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9/14, 9/16 The Poet of the Personal

Posted by novoscene on September 14, 2008

Aimee Suzara photo by D Samuel Marsh.

In his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti calls the poet “the super realist,” one who must “perforce perceive/taut truth/before the taking of each stance or step/in his supposed advance/toward that still higher perch.”

Aimee Suzara is a super realist. By looking at the “taut truth” of her own life and surroundings-both in her multimedia piece Pagbabalik and the new chapbook The Space Between-the poet explore her own issues of racial, cultural and sexual identity in ways that denote a larger cultural outlook. From womens’ hips swaying to salsa to those same women’s hearts breaking while sitting next to a dying child, her work offers an intimate examination of the self and soul.

The daughter of Filipino health care workers, Suzara was born in New York in 1975 but spent much of her early life packing and unpacking her suitcases, at various times residing in Florida, Texas and Washington state in between several shorter pitstops.

As is the case with migratory youth, Suzara became used to being the perpetual new kid-“the loner artist Filipino”-and adopted an outsider’s stance, examining life more closely and creating an inner narrative informed by her various geographies. “I think that as a kid I always felt set apart and that I was seeing things differently than everyone else.”

Her alternative way of seeing prepped her for a career in words that carried her through an undergrad at UC Berkeley and the MFA Creative Writing program at Mills.

While showing flashes of experimentation, Suzara’s poems are grounded in memory and the connections between people and place. In the tradition of writers like Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Jessica Hagedorn, Suzara uses her personal voice as communal sounding board. If at times her writing refuses the linear path it’s only to illustrate the complexities of human interactions rather that throw an extra wrench into the works.

Reading excerpts from The Space Between or Pagbabalik leave the reader feeling like the poet places communication above concerns of form and technical innovation, an attitude Suzara says was equally born from her childhood city hopping as much as her involvement in community activism and organizing.

Before making the jump into professional writing and teaching, Suzara worked with several Bay Area nonprofits including San Francisco Women Against Rape, Youth Media Council and Berkeley’s Pusod cultural and environmental center. Through Pusod, Suzara found herself in the Philippines in 1999, investigating the deteriorating health conditions of locals, which environmentalists say were caused by a heavily polluted abandoned U.S. military base nearby.

For four months Suzara lived with the family of Crizel Jane Valencia, a young girl dying of leukemia. When the six year old died, Suzara says she was moved to create-curating an art show of the little girl’s work and writing with a new kind of clarity and determination. Much of her current work had it’s genesis during this trip.

Pagbabalik, which incorporates music, dance, film, draws heavily on Filipino identity, pain and tenacity. Likewise, Suzara says the poems in “the space between” “look at mortality in the body, basically…people that I’ve been close to going through illness and death.” Like the narrator of the poem “some days i think i am crazy”, who cries “because little Crizel was dying/every day her blood going bad” while pondering the notion of sanity and remembering families poisoned by military toxins.

Now that she works full time as a writer and educator, Suzara says her activism has changed accordingly.  Suzara says her teaching has become a direct outlet for enacting change. “I don’t see how I could stop being a writer and I don’t feel like I could stop being an educator. I feel like at my best moments I’m like a channel, like I get fed and I give and I feed and I give.” A process she’s perfecting and refining as she advances toward that still higher perch.
-kwan booth

Aimee Suzara celebrates the release of “The Space Between” at La Pena Cultural Center, at 7pm today with a reading, music from DJ fflood and performances by Larena Burno, Tomas Riley, Leticia Hernandez, Raphael Cohen. For more information go to http://www.lapena.org.

The Space Between Release Party
Sunday, Sept. 14
La Pena Cultural Center
3105 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley

She also reads Tuesday Sept. 16 at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco. For more information go to www.mtbs.com.

To order copies of The Space Between go to www.aimeesuzara.net.

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