On Manong Al

Manong Al Robles
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

Barb has started her tenure at the Harriet Blog with a post celebrating the life, activism and poetry of Manong Al Robles.

San Francisco Poet Al Robles (1930-2009)

Al Robles was an activist, at the forefront of the movement to stop the demolition of the I-Hotel, which housed elderly and low income tenants, many of whom we’ve come to know as the “Manongs,” elder Filipino Americans, or Pinoys, who spent their youths as migrant labor in West Coast agriculture and canneries, and as US veterans who fought in WWII. He brought young activists and artists to Agbayani Village in Delano, a rural settlement of these Manongs, and to the WWII Japanese American internment camps at Tule Lake and Manzanar. He believed it was important for young activists and artists to see these places with their own eyes, to hear the stories of these places firsthand. Robles’s activism was closely tied to his poetic work; in fact, his activism and poetry were one and the same. He believed poets should bring themselves into the world.

Complete article is here.

Manong Al’s passing was sudden and intense. You could feel the vacuum in the community as the question (spoken and unspoken) came around again: Who will tell our stories now?

Then, just as fast, I could see folks like Tony Robles and Kuya Phil start to be called Manong by the community.

And that was just like Al’s poetry, rolling like a stream over a rock, nature moving through and creating change. With Al’s jazz meter, his steady cadence, unflappable stage presence, improvisational abilities and stories of deep human sorrow paving the way for the joy of human endurance to shine through. Al’s voice was clearly the splash of stream and that made it both the river and the rock at the same time. Elements of chaotic change and sure bedrock all rolled together in one distinct sound.

Al’s lost reminded me of the passing of New York’s own maestro of locura and verse, el Reverendo Pedro Pietri. Another maverick who defined his own poetics and never let the river of current public opinion change the measure of his poetry.

I’m glad Barb has a chance to share the message of Al’s work and spirit with the community over at Poetry Foundation and let his words shine in the continuum of American Poetry.

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