a creative level, will prevail upon Filipinos to re-examine their historical, political, and social identities. Filipinos will thus be empowered, in the process of revisiting their heritage, to produce new representations and meanings in their endeavor to re-discover and re-shape their genuine identity.
Using the same approach, Javier ruminates on racism whether it is directed at Filipinos or Orientals in general. His not-so-subtle allusions to racism resonate vividly. In addition to the subject of racism, Javier touches upon other topics like Iraq and English. For good measure, Javier includes a quirky, idiosyncratic play that deals with sexual and Orientalist concerns at least on the margins, but whose primary substance stymies any prudent decryption whatsoever. The piece, titled "A Play, A Play," features a cast that is worthy of its enigmatic composition: Paolo Javier himself, Jose Garcia Villa, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Love.
Beauty as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder. The same is to be said for meaning and interpretation. This is the stance readers should assume before picking up 60 lv bo(e)mbs for fear that they would sooner trash the book's abstruse lines than exhibit the patience needed to understand them. But that is the risk that a polysemist like Javier takes when he stresses the production of meanings as far as the mind can conceive and discourages any effortless analysis of his verse. Javier's work is in many ways, an illustration of creative and cerebral endowment ventured against the taste and expectations of popular culture.
Allen Gaborro is an art and book reviewer for the San Francisco-based Philippine News weekly. He is also a freelance writer who has written on politics, history, literature, and cultural issues. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.