ALOYSIUSI POLINTAN Presents Flash Reviews of 14 Books:
DRIFT by Joel H. Vega
(UST Publishing House, 2018)
The Garden of Wordlessness by J. Neil Garcia
(University of the Philippines, 2005)
Abi Nako, Or So I Thought by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
(University of the Philippines Press, 2020)
Poisonostalgia by Ramil Digal Gulle
(University of the Philippines Press, 2014)
Flash Book Review No. 146: "Taped on my living room wall, the blue / feather hasn't stopped sharing its secrets." A poem is defined as an event in language in which something is transformed. The image presented in the verse is expected to land on an insight worth one's reflection or recollection of a long-buried feeling or familiar event. This transformation will only take place through the poet's acuity, wit and thoughtfulness, all of which were beautifully exemplified in Luis Cabalquinto’s Mannahatta Mahal: Collected Expatriate Poems (2007, UP Press). "The finest words come easy in the mind / As you watch sailboats race in the water", the poet declared, and one would see and feel in the poems a force of observation that required a gentle disposition despite the variegation of milieus. He was in a faraway land where poems served as flute music, sending echoes to his hometown. The question of how these echoes could reach his folks eluded the poet, but he stayed still and found relief in the company of pigeons and autumn leaves. But this is not to say that poetry's sole intent is to console, for the poet wherever he goes polishes the gift of language to "find the gleam / Of possible permanence" amidst the fragility of one's (or society's) dreams. In other words, transcendence. In other words, connection with ever-changing landscapes. Cabalquinto's poems prove that consolation is not an end in itself, it is a way to retrieve and celebrate the memory of the new millennium's diaspora. This book will always remind us that literary gems wrought from overseas experiences can help us see the world as it is, to realize that as long as the heart beats for what is lasting and heavenly, home must be everywhere.
Flash Book Review No. 142: Macansantos's odes to historical figures and faraway lands are a reader's moments of self-inspection: what phrases, what lines or stanzas, have the ability to make me stop and reflect on my role as a citizen of a land fought over for centuries and more? Regardless of however the persona wanted his story to be told (a chant of nostalgia, a journal entry, or an open letter to lovers and personages), all the poems in this collection (1997, UP Press) are attempts to return to the mythic self, to get away from the constructs and upheavals of civilization, and to be reunited—even in the milieu of a cluttered house or a dysfunctional home—with the sun, the moon, the forest, and the gurgles of blue-green seas. These attempts are not escapist in nature but ones that uphold what duality, or even multitude of existences, imagination can bring to the reader. The poet in Macansantos is a modern man clinging to what lurks and lingers within himself: an ancestral fire. He has the knack for weaving language so beautifully as he brings us back to bits and pieces of our heritage and history, while assuring us that whatever is left with us, such as poems and our sanity, can still bring hope. You can trace in these poems the influence of William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney, that certain attention to language, that exploitation of the Word to flourish and conquer, that persistent desire for sophistication of sound on paper. I have developed this habit of underlining or highlighting striking line/s in every poem. And when I looked back at all these lines, I've come up with a personal realization on my preference for effective poetry: the surprise of wordplay without compromising its gravitas. These lines from Macansantos's artful search for the collective soul are ones I would always be glad to return to.
Magdalena by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Flash Book Review No. 152: The novel follows the life (and death) of Magdalena Sanchez Sotelo, a woman denied of the truth of her origin. As the reader turns pages, he would realize that Magdalena is not the story's central nor the primordial force, but an end product (or another perpetuator) of ambiguous, history-afflicted equations. Her bouts of romance with an American bomber pilot paved for the reader's witnessing of an interesting genealogy, rendered more complex by repressed passions of her ancestors. These passions were occasionally foregrounded by wars and disasters—proof of the novelist's panoramic grasp of Philippine history—and these passions reflect the family dynamics of a certain era. 's exceptional ability to shift from one character's voice to another's lies in seamless transitions from chronicles of generations to monologues, letters and dreams—the latter serving as her vehicles to psychoanalyze the major players, capitalizing on their decisions and resentments made out of fear or deprivation of choice. Magdalena (2016, UST Publishing House; first published 2002, Plain View Press) argues that a well-crafted novel, in the postcolonial gaze, must be a narrative palimpsest, a conglomerate of conflicting overtones, a metaphor for our nation that is in relentless pursuit of oneness and meaning. To see that emerging in the story is to be seduced by the thoughts of Luisa and Nestor, Magdalena's parents, whose contradictory lives and choices reverberate what our Filipino-ness has always gravitated towards. This novel has made me root for Ms. Brainard's other novels!
Flash Book Review No. 148: In the beginning, I had this impression that the book would be just about the poet's postcolonial angst, blaming the colonial nature of his home for the Filipino experience of misery wherever in the world. When my patience prevailed, the poet's attempt to inspire sparks of hope and progress—by regarding the Self as a global phenomenon, rather than a fruit of certain heritage—was worthy of ponderance. To inspire others i.e., to remind them of this newly sought identity is to get away with images of New Zealand cows or of tulips abounding in landscapes of dreaming. Readers deserve some sin and gore and shame, some effervescence of what was once blindingly beautiful. To inspire, through Gamalinda's unapologetic resonance, is to make others question the intention of their environs. "(4) We are born / full of love. (19) Then the world intervenes." Opening up to the world will only achieve authenticity if the Self recognizes (celebrates) the damages in the home's psyche. The world would not embrace denial monarchies. "And we reply, here is my country, / hidden in the camouflage of the body." When all has been said and done, what remains is the language of hope, of transcendence. Amigo Warfare (2007, Cherry Grove Collections) reinforces poetry's agency of stillness in the writer's and reader's willpower. When everything has been stripped away, all that is left is language waiting to burst forth, so that future chaos may still be given a form. "[F]or all this providence, / my words are late apologies, a fistful of roses." Gamalinda continues his poetic journey, rendering chaos with its deserved form. And for once in a while, accompanying him is quite enjoyable.
Flash Book Review No. 138: "My name is / maze of paradoxes, reveries, ironies" — this self-declaration reverberates in Jose Marte Abueg's Bird Lands, River Nights and Other Melancholies (2009, UP Press). I have joyfully immersed myself into this maze of words turning into universes, while dictated by a voice at once amazed at the Creator's command of the cosmos and saddened by man's tendencies of demolition. The poet's voice would achieve distinction with his later poetry collection, Hidden Codex: Fictive Scriptures, which I now look forward to re-read. You could sense Abueg's inclination to treat the craft as devotion, as an attempt to rescue himself from overwhelming grief and destruction as he saw them emerging and recurring in the natural world, in films and stories, in quotidian lives, or in discourses of the self. This attempt, I reckoned while turning pages, could serve as a glimmer of hope to every reader visited by uninvited loneliness. He assures us: "Melancholy recognizes the exiled / And turns away". But this poeticization of the virtue demands allegiance with the structures of the divine, let alone diligence to uncover what the world projects to human eyes. "Dip your hand / in hidden waters", Abueg instructs. He started this journey to versification with a lot of experimentations on themes, images, and slices of life from which to take inspiration, and this initial step was a feat accomplished. I also noticed his love for oppositions and parallels — "between radius and dusk, / pi and epiphany, calculus / and communion" — and how he used his gift of language to render these things vibrant and striking on the page. I could relate to these poems because these are the subjects and structures that I want my own poems to gravitate towards. This might be an interesting aspect to look at if one would devote himself to study Filipino-authored poems on, or inspired by, the Catholic faith. This book presents hope, and though the attainment of what is hoped for is beyond comprehension, the book still comforts us with a plea to the Father: "But for now / promise us skylight".
We Shall Write Love Poems Again by Dinah Roma
Flash Book Review No. 147: "Ah, tenderness. The anonymity of it." This is my favorite line in this collection because not only does it articulate the common trajectory of several poems—from a recall of personal pain to a call for relatedness in grief and rage—but also it relates to me in this specific period of my life. Dinah Roma's We Shall Write Love Poems Again(UST Publishing House, 2020) yields to the hope that in the midst of resentments, tenderness may be found in the poetic act, in many names and many forms. But this kind of tenderness will only be achieved through courage to open up to the world. I do not know the poet personally, but through this book was I able to discover that this woman may have undergone a life-changing experience, one that has tested the strength of her will and her perspectives on love and children's upbringing. "Hers was the script / in the fluent light", and notwithstanding this relentless yearning for tenderness, the persona has already found inner peace while traversing art venues and historic lands, scribbling down the contents of her daydreaming, and learning from friends and strangers who might have been facing the same ordeals. She started out with pieces echoing the pressing problems of our country, sporadic murders and longtime disillusionments, yet the book proceeded with going back to the self, the one that requires immediate healing and daily revivals. My two favorite poems are "Stellar" and "Vermeer's Opus" as both speak of a hope that is not monopolized by metaphors, but a hope that stirs movements of the body and, more importantly, of the spirit. The self does not have to stay in fetal positions eyeing darknesses, it must get up and sojourn and feel the breeze of the world. Aided by the agency of poetry, the self must find time to pay attention to "the graceful quiver among the leaves / hostage to the seasons". There lies our collective resurrection.
DRIFT by Joel H. Vega
Flash Book Review No. 144: Whether the poem deals with "a slow tongue moving / in darkness" or "the coldness of arithmetic", or even "the body's mortal detours", this debut poetry collection by Joel Vega (2018, UST Publishing House) upholds the importance of understanding, of scrutiny, before one allows the burst of judgments. You will notice in every piece the careful attention to lineations, as if what the poems usually deal with—architecture, anthropology, anatomy and geography—is ultimately realized in the form; the control on pauses and breaths renders the reading slower and gentler but striking enough, leaving the reader mindful of how bits and pieces of his existence and his milieu should be led to a whole and the other way around. As we read this beautiful book, we embark on a journey we initially think to be a wayward one. But as one poem after another startles us with clarity, as well as relevance to the signs of the times, the direction becomes concentric and culminates with inwardness, because that's what poetry brings to light, the transformation of an event through the precision of words, from an unfamiliar landscape to an introspective moment. For a poem to achieve this purpose, cadence is as crucial as the imposition of ethos, whether the latter may be found in the beginning, middle or ending lines. Vega owns this knack of equalizing these two forces, let alone his gift of giving a random observation/insight its universal flavor. And we feel comforted by this, as we sustain our fluvial nature in the sea of uncertainty. We are all the more comforted by this declaration: "The speech of the heart is your domain, / it murmurs to your door, insistent. . ." followed by "[t]he heart takes what it can. // First anger / or grief, // then new love." Thanks to poets, the world will always remember that in the exploitation and amputation of the body, and the gradual corruption of the collective consciousness, the heart matters.
Babae, sa Balumbalonan ni Hakob at Iba pang Kwento by Mayette M. Bayuga
Flash Book Review No. 143: To leave the mystical untarnished, to let the dances of deities as they are, far from the cries of the civilized—this must be the story collection's impetus, I thought to myself when I got through with the first two stories. But as my reading progressed, I noticed what perhaps is the overarching motif of the tales and stories in Babae, sa Balumbalonan ni Hakob at Iba pang Kwento (2015, UST Publishing House), and that is, the inevitability of imaginative-and-real fusion in our lives. We were taught that we, the fed and the cultured, are the stewards of this world, but Bayuga's beautifully crafted stories teach us that the transitoriness of our own lives is tantamount to the permanence of mountains' mysteries, of fantastical events abounding in forests, of villagers' and scholars' speculations on seascapes—all these are rendered more useful if human intervention is driven by harmony and compassion, instead of destruction. And this truth of a fusion is upheld, commendably and inspiringly, by the writer's fusion of romantic and colloquial language in telling each story. In other words, Bayuga has the gift of language that defies narrative oppositions found in textbook and pocketbook stories, and through that gift we were able to comprehend how each story served as a big "no" to different forms of conquest and destabilization. I prefer her longer stories such as "Heredero ng Tribo Hubad sa Isla Real" and "Kambal", in which she demonstrated her grasp of complex worlds she created out of her imagination's prowess and sense of geography. These stories in particular, plus "Ikatlong Kuwento ng Sinayod", attempt to elevate the joy of reading Filipino speculative fiction to become an opportunity to reflect on socio-political truths, especially on issues of urbanization, displacement of indigenous groups, and corruption of not only those who govern but also those tasked to protect our collective morale. This book is a testament to the twofold mission of storytelling: as spectacle and as vehicle.
The Garden of Wordlessness by J. Neil Garcia
Flash Book Review No. 153: "What I will miss, when I depart, / is not the world itself / but its rhythms"—J. Neil Garcia has always seduced us with such articulations! From his poems reminiscing a childhood full of yearning and exploration, to the ones revisiting the myths we've grown up with and charging them with queer and erotic dimensions, this favorite poet of mine has been one of those inspiring me to continue writing my own poems, utilizing familiar myths as I challenge my own grasp of poetic language, and confronting adolescent traumas so as to give birth to a self no longer afraid of intimacy. Included in this compilation (published 2005) are selected poems from The Sorrow of Water, the very first of Garcia's books I've read. Through that book I was able to grasp the possibility of water to stand for man's desirousness and the desirability of his possessions, and to vicariously experience the poet's vulnerability to drown (happily) in metaphors. The Garden of Wordlessness is by no means questioning the capacity of language to transcend forms and appearances. It rather upholds man's gift of expression as a rescuer. Now that chaos rings louder than the promise of equilibrium, it is poetry that saves us from ourselves. But it does not guarantee only temporary salvation. This salvific function of poetry will eventually lead to the transformation of not only the thing, but also the poet, in craft and person, "the Self destroyed by longing, / the Self transformed." Our words keep memories alive, our words give these memories new color and flavor every time poetry is devised as the only meaningful moment to articulate. Garcia asked in one of his poems: "what are words / if not shells / housing echoes?"
Kolboy by Carlo Tadiar
Flash Book Review No. 154: Can I say social anthropology is a guilty pleasure? My love for humanities and the arts is probably rooted in my curiosity about things primitive, exotic, and sometimes cultist. Reading Carlo Tadiar's Kolboy(2021, UP Press) is for sure a reiteration of that curiosity. My initial qualms about reading this were my having been at first alienated by its language and framework(s), due to my lack of background in jargons and contemporary philosophy and psychology references, and my having prejudged it as mere justification for homosexual acts. Both qualms were dispelled by the book's utter desire for clarity, clarifying some notions on sex, gender and sexuality, and opening more opportunities for research of the same kind: the attempt to link the pressing issue in an unpopular corner of the metropolis to postcolonial contexts and the subjects' sincere and unafraid articulations of want of survival. The occasional inclusion of Tadiar's personal anecdotes in the presentation of a certain context lightens the reader's burden, and has helped the author deliver his findings and cross-examinations and triangulations more relatable, more absorbable to anyone plainly interested in the lives of les misérables. But these anecdotes were just guides on the side, because the sage was aware of the caveats of personalization. Regardless of gossamer-like citations bringing the reader back to the concepts of Freud and Marx and forward, to the exultation of the bakla as arbiter of culture despite their predetermined undesirability, the centrality of the kolboy as a disruptive agent in the long-lived analogy of our country's feminization and the colonizer's masculinity is what really made me finish reading this book. Rest assured that this gem has sheen deserving of wider "patronage" (pun intended). [I admit that I despaired sounding scholarly in this flash review.]
Unanimal, Counterfeit, Scurrilous by Mark Anthony Cayanan
Flash Book Review No. 157: With all the hectic schedules and depressing news of sickness and deaths, I managed to finish reading Mark Anthony Cayanan's Unanimal, Counterfeit, Scurrilous (2021, Giramondo). It's like following Mother Teresa's advice that the busier you get, the more often should you pray. When I scanned the pages of this book after it landed on the doorstep of our office, I knew then that I would be extra-challenged by the way the author weaves his language and his references. I also remember asking myself whether I really was one of the deserving audience. Now that I've read it, it's a realization that there's no such thing as deserving reader. The poems are laid out and open for the consumption of our perceptions and origins, whatever they are. Poetry must not be alienating. It is poetry's tendency, despite variegation in diction and structure, to liberate the reader from the contract he himself has forged with fiction. In addition, what I love about this book is its successful attempt at dispelling the notion that a book published abroad is devoid of intimations of homebound bliss. Desire is universal and thus more felt when it has an element of homeliness. Speaking of desire, I have witnessed Cayanan's poetic journey, from Narcissus to Except You Enthrall Me to this most recent work, which puts desire at the crucifix between obsession and sanity. This collection of poems (my favorites are 'Wind and teeth', 'As Aschenbach [It should have gone some other way]' and 'Ode to the exit sign') proves that sanity and obsession are an interesting combination, and it takes language that 'always flees but always retreats' to make this happen strikingly on the page. I haven't read Death of Venice, but Cayanan's poems made me so much look forward to reading it. Because of this fact, the book has birthed to its alter-role, to serve as a backdrop for its inspiration. To Mark, I'm glad that I am a co-journeyer. More to words and meanings! More to desire and the endlessness of it!
Abi Nako, Or So I Thought by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
Flash Book Review No. 159: "Take my heart, I guarantee it is usable despite all the battering . . . no, because of the all the activity." In her sharing of pieces of life she described as leaps of faith and moments of grace, Jhoanna Lynn Cruz has inspired me to go deep to my core. While I enjoyed getting some lesson out of her remembrance, I was able to reflect on my own insecurities and longings for full autonomy in this stage of my life (if there's such a thing). Written in a language that is inviting and never disarming—one that I don't see that often even in memoirs I have loved before—Abi Nako, Or So I Thought contains essays that established beautiful connections between a word's origin and the author's grasp of experience, a metaphor-and-insight relationship stamped on the page without being pushy or corny. What also struck me while reading each essay was the infusion of research so that I could be familiar with the geography of the reminiscence. Every piece is meant for the consumption of all, whether you are of the same or different gender, age and tradition. "It is my job to remember, not the way historians must, but because of what we see through our remembrance . . . Part of me is convinced that if I 'moved on' from what ails me, I would stop being a writer." My favorites are "Staying Alive" and "Buying the House on Macopa Street", probably because she talked not entirely about moving on, but how she transitioned from pain to free spirit, and the cracks and jambs in this long, tedious process. More important, she assured that hope is the fruit of endurance. Nearness to decay could be an opportunity for re-blossoming. Thanks to art, to poetry, to memoir writing, for the constant reminder.
Poisonostalgia by Ramil Digal Gulle
Flash Book Review No. 160: This collection is a kaleidoscope, as the poems' attempts for distinction all go down to a resonant mind: city man baffled by the complexity of his own being, torn between disaster and desire, and enervated by the demands of family life exacerbated by the demands of a capitalist milieu. And he articulated all these attempts with his cupboard of styles and structures, one that mirrors what it takes to be challenged by inordinate energies, but triumphant after every succumbing. It took me a week to finish reading Ramil Digal Gulle’s Poisonostalgia (2014, UP Press), for I know that only two to three poems a day would help me absorb what's on the poet's mind—filled with musings on the Woman as the Image, confrontations with his condition, assertions on the poeticization of all things quotidian, and tributes to his idols in the craft and friends in sanity—as I deal with my own exhaustion, after a day's labor, after mingling with the hustle and bustle of [m]ass [c]ivilization. With my tired voice, I read "A Night with the Family Man" aloud and alone in my room, and hearing myself read the lines reminded me of the music video of "Ride" by Lana del Rey. There was a certain loneliness while the persona narrated his dreams and occasional jumps to reality. But there was also the resilience to move forward, the same with the lyrics of the LDR song. The residue of the Beat Generation was felt in "This is a Facebook Note", as if I were reading a post-9/11 retelling of Ginsberg's "Howl". My other favorites, probably because of their clarity in message and compactness in imagery, are "To Write a Poem", "The Argument with the Son", "The Filipino Dream" and "The Show". And of course, Lourd de Veyra’s introduction is a hit not to miss.