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My American Kundiman (Patrick Rosal)

February 14, 2010

This is the second time I’ve read this collection, and I find myself equally enmeshed in Rosal’s fresh language and poetic style. After reading Inada’s Legends From Camp, I couldn’t stop thinking of how Rosal’s poetry is influenced by hip-hop in a way that’s similar to how Inada’s poetry is influenced by jazz (although with fewer explicit references to that influence). The first time I read this collection, I did my best to hear the rhythms and get the “beat” of the poems down — that was before I had the privilege of hearing Rosal give a reading of his poetry. This time, I had Rosal’s voice, Rosal’s rhythm, Rosal’s sound in my head as I read the collection, and it was a completely different experience. I remembered listening to him read “St. Patrick” at one of my professors’ houses last fall, and I dug up the video and have embedded it at the end of this post. Experiencing Patrick Rosal reading his poetry is a wonderful experience — he’s so full of energy and rhythm, and he uses his entire body in the telling of his poems.

In any case, this second reading of the collection was immensely different than the first one. I also thought a lot more about the collection’s title, and paid closer attention to Rosal’s note at the collection’s beginning that explains what a kundiman is and some of its cultural background: “The kundiman is a traditional Filipino song of unrequited love” and “was a coded desire, a manifest longing in song, a beloved poetic subversion composed and such in a time [of colonization] when overt expressions of love for the Philippines were looked down upon” (xi). I tried to keep that in mind as I read, and it helped me focus my reading (poetry is considerably difficult for me to read as I never really know if I’m “doing it right”) a little more. I was able to see more of what Rosal might have intended when he said that this collection was meant to honor this tradition and be read as “love songs for America.” The subjects of his poems tend to be people and places in his life, and reading them as embodying the spirit of the kundiman helps connect them to each other and shows the tissue that binds them together to be Rosal’s love or admiration of them.

Okay, here’s the video of Rosal performing “St. Patrick” from Autumn of 2008. Enjoy!

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