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March 27, 2020

Marianne Chan's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "All Heathens"

All Heathens

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Marianne Chan's brilliant debut collection masterfully develops themes of identity and the long-term effects of colonization.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"[Chan] considers how the erasure and realignment of an individual's identity, and an entire people's history, creates shockwaves that affect generations both in the Philippines and around the world. Chan's mournful poems are brimming with longing and anger and redemption as she takes control of her own story and of Filipino history."

In her own words, here is Marianne Chan's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection All Heathens:

My book, All Heathens, travels from the Philippines to Germany and Italy, from Lansing, Michigan, to Las Vegas to Tallahassee. It is a book focused on family, immigration, and colonization. In my poems, I wanted to capture the cultural hybridity that comes with being a part of the Philippine diaspora. For this playlist, I included songs that could follow the physical and thematic movements of the collection. Here you will find musical artists from the Philippines, Europe, and the U.S. I hope that you enjoy this playlist and that these songs enhance your reading of my book.

“O Ilaw” by Ruben Tagalog

Ruben Tagalog was an actor and a musician who sang in the Kundiman style and was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The Kundiman is a hybrid musical genre which incorporates the traditions of native Filipino songs and European music. “O Ilaw,” which means “O Light,” is a song of longing, the singer begging his beloved to open her window. According to Wikipedia, Ruben Tagalog sang for the Japanese during the Japanese colonization of the Philippines in World War II, which makes him an interesting musical artist to listen to before reading the first poem in my collection: “Momotaro in the Philippines.”

“Magellan” by Yoyoy Villame

Yoyoy Villame was a singer and comedian from Bohol, Philippines. When I was growing up, my parents played this song all the time, and they encouraged my brother—who is now an actor—to perform the song during social events, which is perhaps why we both knew who Ferdinand Magellan was at an early age. This song narrates the story of Magellan “discovering” the Philippines and his defeat at the Battle of Mactan by Lapu-Lapu, and it ends comedically with Magellan crying for his mother to help him. Listening to this song now, I find it interesting that, while the narrative is about Magellan “discovering” the Philippines for Spain, the song isn’t sung in Spanish, Tagalog, Cebuano, or another Filipino language. The song is in English. As a result, this song embodies multiple layers of colonization. Listen to this song before or after reading “Lansing Sinulog Rehearsal, 2010.”

“Lass Mich Dein Pirat Sein” by Nena

When you get to “When We Lived in Germany,” play “Lass Mich Dein Pirat Sein” by Nena. Nena is the singer-songwriter who is famous for “99 Luftballons.” However, “Lass Mich Dein Pirat Sein” is not nearly as upbeat; it’s a soothing, melancholic tune, with moments of dramatic flourishes. Because exploration and sailing are themes in this collection, this song is especially apt; the speaker begins by telling her beloved to let her be his/her pirate sailing on the seven seas.

“Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra

This song is referenced in my poem “Lunch is Ready,” which is about my great grandfather, a Chinese business owner in Barili, Philippines. The poem is set in the 1960s, and my father told me that everyone in the Philippines at the time was listening to Frank Sinatra. My great grandfather didn’t really care much for Frank, but his children seemed to love him. My father remembers his aunt buying the family their first phonograph. I love picturing my dad’s aunts and uncles—the children of Chinese immigrants—selling heavy bags of rice in the scorching hot store and listening to Sinatra, the son of Italian immigrants to the U.S. I wonder if they felt they had something in common with him.

“Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes

“Please Mr. Postman” is referenced in “Seafood City,” a poem about living in Las Vegas and feeling homesick for Michigan. When I first moved to Las Vegas to pursue my MFA, I often drove around listening to the oldies station (102.3!) and the songs they played only exacerbated my feelings of longing for my family in the Midwest. I think, in a way, I liked being reminded of my family through music. “Please Mr. Postman” is of course about waiting for a letter from one’s beloved.

“Words” by Bee Gees

Lyrics from “Words” appear in my poem “Viewing Service,” which is dedicated to Fabian Nudalo, my uncle, who died in 2016. My uncle was a karaoke master, and I won’t ever forget how beautifully he sang Bee Gees songs. In my poem, I include these lyrics from “Words”: “talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me.” These lyrics resonate with other poems throughout the collection. This book is full of poems that are dedicated to my family members—past, present, and future.

“Kiss” by Prince

In 2013, I was living in Cebu, Philippines, for 10 weeks, and I went to a meat market with my aunt and cousin. My aunt needed to pick something up for dinner. I remember turning around and seeing the lyrics to “Kiss” by Prince scrolling along a TV screen. The screen was behind a man who was swaying and singing to the song while shaving a dead pig’s disembodied face. His gloved forefinger poked through where the pig’s eyeball would be. He wasn’t performing for anyone; he was simply passing the time joyfully while doing his job. It was a startling and funny image, and I laughed when I saw him. The man saw that I was laughing and glared at me. This moment was indicative of how ubiquitous karaoke is in the Philippines (people are constantly singing in Cebu!), which is why the man shaving the pig’s face appears in my poem “In Defense of Karaoke.”

“Usahay” by Pilita Corrales

Another song that is referenced in “In Defense of Karaoke” is “Usahay” by Pilita Corrales, which my maternal mother—Guadalupe Mabano, who is mentioned in “Some Words of the Aforesaid Heathen Peoples”—used to sing. “Usahay” in Cebuano means “Sometimes,” and this song was popularized in the 1960s. While I love Pilita Corrales’ voice, I think my lola sings it better. My parents have a cassette tape from the 80s of her singing it, and I cherish the fact that I can hear her voice. Unfortunately, my lola is not on Spotify.

“Tornero” by I Santo – California

Listen to this song after reading “Counterargument that Goes All the Way Around,” which is the last poem in my collection. “Counterargument” is an abecedarian, a poem in which the first letter of each line follows sequentially through the alphabet. In other words, the first line of the poem begins with an “A”, the second begins with “B”, and so on. However, in my poem, after the lines reach the letter “Z,” the poem moves backwards through the alphabet, and the final line of the poem begins with “A.” In I Santo – California’s “Tornero,” the speaker tells their beloved to wait for them, that they will return. This poem—along with many poems in this collection—is about returning and reclaiming the past, so I think “Tornero” is appropriate exit music for this collection.

Marianne Chan grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and Lansing, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in West Branch, The Journal, Poetry Northwest, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She serves as poetry editor at Split Lip Magazine.

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