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Alien to Any Skin

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"This is a masterful collection of... mainly new works that finds the poet at the height of his powers of observation and thought, with his lyrical spirit infusing grace and music into the narrative modes he has adopted. The studied, charming, and well-wrought poems that were the early trademarks of his Atenean days have evolved mightily and matured to now contain a kind of warm elegance, clarity, and care in his lines and images, and an unflinching sort of poetic thinking that has proven to be sharp and supple enough to confront and take on the harsh and violent realities of contemporary life. This kind of poetic realism refracted in a deeply feeling and responsive intelligence is evident throughout the collection and is its main source of poetic power. The international settings of many poems help imbue the poem with a more expansive and global feel that actually heightens the sense of urgency and the hurt humanity in many of the poems in this collection. Jim Pascual Agustin is one poet who had to leave in order to find himself."
- Ricardo de Ungria, poet and critic

Sample poems are available at Scrib.com and at http://www.alientoanyskin.wordpress.com. Online orders via Mary Martin Booksellers - http://www.marymartin.com/web/SearchA...

and Kabayan Central - http://www.kabayancentral.com/book/us...

or contact the publisher ustph.info@gmail.com or via the Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/USTPublishin...

186 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

Jim Pascual Agustin

19 books79 followers
Jim Pascual Agustin was born in the Philippines.
Winner of the 2022 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize winner for his manuscript WAKING UP TO THE PATTERN LEFT BY A SNAIL OVERNIGHT, published in March/April 2023.
His previous book is BLOODRED DRAGONFLIES (Deep South). BLUR OF A DOG is forthcoming from his Philippine publisher, San Anselmo Press, which released his two other collections - HOW TO MAKE A SALAGUBANG HELICOPTER & other poems and CROCODILES IN BELFAST & other poems.
His early years were spent in a communal house where he struggled to remember all the names of his numerous cousins. His family was forced out of their land to make way for the construction of a highway named after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
He owes his love for literature to the late Irish-American priest, Fr. James O'Brien, SJ. Jim was a Fellow of the University of the Philippines Writers Workshop and the Iligan University Writers Workshop. In October 1994, he moved to Cape Town, South Africa.
He has a number of poetry books published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. In 2011, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (Filipino collection) and Alien to Any Skin (English collection) were simultaneously released.
Blogs for these two books are: www.karupukan.wordpress.com and www.alientoanyskin.wordpress.com
In 2013, Kalmot ng Pusa sa Tagiliran and Sound Before Water were published. 2015 saw the release A Thousand Eyes. His first collection of short stories in Filipino, Sanga sa Basang Lupa, was released in 2016 and has been selected by renowned Filipino novelist Edgar Calabia Samar among the notable books of recent memory.
WINGS OF SMOKE, his eighth poetry book, was released in 2017 by UK publisher The Onslaught Press.

In his adopted country of South Africa he has won second prize in the 2013 New Coin DALRO Poetry Prize and third prize at the 2014 and 2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.
Please contact the author through his blog, www.matangmanok.wordpress.com if you are interested in any of his work.

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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 5, 2011
Reading Alien to Any Skin is like being on a sea shore picking up sea shells.

I grew up in an island in the Pacific in the 70’s when our sea shores in the island were still full of strange and interesting sea creatures, beautiful shells and the sea floor was covered with colorful breathtaking corals. I still remember that there was no trip to the beach that we did not bring sea shells back. Sea shells came in different sizes, shapes, colors and textures. There were those that we ignored because they were small, broken, faded and uninteresting. There were those that we brought home and played with. However, there was a certain variety of these shells that my mother particularly liked. They were big, shiny, thick and smooth. My mother would remove the living organism inside those shells, let them dry and she even applied a varnish solution to make them shinier and keep their natural colors. I can still recall those she used to keep in her drawer at home. We were not allowed to play with those. When I was small, I thought that those seashells were treasures that could be sold someday and could make us rich so we could buy all the food that we wanted to eat. However, when I was growing up, I also saw her old photo album containing the many beach picnics that she had with her friends when she was a teenager. Those sea shells must have been from those times when she was still a young lady and learning the ropes of life.

Alien to Any Skin by Jim Pascual Agustin is an unforgettable collection of wonderful poems. Most of them are profoundly moving, intellectually-satisfying, mental-images provoking, poignant and tear jerking. I started reading this last week and I stopped after the first 4 poems. I thought that his other collection, Baha-Bahagdang Karupukan was a lot better so I lost my interest. However, last night, I felt like I was in the mood to read some poetry so I re-started the book and I was surprised to find out that most of the succeeding poems in the collection were like those sea shells that my mother kept in her drawer. They were even better than those I liked in the Filipino poems contained in his other book. I particularly liked the ones included in the sections entitled crafted mat and water, stay . The one that made me cry I bit was the poignant poem about the son and his dead father, Yellow Skin, Leaving .

I finished the book in just one night. Whenever I encountered a poem I liked, I folded the tip edge of the page thinking that I would like to cite that poem in my review. However, after finishing all the 182 poems, my total dog-eared pages were 20 and now I don’t think it is fair to share any of them as I might spoil your fun. Also, the most favorite poem, the one that almost put tears in my eyes, is relatively longer than most of the 20.

If you want to cry over some heart-wrenching poems, do pick this book and read. Just like my mom’s seashells in her drawer, I am sure you will find more than 20 poems that you will treasure in your heart forever.

Thanks to my wife for giving me this book as her gift for me on my 47th birthday!
Profile Image for Dylan CC.
10 reviews
November 9, 2011
ALIEN TO ANY SKIN contains upwards of twenty years of poetry written by Jim Pascual Agustin. Briefly, Jim is from the Philippines. He currently lives in South Africa with his immediate family, but distant from his home. The book’s title hints a good many things about its contents.

There is an alien quality to this work. The poems are often unsettling. The images are stark. The lines are beautifully cut. A few little examples:

“…Breathe in
fistfuls of damp air.”

“she dreamt of keyholes
filled with twisted hair”

and this poem:

Farewell at Yang Guan
after the music of Bian Liu Nian

The wooden gate is wide open
but the fog has not yet touched
this last moment, our feet
side by side, brother.

In utter stillness the roof vanishes
from our parents’ house. A few more seconds
and this world we grew up in will be no more than a garden
as narrow as our embrace. And who can measure that?

I can hear the ancient bells
crossing the silences woven into the river.
They will remain in memory until the end of our days
even after the fog muffles everything.

My feet are bound tight.


It’s beautiful writing. There are moments of joy in the poems, but the book’s overall tone is one of loss. People always seem to be leaving each other. There is a voice of loneliness and alienation that binds the poems to one another. These poems can only adhere to themselves. They are the remnants of people and moments that no longer exist. Is there a better subject for art?

These poems create a collective and distinct world. Jim’s writing is alien -- not that it’s made of reflective metal or filled with interesting new marks over the vowels, but it is unlike anything else I’ve read. Though the poems are generally short, they are complete. There are variations in style throughout the book, but it’s remarkably cohesive for a group of poems that cover so much chronological ground. You get the impression that regardless of the changes in his life, Jim has always possessed a fine ability to capture and evaluate a situation, then turn it into a soft scraping of words against skin.

To be fair I don’t love every single poem in this book. But that doesn’t have much to do with Jim. We have stylistic differences, but everyone does. His writing is solid. You can trust it. He doesn’t pull you for kicks. He pulls you because he was pulled, and is trying to make sense of life. I’m glad I’ve read this book.

I’m going to be quiet now, and just let Jim speak.

Sand Clings to My Toes, Daddy

They like you, my dear.
Your skin does not resist
being jeweled by these migrants
of boundless seas. Your laughter
reminds them of rolling waves,
tossing, swirling
journeys with no end.

How you reduced forever
to this moment
as they glisten between your toes.

Soon you gather sand and water
in your clothes, you feel
the weight of the waves.
Laughter learns fear.

You shiver
until the next wave topples you
in hysterical giggles.

You are beginning to know
there are forces that make you small
and lift you to other shores.
Profile Image for Rose Boehm.
Author 12 books61 followers
November 3, 2011

Jim Agustin’s collection of poetry ALIEN TO ANY SKIN seems at first like a big house with many mansions. And that house seems to be positioned outside our every-day experience, our comfort zone; it is not built to plans we recognize immediately as familiar architecture. And yet, after reading and re-reading we begin to slip into Agustin’s territory which is recognizable after all. We begin to learn that we are not at all aliens under the skin, but that we love, laugh, cry, hurt, bleed as each other. We are not strangers at all. Still, his poetry is dipped in what seems at first geographically, historically and culturally alien colors and has to be approached as such until our hearts listen to more than the words.

ALIEN TO ANY SKIN takes us through a myriad of emotions, but mostly into a world where love is tinged by sadness, where people, especially children, aren’t safe, where invaders kill, burn and torture, where poverty can be extreme and were the comfortable public relations speech about the ‘why’ of it all no longer pulls a punch.

Yet, one of the strongest emotions I received from reading this excellent collection is the sense of being forgiven and being encouraged to forgive.

The collection is too large to give specific examples – they would fill several pages – but I don’t want to recommend ALIEN TO ANY SKIN without quoting what for me is its ‘signature tune’, so to speak:

A Letter from an Alien to His Friend, Michael Raymond

We always wonder
“What is out there?”
Curiosity and paranoia wrestle
Until they swallow each other’s infinity.

We stare at ever expanding universes
We know so little of, and yet
Declare grand dominion over.
Such vanity, such futility.

Perhaps this way of thinking
Is nothing but over-exposure
To too many episodes of a favourite TV show
Now on re-run.

But where is “There” as opposed to “Here?”
Alien, foreign to familiar?
Looking out, looking in?
Is it by random chance,

That the paths of different worlds,
Cross, intersect, begin
To move parallel to each other
While others whirl away all on their own?

In a friendship that knows
The clear possibility that my hands
May never shake yours
I offer this

Something for all those universes
Forever expanding
Inside each of us
Waiting for that moment of wonder.
Profile Image for Jim Agustin.
Author 19 books79 followers
February 28, 2012
Being the author of this book I should rather be silent about it. Just this then - the poems in this collection have many settings but only one home.

At the moment orders outside of the Philippines may be placed with Kabayan Central (http://www.kabayancentral.com/book/us...) and Mary Martin Booksellers - http://www.marymartin.com/web/SearchA....

or try this - http://www.marymartin.com/web/selecte...


Here is the link to a Philippine Daily Inquirer review of the book:


A few lines from the review:
Poet and social critic John Berger believes that desiring justice is as multitudinous as the stars in an expanding universe with the suffering caused by genocide, war and natural catastrophes which happen unnoticed every day.

Jim Agustin’s latest collection of poetry, “Alien to Any Skin” (University of Santo Tomas Press, 2011, 186 pages) acknowledges the depth of these suffering and meditates on the cruel use of power as our moral compass has gone awry...

Agustin’s poems serve as reflections and illuminations in these troubled times and become more ever relevant when the bombardment of images induced by cultural capital numbs us, make us complicit to these crimes and dehumanization.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books215 followers
March 10, 2012
A great variety of different poems that kept me interested and entertained. A very enjoyable reading experience. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a different poet out there who hasn't yet been given enough attention.

Two suggestions. One, it had probably had a few too many poems. I thought a couple of them could have been cut out. I like to have a poetry book maintain my interest all the way through, and this book did for the most part, just a few cuts would have helped. Second, a technical suggestion. In some of his poems, Mr. Agustin had a habit of capitalizing a stanza even if it was a continued sentence from the last stanza. That's an old way of writing that is usually no longer done.

However, I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book. I hope I hear much more about Jim Pascual Agustin in the future. I've read more famous poets who are nowhere near as good.
Profile Image for Koeeoaddi.
472 reviews2 followers
October 27, 2013
There are at least five books of poetry in this one book. Easily a whole life's work's worth and I believe this poet is still young. Amazing achievement.

Of these many books, I'd say all of them are imaginative, well written and intriguing. They all resonated with me, too, except for the one that was mostly political and that is not the poet's fault. I hardly ever enjoy political poetry unless it's all dressed up as something else, assures me that it isn't political at all and promises to call the next day.

Profile Image for Irwin Cruz.
1 review5 followers
January 27, 2013
Among us there will always be the outsider, a role imposed by fate or by choice. It is a lonesome place, that rock where he stands: that state of being there, yet not quite. It is a destination where one arrives alone, and stays without companion. Indeed the isolation can be troubling. But God, what a vantage that place can give.
In 'Alien to any skin', poet Jim Pascual Agustin sends us postcards from such a rock. Here are correspondances of a constant foreigner to worlds one lives in or witnesses, filed from the limbo between fatherland and adopted country, past and present, the ideal and reality. Themes range from the domestic to the global-political, all handled with raw honesty and tempered emotion only a distant observer enjoys (or suffers).
Consider "The Lost Nephew", a tender eulogy for a relative delivered apologetically too little, too late. Or the string of poems that comment on the contemporary society's rapid-fire of horrors ("Fear, the official story; Preliminary notes of the physics of modern torture; questions).
These poems, written in the same dexterity Agustin writes in Filipino (Baha-bahagdang Karupukan is Alien's twin publication), come to us as notes from what we first think is a foreign country, until we realise we too have once travelled there.
That rock might be a lonely place to reside. But this anthology shows this: if wisdom from a wider horizon is the harvest it ultimately brings, then distance of any form, no matter how troubling it sometimes be, may not be that bad after all.
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