Eileen R. Tabios introduces VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA: A Storm of Filipino Poets (Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, CA, 2014)
…the largest storm ever recorded on land, with winds nearing 200 mph and gusts up to 235 mph … unleashing massive waves … more than 11 million people affected … homeless … starving … over 6,000 dead (officials reluctant to estimate higher for bad political P.R.) even as 20-30 corpses a day continue to be discovered under the debris, over half a million missing, about 6 million displaced … not just “dead city” Tacloban but also Samar, Iloilo, Panay Island, ... a newly-born girl dying days after the typhoon despite her mother and father trading shifts in manually blowing air into her lungs because there is no power …
I conceptualized and serve as editor for this anthology—I wish this book did not exist.
I’m reluctant to write on Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines. My mood seems to be akin to what’s addressed in this anthology by the poems of Angelo R. Lacuesta and John Robert Luna. I did think of an idea for a poem—I would have titled it “Storm Cloud” and, punning off the term “cloud computing” for describing computing concepts that involve a large number of computers connected through real-time communication networks like the Internet, would have gathered phrases taken from media coverage of the disaster. It could have been a powerful poem, annotating from survivors’ stories to the lack of body bags to the hunger strike of Yeb Sano (the Philippines' lead negotiator at the United Nations climate change summit in Warsaw) to warnings about corrupt politicians using relief donations to promote themselves or punish perceived government rebels to the mobilized return of volunteer nurses who had been part of the Philippines’ “export” of health care workers to Western countries to the generous (thank you!) U.S.-American relief activities also serving its government’s military public relations in Asia to the suddenly new orphans… Well, it was promising but I chose not to write it—instead, my poem-contribution to this book is one written in 2006 after a landslide in Leyte. The older poem relates to Typhoon Yolanda because both events reflect adverse effects of climate change—symbolically, I also choose to “recycle” a poem in a nod for reducing one’s footprint on earth.
Still, a poet’s job is to make a poem and poets are moved to write by what moves them—Typhoon Yolanda and her aftermaths are certainly resonant. By sharing their poems through this anthology, the Filipino poets were also moved to contribute their efforts towards a fundraising: all book sale profits will be donated to relief organizations helping the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. (If you would like to use this book as a fundraiser for Yolanda survivors, feel free to contact me at MeritagePress@aol.com) I’m sure I speak for all the poets when we share our hope that our modest contribution helps, and in this fashion also extend our love to our kababayan.
One of my contributions as editor is the order in which the poems are presented. The order reflects a narrative that I started to feel surface as I read through all of the poems. While each individual poem may be powerful, the poems together create a sum-effect greater than its parts. What results is both novelistic in scope and urgent in communicating the news. For the news continue beyond the actual incident and aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. The news continue about how our actions degrade the environment and each other, making likely the return of Yolanda’s brethren…unless we amend our actions. These damaging actions even confuse our young—one of the poets in this book is 19-year-old Jasmin Ado and she appropriately asks: How can elders (parents, teachers, friars) teach the youth “to treat people nice and kind” when “my eyes witness // how indulgence / squandered the / consciousness of many— // I see their victims / through the television, / newspapers and even / my windows & / my windshield”? How, indeed? The answer, or part of it, can certainly be read in Von Torres’ poem “tahimik” (which translates from Tagalog as “quiet” or “silent”):
quiet ourselves from money
quiet ourselves from fear
quiet ourselves from shame
quiet ourselves from time
quiet ourselves from religion
quiet ourselves from power
quiet ourselves from silence
As with many of my poetry projects, this anthology is community-based and, in this case, within the community of Filipino poets (in the homeland and diaspora). While most poems are in English, the Filipino languages are represented by poems in a few Filipino languages: Filipino, Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon and Bisaya. Originally an Ilocano, I do not know these featured languages but reviewed them based on their English translations with the help of their authors. In addition, while I had desired the sonic pun of “verses” and “versus,” I was happy to accept the title’s final form as suggested by Luisa A. Igloria. For me, to be Filipino with our history of centuries of colonialism, requires being vigilant that “editor” means collaboration and is never synonymous with “dictator” on how a group project unfolds.
Thanks as well to Leny Mendoza Strobel for providing a Foreword. Her point of view is appreciated because of her ground-breaking studies into the decolonized Filipino self and how pakikipag-kapwa/building-a-beloved-community is an indigenous part of Filipino identity. I appreciate her thoughts, for the eagerness with which Filipino poets embraced this project manifests the indigenous Filipino trait of Kapwa.
May the poems provide succor but also, where apt, anger. And may this book be worth the trees cut to provide its paper.
Eileen R. Tabios