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Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
(Philippines, 1980)   
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Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta

Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta (1980) is the author of four books, including two collections of poetry, The Proxy Eros (2008) and Burning Houses (2013). She was born in the Philippines and studied communication at the Ateneo de Manila University and then creative writing at the New School in New York. In 2007, she won the Philippines Free Press Award in the poetry category, and in 2014, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, the most prestigious literary award in the Philippines. Her work has appeared in The Philippines Free Press and The New York Quarterly, among others.

Poetry as the most meaningful detour towards the goal: this is what Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta appears to refer to in the poem 'Cellophane' when talking about "knowing how to miss". Our inner world cannot be captured in one grand or symbolic deed, but in the apparently least important (since most ordinary) gesture or detail. The following therefore holds true for the poet: "aim for the button / Not the heart", and this is what Katigbak-Lacuesta does with technical ingenuity and subtlety. She excels in the razor-sharp portrayal of a complex experience by means of details, as in 'Cellophane' or 'Seven kinds of stories'. In the end, this is where the experience of love, loneliness and grief hides, and it cannot be shared or fathomed, merely depicted.

Katigbak-Lacuesta also prefers to approach the literary canon, which frequently plays a role in her work, via the detour of details: a handful of lentils, and a loom and an olive tree delimit the world of Cinderella and Penelope, respectively, in 'Seven kinds of stories'. The smell of a guava provides a hiding place for the homesickness of Philippine-American author Carlos Bulosan in another poem. 'Seven kinds of stories' is a search for the spirit of the beloved. But the imagination of the present-day speaker eventually fails exactly where the worlds of the fairy-tale princess and the queen of Ithaka also have to stop, at the everyday things which encapsulate them most of the time: "The odyssey isn't his return, / it's how her world extends without him".

In their quest for meaning and answers in stories, images and memory, the speakers having their say in Katigbak-Lacuesta's poems sometimes have an air of being lost and vulnerable, as if only the Other can provide the certainty of a conviction they themselves lack. If that certainty fails to appear in the end, or if the Other turns out to be unknowable, this is not so much a question of failure, but of rejecting false reassurance. Just as in real life, the mysteries touched upon become deeper rather than being solved.

© Jeske van der Velden (Translated by Christiane Zwerner)

The Proxy Eros, Anvil Publishing House, Mandaluyong, 2008
Burning Houses, UST Publishing House, Manila, 2013
Be Ye Steadfast, Vagabond Press, Sydney/Tokyo, 2016


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