Sunday, February 5, 2017



Fault Setting by Joel Toledo
(University of Philippines Press, 2016)


The ratio of men perishing from

natural causes to those felled by internal conflict

is roughly the same.

—from “Tulips”

One prefers poems filled with silence that “crowds pages and cathedrals” and slivers of breath “cutting into the rock”. Their brevity challenges him to paint in his mind a singular scene, and the scarcity of details renders him the freedom to explore what happened beforehand and what would happen afterwards. Another reader prefers to pronounce poems which sound like soliloquies of a soul searching for meaning, looking for words that would suffice the thirst for relevance and significance. Award-winning poet Joel M. Toledo gathered these reader responses and preferences and attempted to redefine these forms of enthusiasm in his latest poetry collection Fault Setting (UP Press, 2016). Yes, an intricate, exuberant attempt.

One of the wherewithals for astounding verses is the poet’s knack of showing how an image moves and captivates the one looking without compromising the willingness to admonish. Toledo, as the book unravels this two-edged knack, proffers melody to what are deemed his caveats on reading and writing poetry. An example is “Mirth” where he said: “Rub it on your sleeve. / Shine and sheen, smooth, and do not / fall in love with the beautiful line.” Many foreign and Filipino poets get away from poetry’s aim of seeing marvel in the commonplace and take line cutting for granted in order to rant about politics and shenanigans of colleagues. Notwithstanding this propensity in contemporary literature, Toledo stood as one of the few poets who could turn sermons on the mount into sweet murmurings gliding over the stream.

 Toledo is not hesitant to enumerate poet’s identities in this volume of verses. One might notice the recurrent themes of presenting the poet as one seated on the riverbank and lurking in hindsight, in contrary to other writers’ attempts to install the poet’s linguistic excellence on the pedestal of philosophizing anything that flows and twinkles. In “Forgery”, the glory and gore of poet’s workings on his oeuvre is likened to fashioning a dagger out of fine wood, with hum and sparks necessary to forge a creation longing for form. In the end, the blacksmith-poet realized that “(h)e can make it happen, / of course, but he is / too busy scribbling down / what could have.” The language in utility was direct but contrived words and wrought pauses served as glimmering ruptures in the act of versification.

There are two poems in the book that have the same title, “Aubade”. The first poem is an ode to sunrise which illuminates man’s every writing stint, the one which gives him sufficient light to scrutinize (and to be scrutinized) every dewdrop and note requisite of poeticizing resentments and reservations. While in the midst of musky pages, the persona in the poem declared with sigh of relief that “there’s no narrative here, just shards of / memory, a punctuation, failure, an aspect of lyric.” The power of imagery brought by the literal sunlight is resonant in the second poem. “It’s the fish seconds after / being taken out of the water, / the iris drying up.” This dedicative poem demonstrates that, like dawn’s rays, a work of art should be offered to one or all, rather than to the poet himself. Using the name for a dawn song as a title of two different poems is an evidence to poetry’s way of deconstructing coinage and imagination’s way of hammering aesthetic conventions (if there is any).

The 65 poems, regardless of how they would want to assert their individuality, constellate to attest that “(w)e need / what we cannot hold.” This collection celebrates Toledo as a virtuoso of verse, and it mourns man’s loss of control over the periphery of his world. The last lines in “Celerity” could summarize the impetus of this book: “this task / would be less / about excavation / and more of / leaving be.”

Enough said, not only does Fault Setting prove that Toledo has a way with words, this collection also attests that someone spending his precious time “inspecting the syllables of rainfall” is one worthy of note.


Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan is a Senior High School Coordinator of Divina Pastora College in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija. He loves reading and writing poetry, and everything that ranges from Bob Dylan to Hozier, and from Mahalia Jackson to Christina Aguilera. He is doing research on intangible cultural heritage of Southern Novo Ecijanos. He maintains a blog:  /react-text

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