Like many poets, Al suffered early for his art.
“I wrote a poem for a girl in kindergarten who returned it to me and said 'that's nice.'”
He was so put off that he didn't find his way back to his craft until high school, when he “wrote a lot of bad poems because I felt really hormonal,” he says.
Of course, in Al's defense, poets who start young are never more overwrought than they are at 17. But you can tell by his sense of humor—and perspective—that he gets it now.
“During this tragic, dark period of scribbling in the margins of my marble notebook, I discovered I liked being inside the world of a poem,” says Al, of Rochester. “Then I read a lot of poetry. Then I wrote poems that were not as bad.”
Today, his poetic voice has changed no less than the octave it dropped from those same high school hormones. Along the way, he's earned an MFA from Bennington College and has been published by several literary periodicals, including Anti-, Front Porch Journal, and Rattle.
When it comes to finding inspiration to write, Al says there's no steady stream.
“Honestly, I wish inspiration happened with some consistency so I could produce quality poems on a regular basis,” he says. “I just take the whole process poem by poem, although patterns do develop.”
For instance, he's spent some time exploring his Filipino background. He's looked at family history, which comes through in pieces like this one, published in Issue No. 150 of Front Porch Journal—
In a Field Called Vietnam
“You look like someone I shot once”
What bothers me was his specificity:
In a field he called Vietnam where
the one I'm supposed to be is
more of a memory of me who fidgets
with a gun twenty yards away.
He stopped thinking about me until
I was standing among buckets of
produce where he says “I shot you
once, and how are you planning
on living with that?” In his defense,
I was very tan that summer
so I didn't bother to correct him
with my Filipino-ness. I said
you remind me of my mother
whose green card was stolen
last month. Sometimes, I have
two mothers. I'm not sure which one
was the one I once saw holding
the hole in the neck of a man
dying in a field. I saw the hole
grow teeth and now the man travels
around the country talking
out the back of his head with two
voices: the bored voice
and the surviving voice,
and when he asks for water
his mother tilts his head back
to let the air out of his brain.
Other times, Al's subject matter has more to do with where he is in his life, which you see in this excerpt from the longer piece titled “APARTMENT 2B”published in Rattle No. 31—
I think my neighbor is dead, or maybe I don’t know
what to do with a neighbor so quiet compared
to the ones that came before her, like that couple
who found a reason to fight every day, and I laughed the day
I heard the man cry out about the black eye his girlfriend gave him,
and when I saw him the next day down in the basement
doing laundry I wanted to ask: hey man,
what happened to your face? but instead I said:
I think you dropped a sock.
At the moment, Al has a manuscript “floating out in space that I continue to add to and subtract from like a bad habit.”
“Lately, I find myself referring more to pop culture and examining my concerns about the future,” he says. “Some friends have had babies recently so you could say I’ve had babies on the brain, too.”
That's right, Al. Just let it all out.
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