VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA: A Storm of Filipino Poets edited by Eileen Tabios
(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2014)
I cannot remember the Typhoon Yolanda disaster even though I am reviewing the book VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA, published a year after the disaster and in my hands approximately three years later. I have learned that this disaster occurred in the Philippines and more than 6,000 people were killed by the typhoon and over one million people were left homeless. These statistics are difficult—albeit impossible to personalize; simply put, a large part of the population were either killed or left homeless. However, by those who have experienced this disaster, writing about it in personal terms or as a collective community, makes this more than one of many horrendous experiences that humans and animals have endured. It is felt and expressed rather than left behind on ghostlike islands.
All the contributing poets write about tragedy; however, their perspectives and styles are varied. The poems are both subtle and obvious in purpose. Because the poetry is so varied and written by many poets, I will write only about several poems in which the poets put their personal voices into describing this disaster/tragedy. In an excerpt from “These Days,” T. De Los Reyes describes tragedy: “Deaths come easy on the news/or not, depending on who’s speaking/and who’s listening…” It is the acknowledgement that it has become more difficult in our post-modern lives to feel personally involved with all people who experienced unexpected tragedy. In this poem, Reyes shows us the emotional complications as we struggle to find someone who has disappeared. Even as we search for the missing, he tells us that we wait for them to return, and that is all that we can do—besides remember that love remains as a “fixed point” (or as a constant) regardless of anguish.
RA Cruz has written a poem about the natural world, disaster, and the contradictions of humans trying to remove themselves from the natural world, when humans can only survive within nature. Cruz’s first lines in the poem “AFTER THE TYPHOON” describe our connection to nature as tragedy and nature as hope: “I shall draw light from the stars/between houses walking to midnight.” He intersperses thoughts about nature as comforting when he writes, “I shall draw light from the stars/between the houses and the broken hills/ walking to midnight.” The last lines describe the religious and ritualistic beauty of pain as he describes the typhoon as it has completed its destruction: “Everybody is still in pain as/the sun comes/bleeding from the horizon/as in a rose of circumcision.”
The poem “Beloved” by Yvva Svhovan also gives the reader a sense of the despair felt by the death resulting from disaster. Syhovan’s description of sorrow is personified by the body of a woman, lost in the disaster. The poem begins: “Her/body/slumped and without name/in the dirt of this ruined city.” He describes her physical appearance, focusing on her hair: “her long hair stiffened by earth.” Again, we see nature destroying and ending life as we know it, and the great sorrow that humans have to live with by being part of the earth.
VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA is about a tragedy and how it affects the human spirit. It is about gathering up the pieces and mourning death and other losses. The poets whose work are included in this book have many styles. There are “professional” writers and poets and then there are those poets who are writing their poems from their hearts. Nonetheless, all the poems are emotional responses to loss through major disaster and in the end, how people deal with this loss—whether through their strong belief in religion or in the human relationships that keep people bonded and strong. This is a collection of poetry worth reading because of the heartfelt sadness. I have not ever read a collection of poetry quite like this—devoted to the topic of a natural disaster.