Saturday, November 25, 2023


ALOYSIUSI POLINTAN provides Flash Reviews of

Mountain Dreaming: New Essays by Gemino Abad

(2015, UP Press) 


Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres

(Scholastica, 2014)


The Proxy Eros by Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta

(Anvil, 2008)


October Light by Jeff Tagami

(Kearney Street Workshop, 1990)

Mountain Dreaming: New Essays by Gemino Abad

Flash Book Review No. 213: Aside from his sophisticated and exultant poetry, Gemino Abad's scholarship and, of course, contagious passion that have influenced numerous artists, teachers, curricularists, and even language education policy makers confirm how deserving he is to have stood, not on the shoulders, but side by side with the giants of cultural history. Those compiled in Past Mountain Dreaming: New Essays (2015, UP Press) prove his extensive and ever-sought scholarship in Philippine literature in English and capitalize that "what haunts, what endures" in the collective imagination, through our critical understanding of our own arts and letters, is what a country becomes to its people. To which I say yes and genuflect. Resonant (and ever-reiterated) in those essays is his assertion on the importance of reading and appreciating works in English by Filipino writers. "For both writer and reader, it is the active imagination that achieves and fulfills the poem or story." Language is only its tool, and therefore, reading works in English is never an act of betrayal to our thrust of searching for our roots and soul-making. If I were given the chance to teach Philippine Literature or Teaching and Assessment of Literature Studies for the next semester, I would absolutely include his readings of Marjorie Evasco's "Is it the Kingfisher?," Luisa Igloria's "The Secret Language," and Edith Tiempo's "Lament for the Littlest Fellow" as an attempt to inspire and equip future literature teachers. He also stressed that reading should not be a lost art nor a luxury, for it is a discipline of the imagination, a custom and ceremony, from which "are innocence and beauty born" (Keats). From my first encounter with his works in 2017 with Where No Words Break to this essay collection and the other five books in between, I've learned to push myself further, not in terms of the number of books I have to read specifically but in the discipline of reading, one that is close and efficient and immersive.


Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres

Flash Book Review No. 218: How the author spends each chapter elucidating Sula's gradual and exciting discovery of her power (and her unique origin) rather than giving the protagonist all the chances to use such power alludes to what effective fiction is all about: carrying the reader on a long and perilous journey, regardless of the destination. Catherine Torres’ limpid yet breathtaking language allows us to inhabit the inner workings of an adolescent whose whirlwind of emotions, not to mention the dynamics between her parents and their friends, renders her sojourns more complicated than what we expect in reality. But this complication, inviting us to a joyous exploration, is actually a way of naming things, of honing our words in order to give names to entities within our body that we can hardly make out in real-life situations. In addition to the story's effectiveness, the insertion of sociopolitical and ecological themes does not sound forced, unlike some works that were lured to be garnished with bits and pieces of social issues in order to look relevant or critically acceptable. In the midst of twists and turns branching out of one complication at hand, we can still see at the center the girl whose only longing is to feel valid and desired, in her age when lots of things, ideas, and feelings seem confusing. I was just wondering how this book would have seemed to me if it were in the first-person POV. Anyway, books like this impel me to read more and more literary works from our own archipelago.


The Proxy Eros by Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta

Flash Book Review No. 224: Whether Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta's poems deal with "a phantom hunger / All the more terrible because unseen" or "a gone limb nostalgic for wear," she ensures a reading experience that allows the reader to think deeply, heave a sigh, and then stare at his surroundings as if the most beautiful way to respond to astounding poetry is sourced from elsewhere, not necessarily within. The Proxy Eros (2008, Anvil) provides such a marvelous experience. "Beyond this wall // Must be better weathers." Beyond her profound articulations of a young girl's or a woman's vulnerability is the call for courage, while consoled by the many altered realities the mind can conceive and the many oxymorons life has to offer: "There are / softer insistencies . . . . There are / gentler captivities." After having read the first four poems in this collection, I realized that I haven't taken poetry seriously yet, that I haven't written good enough. This total admiration for her work must be transformed into something that propels me forward: that I should practice more diligence in how I write my own poems, especially in choosing the most compact word or phrase or line for a certain experience or thought. Her poems prove that "to shape also means to take apart" and that the distillation of one's experience into an art form is like distilling all your desires into a momentary prayer. "Clauses, clauses, I want to say, / Because what I know is language." This is the voice of a woman recollecting an eight-year-old self, as if speaking to me: words are gifts; render them as efficient as you permit.


All the quoted lines above are taken from these poems in order:

"The Telling"

"Ghost Pain"

"As Far as Cho-Fu-Sa"

"The Insistence"

"Here Is the Chisel and Here Is the Mallet"



October Light by Jeff Tagami

Flash Book Review No. 234: After reading this very rare copy of October Light (1990, Kearny Street Workshop Press), a slim (and only) volume by Filipino-American poet Jeff Tagami, I will never look at brocolli and cauliflower the same way again! The under-celebrated poet beautifully enumerated and showered with strong imagery and irony the struggles of immigrants in the apple orchards, coal mines, and humble homes of California, Oklahoma, and Hawaii. With the sure influence of Carlos Bulosan's politics on each poem, this collection profiles the lives of men, after a perilous day of labor, "drinking beer under the stars, contented just to have come from someplace," of husbands lamenting the miscarriage of their wives as they, each night, "held it up to the lamp / stroking the glass clear of his choked breath / as if to contemplate a son without future," and of immigrants' children that sang of gardens and rivers and "fields that begin under their bedroom windows / and end in a world they do not know." A personal favorite poem was a tribute to Fermin Tobera who Tagami inhabited with language so limpid and austere that the reader feels he's a witness to the misfortune that came afterward. And so the persona recalled: "My brothers grow older / without me and I / become the cold breath / on their necks, the blind / Fog in the field." I wondered whether "Fog" was intended with a capital letter or was just a clerical error. Nevertheless, Tagami's poetry is a gem, whose glimmer and raging radiance can dispel the fog before our eyes, which could mean our collective prejudice toward the migrant poets speaking in a foreign tongue and tilling foreign fields and thinking with a foreign mind. These poets are grounded, they are rooted, and with their backs bent under the midday sun, they illuminate what awaits us as we thirst for the American Dream.


Since 2016, Aloysiusi Polintan has worked as a Senior High School Principal in Divina Pastora College. He started scribbling poems and essays when he was 17 years old. These poems are still kept in a notebook and wait to be revised for future publication. This notebook will be revived and will give birth to language already "lived." That is why his blog is named "Renaissance of a Notebook," a blog of poems, personal and academic essays, and flash movie reviews. His book reviews, which are published and featured in The Halo-Halo Review and Galatea Resurrects, are also to be found on the blog, under the series title "Mesmerized." He believes that the ability to judge or critique a literary piece starts with the reader's being moved and mesmerized by the artful arrangement of words articulating some longing for freedom and individuality. He's now working on a manuscript of 50 poems, with a working title of Brittle Sounds.

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