A Review of Leny Strobel Mendoza’s Poetry of Decolonization
By Christopher Bowers
In Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir (Through the MDR Generator) Filipino-American author, academic and local community leader Leny Mendoza Strobel takes an arguably more personal approach to this work than in her previous writing. However, as the reader soon learns, the distinctions between the personal and the political, between poetics and polemics, and between the individual and the social world in which individuals operate are all just more cultural assumptions worth challenging. For example, her memories of young love and high school experiences are not disconnected from the forces of globalization nor oppressive experiences of hierarchy. Her poetry is a reflection of a thought process always questioning the foundations on which it was formed. The result is an unflinching look at how personal memories and personal dreams can affect and are affected by culture, spirit, and society. After all, she says, “I do not have an I without You”.
In Glimpses Strobel uses what she calls “the tyranny of the English language” against itself. Even the writing style itself is a challenge to one of our most dearly-held values, that of illimitable personal freedom, or as Strobel writes, “the cult of individualism”. While the poetry itself is indeed that of Leny Mendoza Strobel, each poem itself is a response to one line of Filipino-American Poets Eileen R. Tabios’ book Murder, Death, Resurrection. Tabios also writes the forward of Glimpses. This call and response style of writing is complicating and subversive. The meanings of Tabios’ work are at the respectful mercy of Mendoza’s poetry and the net result is not competitive but collaborative. The two women are not competing for their version of reality to be validated but are rather co-creating new meaning in an exercise of deep sharing and inevitable entanglement.
Glimpses is also the poetry of Strobel’s complicated life as a woman who finds herself born of two nations and belonging to neither, a woman enraptured with theory, but hungry for experience. Though she is an academic by trade, in sharing her own memories of colonization, racism, young love and old love, desire, place and in sharing her own misunderstandings of herself and the world, Strobel creates a truer, more intimate anthropology than academia could ever dream. This is also in part because her anthropology is not so consumed with how people once lived but instead how they do live and how they could live. This is perhaps where she is most subversive:
“Join a growing community of folks who are doing the same- finding a new story to tell away from Dow Jones index, economic indicators, etc. Must redefine happiness and joy. Redefine work, Redefine currency away from money”. But unlike many social critics, Strobel offers an alternative: Dwelling. For Strobel dwelling is connected to an intimacy with a land and a history of that land. Be it the redwood or apple tree in her yard, or Native American history to which her yard is connected. And dwelling isn’t just another weekend workshop for Strobel. It is something rooted deep in memory and the preciousness of family:
“For me, it’s my Apu’s vine, my connection to my roots, to magical women who made garlands of jasmine picked in the early morning before the buds open.” For her dwelling is also honoring the seemingly small things as something worth more than just passing curiosities or diversions. The inner world of her young nephew becomes a cornerstone of a meditation on spirit, a simple suburban home becomes a “sanctuary for community”, the hiding of a teen-age relationship becomes a shame that is both “historical and civilizational”, and an incident of a kid farting in class becomes a the poetry of memory, secrecy, and love. In Glimpses, we find a veneration of the intimate, in its many beautiful and contorted forms.
As deeply political and as deeply personal as Glimpses is we find a woman watching her world, but not entirely of it, an outsider looking in but then finding herself inside the box at which she had previously been gazing. And her poetic critique is so sharp that at some point the reader must wonder if they are the one glimpsing or the one being glimpsed.
This is a fully embodied work of art that decisively chips away at the harm done by a modernist culture. “Poetics as a way of being is what I claim”, writes Strobel. In poetry, it seems Strobel has found a tender home in which to dwell.
Book link: https://palomapress.net/2019/07/26/glimpses/?fbclid=IwAR2p6wUQbrfx7V0GrSV9VsNORRo4A9Ha89CNdW0-7WWpN9inkd1spcxz9o4