Q&A with Angela Peñaredondo, author of nature felt but never apprehended

Publisher Ashaki M. Jackson conducted the Q&A.

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Ashaki Jackson: The cover image landed to me as a body both levitating and lying in state, covered with a shroud that is tangled with cut flowers. A closer look reveals that the body is in multiple pieces, and each piece holds either part of a galaxy or a full galaxy. I wasn’t certain of the collection’s content yet, but the image hinted at origin and separation, a sense of undoneness, death, but also honoring what is left. What are the worlds you explore in nature felt but never apprehended?

Angela Peñaredondo: The cover image is a painting titled, “Sublimation” by Canadian Filipina visual artist and tattoo artist, Marigold Santos. I fell in love with her work a few years ago, most especially her depictions of human and mythic figures informed by Filipino mythology and folklore. For me, her figures vibrate with history and magic, reverberating simultaneously in states of both fragmentation and plurality. I say this, because I believe in nature felt but never apprehended, I travel through and investigate multiple worlds from a perspective of being both whole and un-whole. These worlds merge the mystical and political, historical and re-imagined, violent and sensual, sorrow and the electric—those are the many states nature felt speaks from.

I love the way you describe Santos’s figure as you look closer seeing parts of the galaxy within the body levitating. It feels that although the body is in a state of rest or even death, that they’re activated, zinging and running wild telepathically with the cosmos, conjuring so much substance, even in pieces.

AJ: I get excited when I see conversations between artists’ works! I think of M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! as a beautiful example of how a writer relays breath, sound, time, and meaning through their choreography of words and their use or absence of punctuation. As a writer who also works with audio, tell us about how you arrange language in nature felt?

AP: What an honor to be in proximity to M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! When it comes to sound and the arrangement of language in my poetics, I feel this is informed by music that I like (see my playlist lol) but also by the visual presentation of words and language against blank space or white space. To engage in the intentional and meaningful composition of one’s medium is a kind of art, right? Prior to studying creative writing, I was a student of the studio arts, so this kind approach to breath, sound, time, choreography of words, has always stuck with me.

Sonically and visually, I’m drawn to dissonance and fragmentation, a darker timbre when it comes to what I see as noise or harmony within the curation of language and voice. Darkness as a mood, a concept and as an aesthetic is something that I naturally gravitate towards. It feels like there’s more possibility for me within this darkness to unmask and whatever comes after that.

AJ: When you say “sonically and visually,” are you also referring to your unhindered, unapologetic use of Cebuano for the poem [albularya] that appears twice in your collection — once in the Filipino dialect and a second time in English? I’d love to hear about your translation and if your language choices were shaped by sound and the appearance of the lines on the page. For example, Google translate roughly translates the first few lines of the poem as:

They heat the moringa and eucalyptus in a chalk cup
I was offered red     lipstick                               they said the tea is

for my thirst and weak body                    the lipstick reminds me
even though death is dark                    You’re not just one…

I am pretty off from the English version, and I understand that verbal translation (and software!) has limitations compared to a native speaker’s understanding of the dialect’s nuance. How much of the English translation leaned on sonic and visual preferences? Which language version did you write first?

AP: Thanks for bringing up this poem, Ashaki! This poem was one of the first poems written when nature felt was a seedling. I speak a little bit about the poem [albularya] in #18 in the “endlings” section of nature felt. [Alburlarya] is not translated in from English to Cebuano but into Hiligaynon-Illonggo. As mentioned in that section, I write that “The translation of this poem into Hilgaynon-Illonggo was an intergenerational and matrilineal led collaboration with my mom and her friends, non-blood-related titas. This felt like an emotionally risky project because, although I was born in the Philippines, I’ve never been fluent in Hiligaynon. Hiligaynon is a Bisayan/Visayan language spoken predominantly in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines. Ilonggo, a dialect of Hiligaynon (also known as Siná) is spoken mostly in Iloilo City, the province of my birth. Ilonggo was then combined with the Hiligaynon language, often used when writing formal text and literature. In the Philippines, the two official languages spoken are English and Tagalog. I wanted to translate my work using the vocabulary and intonations of my family and our region. Like many first-generation Filipinx immigrants, there have been many personal experiences of language erasure and cultural amnesia. This poem was a small attempt to bridge these connections.”

So to answer the other part of your question, the poem was written in English first before taking on the process of translating it, which was definitely a more cultural and geographical nuanced experience collaboratively and personally. In terms of the poem’s structure, I knew I wanted a form that emphasized the tone, atmosphere, and spirit of the poem, which is inspired by the lineage and history of Filipino/a/x trans, third gender and/or gender nonconforming healers who were and are public figures who took/take on the roles of storyteller, oral archivist, and freedom fighter. I say this because the Philippines also has a settler colonial history of violence which involved the oppression and eradication of these vital community members—my people. Thus, in the devising of the poem’s form, I was thinking of sound and where I wanted to indicate pause in the sound through visual caesura, however you will also notice predominantly a fragmentation of longish poetic lines which for me symbolizes the fracturing of this historical lineage but most importantly not the extermination of it.

I tried my best to reflect a similar structure found in the English version on the Hiligaynon-Illonggo version, but I also love how that version resisted fitting into the framework and made its own unique visual imprint on the page. This makes sense to me because Hiligaynon-Illonggo is a more highly textured language than American English and with more complex musical terrain that I love.

AJ: It’s an honor and a skill to be able to traverse geographies and languages in one’s work. You also cut across time. There is a long, tender kind of eulogy near the center of the book, [transmitter signals when in proximity to power collapse]. In it, the farewell begins when a loved one–a man at home in his slippers and underwear–is doing something simple at home and ends with him becoming an ancestor running, escaping the limits of his body in the afterlife. As you explore the natural world, your work often floats between different interpretations of living. How does your work, including your writing, contribute to/expand definitions of life, living, living organisms?

AP: This is a tough question you ask about how I feel my work/writing contributes to the expanse of life, living, living organisms, especially now at a time of such strife, when the world is at war and when our natural world becomes more and more unstable and endangered.

My response is because it simply does and even more so because I am not white, or straight, or neurotypical, or born of this country, etc. It contributes because I, too, live, suffer with humanity, celebrate humanity and part of the communities that fight lovingly for its preservation.

AJ: What poem in nature felt is the strongest pulse of the collection?

AP: Nature felt was designed to have multiple pulses, varying degrees of heartbeats, multifarious sites where one could come upon a touchstone as a place to anchor.

To be unmoored, to traverse wild or dangerous terrain is part of the vibe of this book. It was also my personal experience as I was putting the manuscript together, so it’s difficult to name a singular poem that I feel might be the strongest pulse. However, the collection does begin with the poem, “[mercy ceremony]” which operates as an alternative foreword in the book. Essentially, “[mercy ceremony]” is about the speakers in the books confronting the persons and forces that have harmed them, but that confrontation is on their own terms. I believe this kind of face-off happens within a ceremonial space that involves the presence of nature medicine and the act of spellcasting. The poem “[mercy ceremony]” attempts to create that space as a point of departure, where expelling takes both the spirit and body to a place of shadow work and dark magic.

[mercy ceremony]


i am slaying you          in my dreams                no slaying you for reals this time

steel pointed aimed like hawk bone at your bare collar          your eyes tell

of those once-privileged limbs                that mouth that consumed everything it could because it believed
it could with even knowing the immensity

what was stripped away from me is no longer an invisible assault buried under bladed tendrils of seaweed
havoc of sea grapes there’s nothing holding me back from carving as one does when whittling wood

this butterfly blade on soft tissue to etch my name       on your skin this name for ocean its secret wind
this tender gouge         jellyfish all cinematic haunting above flaring sea anemones

black sands of my birth its unseasonable foam            you rope-bound covered in lava sediment i set your
weight on a raft just made for your tied up frame burn guava leaves above each part
stamped in volcanic ash

i hover longer over bandaged eyes wrinkled genitals moistened pod now waiting to return to the
undulating underbelly      blow smoke into your one exposed ear so you can feel my life force
one last time

like intentional stars colliding                     as i push your raft off                                 into what’s destined to consume

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