Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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The Sea That Beckoned, Angela Gabrielle FabunanThe dominant colour of the jacket is blue, and it has a large photograph of a sailing boat with full sail taking up the full jacket. The sky has a sun half hidden behind cloud, the sea is shiny and bright (but calm), the sail leans into the wind. Everything is a shade of blue. The title is in white with the word BECKONED picked out in huge caps position exactly in the middle of the jacket. The words 'the sea that' are in lower case italics much smaller on the line above, but not centred, more pushed towards the left. The author's name is below 'BECKONED' in small white caps. Below this in tiny italics the word 'poems'. There is an endorsement quote in white, very small and centred, in the sky at the top.

Platypus Press, 2019   £8.50

Place and belonging

Angela Gabrielle Fabunan was ‘born in the Philippines and raised in New York City’.  Always interested in place and belonging, I wondered how strong the pull from the past can be, the tug from original roots.

A rhythm flows through these poems from beginning to end, through different forms and patterns created by the poet’s use of white space, often within lines. Her rhythmic voice shares memories, images, thoughts and places while exploring questions of belonging, identity, and home. 

I keep returning to ‘The Other Shore’. It flows like a stream of consciousness which helps in ‘pushing aside all / memory of the other shore’, though the other shore and what is ‘waiting’ is always there.  

‘Fair Game’, a prose poem, catches the eye. ‘Which country is Mother?’ it asks, though it offers no answer: ‘As an exile I have absorbed both my countries; each a nation / of difference’.

‘Welcome to the Philippines’ marks the move back to ‘this archipelago’ and supplies this collection’s title — ‘it was always the sea that beckoned’.

These lines from ‘Destination i’ — soaked in the essence of place — drew me to the other language (Tagalog) which slips in and out of some poems:

There are only metaphors for becoming.
Only the sibuyas un-peeling its layers
            kalachuchi spreading their petals
                         paruparo emerging from cocoons
events of blossoming, acts of uncovering, of nakedness.
There are no great metaphors for reversal.

Sensory memories bring a strong sense of place, like this lovely evocation in ‘Bansa’:

remembering childhood vacations atop mango trees,
hands sticky from their sap.  

These poems are easy to love!

I keep returning to ‘Abó’ which uses place, the ‘Zambales countryside’, to bring together strong memories and emotions in a solid form, too tightly-knit to extract lines from.

‘Cadena de Amor’, which follows, ends ‘show me a word as sweet as bahay’ (home); and a haunting sense of belonging is asserted in the final poem, ‘OO’:

You are your father’s jewel, his religion.
You are your mother’s shadow, her story.
You are a dalagang Filipina.

Enid Lee