‘Young Enough to Play’: Confessional poetry that recalls women’s experiences

Many poets are not recognized — except when their works are selected as assigned readings in English class. And only a few of them are female poets.

The literary circle is not “user friendly,” as they say, especially for women who are always on the outside looking in.

To fit in, they must act like one of the boys and follow the rules. Women poets such as Angela Manalang Gloria from the Philippines, Louise Glück, and my personal favorite, Sylvia Plath (both from the US) spoke of women’s lived experiences using imagery such as flowers, stain, death, living, struggle, and sexuality.

Their poetry takes the confessional approach and challenges patriarchal stereotypes. Their works gave birth to a social movement. The poets are gone, but their poems live on and continue to inspire new generations of women poets.

One of them is Angela Gabrielle Fabunan, a Filipino American poet who teaches creative writing classes at the Silliman University English Department. Young Enough to Play is a part of her thesis for MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines. She said the scholarly part of the thesis is a critique of Manalang-Gloria and Glück’s works.

The confessional poetry that reflects our female (and male) experiences are in Fabunan’s second book, Young Enough to Play, published by UP Press. It has 80 poems written over five years. Some of them have been published in collections and various literary journals abroad.

“We need poetry because we suffer. The subjective experiences that have us brushing up against the wooden door of that pain, and the splinters we have from it, and then how we get the courage to open that door and what we find behind it,” Fabunan told me.

Divided into two parts, the first half yields light, playful poems about discovery, experiences and transitions from childhood to adulthood.

The first poem, “Float,” is about an eight-year-old girl who unexpectedly draws attention during a religious procession. As the procession winds its way through town, boys carry the girl on a float.

They do this every year. The lipstick stain on her teeth bothers her, so she tries ways to perfect it. It sets off a series of confessions that leads to part two, about the struggles of a young woman suffering from trauma.

Young Enough to Play is not an easy read. Fabunan’s words can make readers recall their own experiences. Her confessions lead us to the path of our own girlhood, womanhood, romance, and longing to break free from the societal expectations.

Fabunan’s voice is her own despite the echoes of Plath, “of something beautiful, but annihilating.”

But it’s the best addition to poetry collections written by women in the Philippines and the growing literary community of Filipino American women poets.

Young Enough to Play, launched on 30 September in cooperation with the Silliman University English Department, is available online at UP Press, Shopee, and Lazada.

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