The love letters in ‘Press’ are cathartic, indulgent and deeply resonant.
Press: 100 Love Letters, edited by Francesca Rendle-Short and Laurel Fantauzzo, derives its title from the traditional Malaysian delicacy kuih kapit which, according to the foreword, is “a hot-pressed coconut wafer biscuit eaten traditionally during Chinese New Year.” This delicacy, the editors tell us, is also sometimes called a “Love Letter,” and consuming it is a means of both celebrating beginnings and sweetening ends.
The collection starts by way of epistolary: a back-and-forth between its two editors, who speak of the inspiration behind it (a chance encounter with a kuih kapit iron mould in a bookshop), the local history of love letters (the sentimental kundiman), the many ways one may eat the kuih kapit (slowly, savoring every bite; or feverishly, as though satisfying a deep hunger), the ringing absence of women’s voices in epistolary writing, the textual underrepresentation of ladies loving ladies, of ladies loving, of ladies.
This is precisely what Press insists upon: that women be made more present, and now, that women be read, that women be read as women — capable of accessing and speaking to the many different planes of desire, of falling in and failing at love, of giving themselves over to it, of saving a little for themselves, of sorrow, regret, joy, pleasure; sometimes all at once. Press insists that we dive headfirst into the contours of women being in love and desirous, to be overwhelmed by the largeness of it, even to celebrate it, in a space that is strictly women-only.
So this is what it’s like to be satiated: to be gifted with 100 letters worth of ladies loving ladies after clamoring for more, always, more.
Like the kuih kapit, the love letters in Press are nourishing in themselves: cathartic, indulgent, deeply resonant. There is something for every kind of lack and longing — in Petra Magno’s “Little bug,” for example, you find a persona whose long distance relationship has turned her desperate: “I want to dig through the earth to get to you, be in the dirt with you, warmed, whispered to, watered.”
Shakira Andrea Sison’s “Jealous,” meanwhile, attempts to explore the depth and width of the vicious, unrelenting emotion with an almost visceral specificity: “I want to pull the words that come out of your / mouth like floss between your teeth and eat them one by one.”
In Johanna Rendle-Short’s “Gilbert St., early morning,” we see grief, plainly spoken, and a persona who doesn’t understand it any more than we do: “Maybe you aren’t meant to wear the clothes of the dead.”
These are poignant works that may leave you feeling raw and dispensed with and a little lost yourself, but better understood. This is not to say it doesn’t also speak of contentment and pleasure, because there’s much of that too. There’s room here for the domestic woman, whose world seems awash in springtime pastels, as in Nayna Katigbak’s “Exit”: “The shedding of the day starts the moment I hit the market, wondering what to make for us. I once told you there’s nothing as honest as a good meal.”
Yet disparate as these themes may be, they are bound together by the woman, in love. Press reveals as much of her as it can, with grace — the rest is up to you to unravel.
The collection as a whole is unmissable: Fantauzzo and Rendle-Short, as its editors, have helped us to see “what happens when women write to each other, for each other.” However, some of these letters do shine brighter than others: a few have lines that may read a little cliché, while others could perhaps benefit from tweaks in language, enjambment, or imagery. That said, like the kuih kapit, the best way to consume Press: 100 Love Letters is in its totality; no more, no less. Read enough and you’ll find a few that sing to you.
Letter grade: B+.
You can purchase a copy at U.P. Press at the U.P. Campus, Diliman, Quezon City.