Monday, April 12, 2021



We Are No Longer Babaylan: Essays & Stories by Elsa Valmidiano

(New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, 2020) 



ULIRAT: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation From The Philippines edited by Tilde Acuna, John Bengan, Daryll Delgado, Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III, and Kristine Ong Muslim

(Singapore Unbound, 2021)



QUOTES OF LIFE by Radhey Shiam, edited by Rama Kant 

(Cyberwit, India, 2021)

I chose to focus on these 3 books because (despite my too-brief write-ups below), together, they form a light of optimism as regards Filipino-Pilipinx literature:

We Are No Longer Babaylan: Essays & Stories by Elsa Valmidiano


This book presented pleasant surprises in addition to the Elsa Valmidiano's words. First, it's still noteworthy when a book is allowed the freedom to transcend genre, in this case, to combine essays and short stories when it could be easier in the publishing world to present a book in tidy categories. Kudos and gratitude, therefore, to the publisher New Rivers Press.

Secondly, the topic is Filipino but the focus is Ilokano, not the more dominant Pilipino/Tagalog. In my experience, I've not found as much Ilokano focus in the diaspora literary world. 

Of course we must now turn to Elsa's words, which I found fascinating and not just because of the Ilokano element (I am Ilokano). As a writer, Elsa is a Master of unease, such that her tales leave the reader haunted long past the closure of the book. Unease is appropriate as Elsa addresses the personal effects of the political, from colonialism to diaspora. But what makes this collection unexpected, admirably unexpected--and courageous--is the premise behind the title story "We Are No Longer Babaylan." A Babaylan is a Filipino indigenous community leader, spiritual leader, and healer--as such, the Babaylan commands respect and admiration. But Elsa gets real, as noted by its self-explanatory title. Towards the end of the story, there's a sentence where the protagonists are presented as not having "the Babaylan magic to fix any of this." Within the particular story, "this" relates to childhood abuse but throughout the collection, the abuses of colonizers and war invaders, misogynists, poverty, among others, are referenced. 

Consequently, when Elsa ends the book with an opening to a future she is determined to be different from how she has lived--how the past has influenced her/the protagonist to live in ways she regrets--the reader not only believes her. The reader roots for her.


ULIRAT: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation From The Philippines edited by Tilde Acuna, John Bengan, Daryll Delgado, Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III, and Kristine Ong Muslim


ULIRAT's context is full-frontally one of expanding literary landscape--as Gina Apostol puts it in her Foreword, "beyond the hegemony of English, the language of learning on the islands." In the Introduction's words (better than my paraphrasing):

The Editors' Introduction, as a matter of fact, is a useful summary of how colonial influence has reduced (even if initially logically so) the presentation of the diversity--thus beauty--in Philippine literature. While not accommodating all 150 Philippine languages, the anthology accommodates enough to interest readers in future follow-ups in more and wider reading--that's as effective a result as one gets from anthologies that serve as introductions to their topics (I elide discussing any irony in how the stories have to be translated into English because "it is what it is" in this world of past and present colonialisms; their wider distribution viz English nonetheless expands the landscape of post-colonialism.)

As I can't (in this space) cite or note all of the stories, I'll simply note that I found something of interest, charm, and/or wisdom in all of them. But I will address--in a decision made before I read through the book--the first and last stories plus one story in between. From this arbitrary constraint, I'm pleased to say I quite appreciate "The Boy Who Wanted to be a Cockroach" by Carlo Paulo Pacolor (Trans. Soleil David). The story provides an inviting opening into the collection, thus, boosting the overall collection.  From one of the middle stories, I hope no one (including other authors) will mind if I admit I likely best appreciated "The Three Mayors of Hinablayan" by Omar Khalid (Trans. John Bengan) for its gift of laughter, even as one shakes one's head over the vagaries of human nature! It's a testament, though, to the collection's power that I'm forced to disobey this mid-choice constraint to also highlight a second story at the other end of the spectrum. One weeps rather than laughs in empathy over "Voice Tape" by Ariel Sotelo Tabag (Trans. Amado Anthony G Mendoza III and Ariel Sotelo Tabag)... then one rages as the story is too familiar among our OFWs and their families suffering the result of a country unable to give them domestic opportunities.

The ending story is an excerpt from "The Great Tagalog Novel" by Allan N. Derain (Trans. Tilde Acuna and Allan N. Derain). I’m reserving judgment until Derain finishes his novel but I admit to feeling conflicted over the idea that the great Tagalog (or any language) Novel be about a writer's life (I mean, outside the literary world and certainly beyond Philippine borders, who gives a hoo-haa about F. Sionil Jose's battles with other writers?). Such stories usually don't matter to most people except other writers—while I don't begrudge such stories' existence, need they be the one to be The Great ____ Novel? (Though,  again, I'm reserving judgment if only because I love the meta as much as anyone... and my concerns were found unfounded by a recent read of LESS, Andrew Sean Greer's Pulitzer-winning novel on a novelist's life). Nonetheless, it's a fitting last story to the collection as it relates to the anthology's concerns about disputing to-date representations of "Philippine literature"...

... in the equivalent manner of the anthology itself claiming the subtitle of "Best Contemporary Stories In Translation from the Philippines" only to have the editors (rightly) concede that "Best" is an aspirational goal rather than something already defined by ULIRAT. Such an aspiration to define "best" in part by diversity would only further widen the landscape of Philippine writing, which obviously is all to the good for  a more accurate depiction of Philippine writing. 

Finally, I appreciate ULIRAT because I appreciate how it's making lemonade from the lemon that is colonialism by turning the previously-enforced language of English into a gateway to bringing Filipino stories back to colonizers and rest of the world.


QUOTES OF LIFE by Radhey Shiam, edited by Rama Kant 


Though this book is not authored by a Filipino writer, that's precisely the point. QUOTES OF LIFE presents India's first single-author collection of the Filipino diasporic form, hay(na)ku. The book's existence attests to the growth of Filipino literature by being penned in the hands of non-Filipinos. It's heartening to see the hay(na)ku in India, where "the reminiscence of poetry emanates from the inception of our age-old civilization: from oral chanting to epics writings," as noted by Foreword writer Pravat Kumar Padhy (The Halo-Halo Review is pleased to reprint the Foreword elsewhere in this issue).

India joins other countries besides the United States in releasing single-author hay(na)ku collections: the U.K., Romania, Finland, North Macedonia as well as Switzerland and Australia if one counts where the cyber-publishers' headquarters are physically located. Much Philippine literature might have to be translated (primarily to English) to be known outside Philippine borders (as noted in ULIRAT); but the hay(na)ku disrupts this movement in a decolonizing manner by expanding English through the heart of any language: its poetry.


Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In Spring 2021, she released her first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times. Her 2020 books include a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora; a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; and her third bilingual edition (English/Thai), INCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Covid-19 Poems. Her body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at

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