Poetry Muse: Adrian De Leon + barangay: an offshore poem

Adrian De Leon talks about the other poets that inspire him, and how with his latest collection barangay (Wolsak & Wynn), he was urged to “write in the broken language of diaspora,” all in this instalment of Poetry Muse. Learn more and read the poem “dung-aw” from the collection below.


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An interview with Adrian De Leon

1. Who or what is your muse?Other poets and thinkers! There is a deep pleasure in thinking about writing poetry as part of a larger conversation, despite the occasional loneliness of the process.2. What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing? I needed to write this poetry collection after my paternal grandmother passed away in 2018. As an old friend urged me, “write in the broken language of diaspora.” And what else is that but poetry?I tend to write poetry only after I’d conceived of the overall book project. I’ve got a few stand-alone pieces, but the book shapes the subsequent pieces.3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?I wrote my first poem in French, in the fifth grade! It wasn’t any good, but approaching a foreign language with poetry let me disaggregate language learning with rigour and realign it with art and play. So, as an English second language learner, it made sense to write poems.But that’s not to say that other writing styles don’t interest me! Besides poetry, I do academic writing, creative nonfiction. And also slowly learning fiction writing.4. How would you describe your poetry collection?I would describe my poetry collection as a long-form poem that is meant to make you feel lost. Or, rather, to abandon what it means to “know where you are” according to colonial cartography. Instead, the collection invites you to be lost and re-learn how to navigate the ocean.Three words: riverine, brackish, tumultuous.5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?Write a little bit every day, across forms, even if it’s just one sentence that sticks. Don’t throw away any of these ideas—they can come back in the best of ways!6. Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Light, Sachiko Murakami’s Rebuild, Canisia Lubrin’s Voodoo Hypothesis, NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, and Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem.7. Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?The Final Fantasy XIV soundtrack. It is meditative as heck.

A poem from barangay: “dung-aw”

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Adrian De Leon is a historian, poet, and multimedia educator. He is the author and co-editor of four books, including: Rouge (Mawenzi House, 2018), FEEL WAYS: A Scarborough Anthology (Mawenzi House, 2021), barangay: an offshore poem (Buckrider Books, 2021), and Bundok: A Hinterland History of Filipino America (forthcoming, University of North Carolina Press). He is a writer and co-host for two PBS shows: A People’s History of Asian America (2021) on PBS Digital Studios, and Historian’s Take (2022) on PBS Origins. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Southern California. 

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On this last day of April, you can buy barangay and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with the promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!Keep up with us all month on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.