“Pagtatapat”: Commentary

Keeping things fresh, let me make my first content post one on a recently published piece: The poem Pagtatapat in the Dagmay.


I originally wrote the poem in Filipino, but I made a translation in English in an attempt to make it part of my entry for the Silliman Writers Workshop. The translation (for the benefit of non-Filipino speakers) was as follows:


Only for a while

Did the fireflies swim in my tears

When she said

My light was not enough,

On that evening in Kidapawan…

I, too

Cannot make the street-lamp orange of Claveria

Stain your white kerchief tonight!

As can be observed, I added the explicit mention of street lamps in the second stanza of this translation. This is because the Filipino version was meant for readers familiar with the context. This version is for the convenience of readers not familiar with Davao locations.

The first of the poem’s dominant images, that of fireflies swimming in tears, arose from a fan-poem written earlier about the anime Rurouni Kenshin. The poem played with the scene where Kenshin was saying goodbye to Kaori with many fireflies around. “Would it not be a good implication of tearful emotions” I thought “if I just mention that there are tears flowing by pointing out how the fireflies seem to swim in them?” The things anime can make you do!

The second dominant image, that of the orange of street lamps staining the white kerchief, was conceived while I was on a jeepney one night passing by the actual Claveria street in Davao City. Imagining couples, I thought “would it not be nice to imply tears here by pointing out that the orange of the street lamps that reflect on the tears would stain on the kerchief?” And I had another metaphor just like that!

So I had two metaphors, and I regarded each one independently. But it occurred to me that the two would work well together in one poem.

But I needed a story! “Good poetry, too” said Dr. D.M. Reyes of the Ateneo de Manila during the Iyas I attended, “has narrative and tells a story.” So I scoured the depths of my plot-langue and settled on turned down confessions of love: it was an excellent topic as far as I was concerned, since I could play with the Tagalog word “pagtatapat,” which could mean “confession,” but also “aligning,” something I was trying to do with the metaphors.

I also decided to play with the dichotomy between largely rural Kidapawan (my hometown) and the distinctly urban Davao (where I currently live).

Hence the poem!


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