Joanna Lee reviews PA-LIWANAG (To the Light), edited by Gantala Press, Tilted Axis, 2020.
PA-LIWANAG (To the Light) is one of the latest chapbooks in Tilted Axis Press’s ‘Translating Feminisms’ series, a project that asks whether feminism can translate through works by Asian women and nonbinary writers. The pamphlet is curated and edited by Gantala Press, a Filipina feminist press, and features poetry and essays by a broad range of Filipina women from within and outside the mainstream literary scene.
In its choices, the anthology is political to its core. It unsettles expectations of the ‘literary’ through works by women who wouldn’t define themselves as such – writings by factory workers and organisations of the urban poor sit alongside those by scholars and professionals. Works included are both translated, and originally written in English. It is ambitious in scope, and resists homogeneity.
Miriam Villanueva’s ‘Sister and Brother’ (translated by Faye Cuya) follows the routine of a set of siblings – ‘children of farmers’ – whose mother ‘has already gone out to sell’ by dawn. Villanueva is herself a peasant leader and writes ‘Big sister’ as resourceful, taking care of her brother before they go to school. Her ‘movements are quick’ as we see:
The striking of the match,
the feeding of wood into the stove.
The sweeping of the floor
while keeping an eye on the rice
In Cura’s translation, these repeated present participles give a sense of Big sister’s dexterity, the constant multitasking and extent of the domestic labour to be done. Here, the women fulfil both breadwinning and caregiving roles, and the poem makes no mention of a father figure. Villanueva charts female resilience through the early morning hours.
Such fortitude extends to the streets. Judy Cariño’s ‘Let’s Go’, originally published in KALÍ: Voice of Cordillera Women (Dec 2018), is a rousing call to action against the exploitation of Cordillera ‘life, honor and ancestral land’. With its set of imperatives that exhort the audience to ‘Rise up’, ‘Let’s go’, ‘Remember the heroes’ – as well as to remember the more practical, domestic needs, ‘Bring the children’ and ‘Pack some food’ – it reads as a song or chant, binding the acts of caregiving and political organisation inextricably together.
Translation and curation are themselves deliberate, political acts, and the decisions taken in the compiling of this anthology speak to its aims. Ilay L. Quidangen’s poem ‘Sika’, or ‘You’, appears twice, with one version left partially untranslated by the author. Careful translation facilitates Bernadia Enriquez Mendoza’s essay ‘Nanay Bining’ (translated by Faye Cura), who observes that ‘Talking about the value of land, the story of Lupang Kano is the story of who I am’. The way that the struggle for Kamaligan land ripples down through her family, is amplified here.
In this anthology of women’s resilience, these writers and translators claim power over the presentation of themselves and their fellow women in the face of an oppressive history, a government set on increased militarisation and the undermining of women’s rights. Throughout these pages, the project of feminist translation engenders solidarity and enables agency over how these women communicate themselves into the world: ‘a translation of what you cannot say’.
– Joanna Lee
Joanna Lee is a London-based writer and critic. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, The White Review, and The Poetry Review. She is a Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic, and works in publishing: formerly at Faber & Faber and currently at Curtis Brown.