The Scholar Unplugged
Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir by Leny Mendoza Strobel
Book Review Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir by Leny Mendoza Strobel Paloma Press, 2019
Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir by Leny Mendoza Strobel shows a more personal side of the noted academic, a departure from her usual scholarly output. Glimpses is still infused with plenty of academic language characteristic of Strobel’s voice, despite her having declared herself “free from the obligatory academic language, citations, footnotes and such.”
Strobel’s prosaic musings riff off prolific author Eileen Tabios’ book Murder, Death, Resurrection (Dos Madres Press, 2018), a 1,167-line poem culled from her earlier poetry books. Tabios puts to death (the “Murder” in the title) earlier works with the notion that in resurrecting them in new forms -- through what she names the MDR Generator -- a reader might be able to select any number of these lines and create a new poem.
Turn to any page in Glimpses, no matter the personal revelation within, and you will also learn of Strobel’s impersonal insights, almost always with an eye toward the broader picture beyond the moment. Line 537 of (MDR), “I forgot strolling outside to hear trees murmur” (p.65), is followed by Strobel’s observation that “Trees murmur. Trees sing. Trees dance…Both science and indigenous knowledge agree on interspecies communication.” Simply looking leads inevitably to seeing: “My intellectual work opened up to indigenous scholarship and there came a time when my body longed to experience this knowing that everything is alive and interconnected.” She goes on to share that she became a tree hugger and then… a Tree.
I applaud the honesty and vulnerability Strobel affords herself in Glimpses because it indicates that she, indeed, has been working on the “divine tunganga” (quietude) she had claimed she would fall into after her retirement from the confines of the academe. Her writing alternates between free flowing to halting as when she reveals a deeply vulnerable truth, but goes no further. When I asked about this, she laughed.
“I have a longing to reveal a lot more. Like Carolyn North does in Ecstatic Relations, where she recounts love stories than can only be described as ecstatic…Between the gift of shamanic journeying and its revelations and the quieting of the Mind thru yoga practice and a Taoist practice—or Vedanta awareness of the self vs. the mind…I do not cling too tightly.” (p. 56)
Consider Strobel’s writing to Tabios’ Line 856: “I forgot a girl singing, ‘I will become Babaylan! With notes only virgin boys can muster, only dogs can hear!’” In this piece, Strobel tells of reluctance to utter the word Babaylan as it has become a word loaded with hurt feelings toward someone whom she begrudgingly gave the word so that the person could carry forward the work Strobel had begun with the founding of the Center for Babaylan Studies. As her experiences have evolved so too have new questions arisen. She cites quantum physics to “look to the past of our ancestors and bring their stories forward” thus enlarging the circle of relationships. In the end, the cycle calls us to “Be Here, Be Home.” Strobel has a remarkable way of moving from big to small, from complex to simple -- her way of walking in this world. To enjoy the treasures within the pages of Glimpses, the reader needs to sit for a while, to experience all the evolution within.
Leny Mendoza Strobel
Strobel did not imagine an intended audience. She felt it would find its own. Not everyone will be familiar with the academic terms from her extensive studies (“Oh, the reader won’t understand this concept, but if they want to look it up, they can look it up i.e., concepts of permanence, impermanence, Vedanta, drama vs. no drama, etc.”). Likewise, she made a conscious decision not to footnote them. A refreshing twist on academic freedom. She adds, “I guess there is always the intention of being read, but for me it (publishing this book) was more like risk-taking. I took a risk at being personal and intimate. I didn’t know how that would land with people and here, I’m just telling stories.”
Strobel’s work is multidimensional, like a peony. Its flower bud is a smooth round ball on the outside, with little hint of its deep layering, until it has completely bloomed, revealing layer upon layer upon layer. Turn to any entry and I promise there will be several petals of departure and arrival available to the reader.
There is a lot to unpack in Strobel’s entries, which are themselves responses to another author’s writings. What am I unpacking? My friendship with her and/or what I know of her by being connected to the Center for Babaylan Studies? Or am I unpacking the ideas in this book? When I expressed wrestling with these questions, she immediately answered, graciously, “I think what’s important is to write, to say, exactly what comes up for you!”
“When something is out there, it creates its own energy. With all the theories about this and that, still there is something wild that escapes the categorizing and that something doesn’t want to be theorized. But it does want to be danced; it wants to be sang; it wants to be chanted. And that’s what we do.”
Copies of Glimpses: A Poetic Memoir (Through the MDR Generator) can be purchased at: https://palomapress.net/2019/07/26/glimpses/
Lisa Suguitan Melnick is a professor at the College of San Mateo, and serves on the Board of Directors of Philippine American Artists and Writers, Inc. (PAWA). She is the author of #30 Collantes Street. www.lisasuguitanmelnick.com