February 5, 2004 (STAR) By Alfred A. Yuson - The Dumaguete guru Sawi Aquino scores a hat trick of sorts this Friday, Feb. 6, by engaging in a serial launch of his third book, Checkmeta: The Cesar Ruiz Aquino Reader, published by Midtown Publishing Inc. of Davao City.

He’s on a roll, too, as he’s just been declared the National Fellow for Poetry by the UP Institute of Creative Writing for 2004-2005. To break tradition, or jumpstart another, or turn the process on its head as is his metaphysical wont, Sawi has offered to deliver his obligatory lecture on poetry before students, faculty and fellow writers even as his term as national fellow is just starting. Most UP-ICW national fellows conduct the lecture towards the end of their yearlong term.

And so Sawi will enjoy a triple-launch this Friday, the better to provide non-peripatetic friends and putative lovers triple the opportunity to purchase a copy as a Valentine’s Day gift for the following week. A fitting gift it will be, too, as no one writes love poems as jauntily and cleverly, as mock-desperately as whimsy itself, as this love poet.

Hear, hear: "She was trance itself. A single glance at her/ Was pilgrimage – though it were once in a/ New Moon, forever in a blue. She blew/ My mind. I’d fall invisibly behind,/ Rainmaker fool, and spring an ambush bushwhacked/ By her face – in Bethlehem, in Mecca.// She was hush, she was twin sister of hello/ Hair curling to the hips. Fata morgana/ A smile on her lips, being all the while/ Hair-trigger, stranger, to flee. Pynchon’s V/ Except visibler and in that sense, V-er./ When will I see her again, pretend/ Rain, of a sudden, made me run or turn/ Or stay – among the beasts, at the Kaaba?" ("She Was Trance Itself")

Those lines delirious, delicate, are representative of the poetry in Checkmeta. The rest of this voluminous reader that comes in hardcover and softcover editions consists of short fiction, critical and philosophical essays, and excerpts from Aquino’s novel-cum-meta-memoir-in-progress. Among the short stories are some of the finest written in English in this country.

For his big day in Manila, owing to his perpetual subscription to Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Sawi can only visit from Dumaguete by boat. ("For I have fallen under the surface of your love/ Like a boat under the sea.// Like a boat I was old with desire/ And now my brows are oldened still with magic.// For in the depths of your joy are older things,/ Older are the elements lying deep under.// Your smile was the ripple I made/ On your surface of eternal water…." – from "Song")

At 10:30 a.m. this Friday, the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center at De La Salle University hosts the initial book launch at the Ariston Estrada Room. This follows a reading of his poems by Aquino himself (to be introduced by Jerry Torres), literature professor Vince Groyon who is himself an accomplished poet and Palanca grand prize-winning novelist, and creative writing major Hedwig de Leon. An excerpt from Aquino’s fiction will be read by this writer-buddy.

First copies of the book are to be presented to College of Liberal Arts Dean Dr. Asa Marco, for the DLSU Library, to Shirley Lua for the literature department, and to Dr. Marjorie Evasco for the Creative Writing Center. A 20-minute dialogue on the book by Sawi and this sidekick should ensue, that is, if the literate audience can stand the fun and puns. Follows an open forum moderated by Enrique Francia, who will also serve as emcee. Closing remarks are to be rendered by the Writing Center director Dr. Evasco.

At UP Diliman, Aquino’s lecture will start at 3:30 p.m. at the College of Arts and Letters audio-visual room, on the second floor of the UP Faculty Center. Opening remarks will be rendered by UP Institute of Creative Writing director Vim Carmelo Nadera. The National Fellow for Poetry will be introduced by old friend Erwin E. Castillo, himself a previous UP-ICW National Fellow for Fiction. Dr. Gémino H. Abad, who retires this year as university professor, will lead the panel of reactors. Checkmeta will then see its second launch and discounted sale after the program.

At 6:30 in the evening, the book will see its third launch at Mag:net Gallery and Bookstore at The Loop, ELJ Tower, inside the ABS-CBN Complex.

Managed by painter Rock Drilon and TV anchor Ces Drilon, Mag:net has made it a tradition to conduct "Full Moon Nights," which usually feature an exhibit opening or literary readings and climax in a music concert.

This February edition highlights Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino’s weighty literary presence, which should attract a legion of young writers from UST, DLSU, Ateneo de Manila and elsewhere in Metro Manila, all of whom have benefited from Sawi’s sage advice at the annual National Writers Workshop directed by National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo in Dumaguete.

After the book launch, the music concert features Dong Abay and the band Pan, which will render all-original compositions known for their wit and social commentary. A fun, loony full-moon night it promises to be.

Now here’s more on this love month’s premier author, whose low-key approach to the literary scene has not prevented his elevation into near-cult status among fans of his scintillating prose and delightful poetry.

"A World War II baby, Cesar Ruiz Aquino belongs to a generation of writers who had to find their voices on the daunting heels of the generation of Filipino writers that he believes are still the measuring standard in Philippine letters – the parent generation of Villa, Joaquin, Arcellana, Gonzalez, Tiempo, Alfon, Santos, Angeles, Demetillo, et al; not to mention the younger uncles and aunts that would include Jose, Brilliantes, Nolledo, et al.

"Aquino began writing in high school in Zamboanga, winning the campus poetry prizes and eventually breaking, as a college sophomore, into national print in 1962 when Vicente Rivera Jr. of Graphic magazine published his story, ‘Noon and Summer.’ This story became his ticket to the Philippine literary world. As fate would have it, the first Silliman writers workshop was held in May of that year. Aquino got an invitation from the workshop’s director, Dr. Edilberto K. Tiempo. Here he met the UP Diliman wunderkind who was to become a life-long friend, Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez (now in Chicago), as well as Wilfrido Nolledo (now in Panorama City, California) and Jose Lansang, Jr., as well as the mentors Ed and Edith Tiempo, Franz Arcellana and Nick Joaquin, then Philippines Free Press literary editor, who gave the young writer from Zamboanga further encouragement by publishing his workshop story, ‘In The Smithy of My Soul.’

"From there, Cesar Ruiz Aquino pursued his voyage of self-discovery, studying at Silliman, at the Ateneo on Padre Faura, and at UP Diliman in the ’60s. He then taught at Ateneo de Zamboanga, at UP Baguio, at Maryknoll College, at Lyceum, at Foundation University in Dumaguete, and eventually at Silliman where he obtained his doctoral degree in literature as the millennium turned. At present he teaches at Silliman’s English department and panels at the National Writers Workshop which he has served continuously since 1981.

"He has authored two previous books, Chronicles of Suspicion (Kalikasan Press) and Word Without End (Anvil). He has won the Palanca Award four times and is a Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awardee of UMPIL (Writers Union of the Philippines). Dr. Aquino is now at work on a novel, ‘Mr. Mxyzptlk Pops Into the Room,’ excerpts of which are included in Checkmeta: The Cesar Ruiz Aquino Reader."

Incidentally, two other books that may prove a valuable commodity by next week are being rushed by the UP Press in time for the red-letter day that is Valentine’s. These are tandem anthologies issued as part of the UP Jubilee Student edition series of low-cost books, primarily for the benefit of students.

The titles are 100 Love Poems: Philippine Love Poetry Since 1905, edited by Gémino H. Abad and Alfred A. Yuson; and 14 Love Stories, edited by Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. and Angelo Lacuesta. There’s a good chance these books will be launched on or before Feb. 14, or sometime this month, anyway.

The poetry anthology gathers a love poem each from a hundred Filipino poets, including the latest generation, many of whom have been making much headway in the United States, such as Nic Carbo, Eugene Gloria, Bino Realuyo, Jon Pineda, Patrick Rosal and Barbara Pulmano Reyes. They join the Fil-Am stalwarts from perhaps an earlier generation, such as Luis Cabalquinto, Luis Francia, Eric Gamalinda, Luisa Igloria, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas and Eileen Tabios, among others.

For its part, the love stories anthology put together by UP vice president for public affairs Butch Dalisay (our fellow Philippine Star contributor) and Sarge Lacuesta assembles classic short fiction from Paz Marquez Benitez, Manuel Arguilla, Sinai Hamada, Amador Daguio, Aida Rivera Ford, Kerima Polotan, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Reine Arcache Melvin, Luis Katigbak, Sandra Gonzales, Migs Villanueva, Noelle de Jesus-Chua, Maria Fres Felix and Lakambini Sitoy.

By the by, Bing Sitoy is still enjoying a nine-month grant at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, to write a novel as the recipient of the David Wong fellowship, which fiction writers all over Asia vigorously compete for on an annual basis. Butch Dalisay was a previous Wong fellow, so that at that time two or three years ago, we used to call him Henry Wadsworth… Eeow.

Three other recent literary releases may be added to your lover’s cache of offerings for the significant other.

F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions) About Poetry is billed as "a review and discussion of topics from the writers workshops," co-authored by Ophelia A. Dimalanta and Gémino H. Abad, edited by Ramil Digal Gulle (UST Publishing House).

The Nymph of MTV is an outstanding debut collection of poetry by the precocious long-haired teener Angelo V. Suarez (UST Publishing House). Among the blurbs that greet Angelo’s entry into the adult world of barbers, er, authors, is the following from Jimmy Abad (Hey, Happy Birthday on Thursday, Jim!):

"New remarkable Pinoy poetry from English! Poetry ‘of gonads and eyes,’ and of Now’s hum and drum, like ‘potty politics.’ You can’t let go of this treasure-trove: what sardonic humor like shebang of crap, what erotic tenderness and affection ‘of earthly coinage,’ from ‘Benches Missing’ to ‘Moms Baking Cats,’ from ‘Premonition’ to ‘reclamation,’ from ‘Contact Sutra’ and the dog Shiva to the ‘Woman Who Reminds Me of India,’ Ah, our English can’t help itself, we must help it grow with us."

Maybato, Iloilo, Taft Avenue, Baguio, Puerto: Mga Tula, a collection of poems in Filipino by John Iremil E. Teodoro (Libro Agustino), is the latest title under the Western Visayas Literature Series of Contemporary Poetry from University of San Agustin in Iloilo City. The paunang salita is penned by Palanca Hall-of-Famer Leoncio P. Deriada.

Among the blurbs is this one by another Palanca Hall-of-Famer, Cirilo F. Bautista: "Makabago ang pananalita sa paksa ni John Iremil E Teodoro. Ang kanyang mga tula ay sariwang hangin sa bukid ng panitikang Filipino."

Now imagine yourself on one knee, offering such literary gifts to your lady love, and quoting the Bautista: "Mahal ko, ito ang alay ko sa iyo: sariwang hangin sa bukid ng panitikang Filipino."

The babe pronounces you a winner. Or your gift book, at least.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved