blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1
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Close Quarters
Sequence Introduction

These three poems are part of a longer sequence about the internment camps in which the Japanese army imprisoned American and Allied civilians in the Philippines during World War II. My grandfather and his brother, natives born of a Filipino and an American, were imprisoned for over three years, first in camps in Davao, then at Santo Tomas in Manila.

Listening to oral histories from my grandfather and great uncle, and reading narratives by and about various internees, I was struck by the communities that emerged in the camps. Living in close quarters, in increasingly difficult conditions from which hundreds of people died, the thousands of people who lived in these camps built a society together. I try to capture that process in “Shanty.” As in all communities, there were heroes, saints, entrepreneurs, thieves, cowards, and lovers, and people handled the hardships of imprisonment in their own ways. Both “Santo Tomas” and “Peccadilloes” are my attempt to make sense of this world where different people were thrown together in close quarters in a crisis. Does such a situation merely exacerbate our personal flaws and strengths, or does it change us? Who would I be if cut off from family, friends, and the life I knew, with no idea how long the situation would last, or if I, or my loved ones, would even survive? What would I do to keep myself or any children I might have from starving or suffering from malnutrition or disease? The poetic sequence offers space for the exploration of our histories through imagination, allowing us to synthesize the fragments we know, while still acknowledging that we and our readers are working with images, sound bites, and angles of vision that force us to forge our own narratives and answer our own questions.  end

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