The night before he left for Manila, and then for Bangkok, Kristian and I were talking about translating a poem. It was his poem. “An old one,” he said, perhaps to excuse in advance about the old form and old theme. It reeks of the scent of that old book called “Bible.”
Apparently, someone has requested from him any poem to include in an anthology. But the poem must be translated in English. He was looking at me and then to Jusan, one of the younger writers who frequented Kristian’s bookstore, Savage Mind. “
Before we could reply to his gaze, he told us he would read the poem. The title was: “An Kapungawan kan Babaying Raot- Raot na Payong.” Without telling him, right there I translated the title to “The Loneliness of the Woman Carrying a Battered Umbrella.”
That was some nights ago. Tonight, I am writing about Kristian Sendon Cordero because he is the recipient of the South East Asian Writer’s Award this year. For three years, the award was not given because in Thailand. This year, it was announced it would be given and it was. Because of the delay, the recipients for the last three years were together facing the Thai royalty.
From the Philippines, the SEAWrite awardees are Bien Lumbera, already our National Artist for Literature, Ricardo de Ungria, poet and academic, and Kristian.
I would not have written this essay about Kristian until I saw the photos of the awardees receiving with humility (for that was vivid on photo) the Prize from the Princess. This was big deal, the real deal. This was grand. And a writer writing in a regional language – Bikol – was to be given the recognition.
Here are some passages from the citation given to Kristian:
An opulence of talent, a consistency of excellence, and a seemingly bottomless wellspring of energy, all in his chosen arts of poetry, fiction, essay, translation, film, and scholarship, in the context of Filipino multilingual culture and artistic production from the regions and away from the socioeconomic center of Manila, distinguish Kristian Sendon Cordero’s literary and artistic accomplishments at quite a young age of 34.
The citation continues:
Cordero fortifies and enriches his multifaceted cultural leadership role in his various capacities as an academic and arts advocate, a deputy director of a university press, a translator and scholar, and as poet and filmmaker, among others.
The citation proceeds from hereon to articulate each facet of Cordero: It states that, as an academic and arts advocate based in the region, apart from teaching literature in the Ateneo de Naga University, Cordero actively performs in the Bikol literary and cultural scene.
It also says how, in many a sense, he continues to be one of the moving spirits in the Bikol literary and cultural renaissance now acknowledged as taking place in his region, which is one of the firsts in contemporary Philippine culture.
The long citation mentions Kristian’s work as a translator: Cordero is indefatigable in searching out translation and multilingual projects through international networking and liaison that have involved various foreign embassies and resulted in joint publications in such languages as Czech, Spanish, and German, among others, with either Bikol or Filipino translations.
It then concludes by stressing: Finally, as one of the Philippines’ leading poets writing in the Filipino national language and in his regional Bikol, Cordero is an exemplar in exploring and stirring the Filipino imagination through his distinctive use of language and various means of poetic expression, and his unflagging literary production.
With the award, Kristian follows an eminent list of other Bikolano writers who were honored with the SEAWrite Award. They are: Marne Kilates, poet and translator from Daraga, Albay, wh0 received it in 1998; fictionist and critic Elmer Ordoñez, critic and fictionist from Juban, Sorsogon, who was honored in 2008; and, Abdon M. Balde Jr., fictionist and essayist from Oas, Albay recognized in 2009.
Contrary, however, to the impression and expectation of many, the award considered to be one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the region, makes the poet, writer or artist more accessible. It allows us to see the writer in society.
Writing being solitary, any prize or recognition allows the writer to be caught with his art. It enables the reader to see the writer as contributing to his communities. The writer does not need – let it be said – to form a society or craft a community so that he could observe and write about social affairs.
He remains singular by being single, complete unto himself.
Kristian, I believe, fulfills these difficult and unattractive conditions.
I see it in his writings. I sense it in his intimacy with perspectives, those lenses that change the world not out of language but of position.
We all could see it that night, as he read the poetry about the woman carrying a battered umbrella. That night, he read in his Bikol tongue the lines that were neither poetry or prose. “Form is an illusion,” he said once. Formalism does not help form art, in more ways than one, he would say this.
In his poem, the woman appears to observe the shifting of seasons. But there are many other voices. Multivocalic. And there are many meanings. Polysemy.
He heeds his grandfather who once cautioned him about animals that are varicolored: they are most poisonous. And, in his poetry, the woman with umbrella disappears and in her place is the First Woman who listened to the Snake and from where burst forth the terrible beauty of the beginning of our mortality.
Kristian, in his poetry, talks about how long time ago, the season started consuming beauty. Will the season or Time spew the allure it ingested?
Kristian asks terrible questions because he is alone. His solitude is a lonesomeness that has nothing to do with the heart. It has something to do with setting out, the “pagtandayag.” The Serpent sees the Cave has become too small for him. He pushes the rocks and they crumble as the Serpent makes it way to the deep sea.
Tonight, I look at the poem again, the verse about “Kapungawan” and decide that it has nothing to do with loneliness or longing. It is all about a majesty of distance and separation, when in isolation, one sees everything and asks everything about the universe, the universe where flowers cast shadows, and clotheslines are skeletons full of mud and where rains fall like “purutol na gigis” or amputated little fingers, and the Ark of Noah appears and reappears.
Kristian sees the covenant and, if it is not there, he invents it, imagines it and writes about it. He makes sure the covenant does not have anything to do with Deluge or the annihilation of mankind.
Kristian deserves the Prize. Congratulations, my dear friend.