THE 41ST NATIONAL WRITERS WORKSHOP
Dumaguete City, May 31, 2002 (STAR) By Alfred A. Yuson - Maytime. Another fun time in Dumaguete, of course. It all came to a close last Friday after three weeks of inspiring camaraderie with young writers and old friends.
National Artist for Literature Dr. Edith L. Tiempo, co-founder and workshop director, welcomed 10 fellows to the 41st National Writers Workshop on May 6.
Winning fellowships for poetry among nearly a hundred applicants were Mookie Katigbak and Naya Valdellon of Ateneo de Manila University, Michael Morco of De La Salle University, and Allan Pastrana and Angelo Suarez of University of Santo Tomas. Granted fellowships for fiction were Peter Mayshle of Ateneo de Manila, Maryanne Moll of Ateneo de Naga, Kristine Alave and Baryon Posadas of UP Diliman, and Daryll Jane Posadas of UP Tacloban.
Special fellowships were given Vanessa Alpeche and Alfred Casipong of Silliman University, as well as painter Kitty Taniguchi, who runs the Mariah Art Gallery in Dumaguete.
The resident panelists who assisted Dr. Tiempo in the selection of fellows were multi-awarded writers Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Ernesto Superal Yee and Bobby Flores-Villasis, while guest panelists included Francis "Butch" Macansantos, Dr. Gémino H. Abad, Anthony Tan, Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara, Danny Reyes and this writer.
The longest-running creative writing workshop in English in all of Asia was established in 1962 by the eminent writing couple Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo and Dr. Edith L. Tiempo. It has since gained the tag of being "the mother of all writers’ workshops" in the country.
The major, devoted sponsor for the celebrated summer workshop has been College Assurance Plan of the Philippines, while lending support this year were Development Bank of the Philippines under its Chairman Vitaliano Nañagas, the Creative Writing Foundation, Inc., and former fellow Erwin E. Castillo, ever the gallant poet.
This summer saw a good number of special guests, returnees, and drop-in participants.
Former fellow and panelist Merlie Alunan, the distinguished poet from UP Tacloban who once ran the Dumaguete workshop when the Tiempos were in the States, came to confer with "Mom" Edith on her doctorate.
A delegation from De La Salle University of Manila and University of St. La Salle of Bacolod came on the second week after completing attendance at the first national workshop on criticism held in Bacolod. Accompanied by premier poet Marj Evasco and balik-fellow Carlomar Arcangel Daoana, the group included Vince Groyon, Regina Groyon, Shirley Lua, John Iremil Teodoro and Beth Yahp, the Sydney-based Malaysian novelist. She will spend a full month in Dumaguete to work on a novel with a Philippine setting.
Also dropping in during the middle week were former UP Writers Club mainstay and film scenarist Jorge Arago, the New York-based Dr. Evelyn Horilleno, and film director Butch Perez, who immediately conceived of a digital docu on Dumaguete’s Rizal Blvd. by the sea.
Sitting in for a week was Philippine STAR columnist Panjee Tapales Lopez, who made sure to come en famille. ABS-CBN’s top honcho Gabby Lopez proved the doting husband and father as he babysat their two young kids onboard the MV Iloilo, which lay in anchor off the breakwater facing Silliman University and the CAP Bldg. where the daily sessions were conducted. A motorized dinghy brought him to the esplanade in time to fetch Panjee after every session.
Gabby found time as well to look up the Sky Cable staff in town, in between Internet cafe sessions with their son and diving and sailing forays off Apo Island, Sumilon Island off Cebu, Balicasag Island off Bohol, and at Bais Bay, where playful dolphins and whales regaled the family.
The Lopez couple joined us for sunset cocktails and dinner at Mom Edith’s hilltop home at Sibulan, with its grand view of Tañon Strait and the southern tip of Cebu across. In turn were we hosted to a special treat of a sunset cruise onboard the superb-looking yacht. Negros Oriental’s southern coastline never looked as enchanting, nor the Scorpio-streaked sky off Siquijor as evening descended. Vodka martinis and sashimi turned the ageless poet and guru "Sawi" Aquino as tender as the night.
Then there was a lovely farewell lunch at the end of the second week, with Mom Edith joining us at Chin Loong on the boulevard. It was an occasion, too, to meet up with UP alumna Cecilia "Gootie" Taylor Hoffman, whose retirement haven in Valencia town on the foothills of Mt. Talinis hosted the kids for a Saturday lunch.
Friday night’s highlight was a program billed as "Summer Halo-Halo at the Catacombs – Silliman Church Down Under – Night of Poetry and Music." The university’s poets and musical entertainers – from an excellent choir to an energetic reggae trio – alternated with the fellows in a memorable evening of songs and performed verse. Emcee was organizer Moses Atega, S.U.’s workhorse of a culture coordinator.
And the workshop proper? Typically, the laidback sked had two-hour sessions each morning and afternoon, with long breaks in between. Gentle critical appraisal and informed discussion characterized the takes on the manuscripts. Now and then a lightning bolt struck, but it was in the form of some marvelous insight served on a string of bon mots.
A sampler from Dr. Abad: "The life of a poem lies in feeling, since attitude is our first language. That’s why it is wordless." The genial professor spoke too of "how the images constellate."
Dr. Aquino quoted Henry James‚ "solidity of specifications," then did it one better by suggesting something like "thinging the names." More nuggets of wisdom from Sawi: "Nascent paradox..." "Fraught with archetypal patterns..." "When you dream in white, you have attained a point of consummation." Zugzwang!
And from Mom Edith: "There is a need for concretizing perception in color. Metaphorize! When you put it in image form, it comes alive, it becomes true."
The kids were lucky this year. Edith had missed last summer’s workshop, since she had to extend her visit with daughter Rowena and son Maldon in Iowa. This summer she was back with a bang, rendering special lectures on the second and third weeks. The one we caught was an excellent lecture-demonstration on the perils of the free verse form. Ever so astutely, she showed how even in the absence of metrics, a poet could ensure that his/her free verse would not slip into cut-up prose.
Utilizing sample poems by W.B. Yeats, Sarah Tysdale, Jane Hirschfield, Wallace Stevens, Rowena Torrevillas and Ernesto Yee, the 83-year-old National Artist, still spry, still as sharp as a blade of fern, offered invaluable technical advice.
"Most emphatic are the words placed at the beginning and end of the line. Playing safe, you go with the caesura, which is a complete thought line, as against the enjambement. When you break the caesura, you force attention to your line-cutting technique. We do not want the fat, flabby line. What we want is a lean line. It must have substance...
"In a poem, you must suggest, for in suggesting, you enrich the idea. Then you are not tied down to the base statement. You can write in statement-like verse, but the statement should be within the framework of the metaphor.
"You must allow yourself to fly into the more formidable region of myth. In other words, keep the intuition going, and you cannot go wrong. Myth cannot lie; it contains all the basic elements of human nature."
And the kids? I had long thought of devoting a column to our promising young voices in poetry. I had wanted to cite, in particular, the fresh and scintillating works of seven young poets, headed (chronologically) by Carlomar Arcangel Daoana and Marc Ascalon Gaba, who are the oldest, if only in their mid-20s.
Daoana was in Dumaguete four years ago. This year sees his debut collection, to be published by UP Press. I had the privilege to interact with Gaba in a UP workshop in Baguio a couple of years back. A pity he didn’t get to submit his manuscript in time for a fellowship in Dumaguete this summer.
Mookie Katigbak and Naya Valdellon were students of mine at poetry classes in Ateneo. Both are turning into fine, determined poets, and their experience this year in Dumaguete, inclusive of the praise they received for their works from no less than Mom Edith, I daresay will ensure their places in Philippine poetry in English.
A couple of other Filipina poets in their early 20s, Manila-based Anna Bernaldo and Cebu-based Jeneen Garcia, were in the Dumaguete workshop last year. Their recent published poems attest to their growing maturity and excellence of voice and diction.
The Benjamin of Batch 2002, 17-year-old Angelo Suarez, Dr. Ophelia A. Dimalanta’s latest wunderkind of a protégé at UST, is one of the youngest ever accepted to the National Writers Workshop. I met him last year when he had yet to finish high school. My remark that he could well be the Kobe Bryant of Philippine poetry now stands as prescient.
But now we must add this year’s other fellows to our list of highly promising literary voices. Allan Pastrana and Michael Morco have it – that distinctive tone, plus tenor and thematic concern, discipline of line, image and insight. The fiction writers, too, were exemplary, making the Dumaguete Batch 2002 arguably the uniform best in recent years. Peter Mayshle, Baryon Posadas, Darryl Jane Delgado, Maryanne Moll and Kristine Alave all displayed precocious skills with the language of narrative, imagination and healthy experimentation.
I’m not saying all this because I’m still enjoying a hangover from that splendid week in their youthful company. Mark my truthful words, spoken like, well, Sawi’s version of Maximus. They are the ones! These kids will soon rule the colosseum of our literature.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
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