KALI'S BLADE by MICHELLE BAUTISTAWILLIAM ALLEGREZZA Reviews
Kali’s Blade by Michelle Bautista
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2006)
Kali, the goddess, the martial art, and now the poetics--Michelle Bautista’s book Kali’s Blade is a fascinating attempt at writing poetry through the Philippine art of Kali. In the introduction, Bautista explains the poetics of the book, exploring how they relate to the concepts and movements of Kali, the martial art. She tells us that she allows herself “to see the poetry that occurs naturally around me.” She’s not trying to force herself into writing a certain way. In fact, several of the poems seem to have arisen out of information from the Internet, specifically Craigslist and e-mails, and several of the poems respond to events or people. Bautista stresses this idea of being open to experience in the introduction, stating, “I must let go of an ego that says I should be in control because I ‘know’ what I’m doing. It’s usually the opposite: I have no idea what I’m doing, I simply do.” Her poetics is one of overcoming fear and letting go, trusting that you will come to something through the chaos that must be faced, through the experience you are most afraid of--writing, death, whatever. Such a poetics comes from the grace and rhythm of Kali, but it also comes from a contemporary mind exploring experience. While Bautista states of one poem, “A quintessential postcolonial poem,” that it is “a collected poem,” the same could be said about much of the collection. In this work, we find hay(na)ku, collage poems, prose poems, blog poems, and even a play. The book keeps a reader’s interest with its variety, and the fine ear of the poet help us reach beyond our usually poetic boundaries.
Kali comes to the fore in a straight-forward narrative in some of the poems, such as the poem “How to Battle a Wind Goddess,” a poem in which the speaker talks of battling a wind goddess for “my love:”
For hours upon hours we fought.
When I trapped her in my cloth
she carried me through the heavens.
I hid amongst the bamboo learning
to bend and sway in her breeze.
I screamed but she deafened me
with her howls. She encircled me,
crushing me in her tornado.
I swallowed her. Inhaled her,
held her, drove her deep, deep,
into my lungs, my pores.
Til she infused my blood.
Where she became my flesh
I became a wind goddess.
In this excerpt, we can see the speaker learning to adapt to experience in order to battle the wind and ultimately to take on the wind’s power as goddess.
While “How to Battle a Wind Goddess” is beautiful and narrative, it is far different from other poems in the book, such as “A quintessential postcolonial poem” in which we read:
Subject: Re: kuwentong duwende
the fear slowly lessened
us and why
duwendes observing them back
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
>>>>>> At 11:32 AM -0400 8/27/02
>>>>>> wrote a poem about it
>>>>>> have a good day!
This poem borrows the language of e-mails and crafts something new out of them. It creates a story out of technology and given language. It’s fractured and “collected ” and deals with a subject specific to the Philippines, the duwende. In many ways it reminds me of the last section of Eileen Tabios’s Post Bling Bling (Moria Books, 2005) where she prints a series of e-mails that deal with postcolonial issues related to the Philippines.
From the formally playful to the narrative, Michelle Bautista’s Kali’s Blade is exciting in its variety, in its craft, and in its exquisite rhythms. While reading, one imagines being invited by the poet into the dance of Kali, into the experience of re-understanding the senses in order to re-conceive the spaces around us. That dance is one that should be experienced by many readers.
Musician, sailor, poet, critic--William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Italy, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His e-books and books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, Covering Over, Temporal Nomads, Ladders in July, and In the Weaver’s Valley. He occasionally posts random thoughts on his blog p-ramblings.