LITERATURE:  A  HARVEST  OF  NEW  VOICES

BAGUIO CITY, APRIL 12, 2006
 (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - Friday marked the end of the 45th UP National Writers Workshop, and I’m glad to report that it came off swimmingly well, despite some early apprehensions I must confess to having had over the new format of the workshop and the variety in terms of age and experience among the participants.

Held at the new Pines View Hotel on Legarda Road – I must say the best accommodations we’ve ever had for this annual event – this workshop was different in that we (meaning the Institute of Creative Writing) actively sought out more advanced practitioners of the craft instead of novices, to enable us to dwell on issues in writing beyond the mechanical details of writing. The relatively new and extremely popular category of creative nonfiction was also added to the list of workshop genres.

Twelve fellows were chosen (down from the usual 20; the workshop itself was cut down to a week from the usual two): Bernice C. Roldan (UP Diliman, fiction in English); Jimmuel C. Naval (UP Diliman, fiction in Filipino), Zosimo E. Quibilan, Jr. (ADMU, fiction n Filipino); Raymond John A. de Borja (UP Diliman, poetry in English), Joel M. Toledo (UP Diliman, poetry in English), and Lourd Ernest H. de Veyra (UST/UP Diliman, poetry in English); Ariel Dim. Borlongan (FEATI University, poetry in Filipino) and Paolo M. Manalo (UP Diliman, poetry in Filipino); Allan B. Lopez (UP Diliman, drama), Lisa Magtoto (UP Diliman, drama); Mario I. Miclat (UP Diliman, creative nonfiction in English) and Virginia M. Villanueva (UP Diliman, creative nonfiction in English).

As an added feature, a parallel CHED-accredited seminar was held by the ICW staff for teachers on the teaching of writing and literature at UP Baguio.

Another new feature of the workshop required the fellows to make a brief presentation on a work-in-progress, or an explanation and exploration of their poetics – why they write what they write. Most impressive in this harvest of new voices were the presentations of a vibrant generation of young Filipino poets, among them the jazz-rock musician Lourd de Veyra, fiction editor and professor Paolo Manalo (crossing over into Filipino), engineering student Emong de Borja, and last year’s Palanca first prize winner in poetry in English, Joel Toledo. I’d like to share with you some excerpts of what they said.

Lourd de Veyra: "What I look for in poetry is an uneasy kind of energy. An energy that is already beyond the configuration of words and then assumes a density that is akin to music.

"At the heart of it all is jazz. Jazz, the manipulation of breath – the unleashing of breath, the holding of breath, the destruction of breath. The most basic unit of jazz is the swing and the breath. My primary influence is the Beat movement and I think my initial fascination for them was rather hinged on the wrong reasons: the radical visual arrangement of lines on the page, the profanity and the absurdity that struck my mind as a welcome relief from the stultifying archaisms of 17th-century English poetry force-fed on us by high school teachers. Here was, at long last, literature that spoke to me. It was in sympathy with the energy of free jazz and punk rock records that I was listening to at that time. Through the lyrics of punk rock and hardcore records, I had an inkling of how words can be more powerful than a guitar amplifier cranked up all the way to 10.

"My exposure to the poetry of Ginsberg and Kerouac opened me up to the world of possibilities. And I am obsessed with the idea of ‘possibility’. ‘Possibility’ is what art is all about. It is the constant wrestling with forms, styles, and structures. It is the idea that something better is always out there. It is about discontent. It is about discontent with the safe, the middling, the accepted, and the acceptable.

"I celebrate febrile aesthetic ambitions, unsatisfied with poetry that is naïve and comfortable – poetry that rests on an easy chair and sips iced tea. The poetry I want to read is the kind that slams you in the face like a rock-and-roll chord. This does not necessarily require a healthy degree of hysteria and profanity; even a quiet Zen haiku about a frog and a pond can achieve the same effect."

Paolo Manalo: "In (my writing in) Filipino, the concept of linguistic personalities came from Vim Nadera’s fastening of these personalities on the page. You cannot imagine the impact on me the first time I read his poem ‘Caritas.’ This complex ‘pasyon rap’ makes use of several collisions: the language games of the Pasyon, Tagalog rap, the news item epigraph, the collisions of the parentheticals with the rest of the text. For those few minutes reading the poem, you are led to believe that monster of a disease, HIV – can be captured. ‘Poetry almost resisting the intelligence almost successfully.’

"In another poem ‘Binalagtasan,’ Nadera uses the forced juxtapositions of the of specific voices competing for the reader’s attention. This Amado V. Hernandez epigraph juxtaposed with the three other voices of Filipino writers from different periods in history: Gaspar Aquino de Belen, Julian Cruz Balmaseda and Alejandro G. Abadilla. ‘Binalagtasan’ is Nadera’s ‘Dream Song.’

"It’s not that I can’t write in straight English or Filipino, but that the aim is to fasten the heard utterances (those in the collisions of languages) on the page to make written or read sense of them. The simplest way of saying this is that each language is a character, much like Berryman’s Henry and Mr. Bones. Now think of these languages as ‘X number of characters in search of a poem.’ Maybe they’re interactions of Kurimaw and Sexbomb, off-screen noise and on screen chanting to produce something harmonious as Tinio’s ‘pagbeblend’ in ‘Sa Poetry.’ Maybe they’re pronounced interactions of comic book caption over word balloon, or one language to rewrite another as in this comic book page, or this poem called ‘Bowl Limn Yeah’ which follows this English spelling of Filipino language. You see it in English, you hear it in Filipino. The lyric moment might as well be ‘schizophonic’ in the way Filipino rap artists sample some English lyrics and reconfigure it in a spunky Tagalog."

Emong de Borja: "I won’t blame Alfrredo Salanga, the sciences (by this I mean the pure and applied) have always been associated with a seeming rigidity, a certain blunt directness. And although I am from the field of engineering, I confess that I too have associated science with such exactness and solidity.

Perhaps, this is due to the training an engineer undergoes. In engineering, one is expected a result, a practical solution. So I turned to poetry for a break from this ‘end-oriented-ness.’ Poetry for me is an escape. The poems I used to write contained trivial or no scientific concepts at all.

"But a time came when I realized that although poetry can be used as evasion, its power lies in its ability to confront. I thought that by using poetry as an escape, it could be that I am running away from the possibility of a voice. With these things in mind, I took the challenge of intermeshing the language of poetry and the language of science."

Joel Toledo: "In my childhood evenings, home was a forbidding place mostly devoid of light. I was raised thinking 8 p.m. is already an unholy hour to still be awake. There was no TV, no radio, no power, even. We didn’t have electricity in the house until I was about eight years old, and only because we needed it for my grandmother’s wake.

"Night was severely unfriendly. The kerosene lamps brought a certain haunted glow to everything; objects become sinister, dominated more by erratic shadows than friendly light. Ghost stories became terrifyingly real, with creatures lurking beyond the poor vision and comfort of oil lamps. I couldn’t sleep without any light for a long time, even after I entered college and moved to well-lighted Metro Manila.

"What there were in abundance, though, were early mornings. Or mushrooms in July, a sea of coffee in full bloom come September, a faraway brook for fetching water, baseball with tennis balls during summer. A lot of my early poems resonate with the voice of a child, according to the people who’ve read them. I guess I have a lot of memories and stories that need to be told in that voice, otherwise the poems will lose their honesty and authenticity. Louise Glück once said that truth comes closer to sincerity than to insight.

"I guess while I believe in ‘other-ness’ when writing, the driving force of most of my poems is not the invention, but the memory: some of them filtered, some captured.

"To say my life has drastically changed since then is not an exaggeration. I came to Quezon City only after high school, armed with nothing but a blunt sense of grammar, a shaky command of the English language, a thick Caviteño accent. For years I couldn’t write about childhood simply because I didn’t have the vocabulary to tell those stories. Maybe this is why I’m writing about childhood and the old places only now.

"A poet-friend once told me that the basic experience of modern life is irony. I have to agree. The ironic situation, in the very least, is especially true for me, having grown up in a place hungry for lighting and now raising my own family under the concrete LRT pillars and neon-blazed billboards of Quezon City.

"And while ways of life and tongues can always be straightened, some things never really change, never really go away. My life, in a way, continues to be haunted by the irony and paradox of the concurrent existence of the present now and the memory past."


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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