Wednesday, December 12, 2018



"Crossing the Park" by Luis Cabalquinto
"On the Evenings of November" by Francisco Guevara

from THE ACHIEVE OF, THE MASTERY: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, mid-90s to 2016 edited by Gemino H. Abad and Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
(The University of the Philippines Press, 2018)

The following is Part III of Gemino H. Abad's Introduction to THE ACHIEVE OF, THE MASTERY. Parts I, II and IV are available HERE.
            We should perhaps illustrate our “formalist poetics” with a reading of two poems: in Latin, interpretari, “to negotiate”; interpres, “agent.” Since the poem is already an interpretation of an experience, to interpret it is to be its agent. One negotiates with it to come to a settlement of its import or significance. One starts with a plausible hypothesis, but since the work has already come to terms, as it were, with itself, the interpreter must respect its integrity. He needs to be a “literalist of the imagination.”[21] There is exegesis (Greek exegeisthai, “to explain, interpret”): “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text”; and there is eisegesis (Greek eis, “into”): “interpretation of a text by reading into it one’s own ideas.” It may well be then that our interpretation -- though it strives to respect the work’s integrity -- is in some way both exe/eisegesis.[22]    
            Whatever criteria of excellence the poem appears to hold, whatever its form, whatever interpretation of its substance, in poetry no majority rules. It is the poem that rules. It may somehow be sui generis in practice, that is, in the poet’s own striving for freshness and vitality in artistic form: compare, for instance, Hopkins with Frost, or Alfred Yuson with Ricardo de Ungria. In the end, it may well be that simply reading the poem -- or reading it again, with feeling -- will unravel its word-weave and reveal its own reading of an experience. 
            Take, for instance, Luis Cabalquinto’s “Crossing the Park.” It mimes or simulates what the poem’s persona recalls and reflects on as he briskly walks across Union Square “After a long night’s séance on the Ouija board.” It is now, the dawn just breaking -- thus the present tense renders the moment’s drama of the walker’s experience: in the twilight he sees at the park’s south corner “two adult men ... in that known stance” which, he concedes, “also must be given love’s name.” 
            Then “Something connects” -- what moves him now is a vague feeling, perhaps, or intuition beyond mere words or names, something perhaps akin to spirit communications in a séance. “Something beyond the band of clean light in his mind responds.” Whatever it is that “connects” now “catches the solitary jogger who brushes him / With a wake of wind as, jaws ajar, he runs by swiftly”; now it “attaches to the black man sleeping, head laid on balled fists”; now it “reaches out to the old man walking in the park, / Eyes downcast, as if looking for something on the ground.” And now,
                        Near the park exit, he feels the skin behind
                        His ears get thick and furry: his eyes seem to be more sharp,
                        Nocturnal. Wordlessly, the long-awaited message is delivered.
                        His body gets the gooseflesh: “Whatever it is, you’re part of it.”

            Wordlessly: for, “whatever it is,” or feeling or intuition, it is beyond mind’s words, that “band of clean light”; it is as though one could see quite clearly in the dark. Still, the mind must find its text, compose it, so that somehow its spirit or diwa may be grasped -- and once grasped, one’s whole being affirms the message: “His body gets the gooseflesh,” even as earlier, “he feels the skin behind / His ears get thick and furry.” Whatever it is, you’re part of it: the message is epiphany, a manifestation of interconnectedness, not so much thought or concept as feeling, that in communication with one’s fellows, in communion with all creation, all is One. That is the meaningfulness of the experience that the poem has mimed or enacted: thus, as you read imaginatively, you also live the experience as simulated, you live the poem’s meaningfulness (diwa) above and beyond its words or abstractions.
            The poem’s persona now returns to his familiar surroundings, his world, where the living is “friendly” --
                        Outside the north gate, he hears a whispering ahead of him:
                        It is the distant sound of a cab or a bus, friendly

                        As the cooing of doves in the park’s trees, awaiting morning.

In the first flush of morning, the world is, as it were, on the very first day of creation. “Distant sound of cab or bus, cooing of doves in the park’s trees” -- all One in interconnectedness. 
            But now, as we read Francisco Guevara’s “On the Evenings of November,” we may wonder whether any poem needs to be “obscure, difficult” for the common reader: one who has an adequate enough grasp of its medium. Guevara’s seems a different “kind” of poem, rather complex, nearly unintelligible: what sense, as we read, do we make out of such words there as “storms,” “seabed,” “traffic”; to become “December in the spirit of a cigarette,” “to mimic / newness by foot,” etc. Perhaps, finally, there aren’t kinds but only different ways of crafting the poem as mimesis. In any case, a close reading of the poet’s way with language is what may open the poem’s text: unravel its word-weave and reveal its “soul” or meaningfulness. 
            “On the Evenings of November” takes the form of a train of reflection on the narrator-I’s quest for his own true self -- or the very ground of being. That, in short, is our hypothesis. The solitary I in the silence that he gathers about him becomes his own “voyeur” 
                                    after having looked out
                        of a skyscraper enough to feel at home
                        in the lie of falling for the ground

                        I couldn’t see.

The I needs “to feel at home” in his world; only then, it would seem, he would truly know himself to be. What goes by the name of “home” is more feeling than concept or thought; it is the very ground of being as oneself. But, as his own voyeur, he is aware of “the lie of falling for the ground / I couldn’t see.”  No, you cannot see the ground of your own being that you would fall for and embrace. And so, the I feels “betrayed” by his own “lie” or subterfuge; he feels worsted in the attempt, defeated
                                    In the sense of storms
                        betrayed by their names’ passing [.]

There is no word, no name, to grasp one’s sense of home by and hold it, as it were, in one’s own hand. 
            And so, says the I-narrator,
                        I returned to transcribe a skyline
                        that was more a seabed upon a traffic 

                        light’s sense of keeping time against
                        a street against the trial in every sentence
                        sighed as that storm struck, and her haze
                        misread for dusk rendered the guilt

                        I felt from looking away in order
                        to think myself into trafficking wherever
                        one was raised and therefore became
                        December in the spirit of a cigarette [.]

Admittedly, a rather difficult passage to unravel! First, the words “transcribe, sentence, misread” suggest that the I’s attempt at apprehending “an I that was / my voyeur” is a self-reflective quest for a path or “street” through the “forests” of language to selfhood’s “ground” or origin. We assume that “her haze” refers to “storm” of words in the poetic moment of writing: that “trial in every sentence sighed”; “forests” occurs later in the poem’s text.
          Into that wilderness then, the I returns “to transcribe,” to create for his word-weave “a skyline,” a horizon, for a clearing there. But that imaginary skyline now seems 
                        more a seabed upon a traffic
                        light’s sense of keeping time against
                        a street against the trial in every sentence
                        sighed as that storm struck [.]

The I’s “skyline” is what circumscribes his clearing in his transcription or copy of his I-voyeur’s perceived ground-reality. But that clearing now appears “more a seabed” than ground, a seabed upon what seems like “a traffic light’s sense of keeping time against” the traffic on a street: the traffic, you might say, of words and words in daily converse, in all texts. The wordsmith must needs “keep time,” have assiduous care for words as  they sound and flow; he must pay heed to the transcribing, the agon with language. “The trial,” as earlier noted, is that struggle for one’s own clearing in language, and “storm” is the figure for both the poetic onset and the agon. Here then that “traffic light’s sense” is akin to the earlier “sense of storms” where one might feel “betrayed” by words, where the storm’s “haze
                        misread for dusk rendered the guilt

                        I felt from looking away in order
                        to think myself into trafficking wherever
                        one was raised and therefore became
                        December in the spirit of a cigarette [.]

The I, conscious of misreading the “haze” of the words’ “storm,” feels guilty for “looking away” from the “trial in every sentence sighed” 
                                    in order
                        to think myself into trafficking wherever
                        one was raised ...

That is: “guilty” or uneasy, for turning his back on abstract or figurative sense and changing mind’s course to bring perforce his thoughts to “wherever / one was raised,” and so, to stand there himself on whatever “ground” he, the I-voyeur, must have tread. Trafficking suggests exchange of views or signals in a communication system such as language where, as one speaks or thinks, its words only emit concepts and images; but trafficking may also suggest something invalid in a certain way of thinking or writing as a configuring with words. 
            In that process of “trafficking,” of finding one’s “street” through language, the I, the self, becomes “December in the spirit of a cigarette”! As December marks the end of time’s calendar, so likewise the I’s script as quest for self’s “ground” still ends on the verge of language, its “haze” -- like the last wisp of smoke from a cigarette’s end -- a sign of language’s “betrayal,” its inadequacy to reality. Similarly, it would seem, “the evenings of November” in the poem’s title implies those nights when the I “harvested silence for an I that was / my voyeur” -- a long period of questing/writing that he recalls in his narrative. That recollection now ends:
                                    yet, perhaps, to begin without having to be
                                    in a room trembling from trains passing,                       
                                    nay, forging through and through a key
                                    to praise forests there in the uppercase,

                                    and every other page waiting for an art
                                    to sail a home away from the haunting I was
                                    after I awoke drenched enough to mimic
                                    newness by foot without doubling back
                                    for every shadow caught inside another
                                    shadow’s strain, and after hours soiled from
                                    calling it work, the rot I incurred until
                                    a flood’s current could finally return me.

            The I has come to realize that “perhaps” one could “begin without having to be / in a room,” without need for “trafficking wherever / one was raised.” He imagines such a room
                                                trembling from trains passing, 
                                    nay, forging through and through a key
                                    to praise forests there in the uppercase,

                                    and every other page waiting for an art
                                    to sail a home away from the haunting [.] 

Parenthetically, “skyscraper” (where the poem opens) and “trains” may suggest an urban setting; yet, like “room,” each may only be a figure or concept, as with “seabed” and “sail away,” “home,” traffic light,” “street,” “flood” -- all kindred figurations for words’ storm and poet’s agon seeking a homestead. There, in the writing/forging the text from language’s “forests,” one may well “praise” those woods “in the uppercase” -- praise in the highest, for one has simply no other means to grasp a sense of one’s selfhood.
            The I, after the questing and ever questioning of his own voyeur’s findings, awakes and recognizes “the haunting I was.” It is now as though “every other page” only awaits the poet’s art, that skill and discipline which empowers him “to sail a home” on the very page “away from” any haunting. It is as though his “home” -- the very “ground” or “seabed” of his own selfhood -- that he seeks is right there in his own word-weave: as Jose Dalisay Jr. might put it, “the knowing is in the writing.”[23] One’s own path through language is within oneself.
             That “haunting I was” may be a state of mind that the I has fallen into where he pursues his own shadow; and that state is “the rot I incurred” for wanting to have a firm conceptual grip on his selfhood’s mysterious ground. But now, after “that storm struck,” “after hours soiled from / calling it work,” the I awakens to the realization that he could “begin without having to be in a room” or “wherever one was raised.” Fully awake or “drenched enough” in the words’ storm, through the “hours” and “evenings” of writing, he is now able “to mimic”
                        newness by foot without doubling back
                        for every shadow caught inside another
                        shadow’s strain [.]

“To mimic” or represent “newness by foot”: through “the trial in every sentence,” he apprehends his sense of “self” and “home,” a sense that feels “new,” fresh, and clear. It is as though, in that “script-of-me” -- that clearing in language -- he has his feet on the ground. Now he realizes, it would seem, that the “I that was / my voyeur,” “the haunting I was,” was “the reddest herring!”[24] (This, as in Cabalquinto’s “Crossing the Park,” may well call to mind Nelson Mandela’s intuition in that one striking word, Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”) In any case, the poem’s I no longer feels any impulse to “double back” and clear away every “haze” and ambiguity -- “every shadow caught inside another / shadow’s strain”: every word in other words, every concept constellating with kindred concepts. Now “a flood’s current” -- what has been worked/wrought from language as script-of-self -- “could finally return me.” 

[21] See Moore’s “Poetry,” in Complete Poems (Penguin Books, 1981): 36, 266-68.
[22] We might also note that “criticism, crisis, criterion” come from Greek krinein, “to divide or discriminate and judge”; thus, the criticism of a literary work implies, from a differentiation of its kind or type through its history, a judgement; and any theory of the literary work (from Greek theoria: “a viewing, contemplation, speculation”) is basically a way of looking, a viewpoint or perspective, just as “dogma” (from Greek dokein, “to seem”) is “an established opinion or tenet.” A generalization, for instance, may hold water but not the sea. No theory is apodictic: “of the nature of necessary truth or absolute certainty.” No theory has monopoly of seeing; even in science, it has a certain life-span.
[23] The title of Dalisay’s work: The Knowing Is in the Writing: Notes on the Practice of Fiction (UP Press, 2006).
[24] The title of Francisco Guevara’s first and only collection of poems (UST, 2015).


Gémino Henson Abad is a literary critic from Cebu, Philippines. He earned his B.A. English from the University of the Philippines Diliman in 1964 "magna cum laude". His MA with honors and Ph.D. in English literature degrees were obtained from the University of Chicago in 1966 and 1970, respectively. He served the University of the Philippines in various capacities: as Secretary of the University, Secretary of the Board of Regents, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Director of the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing. For many years, he also taught English, comparative literature and creative writing at U.P. Diliman.

Abad co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) which published Caracoa, a poetry journal in English. His other works include Fugitive Emphasis (poems, 1973); In Another Light (poems and critical essays, 1976); A Formal Approach to Lyric Poetry (critical theory, 1978); The Space Between (poems and critical essays, 1985); Poems and Parables (1988); Index to Filipino Poetry in English, 1905-1950 (with Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, 1988) and State of Play (letter-essays and parables, 1990). He edited landmark anthologies of Filipino poetry in English, among them Man of Earth (1989), A Native Clearing (1993) and A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, ‘60s to the ‘90s (1999).

The UP Diliman has elevated Abad to the rank of University Professor, the highest academic rank awarded by the university to an exemplary faculty member. He currently sits on the Board of Advisers of the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing and teaches creative writing as Emeritus University Professor at the College of Arts and Letters, U.P. Diliman. He also is the first Filipino to receive the Premio Feronia in Rome, Italy under the foreign author category.

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