Tanaga in Davao Filipino

(An old poem, written many years ago, one of my few attempts at fixed verse)

Kaganda nitong araw
Saya ko, naga-apaw!
Be, maka-GM nga daw-
Shet, cell phone ko, nanakaw!


2015 Banaag Diwa Awards Opening Address

(Delivered 26th March 2015, at Ateneo de Davao’s Finster Auditorium)

To the members of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors, of the Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sining at Komunikasyon, editors, writers, and staffers of the Atenews, teachers, students, readers, and to all of us who like calling ourselves writers, good evening

The Ateneo de Davao is most likely the only university in Mindanao, and one of the few in the country, to have a campus literary award. It is the latest development of that institution which has kept our literary scene thriving for decades, Banaag Diwa.

Banaag is a wonderfully curious thing. For one thing, it’s free. The moment Atenews stops putting a pile of it near the elevators, Ateneo will lose an important part of its identity. For another thing, it’s glossy, with quality far exceeding that of many of our textbooks.

It is also a distinct feature of Ateneo’s campus life. You watch out if your own work came out, or if your friend’s work came out, or if a work about you written by your stalker came out. Again. People are curious if there will be another scandalous story about an affair between teacher and his male student, or if two student writers will exchange poems and flirt in front of everybody again. People actually read it, so people write for it.

I can never forget the first time I got published in Banaag. It was in 2009 when I was still a little larva yet to become the beautiful cockroach I was meant to be. It was a story entitled ‘The Barefooted Girl.’ On the day the issue came out, I was rather disappointed because nobody was talking about it yet. And then, the next day, a classmate of mine approached me, crying, the issue with the first page of my story open in her hands. ‘Karlo,’ she said, ‘basahin mo gud ito na story. Makaiyak talaga masyado. True story gud siya.’ ‘Friend,’ I answered, ‘tignan mo gud sino nagsulat.’ Apparently she forgot to read the by line. But of course, without implying any medical condition, my liver blossomed with that reaction.

And Ateneo de Davao has been and continues to be a garden of the blossoming livers of aspiring writers for decades because of Banaag Diwa. Many students became campus names because their works appeared in Banaag: Karla Singson, Duane Gravador, Krisini Nanini, Paul Gumanao, Reymond Pepito. There probably more now that I am too old to know of. Last year’s inaugural awards already produced student writers to watch out for: just to mention the one example I am aware of, Reil Benedict Obinque had gone on to publish several works in the Davao Writers Guild’s Dagmay.

Yes, much of the works that come out in Banaag are rough, I’m the first to admit that: sappy love poems that copy paste from Justin Bieber, or stories with convoluted language that nobody could understand. But Banaag is for beginners, and all writers begin by producing rough works. Nobody starts off by writing like a Nobel Prize winner. Not even Nobel Prize winners. Why should we be judged as Palanca Hall of Famers right from the get-go? We have the right to commit mistakes. Banaag is the hallowed nursery of our creative beginnings and growth. Honi soit qui mal y pense: evil be to him who thinks evil of it.

But I’d like us to celebrate tonight by focusing on two things.
First, let us celebrate and remember the fact that these young writers we honour tonight define Ateneo de Davao’s culture. They articulate and influence the values and aspirations of the current generation of the university. Percy Byshe Shelley once declared that writers are ‘the unsung legislators of mankind.’ Nowhere is that demonstrated best than with the theme of this year’s Banaag: Kayamanan. Our student writers are serving to articulate and define what matters most to the Atenista.

Let me just add that while generations of Ateneo de Davao writers, this year’s awardees included, have done well to articulate and enrich local identity, there is still need to develop this further. We need to write more local stories. That first story of mine that appeared in Banaag, ‘the Barefooted Girl,’ had the novelty of being set in this very campus, and it proved popular exactly because it was set in familiar places, dealt with familiar themes. Nothing could be easier or more fulfilling than delving into the realities that are immediately before you. As that first great Ateneo de Davao student writer Leoncio Deriada always said, ‘write what you know,’ or as that other great Ateneo de Davao student writer Macario Tiu put it, ‘bakit ka nagasulat niyang mga taga-Pennsylvania. Ilagay mo yang kwento mo sa Panacan.’

And on that note, I enjoin all student writers: read what has been written about your school by the writers who came before you. Ateneo de Davao has a veritable pantheon of student and teacher writers who have walked its halls: Leoncio Deriada, Aida Rivera-Ford, Alfredo Salanga, Macario Tiu, Don Pagusara, Joey Ayala, Dominique Cimafranca, Meghan Hamile. To be good writers you must be readers, and to be good Ateneo de Davao writers you must be readers of Ateneo de Davao literature.

But second and more importantly, let us remember that this night is above all a milestone for the individual writer. When a writer writes, he not only strives to create a good work, he strives to create himself. ‘Whát I do is me,’ writes that great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

And yet rarely is this self creation rewarded –creativity demands uniqueness, and the unique are often treated like nails sticking out of the wood. Writing is a lonely endeavour, and writers are often lonely people.

But tonight we witness these young writers draw flame. They will set us on fire. Tonight is the night for that geek in third year high school who sat at the back of chemistry class to scribble his lesbian short story about the two prettiest girls in class. Tonight is the night for that weirdo who used up all his Filipino notebook drafting his novel about fallen angels. Tonight is the night for that nerd who only gets noticed in class when the English teacher requires a stage play and somebody needs to write a script.

Tonight these neglected little larvae will become the beautiful cockroaches they were meant to be. They are beginning their flight to greatness – what is more captivating than a cockroach taking flight! They will get published more, they will be fellows to writers workshops, they will win more awards!

And how eagerly we will wait to see what they will write for us next.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the 2015 Banaag Diwa Awards. Good evening.

What have I been reading?

‘Barely anything’ is the short answer.

I have to be honest, I’ve been reading less and less over the past few years.

For form’s sake I’ve maintained one book I’m officially reading for as long as I can remember. Right now it’s a collection of Plays Political by George Bernard Shaw (drama plus politics plus British wit – my kind of stuff).

But it’s been over two years since I actually finished a book (I’ve been officially reading this Shaw book for three months now, and I’ve only read five pages).

I even got hold of a great new book recently: ‘Davao Cuisine: Recipes of the Ten Tribes of Davao.’ It’s a brilliant compilation of traditional recipes from the ten designated indigenous tribes of Davao city, edited by Macario Tiu and published by the Philippine Women’s College of Davao, the result of two years of painstaking research. It sells at 300 and is available at PWC.

And nope, I haven’t gotten to reading it yet.

I also recently read short story entries to the 2015 Banaag Diwa Awards, sponsored by Atenews of the Ateneo de Davao University – I was asked to be among the judges for the Short Story Category. I and fellow judge and former Atenews EIC Reymond Pepito then deliberated on the entries and reached a consensus on this year’s crop of fiction from my former school.

The results? Find out on the awarding ceremony this Thursday, 26th March 6pm at AdDU’s Finster Auditorium!

But that was just a total of what, twenty pages, in three weeks? I hardly felt I was on reading-mode.

I guess three things have been preoccupying me lately, distracting me from reading.

First, anime.

Yes, I watch more anime than I read now. I was an anime fan first anyway before I started any literary interests, so I guess I’m just being consistent.

My current anime list includes Akatsuki no Yona, Kiseijuu – Sei no Kakuritsu, Kamisama Hajimemashita 2, Durarara x2 Shou, Yurikuma Arashi, Magic Kaito 1412, the usual Naruto Shippuuden and Detective Conan, and some old One Piece episodes while I eat (I’m trying to catch up on the latest episodes).

I’m not too worried about my lack of literary exposure then, because Yurikuma Arashi is one of the most literary anime titles I’ve ever seen. Now I can say with certainty, that the new face of Theatre of the Absurd is anime, and the next Ionesco is Kunihiko Ikuhara!

Then there’s Kabuki.

I try to watch whatever I can on the internet, and that’s surprisingly a lot. I recently got hold of ‘Hana kurabeshiki no Kotobuki – Manzai‘, featuring actors Nakamura Fukusuke IX and  Nakamura Senjaku III. This auspicious dance drama celebrating the Spring has an interesting history: it’s inspired by a Bunraku puppet play of the same title. But the fact that it’s a dance drama makes it unusual for Bunraku – its writing itself was influenced by Kabuki. It’s a Kabuki dance inspired by a Bunraku dance which is inspired by Kabuki dance!

Fukusuke IX is also becoming one of my favourite Onnagata (his portrayal of Omiwa in this performance of Mikasayama Goten was heart wrenching).

Kabuki is increasingly bringing me back to my primeval theatrical urges – the reason why I started writing in the first place. More and more do I want to write not to come up with a profound articulation of some universal truth (there’s literature in a nutshell for you), but to create something fabulous, something undeniably intense and fun.

And yes, finally, I’ve been writing!

Wordsworth once said, not that I’m a fan of him, that the genuine scholar is preoccupied with reading only when there is nothing better to do. I do not presume to be a genuine scholar (I cannot find monocles in Davao for that), but I have been busy writing.

Outside of the posts to this blog (which you might have noticed is increasing), I’m also completing this collection of short stories that have formed a stylistic suite of their own. I’m calling the collection ‘Proclivities,’ and it includes two published works, ‘In the Manner Accustomed’ (the first of the suite, which won the Joaquin in 2013) and ‘Condign Restitutions’ (which was published in Graphic in 2014). I’ll see if I can get others in the collection published elsewhere.

‘Sometimes on the road to Kidapawan’ by Paul Randy Gumanao: A translation to Davao Filipino

(Paul Gumanao’s best Kidapawan poem so far – unless he has an even better one hidden unpublished. Again, a liberal translation. I deviated from the original line cutting, and paraphrased at some points so as not to compromise the translation’s own quality. I’m very happy with the ambiguity of ‘mag-uwi’ in the translation’s Davao Filipino, and the pun on ‘Makilala’!)

Minsan, Pauwi ng Kidapawan
Translated by Karlo Antonio Galay-David

Matagal na akong nagamahal magmahal
ng walang pangalan, ng may mukhang
walang kamukhaan kahit anong pilit
bigay sa kanya ng itsura, ng kaganda
ng lahat ng bidang babae sa mga salida
na kalingawan ko masyado kada hapon,
habang walang ibang magawa kung hindi
mag kunyari na nagamahal, ginamahal, magmugna.
Dahilan din bitaw bakit
gusto ko mag-uwi sa Kidapawan.

Sa van gusto ko yang
maghirig ako sa balikat
ko, ginaisip na ang hininga mo
ang nagadampi sa balat ko, habang
ginaisip kita nagatulog, habang
mawala kita sa mga gomahan
at sa taligsik minsan
sa may Makilala, mga palatandaan
ng malapit na na yakap ng nanay, o ng kaibigan
o ng mga alaala natin noong high school.

– Ayan na lagi, makilala!

Sus, dahilan din talaga bakit
gusto ko mag-uwi
sa Kidapawan.
Habang palapit na ako, palapit
ka na rin, mas nagalinaw na
sa akin ang iyong ngiti.

Dahan-dahan, maalala ko ang pangalan mo.

Sometimes, on the Road to Kidapawan
by Paul Randy Gumanao

Long have I been loving to love
a nameless, whose face remains
faceless amidst all attempts
of masking her the looks of every
leading lady in the romance movies
I so dearly enjoy in the afternoons
when there is nothing better to do but
to pretend to love, be loved, to imagine.
This is also one reason why I’d like
to travel home to Kidapawan.

In the van, I like it when I lean
on my own shoulder, thinking
it was your breath wafting on
my skin as I imagine you
sleeping, while I look farther, until I
forget you because of the rubber trees
and the occasional drizzles of Makilala,
the signals of the proximal embrace
of a mother, perhaps, or an old friend,
or of our high school memories
of little fondness. And there, memories!

Ah, another reason why I love
to travel home to Kidapawan.
The nearer I get, the clearer
you appear, smiling.

Slowly, I remember your name.

Akiko Shikata Live

Akiko Shikata, in a live concert performing some of her songs. Most of the pieces are soundtracks from video games.

Shikata composes her own music, arranges the instruments, and provides the vocals.

And to that end she is a genius. Her music relies on ridiculously complex but symmetrical overlaying of tones and vocals, powerfully complicated rhythms, and strikingly sharp contrasts of pace, but each piece surprisingly produces a distinct motif, often borrowed from existing musical traditions (traditional Japanese, Celtic, Arabian, Greek, etc.). The array of these traditions she borrows from is extensive, and the diversity of instruments she employs reflects that – you can hear a guzheng playing with a bagpipe in one piece, while a Japanese Sho may play with a sitar in another. She has exquisite command of the traditions she borrows from, distilling the quintessential musical motifs of each tradition and producing music that is stereotypically, and thereby distinctly, of that tradition. But the diversity of her sources, along with her electro-synth editing, serve to give her music a cosmopolitan and modern feel, highlighting the stylistic similarities across different traditions, and making them appealing to modern tastes. Her vocals, ranging from western Classical contralto to Japanese Minyo folk singing, demonstrate this best.

With a Shikata piece there is nothing but intensity. You cannot believe how she can provide all the almost 200 vocal recordings in each piece, and your emotions fluctuate rapidly from one extreme to another as you listen to her. With the experience of her music Shikata touches on the human feeling where no artist has probably ever touched before. You don’t need an eloquent explanation to get how good her music is. Bang, it hits you on the face on the first note. Every single time.

Perhaps her music’s only flaw is that you can barely sing any of her pieces in karaoke. And I’m just fine with that.

My favourite Shikata pieces are Katayoku no Tori (the first song by her I heard, from the ‘Umineko no naku koro ni’ anime), The Wind Knows the Distant Tomorrow (I mentioned this in one short story, reminds me of Mati, Davao Oriental somehow), Seiren -Íroes Argonáutes (the sudden fast movements at the beginning and the end always get me), Pantalea (my soundtrack during the Silliman Writers Workshop in 2012, and my Negros Oriental soundtrack in general),  and Akakakushi (my soundtrack during my summer vacation in Hong Kong).

(Warning: when you’re going through very emotional times, DO NOT use an Akiko Shikata piece as soundtrack. It will take your longer to forget those emotions. Those last two songs took me three years.)

Shikata’s latest piece, Akatsuki (second closing theme for the anime series Akatsuki no Yona) may not be her best, but it’s definitely one of her most typical.

Want me to recommend a good composer? Akiko Shikata!

R.I.P.: Bando Mitsugoro X

Above is the short Kabuki play ‘Chatsubo,’ adapted from the kyogen play of the same title. It stars two of my favourite Kabuki actors: Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII (then Nakamura Kankuro V) as the servant carrying the tea, and Bando Mitsugoro X (then Bando Yasosuke V) as the comic thief. (Nakamura Kyozo plays the passing magistrate)

These two actors were seen as the future of Kabuki, and indeed they very much were. Kanzaburo went on to both start Cocoon Kabuki, an experimental Kabuki series that either revived old plays for contemporary audiences or staged new plays, and his Heisei Nakamura-za, temporary theatres that captured the informal intimacy of Kabuki as it was in the Edo times. Mitsugoro went on to be head of the Bando school of Buyo, one of the biggest buyo schools in Japan. Kanzaburo was a superb thespian, able to breath in life to even the stiffest plays, and Mitsugoro was one of the most precise dancers in Kabuki I’ve seen.

In 2012 Kanzaburo died, and Mitsugoro was viewed as the leader of what would be kabuki’s next generation of elders. But earlier this month, he died. It’s a great blow to Kabuki, and that’s another actor I love whom I’m never going to be able to see perform in person.