The Best (and Worst) Literary Works by Ateneo de Davao Writers of School Year 2012-2013: Poetry

(I will try to put links to the works when they are available. In the meantime, copies of the Banaag Diwa are available in the Ateneo de Davao Jacinto Campus. Enjoy!)

It is a happy thing that there is no royal road to poetry. The world should know by this time that one cannot reach Parnassus except by flying thither.

The creative democracy championed by this pronouncement by the Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins could not be more evident than it is in the Ateneo de Davao’s poetic scene. There may be many schools of poetry among Ateneo de Davao poets, but there is no such thing as an Ateneo de Davao school of poetry. And Hopkins rightly champions this, for we see in the poetic output of the university’s students, teachers and alumni alike a heterogeneous mixture of pieces diverse in style and subject.

In just this year’s poetic harvest, we get the tightly crafted and often esoteric poems typical of the workshopped writers like Paul Gumanao and Karen Dicdican, the rap-influenced Balagtasista love poems of Jim Zandueta and, to some extent, of Djamyla Millona, the performable monologue like pieces of Noy Narciso, and the explicitly socially involved output of Ash Lagon. These poets have carved their own roads in their aim to reach the expressive summit.

Poetic Freedom vs. Aesthetic Anarchy

Last year I made a selection of the Best and Worst of the published poetry written by students, teachers and alumni of Ateneo de Davao. In that selection, I presented the standards of Form and of Substance as universal touchstones for determining what makes good poetry.

Any good student of literary criticism, however, will know that these standards, prized by the many writers in the country educated in the Tiempo school of New Criticism, are not the sole artistic standards to be achieved. Not everybody is trying to scale Mount Parnassus, after all. Noy Narciso, for instance, has been involved in the dramatic scene for years, and his poetry has always had more performative than poetic merit. He may very well be scaling a different mountain altogether.

And the same good students of literary criticism, familiar with the work of the post-structuralists, will know that the universality and sanctity of the New Critical poetic touchstones has already been debunked. Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets, far from achieving Matthew Arnold’s standard of “good poetry makes better people,” would today only promote overpopulation and be a factor in the alarming increase of loneliness-related suicides.

Does this mean then that there is only anarchy in poetry?

Not necessarily. There is a reason why writers still use the Formalist touchstones: the notion of literature only saying what is “right” may have been debunked, but there is still a consensus that literature is saying something properly. Formalism is limited, but none the less valid. As such, while our standard of substance may be reinterpreted as “contributing something to the greater human discourse,” the standards of seamless form and organic unity of form with substance still hold water. We must be reminded that while there are many roads to poetry (there are many ways of saying things), it is still Parnassus (or the proper way of saying things) that is being metaphorically scaled.

The problem with many poet wannabes (“phooets,” Jose Garcia Villa calls them) is that they see Mount Parnassus, climb a tree, and think they have scaled the mountain. When their poetry is attacked in formal terms for being ineffective, they accuse the critic of being a narrow-minded snob and, at least for the more enterprising among them, evoke the sentiments in Hopkins’ pronouncement as a defense. These phooets, I must put it bluntly, are just evading the fact that what they have written is bad poetry. They try to evoke kilig but only end up producing glurge. They try to evoke pity but they only end up with high strung whining. What they are doing is like using artistic license when an unintended error of fact is found in their gossip. I have pretentions of being compassionate, but I confess that it is my guilty pleasure to prick the prides of these pedants.

Last year I pointed out that many wannabe poets commit the errors of form and substance, articulating with bad grammar and faulty or no metaphor shallow insights that do not contribute to the discourse of human definition. Of course I’ve also pointed out that many poets from the university have succeeded in those standards admirably. I paid particular attention to violence of language, solidity of specification, and transforming imagery, my favorite artistic devices. This year I will continue to take a look at the poetic harvest with these standards.

Silence in Poetry

But this year I will introduce another touchstone for poetic judgment: Silence.

Jose Garcia Villa calls it “Serenity,” while the critics that have been called Liberal Humanists call it “Sincerity.” Good poetry, we say, is Silent in that it speaks without explicitly saying what it means. It lets the reality speak for itself. Silence is succinctly put in the famous last line of Archibald Macleish’s “Ars Poetica:” “a poem must not mean but be.” It is intimately associated with solidity of specification (the poem’s ability to make concrete the abstract), as good poets often “tell by showing.” As such, sound can sometimes be used to evoke poetic Silence.

This Silence, however, is more concretely and best demonstrated in the Buddhist koans, anecdotes that at a glance may not make sense but, in their silence from explicit meaning, end up saying much more.

In The Gateless Gate, a collection of koans by the Zen master Mumon, there is a koan about the monk Tokusan, who was studying under the master Ryutan. Before Tokusan left master Ryutan’s home one night, the master is said to have offered his student a candle, but just before Tokusan received it Ryutan blew the candle. By that Tokusan gained enlightenment.

Like Ryutan, the poet too must allow the reader to find his way to the insight in the poem, for only by finding his way out of the darkness on his own can the reader truly experience a poem. There should be no golden road to poetry, the reader must be allowed to reach Parnassus by the flight of his own imagination.

Let us take another example:

Bago Aplaya

Ang look
Usa ka pikas nga panaksan,
Miawas ang sabawng parat.

Matag adlaw
Kutsarahon sa gagmayng bugsay
Ang mga bula
Nanglutaw
Sa mga awit sa
Gagmayng mananagat.

Sa gabii
Ang buwan gamayng buho
Li-lianan sa mga bathala

Ug sa silong
Gikutay nagkidlapkidlap
Dalandalang bulawan
Lahos sa inabilhag-dako nga
Payag sa mananagat.

One of the poems many Ateneo de Davao students know is “Bago Aplaya” by Don Pagusara, an oft-taught piece in Literature classes. While not an AdDU graduate himself, sir Don had been part of the University’s faculty for such a long time that he has influenced several generations of Ateneo de Davao writers, and, if there is such a thing, the Ateneo de Davao Canon could not possibly be complete without his writing. Silence dominates “Bago Aplaya” with its solid and transforming imagery. We get concrete visual and gustatory experiences of the bay (a halved dipper, the saltiness of the sea) and metaphorical transformations (the paddle as spoon, the bubbles floating amidst the fishermen’s songs, the moon as the peek hole of the gods, the illuminated wake of a boat as a golden pathway). And yet the poem doesn’t seem to be saying anything in particular. But this very Silence gives it multiple voices and opens it up to different interpretations: is the description of divine moon and golden scia a glorification of nature? Is this poem extolling the idyllic simplicity of the humble fisherman’s life? Is this defamiliarization of the scenes presented? These interpretations are all possible as the poem shows it to us, and yet the poem doesn’t tell them but lets us see them with its particular imagery.

The Noisy Phooets and the Problem with themes

This year many of the phooems published are very noisy. The phooets are too engrossed in trying to say something that they pay no adequate consideration to how it is being said. This is particularly the case with much of Ash Lagon’s poetry and many of the Banaag Diwa poems. While Marxists declare all literature to be propaganda, it is Silence that makes poetry different. Lagon’s output falls short of poetry and is nothing more than blunt propaganda.

Perhaps this is because the Banaag Diwa this year has the theme of four suits, a theme that invariably invites explicit expression (the four suits are agriculture and the peasant, love and the clergy, wealth and the merchant, and war and luck). As such Lagon’s poetic un-style, among other produce with equal bluntness, is all over this year’s folio.

On that note, let me advise the Atenews to make themes for the Banaag only after selecting the works to be published. What happens when a theme is set during calls for submission is what happened this time: members of the Ateneo Community only end up writing custom-made works to be submitted. The theme should be influenced by submissions, not the submissions influenced by the theme.

But thankfully in spite of this difficulty there are quiet jewels to be found in this year’s harvest as well, and in spite of the noise I will this year feature a separate section on the most Silent poems published.

My Modo de Proceder

Like last year, my selections for this year’s best and worst published literary works will be selected from the two main venues for Ateneo de Davao students to publish: Dagmay, the Davao Writers Guild’s journal; and Banaag Diwa 2013, published by the Atenews (I am thankful to Juno Vegas for giving me a copy of the latter, and if not for him this selection would not have been possible). Again, in future selections I welcome any heads up about other publications by Ateneo de Davao students, alumni or teachers.

My coverage will begin from April 2012 to April 2013, with the exception of the Banaag Diwa, which was released with some delay this May.

This week I will be posting my selection on poetry, while next week I will post my selection on fiction. There being a shortage of output on drama and nonfiction, I will not be able to make selections for those, but I will be trying to come up with a feature on each of those genres.

My selection for poetry will include a top 5 list (the perfect union of form and substance), a section on works of profound substance, a section on outstanding form (focusing on transforming image and, for this year, on silence), a section on unsuccessful but promising pieces, and a list of bad examples, to be renamed the Bangkerohan River List, taking from Dr. Macario Tiu’s famous catchphrase “Ilabay sa Bangkerohan river.

 

The Year’s Picture

Overall, 2012-2013 has been a very good year for Ateneo de Davao’s writers. Unlike last year, there have been many of the university’s writers published in Dagmay.

Again it is the alumni that dominate, but this is not to say that the students are not writing, for there are many promising students who are beginning their trek up Parnassus.

The most prolific writers of the school year are undoubtedly Djamyla Millona and Alfredo Carlos Montecillo. Djam has accomplished the no-easy feat of getting published in the Dagmay 6 times, and her continued writing is enough to sustain Ateneo’s poetic tradition for another decade. Pido, on the other hand, has seen print in both Dagmay and Banaag Diwa in high quantity and with versatility, publishing fiction, creative nonfiction and drama in Dagmay.

There is also a visible distribution among the three major languages spoken in Davao (Cebuano, Tagalog, and English), though I encourage students to try exploring other tongues (particularly for speakers of Hiligaynon, Iluko, Kinaray-a, and the Lumad languages). I do not speak these tongues, but I will try my best to be able to evaluate any output in them, perhaps by seeking the opinion of speakers.

While there are still many of the glurgy, blunt-as-Bieber phooems published this year, the overall quality of poems has also improved. Even the poets I castigated for ineptness last year have improved to some extent, and I am hoping for their continued growth.

But like last year, the quality of poems in Dagmay, edited by members of the Davao Writers Guild, continues to be better than that of those in Banaag Diwa. And again it seems to be because of the editorial process of the latter.

On the Editorial Problem of Banaag Diwa

On that note, let me reiterate my concern on this matter. Staffers of the Atenews, who edit and release the Banaag Diwa, may have considerable journalistic training, but they have almost no literary training. An anomaly really, as many of the writers submitting to them have been fellows to several writers workshops, or may have had extensive exposure to literary criticism. A submission of quality may be ignored because the editors are too incompetent to see its merits, while bad writing masquerading as literature may impress the editors, with student money wasted in publishing garbage. This, unfortunately, has been the case for several instances already, and Banaag has gained a somewhat deplorable reputation in the more informed readership. Jose Garcia Villa has a very harsh description of editors like these, “intellectuals-as-morons” (editors competent in one genre thinking themselves competent in another), one which I do not wish to use against the excellent people of Atenews.

As a measure, I recommend the Atenews staffers to work with The Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM), the university’s inclusive course club, in the making of Banaag. SALEM members have had considerable literary training, what with some of them being workshop fellows and/or participants to the club’s various literary seminars. Perhaps SALEM can be in charge of the selection of works to be included in the folio while Atenews takes care of ways and means. With this, the folio’s output can have more thorough and informed quality check.

But be that as it may, let us proceed to the selections.

The Selections

Richness of Material in Flawless Form

This year’s top five poems, the most successful pieces published for the year, are:

–      “Mga Bidlisiw sa Awit” by Paul Gumanao, Dagmay

–      “Ang Basurero” by Edgar Bacong, Dagmay

–      “Kagabhion” by Djamyla Millona, Dagmay

–      “Turning Tedious” by Karen Kae, Banaag Diwa

–      “To France with Love, from Davao” by Glyd Arañes, Dagmay

Unsurprisingly, Paul Gumanao is once again at the top of the list. “Mga Bidlisiw sa Awit,” which I earlier translated to English in this blog, might not be Gumanao’s most profound (the title invariably goes to last year’s best poem, his “Pieta”), but it is arguably his most creative. Central to the poem are two transforming images: the sunrise as swiftlet, and the swiftlet as sun. The former is solidified by making the peaks surrounding the emerging sun into a nest, while the latter is achieved through the synesthetic tactility of warmth in bird’s song. From that latter image, the poem then soars (if the pun be pardoned) to higher human meaning by linking this warmth with the warmth of a loved one’s text message. But the poem cleverly returns to its observation of sun and swiftlet’s joint emergence by pointing out that in two days the two were not together, subtly implying that perhaps the persona and the addressee too are similarly disjointed. The trouble is just brewing below the surface, and with Silence the poem shows us a story it does not explicitly tell.

Another poem at the top of my list this year is Edgar Bacong’s “Ang Basurero.” Although not a perfect poem yet, it has a potent combination of striking imagery and powerful insight that merit it to be at the top of this list. In the poem, the eponymous garbage collector describes in loose monologue how he/she picks discarded bottles to earn a living while others of better means sit around emptying bottles of their alcoholic content. The persona also states a powerful insight: that while the garbage-collecting classes are the lowest level of modern society, they are nevertheless needed to clean garbage. In light of this insight, the poem then makes an ironic comparison between a sack full of recyclable garbage, dirty and unsegregated, and society, clean and stratified, paralleling the segregated with the unequal. In the end the poem, with subtle Silence, almost deconstructs the stratification of society by making garbage collecting a needed specialization, but it still needs to touch on the arbitrariness of class segregation to achieve that.

Probably this year’s most prolific poet is the alumna Djamyla Millona, who has published six poems in Dagmay, not an easy feat. But while most of her published output has been in Tagalog, it is her Cebuano poem “Kagabhion” that shines brightest. In the poem, the image of stars and coffee (another coffee poem!) are woven together to tell a story of unrequited love. There are beautiful images of stars becoming tears, night becoming coffee, and moonlight becoming milk. The strict critic might point out the mixed metaphor in the piece, but the poem makes them work well with strategic repetition (like the night poured like black coffee, the addressee pours out his love). The poem may, with Silence, be implying an opposite of what it means: like her heart being the sole corner where the addressee’s love has not been poured, the persona too, with her fond memories, might be the only one not affected by the night’s darkness. This, of course, would have been a more likely interpretation if the word “kamingaw” was used instead of “kangiob.” Like “Mga Bidlisiw sa Awit,” I earlier translated this poem to English in this blog.

The only poem from Banaag Diwa on my top five list this year is “Turning Tedious” by Karen Kae. With the theme of saccharine delights, the poem chronicles the demise of affection in a relationship. Like the other poems of this year the strict formalist would question its use of metaphor. But in its defense the poem is not aiming for consistency of image but is establishing semantic field to evoke solidity. The semantic field of “sweets” is evident, but it is in how the poem weaves in its narrative and meaning into this semantic field that makes it successful. This poem demonstrates best how poetry can state but still remain silent: its statements are solid with semantic deviation. “Marshmallow kisses” for instance will not make sense on the literal level, but its gustatory implications, as well as its junk food aspect, capture the sweetness as well as the artifice of the love being expressed through the kiss. The poem even takes advantage of trite expressions like “sweet nothings” and makes them unusually specific. Where the poem is weak in this Villa-esque use of semantic field, it makes use of rhyme (“paranoia and cheap Goya”). Again this is far from being a perfect poem (the ending in particular is rather off), but like “Kagabhion,” the striking combination of substance and device merits it to be in my top list.

The last, but certainly not the least, on this year’s top five list is Glyd Arañes’ “To France, with Love, from Davao,” published in the Dagmay. Just some intertextuality before I proceed, this poem is third in another emerging poetic tradition among young Davao writers, the interracial love affair (my “Super-Swerteng Uyab” and Karla Singson’s “To Date a White Guy” were the other examples). Glyd, at once a Francophile and a committed lover of things Davao (he is deeply immersed in Lumad literature), adds to this growing tradition his own unmistakable brand. The poem works with its parallelisms between things Davao and things French: monay and baguettes, the rame de metro and the jeepney, adobo and coffee said in French, the Eiffel Tower and Mt Apo. The poem takes an amusingly interesting turn when the French addressee is lost in the Louvre and the persona wishes him to find a secret trail to Davao. The French semantic field is there already, but perhaps this poem could have been stronger if more local words, like words in Cebuano or Davao Filipino, were used to solidify the local color of Davao.

Richness of Material

While not as successful as the above poems, these poems have nonetheless shown, or have stumbled upon, remarkable insight. This year’s poems of deep substance are:

–      “To Date a White Guy” by Karla Singson, Dagmay

–      “Sa Panahon ng Internet at Cellphone” by Edgar Bacong, Dagmay

–     ” Paulit-Ulit” by Jim Zandueta, Banaag Diwa

–     “He Walks like Rain” by Karen Kae, Banaag Diwa

–      “Never Enough” by Christine Grace Ruta, Banaag Diwa

Of considerable success is Karla Singson’s “To Date a White Guy,” which I’ve already mentioned in the previous section. The poem comes in the form of a monologue by a Filipina dating a Caucasian, and the monologue proceeds to listing down the common stereotypes of that arrangement: the meeting in the internet, the dependence of the Filipina’s family, the grammar watch, the Filipina’s wish to leave the country. The poem then proceeds to rejecting these stereotypes and portrays the persona instead as a woman who knows what she wants. While not exactly a Silent poem, this piece nevertheless presents a strikingly important point, defamiliarizing the common image of an interracial relationship.

Like “To Date a White Guy,” Edgar Bacong’s “Sa Panahon ng Internet at Cellphone” equally lacks Silence, and yet it deserves attention for the profound insight it presents. The poem discusses the modern reliance for telecommunications and digital devices, and speculates that behind this dependence is perhaps the human fear of silence and actual experience of the things around us. It then proceeds to point out that this alienation from real experience is hampering our interaction with one another and is getting in the way of our imagination. If the poem could solidify this insight more, it would be on the top of my list.

Like many Tagalog poems, “Sa Panahon ng Internet at Cellphone” relies more on rhyme and sound than in imagery and metaphor. Similar to this is Jim Zandueta’s “Paulit-ulit,” which is really a repetition of several structures with variations. The Balagtasista tradition of poetry has never fared well under modern formalist scrutiny, and the authorial intention behind this is probably nothing more than sentimental. But what might be a lapse of consistency on the part of the poet, the second line (“ilang ulit ng [sic] tumayo”) implies more than just resistance to repeated failure, it implies resistance against repetition itself. If this line of interpretation is to be followed, then the penultimate line, “ilang ulit pa bang ulit,” reveals an unspeakable and subconscious struggle against what has been called in Philosophy as Eternal Recurrence, and a drive towards the singularity of experience. Of course, this may very well be just over reading, but this just goes to show how what the poem does not say can affect its meaning.

Another example of what might be accidental profundity is “He walks like rain” by Karen Kae. It is not clear in the text itself who the eponymous “he” is, but reflections with some fellow readers have led me to speculate that this poem may have religious undertones. The “he” being referred to in the piece might be God, a possibility strengthened by the use of words belonging to the semantic field of “spiritual” (“souls,” “spirits”). If this line of interpretation is to be taken, then the poem presents a provocative picture of God: as rain, it is the divine which both causes suffering and alleviates it. The poem, quiet with its images, is at once pious and misotheistic. Again this could very well be just conjecture, but if this is the intended meaning of the poet, the poem needs to be fixed more by directing it to that, beginning perhaps by capitalizing the first letter of “he,” as is conventional in referring to the Lord.

A poem that is considerably weaker than the above but is nevertheless clearer in its meaning is “Never Enough” by Christine Grace Ruta. It is a simple piece, an anecdotal reportage of the friend as subject, repetition of structures, before a conclusion that achieves the most basic kind of solidity and Silence. The poem never tells the reader what its ideals are, nor what should be done to reach those ideals, and yet it could not be clearer to the reader what it is trying to say. This poem is not trying to achieve much, but it achieves something. Perhaps that is its only weakness, it is not ambitious enough, but this is a young writer, so I look forward to when she becomes more audacious with her craft.

Excellence in Form

As mentioned, this year’s section on form will have two focuses: the transforming image and poetic Silence.

While many of the mentioned poems demonstrate transforming imagery, another poem this year that centers on it is “Double Body” by the pseudonymous Red Perez in the Banaag Diwa. The poem, like Perez’s piece “Dakong Liki” last year, plays with sexual innuendo on the seemingly mundane image, this time the local bakery confectionary called double body. Like last year’s Red Perez poem, this time too this piece is not trying to achieve much, and yet since we have discussed Silence, we can point out that the poem invariably conveys the sexual tension between the male and female character without actually telling the reader about it.

Featured Form: Silent Poems

This year we feature a poetic touchstone: Silence. There are many poems this year that demonstrate this, and in fact some have been discussed already. Some more notable poems that showed noticeable Silence are:

–      “One Afternoon in a Third World Lab” by Paul Gumanao, Dagmay

–      “The Coffee Burnt my Tongue” by Krisini Nanini, Dagmay

–      “Sagrada Familia” by Duane Galvador, Banaag Diwa

–      “Kayod” by Noy Narciso, Banaag Diwa

Paul Gumanao’s “One Afternoon in a Third World Lab” would easily belong to the top of my list this year if it did not better belong to a section that highlighted its strength, Silence. For that is the strength in this poem, it implies vividly the sexual tension between the persona and his lab partner addressee without even mentioning any sexual words. The poem is the best demonstration of how Silence through solidity can convey a meaning much clearer than explicit statement. In none of the many love poems that fill Banaag can the same frisson this poem evokes be seen. There is more kilig on that last piece of dialogue at the end of the poem than in all the glurge we get from the Banaag Diwa poems.

This year sees a Krisini Nanini poem in print in the form of “The Coffee Burnt my Tongue.” The poem parses several sentences in that unique, literally breath-taking line cutting typical of Krisini Nanini poems, making it difficult to read. But as the reader catches the rhythm of the sentences in the earlier middle part, the meaning ends up being obscured as this part describes the act of swirling the cup of coffee with the teaspoon, mimicking the persona’s own distraction in what she is doing. The climactic part of the poem seems to be very noisy, but like in the preceding parts the persona and the reader really do not pay attention to these words and are instead preoccupied with the flow of the poem’s rhythm. And then, the poem ends with its title. There is something Zen-like about the poem, a warning against abstract musing at the risk of ignoring what is actual. The burning of the tongue is reminiscent of Samuel Johnson’s refutation of Immaterialism, by stomping on a rock and saying “I refute it thus!”

Every year it seems, Duane Gravador has a short piece of innovation in Banaag Diwa. This year, it is with the poem “Sagrada Familia” that she continues this. Without expounding on the story, and without even exploding to hysterical sensationalism, this short piece tells of a scandalous affair between a priest and a nun with the resulting child speaking. The poem gains plus points with its humorous play on several words: father, Sagrada Familia, and family day. Amen?

The poems from Noy Narciso that came out in Banaag this year are also notable for their word play. But it is in “Kayod” that this comes out. On the surface level, the poem is just a collection of descriptions of menial domestic tasks. As such the poem is already successful in their Zen of presenting things as they really are (the description of cooking is particularly rich and vivid). But the poem soars in Silence with its subtle implication of sex with its choices. Many of the repetitions, onomatopoeia, and choice of words imply sexual activity, a possibility further strengthened by the homophonic nature of the title (“kayod,” to work) with the Cebuano word “kiyod” (to hump, or to have sex). But of course, none of that is explicitly stated in the text.

Poems with Potential

Like last year, we will not waste what can be salvaged. This year, the following poems, though unsuccessful, show much potential:

–      “Biak Buko” by Red Agreda, Banaag Diwa

–      “Nagmamahal na Galit” by Red Agreda, Banaag Diwa

–      “Araw sa Gabing Madilim” by Ash Lagon, Banaag Diwa

–      “Karong Adlawa” by Kcraazi Axiom, Banaag Diwa

“Biak na Buko,” the first poem to appear in this year’s issue of Banaag Diwa, can be one of this year’s most profound poems if it was executed properly. As is, the poem, in improbably imagery, simply conveys the dangerously overoptimistic fallacy of destined love. But if the poem aims for something higher, say by talking of opportunities instead of a loved one (that the world is full of opportunities for the taking, a meaning it can achieve by making the coconuts whole) it can be very profound. The pun on the word “puno” (“full” or “tree”) which may be accidental, also ought not to be wasted.

Another poem by Red Agreda, “Nagmamahal na Galit,” is by all accounts a failure as a poem. But what redeems it is that powerful first two lines of its last stanza, “isusuka ko ang aking poot/at kakaining muli kinaumagahan“. If the poet can take these two lines and craft a new poem from them, it would be a worthy project.

Ash Lagon’s only attempt at transforming imagery this year is in the poem “Araw sa Gabing Madilim.” There is an attempt to make Fireflies into stars. But this is diluted by the many useless images of night that the poem feels very weak. For this poem to succeed the image must be central, and the poem must try to stretch it, leaving little room for unnecessary images. The title is as also very weak, reminiscent of an outdated Filipino love song. It is also prudent for the poet to look at how poets throughout the ages have explored the image of fireflies, as in the Japanese monk Kisen’s “ki no ma yori,” or even my own “Pagtatapat” (yes, shameless self promotion).

“Karong Adlawa” by the pseudonymous Kcraazi Axiom (I condemn any parent who would name their child like that) is already telling a narrative, and it is already noteworthy with its use of wordplay (“magbabasak” and “magbabalak”), but it still does not make sense. Who is using the laptop? Did the farmer really allow his son to go study in Manila? More importantly, what’s wrong with Davao? Does the young poet not know that Ateneo de Davao has the 4th Best English and Literature Program in the country?

The Bangkerohan River List

But again, in spite of all the success and promise shown by the poems mentioned, the bestiary of hideous poems it seems is still not empty this year. In fact it is considerably noisy, full of  fetid glurge marinated in mindless hormones and pathetic moans from pity-hungry poverty porn, all masquerading as poetry. If Macario Tiu’s advice to “throw them into the Bangkerohan river” would be followed, these anomalies might mutate into river monsters.

But let us drag some of them out into the limelight to show would-be poets what hideous monstrosities to avoid when they try their hand at poetry. We shall let them serve as bad examples. This year’s Bangkerohan River List includes:

–      “Laserhenna’s Poem” by Laserhenna, Banaag Diwa

–      “Julius’s Poem” by Julius, Banaag Diwa

–      “LFJ 157” by Melon, Banaag Diwa

–      “The Moon, the Sadness, and the Text” by Abon Makamasa, Banaag Diwa

–      “ADDU” by raidhairedalice, Banaag Diwa

–      “Dahil ang pakikibaka ay higit pa sa isang milyong ‘mahal kita’” by Ash Lagon, Banaag Diwa

The good thing about conducting an autopsy is that it makes sure the corpse really is dead, and the first two corpses we are to cut open, the pathetic excuses for a balitaw by thankfully pseudonymous couple Julius and Laserhenna, will deserve to die. Both pieces have pretentions of being poems with their rhyme, but the poetry ends there as everything is as literal as a lapida. The one in English is riddled with grammatical errors and crawling with clichés. The last line of its second stanza is as awkward as an aborted fetus that survived. The poem ends with an inconsistency of perspective (“then there I realized my honey love”), with the persona realizing what she’s known all along (that she is all Romeo and Juliet over kuya), and with me throwing up. The poem by the penis in this love affair is only microscopically more poetic with a bit of terseness, but it’s still as subtle as a chainsaw, and it doesn’t even try to gain insight. “Hinay2” is not being orthographically deviant, it is obviously being plain lazy. The logic in this perspective is also exquisitely stupid, as according to kuya they find walking along the length of Quirino Avenue daunting but they decide to push the motorcycle. Finally the piece ends with the laziest line in all of poetry, “I love you baby.” These two are just washing their dirty and uninteresting linen in public. And if this poem is a symptom of how Atenistas think of love, then I diagnose terminal shallowness. Ilabay.

“LFJ 157” by pseudonymous Melon uses a title so private nobody could possibly know what it means. Or the poet was just so lazy he/she took the nearest car’s plate number and used it. The piece features that same terminal shallowness prevalent in many of the glurge rampant in this year’s Banaag Diwa, lovers nyernyering about not being loved. Like all the other love nyernyers this thing is also devoid of any insight or artistic accomplishment other than an attempt at rhyme. But what merits it a place in this list, other than its stupid title, is its terrible grammar. The correct word is “pulupot,” but the Balagtas-wannabe needed a rhyme for “papalapit” so he/she decided to invite a word and use “pupulupit” (and the brilliant Atenews did not even notice the error and published this garbage). I am particularly disturbed with the line “nagkadikit ang balikat.” It seems the poet meant the persona and the addressee’s shoulders bumped into each other (the stuff of innumerable romantic movies), but the absence of “mga” in that line makes it seem as if the addressee’s shoulders are sticking to each other. Could this be an undocumented congenital deformity? Other than that potential benefit to Anatomical pathology, nothing could be gained from this piece. Ilabay.

The first lines of “The Moon, The Sadness and the Text” make me imagine a child being forced to write rhymes. These kinds of poems, reminiscent of the now thankfully out of fashion Emo wave, are so obsessed with love that the persona would rather die than be unloved by the chorva (“please stop this non-sense [sic] and stab me on [sic] my chest”). There is an attempt at imagery in the piece, what with the use of the moon, but it is too noisy with all its whining that the image isn’t really fully developed. In the last stanza there is an attempt at aphorism, but like the moon it is clouded by the poem’s over-earnestness, ending with a complete digression from the preceding nyernyering and with the reader baffled at what exactly happened (“always remember, we were never been [sic] together”). For attempts at using text messaging in unrequited poetry, I refer this poem’s author to read Paul Gumanao’s “Mga Bidlisiw sa Awit,” and for him/her to give up this draft. Ilabay.

“ADDU” by thankfully pseudonymous Redhairedalice is the stuff you may post on Facebook but not publish using student money. Okay, I admire its attempt at deconstructing the stereotypes on Ateneo de Davao students. But the only way it is succeeding in that is with the notion that Atenistas are good at poetry, that is, by showing the contrary. Okay, so it mirrors Karla Singon’s “To Date a White Guy,” but while that poem succeeds by showing the opposite truth, this poem only whines and does not present the reality contrary to the stereotypes it is trying to deconstruct. Its biggest crime, however, is its sudden inconsistency of point of view in the last line, from the accusatory to an address to the Atenistas. Of course, there is also nothing to be said about its being Silent, for it is not. Ilabay.

As I’ve mentioned, almost the whole repertoire of Ash Lagon’s poetry this year is bad, and I am featuring “Dahil ang pakikibaka ay higit pa sa isang milyong ‘mahal kita’” only as an example, my comments to it are typical of all his works. On the first level it is far too noisy, everything is stated and the reader is given no freedom to interpret the text. The ideology is stated so loudly I cannot hear the ideology. Then the choice of words is so clumsy we get an internal hemorrhage of prose pretending to be a blush of poetry, but failing miserably. One look and the sight of the words “pakikibaka,” “politiko,” “negosyante,” “burgis,” “Hesus, “martyr,” “bayani,” “lipunan,” and “bayan” in one poem already tell the reader this is propaganda he is about to read. I am in no way moved by this poem to love the country or whatever the poem is trying to say (which in any case does not come out in the text). There is a whole canon of very well written, socially aware poetry (Brecht and Cleghorn just to cite a few), but this poem does not belong to that canon. Ilabay.

Still only a small fraction of the Ateneo de Davao community has reached Parnassus. But if there would be one sure way to fail at it, it would be to give up. I have presented the best and the worst poetry that the university’s writers have produced this year, and I am hoping that good and bad poets alike will continue to grow for the coming years.


“Evening”: A translation of Djamyla Millona’s “Kagabhion”

(I am currently working on my annual selection of Ateneo de Davao’s published literary works, beginning with poetry. Just a teaser, the following poem, which appeared in Dagmay, is on top of my list.)

Kagabhion
ni Djamyla Millona

Ang kagabhion
Morag kape nga gisabyag
Nganhi sa kalibotan.
Nangagda
Ang langit
Nga tan-awon
Ang nagdayan-dayang mga bituon
Sa iyang aping.
Hinay-hinay nga gisaliporan sa mga panganod
Ang maanyag na hulagway
Sa buwan
Ug ang gamayng gatas na gisabwag apil sa
Itom na kagabhion
Nahanaw
Ug gipulihan og kangitngit
Sabay sa bugnaw
Nga ginhawa sa hangin.
Taudtaod,
Gihilak sa langit ang mga bituon
Nga nangabuak paghapak sa yuta.
Apan walay nakasaksi niini
Kondili ako lang
Na naanod sa kangiob sa kagabhion
Naghilak pod og mga bituon
Samtang naghandom
Sa gugma mong
Gisabwag sa tanang dapit
Pwera lang sa akong kasingkasing.

Evening

Tonight the evening
is like coffee poured out
all over this world.
The heavens
beckon eyes to see
the stars trickling down its cheek.
The clouds slowly cover
the glowing face
of the moon
and the streak of milk
poured out with the black night
is dispelled, making way
for darkness
and coldness
of wind’s breathing.
Then, the heavens
weep with star-tears
that shatter when they hit the earth.
Nobody is witness to all this
but for me, despondent
with this night’s desolation,
crying my own star-tears,
as I remember that love of yours
that you pour out on everything
except my heart.


Fellows to the 2013 Ateneo de Davao Summer Writers Workshop

The following have been accepted as fellows to the 2013 Ateneo de Davao Summer Writers Workshop. They are the latest fellows to Davao’s oldest writers workshop, and will hopefully continue the university’s long tradition of literary excellence.

The number of Creative Nonfiction fellows this year is the most I recall any workshop has had, a welcome development in Ateneo de Davao’s literary growth!

The  Workshop will be held at Room C301, Ateneo de Davao University from 27-31 May 2013. Distinguished writers such as Macario Tiu, Don Pagusara and Jhoanna Cruz are the panelists. They will also share their expertise during the craft lectures. Dominique Cimafranca, Rhodora Ranalan and Hazel Hamile, Creative Writing and Literature teachers of the university, will sit as guest panelists.

 
POETRY
 
Sarah Samodal
Jhecel May Lovitos
Lionell Marañan
Louie Angelo Lim Ang
Frank Lloyd dela Cruz
 
FICTION
 
Jose Martin Castrillo
Tiffany Motilla
Isabel Francesca Sambrano
Abdul Jabbar  Marohom
Kristine Soria
 
NONFICTION
 
Loreto Estor
Rachelle Corrine Estrellada
June Nicole Olayres
Kristina Clavero
Sean Año

Perpetual Happiness

(My first, and so far only attempt at speculative poetry. Keyword is rebirth, or madness.)

palace-of-celestial-purity

The Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City. Taken from Images of China through English Eyes

Perpetual Happiness

Looking now, in this life,
from the azotea
of my Forefathers’ casa,
I see how incontable
are the stalks of tubo
that grow on the Kanlaon-ashed soil
Of my hacienda

…Even more, perhaps:
were the sailors, doctors, chefs and diplomats
that manned My Eunuch-led Fleet;
were the characters, written precisely
by My mandarins, on the Great Canon of My Reign;
or were the auspicious rooms,
doored with Heaven within Earth
and placed in harmony
with Wind and Water,
that filled my Purple Forbidden City


My Open Letter to Taiwan, in Traditional Chinese

(Through the efforts of a friend in Taiwan, Karlo Casas, my open letter to the country was translated to Traditional Chinese by Mr. Tsai Pei Hsiu [蔡沛修], an English Major from the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology,  for better accessibility to the Taiwanese people. I am very grateful to Mr. Tsai for helping me extend my message to the people of Taiwan. It is reassuring to know that there are still noble souls  in this world)

 

給台灣人民

我代表我的國家為著你們被我國海岸防衛隊殺害的同胞“洪石成“道歉。在雙方政府接連而來的在外交上的爭吵中,我意識到最重要的議題是這個不必要和最不幸的死亡。洪先生並不需要死,我向他的家人、朋友和親人致以最深切的哀悼。

我們人民對於看到同胞死於我們的海域外並不陌生。看回過去幾十年裡菲律賓勞工因著合法或不合理的原因被殺害。能夠體會看著自己人死在國外的人就是我們。我們完全理解你們的痛苦和憤怒。事實上,附註我懇求你們的理解:經歷這種情況太頻繁,我們早已對這恐怖的事情無感了,因此我們應該為著你們的悲痛發揮同理心。

我也為著外交的無能道歉,我國政府已經處理了這個問題。當調查正在進行時並不需要添加“非故意的”字眼在半官方給你們政府的道歉。它給你們隨便且不情願的道歉是不專業的。但我懇請你們明白,無論調查結果如何,採取外國人的性命從來不是菲律賓的外交政策。

我再度為了我國政府使用一中政策來處理這件事道歉,我相信我們與你們政府之前的談判是虛偽的。據我所知,中國和台灣在過去幾年中處於良好的關係,且我覺得很可惡的是我國政府和同胞犧牲可喜的發展只是因為他們太驕傲而無法為我國的錯負責。雖然我們國家確實遵守一中政策,我們珍惜與你們的關係,我們一部份的人口引起這樣的政策,易使我們和你們重要的關係被遺忘。我期待著這項政策的逆轉,且進一步地改​​善你們與中共的關係。

我完全同意你們總統的號召從競爭國家在爭議海域行為的商定代碼。據我所知,遠離領土上的要求,這是你們人民憤怒的原因。再次的,我為著我國缺乏洞察力道歉,我們看到你的憤怒視為一種對我們要求的威脅。

我們了解你的悲傷,而我自己明白你們在你們對洪先生死亡的憤怒可能是非理性的。但我懇求你們在你們可敬的國家不要傷害我們的同胞。菲律賓人在台灣生活沒有什麼,但沒有好的評價,這是一種恥辱,我們作為人民的良好關係至今一直緊張。你們所傷害的是你們的朋友菲律賓人,因為我們在這裡的菲律賓繼續成為你們的朋友。事實上,由於與你們的親和力,其中許多人一樣都因著你們同胞的死亡而感到憤慨。我懇求你不要傷害他們。請饒了我們的人。死一個人已經夠悲慘,請不要再增加了。我向你們呼籲互惠意識。

這個悲劇除了悲傷,沒有引起我什麼其他,而我希望趕快給洪先生一個公道,且恢復我們國家間彼此的愛。


An Open Letter to Taiwan

To the People of Taiwan

 

In behalf of my country, I apologize for the death of your compatriot, Hung Shih Cheng, in the hands of my country’s coast guards. Amidst the diplomatic bickering that has ensued from both our governments, I recognize that, above all, the issue at hand is this needless and most unfortunate death. Mr. Hung did not need to die, and I offer my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones.

We as a people are no strangers to seeing our compatriots die outside our shores. Oversees Filipino workers have, for legal or unjustified reasons, been killed in the past decades. If there is any nation which understands the pain of seeing our own die in foreign territory, it is us. We understand your pain and anger completely. It is in fact in that note that I implore you for your understanding: having experienced this circumstance far too often, my people have grown calloused to its horror, and as such we cannot show as much empathy for your grief as we ought to.

I also apologize for the diplomatic ineptness with which my country’s government has dealt with this issue. It did not need to add the word “unintended” to the quasi-official apology it gave to your government when investigations are still under way. And the gross tardiness with which it gave the apology to you is unprofessional. But I implore you to understand that whatever the results of the investigations will be, it has never been Philippine foreign policy to take the lives of foreigners.

I further apologize for my government’s use of the One China Policy to deal with this matter, I believe it is hypocritical in the face of previous negotiations we have had with your government in the past. I understand that China and Taiwan have been in good terms in the past few years, and I find it abhorrent that my country’s government and compatriots are compromising that welcome development simply because they are too proud to owe up to our country’s fault. While our country does observe the One China Policy, we cherish our relationship with you, and the fraction of our population who evoke the policy are simply being forgetful of our important ties with you. I look forward to the reversal of this policy and for further improvement in your relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

I agree completely with your President’s call for an agreed code of conduct from the competing nations in the disputed waters. I understand that far from the claim on the territory, this is the cause of your people’s anger. Again, I apologize for my country’s lack of insight, we are seeing your anger as  a threat to our claims.

We understand your grief, and I myself understand that you may be irrational in your anger at Mr. Hung’s death. But I implore you not to hurt our compatriots in your worthy country. Filipinos living in Taiwan have had nothing but good opinions about it, and it is a shame that our hitherto good relationship as peoples has been strained. The Filipinos you are hurting there are your friends, as we here in the Philippines continue to be your friends. Indeed, owing to this affinity with you,  many of them are just as indignant at the death of your compatriot as you are. I implore you not to hurt them. Please spare our people. One death is tragic enough, please do not add to it. I appeal to your sense of reciprocity.

This tragedy has caused me nothing but sadness, and I am hoping for nothing but quick justice for Mr. Hung and for the restoration of the mutual love between our nations.

 


Sigwa: A Review

(I do not even remember for what class I wrote this review of Joel Lamangan’s 2010 film Sigwa.  But it seems my third year in AB English, which I have so far overlooked as simply the year before my SALEM Presidency, was a time of critical growth.  This is hardly surprising as, in a recent ranking by Quacquerelli Symonds, Ateneo de Davao had the 4th Best English and Literature Program in the country. I had a suspicion about it, but it seems I got a really good undergraduate education.
This review has also made me realize that a considerable portion of the reviews and critical analyses I’ve written as an undergraduate student were about films, and I may have been underestimating my film competence. Like the previous archive selections, this review’s formatting has been kept as it appears in the original submitted manuscript.
)

sigwa ad

David, Karlo Antonio G.

3rd Year AB English

Joel Lamangan’s Sigwa: Artaudian or Brechtian?

Joel Lamangan’s Sigwa begins with Dolly, a Fil-Am returning to the Philippines after almost 40 years. Dolly was a journalist who was sent to cover the student activist movements during the Marcos regime. The story unfolds with many flashbacks, and it is thus that both Dolly’s past and present are revealed: she was caught up in the activist movements and became an activist herself. She was also romantically involved with one student activist, Eddie, with whom she bore a baby. But Eddie, it is later revealed, was a government spy who regretted his double crossing and killed himself out of this regret. Dolly was then among the activists later caught by the government forces, after which she was sent back to the US, leaving her baby in the care of Azon, another student activist. Azon informed her a few years later that the baby died, but she had misgivings about this, and it is revealed that her reason for returning to the Philippines was to confirm her baby’s death. Azon later admits, before expiring, that it was her baby who died and not Dolly’s, and thus her daughter, now a teacher and mother, was actually Dolly’s daughter. Other subplots, such as that of leading student activist Oliver, who was caught early in the Marcos regime, who has since then had a strained relationship with his former comrades and who was now the press Secretary for the Arroyo administration; that of Cita, Oliver’s lover who feels the most contempt for Oliver and now continues to live as a guerilla and Azon, who was raped after escaping with Dolly’s baby; all of these unfold with the aftermath of the Marcos Regime, still haunting the film’s characters as a backdrop.

For a Filipino film, Sigwa is surprisingly realistic to the point of being cruel. The plight of the characters in the past as well as how this past haunts them are all vividly portrayed, and Lamangan does not spare the audience from Artaudian detail. It not only reveals but presents theatrically many social realities and moral dilemmas. For instance, Oliver’s character reveals that of many student activists during the Marcos Regime: idealistic without being realistic. We see all his revolutionary convictions thrown away when he screams that he would reveal everything he knew for his life, and we sympathize with him, we share his dilemma between ideal and life. We see Azon get raped by the not exactly attractive crony, and we somehow feel how easily she could have wavered when they threatened to hurt her daughter.

But it is to be noted that the unrestrained revelation of social realities seen in SIgwa is in fact a tradition of older films of Filipino cinema, films that were not released commercially but as art. Such films include those by Lino Broka, Ismael Bernal and other classic Filipino directors.

Lamangan, then, in revealing what these revered directors revealed is indicating that he is following their footsteps, trying to create his own art film. But while he does succeed in making the viewer think more, the film ultimately fails to take our feelings away from the fictions we have made to be our realities. The film continues to apply contemporary popular media tropes like love stories that dominate the theme, the mother without her child scenario that traces back to Sisa, or the character who serves as the comic relief. Not only are these tropes unlikely in the context of the story, they also tend to distract as from the reality the film is trying to reveal. The film ultimately lacks the Artaudian cruelty we see in, say, Lino Broka’s “Manila: Sa mga Kuko ng Agila.”

Oliver is perhaps the film’s most developed character. From a leading student activist and a passionate lover who never wavered in his devotion we see him become a human who succumbs to his thanatos in the face of death, then into a reformed former activist who now works to rebuild a nation through understanding, but we still get the hint that he is bitter with his past. He is the film’s Byronic hero (though the role is confused with Eddie’s mysterious personality). He and Cita would make the best main characters for the story, for not only are they apart due to personal differences, their difference is allegorical of the dichotomy between Revolutionaries and Constructive “Nation-Builders.” The ending, in fact, would have been better if the two were the main characters: “Who will be the ultimate victor, Oliver or Cita?” would be allegorical of “What will last, Revolution or the Politics of Understanding?”

But that Oliver only serves as a secondary character and that it is Dolly, who is an easy to sympathize with and quite flawless character who is the protagonist yet again reveals how Lamangan is still controlled by popular media tropes. Instead of emphasizing the revolution-peacekeeping dichotomy with Oliver and Cita, he chooses Dolly’s personal drama as the main story. He seems to have not yet decided on whether to be entertainingly revealing (that is to say, Lacanian jouissance, as it would be had the theme’s dilemma been the central focus) or revealingly entertaining (as it already is, in which the theme is just casually revealed, for Dolly’s drama is the main story). For the film to be truly artistic in nature, the viewer should be entertained by his understanding of the film’s theme, not by the personal yet highly unlikely drama of Dolly, which has nothing to do with his (the viewer’s) life.

Ultimately, though the film’s unnatural and didactic dialogue ruins the Artaudian-realist effect the revelation of social realities creates. In one scene, we see Azon being raped by the not exactly attractive crony and we shudder at the realism, in another we hear Zsa Zsa Padilla speaking with flawless Filipino grammar about her past while trekking in the mountains with comrades and we are alienated from the realism. Lamangan is not yet decided on whether to be Artaudian or to be Brechtian. This, in fact, is the film’s biggest flaw.