Now out today, 07 October 2015: my debut ebook A Jar of Starlight: A Compilation of Verses and Visions. This is a folio made up of 70 poems written between 2009 and early 2015, as well as numerous photographs taken during provincial trips and urban jaunts. Cover artwork is by Weena Alba-Contreras who – thank God! – took me seriously when all other artists gave me the brush off.
For now, I am making this available to local readers in the Philippines for P 150.00 a copy; please send me a PM via my official Facebook page or send me an email via email@example.com for deposit details. Please note that ebook file (PDF) will be sent upon receipt of scanned deposit slips or screenshots of online fund transfers. I will be posting an advisory for international readers once the relevant download accounts are up on Scribd and Booktango.
Compiling the poems and pictures for this book was a cathartic experience for me, following a number of rejection notices; life-changing events; and lessons learned about both the local and international publishing industries, life, love, and everything in between. I was, likewise, able to connect, disconnect, or reconnect with a number of people who became instrumental in this book’s creation.
It is my hope that this little volume of poetry can touch you and others; perhaps it may also inspire you to go outside your comfort zone and do something that will mean more than any mere material accomplishment.
“Just don’t forget to give more time to the things you love doing most,” the person whom I consider my best friend said on the day I started my advertising job in the BGC. And by “the things you love doing the most”, he was specifically referring to my writing.
A lot of things have happened since that September morning. Campaigns and advertorials were planned and implemented at the office; promotional and sales activations were done and dealt with. The person who told me to give more time to the things I love most released his album and is currently on tour. In between, there have been Monday night gigs in Makati; kitchen experiments that have run the gamut from homemade granola to choux pastry; and there have been scraps of stories drafted along with the poems that made their way into my first volume of published poetry.
A Jar of Starlight is something of an impulse project. Following all the rejection notices I received for my novel The Rebirth of Meras: Exodus, I kind of lost my faith in myself as a storyteller. While this cast something of a serious damper over all those story drafts I had in mind, it prompted me into doing something I’ve totally balked at for an extremely long time: poetry. I found myself scribbling and posting verses; some accompanied by pictures, seeing how I’d gotten into the habit of snapping photos whenever something caught my fancy. (Have camera, will write.)
One thing led to another: getting accounts for Booktango and Scribd; actually running off to the National Library to file for a copyright. There was the process of writing and rewriting; editing and proofreading; selecting which photographs were best suited to the work. Ask my family and they will tell you that I chose to spend Sunday afternoons at home wrestling with a manuscript instead of having fun. Ask my friends and they will tell you about how I would spend the time prior to a Monday night gig scribbling into one notebook or another with a bottle of Cerveza Negra close at hand. Otherwise, I would spend Saturdays alone – again with a notebook – and write between sips of a flat white, maybe a bite or two of a chocolate chip cookie.
I don’t quite remember what prompted me to compile my favourite poems into a book and I probably never will. Indeed, I’m still hankering to publish a full novel or even a cookbook. But I think there is always a reason behind the things that happen to us; we may not see those reasons at once, but they become clear with the passage of time – and fears are assuaged, confidence rises; one finds the strength within to keep moving forward.
I am thirty-nine today; a bit long in tooth and claw to be starting out, but it is, I hope, as good a beginning as any. And I hope, dear readers, you’ll stick around for more adventures – culinary and literary – as the years go by. As my best friend says, perhaps – yes – I am better off devoting more time to the things, to the work that I love.
A Jar of Starlight: A Glimpse into Visions and Verses, the preview to the full 70-poem compilation, is now online via Scribd. Note that this features ten poems from the collection and is currently free to download. The full version – an ebook – goes on sale online beginning next Thursday, 01st October 2015.
That said, do take a peek, dear readers. Bash on. 😉
It’s the project that, up until just recently, only one person was aware of. Also, this was a project that wasn’t planned at all.
At the end of January 2014, I finished a novel with the working title The Rebirth of Meras: Genesis. For the next six months, I tried pitching the manuscript to publishers far and wide. At best, I got rejection notices that all played variations on the theme of “Much as we like your work, it is not what we have in mind given our current production schedule. We do, nevertheless, wish you well in your career.” At worst, dead silence; it was like a slap in the face or a rather snooty way of saying, “You have no talent. You live in a third-world country. You have a funny-sounding surname. We have no time for you; your work is rubbish.” Ouch.
In the almost eighteen months that have followed since the night I typed in the final pages of a story that took me the better part of a year to finish, there were times when I wanted to give up writing for good. There were times when I wasn’t sure about what I was doing; indeed, I often questioned how and why I kept writing when it seemed like no one would ever read my words. And, unfortunately, there were times when suicide seemed the only way out of this most unpleasant situation; the only thing that would dispel the feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing that seemed to be my psyche’s default setting at the time.
I was, at the time, 37 and felt that, as a writer, I had nothing to show for it.
Now, I have a friend who pretty much shoots me down whenever I start whining and crying in his direction. Technically, he should be the last person I ought to be whining to in my hour of need. For one thing, he has his own problems. For another, given the tenor of our friendship, it was pretty damned awkward to say the very least. Yet, whenever I have a crisis of the faith with regard to my writing (and life in general), he always seemed to be there – just there – to deliver a rather pointed scolding, a bracing slap in the face to bring me back to my senses.
“It would be a blessing if you quit yapping about disappearing and focus on your talents,” he said one particularly dismal afternoon after I gloomily told him that the world would be a better place without me. He would later follow this up with, “You have an audience; you just have to find it – and it is not here.”
Find an audience… At first, I wanted to track him down and hit him upside the head: easy for him to say – he had an audience. He was a musician, for the love of everything sacred; musicians always have an audience and they will always find an audience. Writers seem to have a more difficult time looking for people who will actually read their work, let alone people who would actually like their work.
Following The Rebirth of Meras, I tried my hand at another novel. But the sting of rejection led to work being done in sporadic fits and frequent stops. It seemed like my heart just wasn’t in the long, drawn-out process of telling another story. What I could write, though, were verses: short, free verse poems where I could express how I felt. This, in itself, was rather strange for me because I was never confident about writing poetry.
But the verses continued to flow…and, judging from the stats, people were actually reading my work. This led to me going over poems written over the past six years; posting them, finally letting people read them. My friend was right: I did have an audience and I finally found them.
And this begged the question: so, where do I go from here?
I decided to compile every line of verse I’d written over the past six years into a book, a small compilation of poems. And I made the decision to publish it myself – as an ebook, yes, but a book, nevertheless! And this was a whole four years after my friend told me to consider self-publication. What can I say: I’m a stubborn little piece of work, but I am grateful that I was shoved towards where I had to go.
It sounds crazy, yes, but things began to happen one after another once I’d finished the compilation. I was able to lay the whole thing out – pictures and verses – into some semblance of order. Copyright application forms were downloaded and filled up and notarised. I trekked down to the National Library in the pouring rain to file my manuscript. Unlike the novel that was sent everywhere that no one seemed to want, that longstanding effort that took so much care and consideration to write, this compilation of poems written in one fit or another coalesced so quickly and now…
…it’ll soon be ready for the world.
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
– from “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”, Rainer Maria Rilke
Author’s Note: The official preview for A Jar of Starlight goes online via Scribd on Thursday, 24 September 2015. The compilation officially goes online for sale on 01st October 2015; a limited edition press copy will be available by 01st December 2015. For more information, please make a comment on this entry and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.
The last time I featured young folksinger Ian Penn on this blog was in February of this year just as his single, Headback Home, came out. At the time, this musician from the foothills of Pampanga’s Mount Arayat struck me as an old soul in a young body. This is something you have to watch live in order to appreciate fully, a privilege that I have enjoyed throughout the past six months having caught Penn’s performances for a promotional event in December 2014 and via Dragonfly Collector‘s Happy Monday gigs at Makati’s Boiler Room. Whenever he sings live, this particular artist catches his audience totally unawares: too often, they do not expect such a young musician to sing with a pathos that seems born of a lifetime of experience, or to hear lyrics imbued with a world-weary wisdom partnered with bluesy rhythms and the poignant wail of a harmonica. But that’s exactly what Penn delivers with each performance – and every performance leaves his audience deep in thought and wondering what else to expect from him.
That question has finally been answered in Ian Penn’s debut EP Wild Abandon. Here, the musician plays the part of a storyteller who offers six interesting tales, each with its own particular peg with which to catch a listener’s fancy – and, in some cases, heartstrings.
The EP starts off with the title track, Wild Abandon. It is, essentially, a morning song, a daybreaker. Older listeners would think that the song is a throwback to an older, familiar tune: Cat Stevens’s Morning Has Broken, to be exact. The casual listener would think that the slow, bluesy track doesn’t quite fit the rather eyebrow-raising title, but a closer look at the lyrics show that the “abandon” is the act of cutting loose from a past that seems to hold one back in order to face the new day with a fresh openness:
Sunlight passin’ through the trees
Beautiful morning’; today is here
Clouds in the blue sky pull me in;
Swallowed by darkness deep within
Cold Mountain, on the other hand, has a stillness, a tranquility to it that calls to mind a walk on a mountain path leading to a babbling brook or a pristine spring. If you listen to the song with closed eyes, it evokes the feel of an early morning hike, cold breezes, and fresher air for clearing the mind. It also calls to mind a deep intimacy: the storyteller is one side of a conversation and you can actually feel the silent other party considering his invitation to come take a walk, to come and stay for a bit.
The third track, Miss April, is a straight-up love song. But it is also an object lesson in how relationships grow and change over time:
Time is all we have, dear;
Changing is all we ever do.
You can feel a loneliness, a sense of uneasy separation in this song. And then there is the anticipation of seeing a loved one again after, one assumes, a prolonged separation; there is a sense of completion, a quiet yet palpable joy at the expected reunion.
Live Another Day is another track that can easily bring a tear to a listener’s eye:
Momma, please don’t cry
If I’m not staying, will it be okay?
Momma, please don’t cry;
But I just want to live another day.
It is a story told from the point of view of a young person suffering through the final stages of a terminal illness. There is a somewhat cheerful resignation involved; that the narrator of the story has come to terms with the end of his life. Indeed, he already speaks of those who have gone before and are now “waiting on the other side.” However, the plea to be able to live another day speaks, nevertheless, of regret at a life so suddenly cut short; it is a wish to keep on living despite the pain, a silent protest at this unnatural turn of events when a child has to take leave of this life long before a grieving parent.
Have a Little Time for Yourself is my favourite track off the EP. It’s a dinky, fun-sounding riff on the age-old theme about not always being able to please everybody and that you do have to cut yourself some slack at one time or another. Consider the lines of the chorus:
Don’t look back on your mistakes:
Have a little time for yourself;
You can’t please them either way –
Have a little time for yourself!
Penn’s quirky lyrics also carry a practical way of getting back your bearings by way to retreating from everyone for a while and pointedly avoiding the negativity of the naysayers around you:
I don’t need anyone;
I don’t want you giving me the blues.
I just need to be by myself
Somewhere far away from you!
Finally, there’s Different Kinds of Strangers. It’s a thought-provoking yet sweet way of looking at how people and situations change over time. Here, Penn talks about the people he has encountered on his creative journey as both an individual and as an artist: it is implied that everyone he has met has made a mark on his life in one way or another, that each person has had a lesson to teach – one that has helped transform a boy from the foothills of Mount Arayat into a formidable singer-songwriter who has something to share with the world through the wide-eyed wonder and quiet wisdom of his music.
Ian Penn’s Wild Abandon is available online via iTunes and Bandcamp. For more information about the artist and his work, head over to his official website at http://ianpenn.ph.
For those of you whose exposure to Indonesian music has been seriously limited to the gamelan recordings in Asian Music class, you have no idea as to what you’re missing. Modern Indonesian music, particularly among its independent acts, is rich, vibrant, and more than a little intriguing
One such example would be the sound of Stars and Rabbit. This two-person act is made up of vocalist Elda Suriyani and guitarist Adi Widodo. Individually, they’re stellar: Suriyani’s soft, whispery, little girl voice is enchanting; you will find yourself thinking of Bjork during her early years with the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes, perhaps a little of a much younger Tori Amos during her Cornflake Girl period; there’s also a rich, sometimes growling rasp to her voice that calls to mind old-school chanteuses such as Eartha Kitt. Widodo’s guitar-playing is easy on the ears; somewhat restrained yet you can feel the musician’s sentiments through the rhythm, the melody. Together, they are unusually dynamic: the sound is a little whimsical, somewhat eerie to the uninitiated listener. But paired with wistful lyrics that call to mind quiet days spent engaged alone with one’s thoughts, the end result is fascinating and is bound to pique a listener’s curiosity.
Constellation, Stars and Rabbit’s newest album, spreads that dynamism through eleven tracks. Mostly ballads, the album nevertheless exudes an energy all its own; each song seems to have been written with an edgy sincerity, raw emotions coming into play through the intensity of Suriyani’s singing. Widodo’s strumming a soft counterpoint serves as a backdrop for lyrics that tell interesting, poignant stories. The feel is intimate, bordering – pleasantly, if I may state here – on slightly voyeuristic: listening is like catching a glimpse into a friend’s journal: deeply personal, honest, compelling.
Certain tracks stand out for one reason or another. Cry Little Heart features a lover torn between adoration and contempt for a partner, with the dichotomy between the two extremes threatening to rip the narrator apart; yet the speaker/singer is so caught up in the situation and unable to walk away. You Were the Universe, on the other hand, is a forlorn-sounding ditty at first; yet as it builds up to a crescendo, you could hear the narrator’s strength – and the pathos becomes a battle-cry for moving on and starting over.
The cheerful, playful, folksy intro of Rabbit Run is a pleasing contrast to this. Your story is my story, Suriyani sings. My story is my story. The bright, rambling rhythm makes this particular tune a great thing to play on a morning run, a quick ramble or hike. It has this uplifting vibe that, really, makes one feel alive.
I would recommend Constellation – and the bulk of Stars and Rabbit’s repertoire – not just for the indie-inclined. This is music for the thinkers and the dreamers: those of us who live with our hearts on our sleeves, those of us who believe in the power, in the magic of raw emotion.
Stars and Rabbit’s Constellation was released last 15th May 2015. In the Philippines, the album is released by Lilystars Records under license from Green Island Music, Indonesia. Listen to the album on Soundcloud as above or click here to buy the album online.
Stars and Rabbit will be performing live in Manila on Sunday, 07th June 2015 at the SaGuijo Bar in Makati. Tickets are available online via https://starsandrabbitsmanila.eventbrite.com/. For inquiries and additional information, call or text 0905-3849495 or 0916-4004343.
57 Studios Manila recently remastered the official music video for Dragonfly Collector‘s 2014 single There is No Remaining in Place. It’s absolutely vivid: visually stunning and the music resonates with the message that change – for better and worse – is absolutely inevitable.
The thing about folk music is that many people seem to think that it’s hardly anything more than a thing from the past; a remnant of 1960s counter-culture. But there is actually a young artist who has skilfully woven together old-school rhythms and poignant lyrics to show the world that folk music is definitely alive and well: Ian Penn.
His debut single Headback Home from Lilystars Records is reminiscent of folk greats like Bob Dylan and Paul Williams: a reedy, classically folksy voice telling the tale of a little girl lost. It may not be to the taste of most people who would rather stick to formulaic pop sung by indifferently talented drones, but this kid’s music is the real deal: honest, lyrical, with a touch of wide-eyed innocence yet wary optimism of things to come.
Penn, I understand, writes his own material and this is, in itself, a window into the young artist’s soul: a look into the musings, dreams, and hopes of what I would consider an old soul seeing the world through youthful eyes. Having gotten off to a respectable start with Headback Home, I look forward to hearing what else this rising talent has in his rucksack on his journey into musical maturity.