ALOYSIUSI POLINTAN Reviews 9 Books:
Misterios and Other Poems by J. Neil C. Garcia
(University of the Philippines Press, 2005)
Flash Book Review No. 126: "What is not yours cannot be held back, / it must be offered." In the form of sestinas and odes and lyrics of sensual awe, the poet's articulations of homesickness assert that desires of the heart must be lifted and allowed flight. Only through this flight of words can the body achieve fullness and disregard the truth of loneliness. What is the body? J. Neil Garcia, an erudite poet whose works have facilitated my journey to appreciating mythology as a powerful agent in literary writing, defined the body as "a palimpsest of pleats and creases / laid out for anyone to read". The poems in this collection are indeed pleats and creases, and one can trace in the verse a traveler's momentary retreat to the humming homebound child. The child let himself be consumed by the possibilities of distance, he was always ready to be mesmerized. Every poetry collection's success lies in its ability to mesmerize the innocent reader, to take his childhood away, and to place him at the throne of overseeing mysteries that need not be unraveled but respected to be that way. Misterios and Other Poems definitely succeeded, giving us the assurance that flaws and disappointments are inevitable, and it is the poet's task to magnify this fact of life. "Love's flames can still warm, though it wavers." This book abounds in definitions, and I heartily welcomed them. Life in these ambiguous times, these times of never-ending redemption of the pleasured Self, demands for definitions.
Flash Book Review No. 131: "Seduced by other harbors, / you think all ports the same, / forgetting that which you loved well." These lines actually struck me on a moral-spiritual level. Why would I always yearn for what's beyond the horizon if the path of the heart is always homeward? Myrna Peña Reyes's Almost Home (2003, UP Press) is a compilation of momentous acts against forgetting. While reexamining what weighs more and what's unbearably light, Reyes uses a language that is familiar but that rings heavy and profound. This yearning for home—as she finds meaning out of events and people in a foreign land that she often finds strange but amusing nonetheless—was facilitated by reminiscences of "the prayed-for dark that / came but never stayed" and keen observations on "arms positioned to beseech / the heavens". The certainty of death was a welcome subject in the rest of the book, and the poet confronted it not with the usual reluctance but with a ready heart, a presence of mind able to organize words led astray and to leave readers staring at the wall. What's on the wall? It is the mind that fills the wall with memories of a war which demands forgetfulness, and with attempts to look further, forward. Poetry, as evidenced by Peña-Reyes's emotionally gripping verses, is God's gift to us, a gift we must recognize and nurture, as "we strain for stars, a stab of light / to break the dark / swirling around us." More importantly, this book has inspired me a bit to write more poems that are autobiographical than speculative or observational.
The Long Lost Startle by Joel M. Toledo
(University of the Philippines Press, 2009)
Flash Book Review No. 127: "I can bear / the chaos and stand in the middle", the poet declared while scribbling down the most haunting of childhood memories and the most elusive of recent instances in his life and the nation's history. I have always been a fan of Joel M. Toledo. I have been emulating his poetic style(s) and trying out my hand on themes that he has always succeeded at exploring: the service and disservice of memory, the attempt to find slivers of light inside a rock's endless compositions, and the integration of the contemplative self to the unnerved modernized society. After reading The Long Lost Startle (2009, UP Press), my adoration for this poet has been confirmed and elevated to the point that I would want to spend the entire Holy Week reading and rereading his works, given that take-home paperworks would become things to be lovingly ignored. His poems, in this book in particular, were products of attentiveness to the breadth of the medium and "hours spent / deciphering the cruel forms". How a middle-aged man relived the smell and taste of rain when puddles once mirrored an unproblematic world, how the chants of bullfrogs and cicadas lulled one to sleep—amidst the omens of separations, destructions and oblivions, "how / the wind kept resurrecting the fallen leaves", how a sad, unused violin prepared a couple for the melancholy of old age....Toledo belongs to the few who are able to captivate, let go and catch again their readers, mindful that readers are full of courage in the beginning and culminate in vulnerability. "A kite hovers invisibly above the abandoned roofs. // The music has stopped. It keeps going." Not only had the poet showcased in this collection of poems the lyrical dimension of texts with darker themes and analytical-turned-submissive perspectives, he had also, more importantly, proved that the narrative significantly plays in carrying the reader to the image and all its reachable peripheries. "Allow me to introduce you to my other selves." Notwithstanding a resonant persona, Toledo used each poem to introduce a number of ways of seeing things, thus affirming the patronage of poetry as an accumulation of many selves, without losing the authentic Self. (Quoted lines were from selected poems, namely, "Equatorial", "Drunk Leaning into the Poem", "The Ascension", "Interlude", and "Persona".)
Museum of Absences by Luis H. Francia
(Meritage Press and University of the Philippines Press, 2004)
Flash Book Review No. 128: The poems "Blue in the Face" (as if Langston Hughes stepped on a strange land and called on some folks to sing with him a newly written hymn so they all could get rid of alienation) and "A Man in Sarajevo Speaks Before Dying" (as if a soliloquy of a man to die is being staged for us to behold and get frightened by) attest that transnational poetry is not necessarily limited by the celebration of, and the occasional pessimism towards, the Dream. Through the power of the verse, an overseas native has become a child of the world, sensitive to the restrained moans of those inflicted with terrorism's wounds and attentive to the cries of the unclassified, the pleas of the deprived. Luis Francia can be likened to a passionate shepherd, using all his rage, sulking and hopefulness, to articulate his never-ending love for his Nymph, the country of his birth, the cradle of the passions pierced into his heart as he explored the complexity of a country that once colonized his land. "Agatona of Aringay, Henry of Philadephia" is for me an important piece, if one would want to learn the utility of paradoxes and synecdoches in conjuring up emotionally striking images. Not only does this particular poem retell a marriage of the colonized and the colonizer, it also empowers the reader to reposition his own stand on this speculative and, yes, ephemeral native victory. "The Secret of the Roar" and "A Snail's Progress" deviate from the book's archetype of the immigrant-poet's acceptance of his unique placement assigned by social constructs. Both poems celebrate the mythic self, asserting an inkling—which turns into inclination—that the experience of the diaspora has never been absent, and will never be subjected to colonial curation.
Beyond, Extensions and Commend Contend by Edith Tiempo
(University of the Philippines Press, 1993 and 2010)
Flash Book Review No. 126: "Quite often the echo is more / meaningful ..... than the Voice it mimics," says Edith Tiempo. With an expansive knowledge and experience in the craft of writing and understanding poetry, Tiempo used these two poetry collections, Beyond, Extensions (1993) and Commend Contend (2010)—back-to-back published by UP Press—to teach us how to elevate a persona's feeling of awe at the (im)precision of things into a certain grasp of language. When this persona yields to chirpings and radiances, that is the time to get a paper and pen to jot down what the heart has always yearned to communicate. Tiempo, considered as a "voice never known to fail or falter" in terms of honing the poem's possibility of transcendence from the poet's mind and from the printed page, distinguished herself from the rest of Filipino litterateurs, her diction rendered unapologetic in its ever-looking for the perfect word, for the most profound or vehement catchphrase. "When we love a wanderer, / We wait for footsteps / That may, or may not, come." Despite its indisputable spectrum, her poetry occasionally resorts to limpid, or sometimes straightforward, tonalities. Her verses embraced all the essences of the woman-scribe, prone to submissiveness but unrelenting in the pursuit of authenticity. Tiempo will never become "a minute / shadow fugitive on a wall", she will instead remain as one of our literature's "blazing bedrock certainties". She has a put a stamp on the consciousness of many pioneering Filipino poets in English, but they will outgrow. Writers and readers will outgrow not on a negative way, as we will find our respective voices while living our own lives. (Quoted lines were from selected poems: "Voice and Echo", "Some Putative Pantuns" and "On Keeping Time" in Commend Contend; and "Tom-lin Smiles" and "Between-Living" in Beyond, Extensions.)
Textual Relations by Ramil Digal Gulle
(University of the Philippines Press, 2007)
Flash Book Review No. 132: Rare are the books that show the journey of the author's development of craft, from emergence to having finally found "the voice", from resisting verbosity to having yielded to the Muse's insinuations. Ramil Digal Gulle’s Textual Relations (2007, UP Press) is a fine example of these rarities, a book of poems that began as an enumeration of city contemplations and culminated with his assertion of own poetics, as influenced by the poets he read, adored and mingled with. Not paying much attention to the date and time each poem was written or revised, I saw how the poet, from piece to piece, gradually allowed himself to be lost in the wilderness of language, but not led astray, for it is the imagination that puts all fragments of memory into order. Whether it is an attempt to eroticize his fascination for pop culture and urban mythology, a loving tribute to friends who passed on, or a recollection of a family that struggled for completion, each poem speaks of the imagination's way, of the writer's role to express every reader's, or every citizen's, thirst for relevance in this present society where surfaces and ephemera, instead of profundity, is celebrated. Hellsmouth--indicated in the Preface as a world created by the poet and which welcomes his poems--is the sphere where Eve's consumption of the forbidden fruit is not a result of the Serpent's cunningness, but her innate desire for world domination. Instead of circles mounted on each other, Hellsmouth has labyrinths, of words and words and words, where blonde strippers and shamanic chants are allusions to life not imagined but fully lived. Be seduced. Be lost.
Selected Poems by Merlie Alunan
(University of the Philippines Press, 2004)
Flash Book Review No. 133: Attentive to the brittle sounds of familial love and nature's occasional rages, Merlie Alunan writes poems with the least intention of yearning for the reader's declaration of relevance. It is her prompt response to the heart's various thirsts and the mind's wanderings that renders her creations magical and emotionally stirring. I first encountered her works when I had a copy of Tales of the Spiderwoman. It was when I got excited to reading more of her poems, intelligent but not distant, romantic but not mawkishly sentimental. What I love about this Selected Poems (2004, UP Press) is that this particular collection shows her poetic range—the interestingness of her themes, the unpredictability of her objects of desire, and her unapologetic stands on things and folks that came her way (will versification suffice for articulation of the pain of parting ways, of embracing old loves, of letting homebound horrors sharpen the spirit?). One's reading of this book must make him realize that there's no doubt Alunan stands on the shoulders of literary giants living and dead. The courage to open up her resentments, her celebrations, and her insecurities, with the care of language she has mastered since the beginning—I believe this is poetry's ultimate device: ulteriority, the precision of language towards self-expression. And we have to preserve this medium, this ancestral gift. Time will come, when catastrophes and uncertainties witness to humanity's eventual surrender, poetry will have a hero's welcome. I actually consider reading this book a sort of therapy against exhaustion and stress experienced in my work. Thanks to Alunan for having validated my regard for words, nothing but words, as my constant lifeboat.
Moon Over Magarao by Luis Cabalquinto
(University of the Philippines Press, 2004)
Flash Book Review No. 134: The book's title may look to one as representative of something folkloric, exclusive, and thus alienating to readers unfamiliar with the place. But as you read the poems, it's not entirely about the place, it's more about the poet's sense of his hometown, as well as his take on the upheavals faced by the townsfolk, a keen observation on how these people would respond to the ambiguities in their own lives. "Now and then the evening quakes / with the suddenness of a girl's laughter." A slim volume of childhood stories, odes to the sea mirroring the sky, and elegies for friends and lovers outgrown, this 2004 poetry collection (UP Press) by Luis Cabalquinto is a dazzling piece on coming home, coming to terms with home, and becoming home. Whether the poet talks of young rebels, or the Tausog child-wonder diver, or the flower vendor smiling past the fast-paced traffic lights, or his mother longingly whistling for island winds, Cabalquinto does not make things difficult for the reader. His language points to comprehension, in the lighter and easier degree, but without the compromise of sophistication. The smooth transition between narrative and insight, between voyeurism and clairvoyance, overwhelms the reader and he'll find himself having read the book in one sitting. "Even today, buffeted by newer winds, I listen to them / And look for the harmony and resonance in their calls." I love these lines, they are so honest but calmly expressed. The lifelong search for a spiritual lair, this is perhaps what poetry can ultimately rouse us to do. Through reading good works by great Filipino writers, we can preserve what demands to be preserved. This collection of 60 poems will metamorphose every time it lands on a reader's palms. When it landed on me, when I finished the relishing, it has become "a graceful broad-leaved fern, / a bloom in the distance."
In Transitives by Isabelita Orlina Reyes
(University of the Philippines Press, 2005)
Flash Book Review No. 135: I've read a critical paper on how Isabelita Orlina Reyes's sense of the cityscape heavily influenced In Transitives (2005, UP Press). The paper pointed out that the city has become a persona, perhaps the resonant persona in most of the poems. As one born in the city but reared in the midst of ricefields and rolling stores—and as one who has this longtime wish to explore the metropolis, a metaphor for independence and individuality—I can say that the poet did not intend to over-magnify the city; her masterful vocabulary dominates the city and uses it only as a point of (p)reference. Comprehending her poems was actually difficult, as if she was puppeteering language, dispersing images and words, out of which I can select and pay attention to in the meantime, or after some time. "Losing the Trivial" is a beautiful piece on coming to terms with grief and eventually outgrowing it as the bereaved one deals with the quotidian and routinary. "The Stone" succinctly articulates homesickness, asserting that it is the people we would miss more than the cities we will leave behind. The fantastic wordplay in "Where It Resides" matched with Reyes's use of opposites to lift sociopolitical truths beyond the surface. The one I enjoyed the most was "Antipolo Meditation in Bifocals" which is a poeticized invitation to all of us revisit the psyche's ancestral source, as we gradually accept the inevitability of modernity. This book took me some time to finish reading and to write a flash review on, because all the poems therein deserve to be savored by the mind, until they simmer in the imagination.