"DMZ," a poem by Eric Gamalinda (Final)

Eric Gamalinda is one of my favorite poets, and his book Zero Gravity (1999) is one of my favorite books of poems. For this project, I've decided to use one of his poems from his 2007 collection Amigo Warfare. It's a rather challenging choice because of the complex imagery and layers, but well, I hope I can make something good out of it. Hehe.

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I. The Text

Click here to read the full text. (I tried pasting it here but the spacing doesn't display correctly.)

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II. My annotations

Key themes:

  • Diaspora. The person is speaking as an exile, an immigrant, someone who has left the trauma of the homeland yet is still haunted by it
  • An overall sense of defeat/resignation
  • A consistently elegiac/apologizing tone. Mourning is all-consuming: "Grief is a nation of everyone/ a country without borders"
  • Trauma - both collective and individual, the weight of history is borne in silence. There is a strong sense of internal suffering, of swallowing his own sadness.
  • Solitude - in a barren place, the speaker wants to "[scare] away/ anything that will devour me." This is related to trauma--never again will the speaker invest himself so much on something.
  • Being lost - lost in a foreign city, lost in a crowd, "intricate maps/ and useless strategies," self-erasure, "as though someone had a plan"
  • An undercurrent of bitterness -- happiness is mere "loose change/ still good for a pauper's meal"--yet even that is barely beyond reach

Key imagery:

  • A man trudging on, tired and lost ("staggering," "roaming," "I lose myself")
  • A man on trial (apologizing, returning, surrendering, "summoned to testify")
  • Crowds/exodus ("among the restless immmigrants," "the packed amplitude of crowds," "we are so many bodies, my friends") 

And the title itself, "DMZ" (demilitarized zone), a zone of neutrality in the midst of fierce and long-standing warfare. It's a zone of relative peace and stillness, but still fraught with tension.

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III. Sketches

I had some difficulty imagining the cover for this text. The titular acronym is not very explicit, nor is it common knowledge. And the images of crowds and being lost are difficult to visualize--they may be too literal or too much.

The first few studies explore the idea of a man amidst a procession. There's a front view (1), a side view (2), and a top view with long shadows (3, 5).

Early on (1), I also thought of using only a strip of space for the imagery, as a visual DMZ of sorts.

Then it progresses to an internal image (4). The man's silhouette itself can be the neutral space--he himself is the DMZ. Or inside him, there's an empty space (12)--a space of trauma, an internal DMZ.

Then I explore the feeling of being alienated/trapped in a foreign land. There's a man with the city's walls closing in on him (6). There's a man confined into a narrow hallway (a DMZ?) with negative space on either side (7).

Then there's a man, head down, hat to his heart, facing the reader, as if in mourning or apology (8).

I tried to go for more abstract imagery too. There's a palm (9), with the weathered lines as both a marker for age (a life lived), as well as a strip of land, a DMZ. 

There's one that integrates type and image (10): a solitary man, top shot, long shadows, walking amidst the walls created by four lines from the poem: "Grief is a nation of everyone,/ a country without borders./ I roam the avenues of it/ out of habit. DMZ, by Eric Gamalinda."

There's a simple gradient (11) to suggest change, the DMZ, running on empty, shadows.

There's a closeup of a chest (13). The unbuttoned shirt is on either side, but the actual chest, where the heart is, is a strip of space, the DMZ.

There's a blacked-out document (14). The signatory is "DMZ," and the signature is the author's name.

There's an abstraction of the Philippine flag (the author is Filipino), and the downward pointing of the triangle coincides with the M (15).

And there's a hazy silhouette of the speaker (16), a nod to self-erasure.

I'll look at these with fresh eyes in the next few days, will see if anything sticks. I'd really appreciate any feedback from you guys as well. Thanks!

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IV. Early designs

Sorry these took awhile. (Between day jobs and getting sick, deadlines were a struggle.)

My first impulse is to look at the imagery I have available. This study uses one of my own photos, a quintessential image of Manlla.

Study 1.

It captures the feel of a place that's hopeless, chaotic, but nonetheless home. Oddly enough, it also has the feel of being lost in an alien city--two (opposing? or not) ideas which are both found in the diasporic imagery of the poem, and because of that, I think the study turned out okay. However, I don't think the documentary feel of photography is particularly apt, considering the dreamlike quality of the poem.

I then tried to render one of my sketches as a digital painting. (I'm sure I can find a better painter, but well, you work with what you have, haha.) Here's the first result of that direction:

Study 2.

I quite like it. There's that whispery quality to it. Using the type, I also isolated one figure (the speaker?) to subtly  tie in with the poem's POV. There's that feel of being in a throng, also being lost (in a vast swathe of white), the fear of being lagging, being left behind (defeat?), everyone walking away (diaspora/exile?).

I then tried out a version with an excerpt:

Study 3.

I think it also works. The excerpt supports the visual--wandering, an avenue, a country without borders. And still, the solitary figure which can be subtly picked out from the crowd.

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V. Final design

I went with a slightly tweaked version of the second study. The painting was more apt than the photograph, and I decided that the excerpt in front was unnecessary, that the image alone conveyed the tone and feel of the poem enough (isolation, a neutral zone, diaspora, being lost, things being insurmountable).

(Excuse the printing, colors got a tad darker than I wanted.) I slightly increased the distance between the people on the upper half. I also rethought the book's dimensions to make it a little more vertically oriented. Thankfully I found a book here with the dimensions I wanted.

The spine. Not sure if it's evident in the photo, but the back cover and spine are toned a very pale gray, to set off the whiteness of the front cover.

I transfered the excerpt to the back, which I think works. It's only "good to know" info, not "need to know."

There you go. This was an interesting project for me. The videos were fun to watch and helpful in refining my design process. And it was also cool seeing everyone's projects evolve, the exchange of comments, and of course, reading other people's poem and text selections. Thanks, guys.




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