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New Poems, New Voices, Part 2: Subverting a Language

What are languages without practitioners and users to make them live long in historical eternity? Thank god I can say this: youth may be wasted on the young but wisdom also may rot and decay in old age. Thus, in poetry or literature, whether they are poets competing against each other or linking up with groups through gracious words and spoken rhythm, youth is never a monopoly of the young and wisdom does not reside merely in old age.

The truth is language will never grow unless there are individuals, mostly from those of the present generations, brave enough to despise their teachers or mentors in the metaphorical sense of it and to forge a path they can recognize.

The metaphor of killing the literary father/mother, pardon the vulgar psychoanalysis here, is therefore a murder most necessary if new blood can flow into the veins of a body literary (I bow in embarrassment with the use of that cliché) or if one’s voice shall be heard (I shiver at this bad prose).

My experience with literary catharsis is personal. This is also a tribute to a great mentor – Mr. Rudy F. Alano.

Having moved to Manila just a few years after graduation, I was cut off from the activities of the old school. It was Rudy who would bring me back to the classroom to talk about literature and theater. Or, if there was an invitation from the old college, now a university, he would always be there in front with Janet, his wife, my friend.

Always, I would recognize him immediately and offer to the public a sentence or two about how he taught me poetry. I was following the template of a student/adept forever in gratitude to a teacher/guide.

It was after one big symposium, I think, when Rudy approached me, asked a question, teased me with all the names and theories I dropped like shit, and said: You do not have to acknowledge me every time. You are what you are. The beer that followed after that symposium put to shame any pedagogical tool in the world.

But, hey, how many Rudy Alanos are there?

Why this long introduction to my other choices in the recently held Sir Noel De Luna Poetry Competition? It is because in literary concourses, language is at the core of the works of art. The poetry is the words, the language, the music in the words as they are stringed together, and the shock of recognition in a word that is now inverted or invented.

Language. Language. And how you work around the words and terms in that language is the means to grasp the power of literature. The technique is there by all means but what matters always is the language, purged from old forms, forged out of memories.

This is the language whose wellsprings can be excavated. The poet is the ideal subversive of languages. If art can be invented – from techne to arête – then languages to be vital are also open to accommodation, experimentation and invention.

Thus follow the other three poems from the competition whose spirit in languages, to quote theMarcia Landy in Folklore of Consensus, is related to “conservation-distortion-evacuation.”

It is the beautiful accident of geography that these three works come from Iriga and Buhi, in Camarines Sur, and Monreal in Ticao, Masbate.

Leading the pack not so much in aesthetic superiority but in its courage to confront a language is Jonalyn Banal’s Rilip. The poet has a youthful voice in the poem. Immediately, the poet positions herself: Kami mga tagalooban,/Uno ganap sa luwasan?/Bagana kamo sana man,/Kami? Bagana da basang?

Class in the country – or, in this case, Iriga – is a binary of insider/outsider.

Freedom with language is the strength of this poem. It incorporates street lingo and spelling. Be amazed with these lines: Cellphone ag Tiktok baga, ghorl!/Baka “Are you lost baby, girl?”/Uda sana magtawa, noy/Maray pananggad a good boy.

A peripheral language – what else can be more marginalized than the “Rincon” or corner of Rinconada. But it proves to be a cosmopolitan language as it internalizes an international craft of rapping in these: A toxic na social media,/Kulang basang sa ideya./Pero kin website na pwerte, ka panahon, agom swerte!

The language is current: “toxic,” “social media,” and “website.” The poet uses the techie or street-wise terms. It is as if we are listening to a new form of “Tigsik.” Test it by adding the words “Tigsik ko” to “a toxic na social media” and a generation of speakers is assured of a language that will live on.

But the poet has really more than gimmicks in the work: Ta minsan uda perpekto/Ta minsan bukung kompleto/Iba-iba an mga tawo/ POSITIBO, NEGATIBO.

Wit converts the words “Positibo” and “Negatibo” from those that define the character of persons to those that result from a medical test. Personal psychology and science are tangled semantically as only an engineer of language can do it.

From Buhi comes a poem that raises its aesthetic value when read. The poem is Ading si Covid and the poet is Maria B. Herras. Ading Covid employs a light, humorous tone, which is common among the rawit-dawit of yore. It pokes fun at human misery and condition even as it celebrates the bravery of human groups. The poem treats the virus as a kind of pest or troublesome presence. When read, the poem is very musical, with a rhythm that is breathtakingly insouciant – an air of sige sana, a sense of daing labot.

Listen or, better yet, read these: Oy Covid, oy Covid/Baga na ika sibid-sibi/Pag maka ikrad santang ikid-ikid/Pëspësan ta ika nin purong sigid

In that stanza, there is a person running after the virus, threatening it with the most common household item, a broom. Then it seeks to do away with the virus by pushing it onto the distant mountain: Oy Covid, pesting Covid/Grabing abala sa parabukid/Rakpën, sabay ituglong sa bakilid/Italbëng sa pinakapuro nin bukid.

The poem changes its position and looks at the people ignoring the pandemic: Kaya di magparabaragbarag/Na ika maustik ag maurag/Lalo na kin ika lasngag/Mapapadali pagigin mong kalag

For all the folksy tone of this rawit-dawit, the poet uses references to the present world of technology when it mocks: Ana iba man daw, ëda isosogad/Sa facebook pa nira ipiladlad.

Completing the triumvirate of new voices is the entry from Monreal, in Ticao Island, Masbate. On a personal note, my first language is Tigaonon, the language of Ticao Island and my enjoyment of this poem went beyond the cerebral into the sentimental. The poet is Jhon R. Dejucos; the poem is called Puturo sin Buhay. The first stanzas are deep and dark. Towards the end it becomes prescriptive – what to expect of life, what to do about it etc.

This tendency to moralize, common among all the other entries, seems to be part of the poetics of Bikol poets. Over and above the limitations, the poem of Dejucos is philosophical,existential. Read the opening lines: Tuna sin katuna-tuna nababatian/Sa pagbudos ni Nanay hasta pagputok san iya panubigan/Sa primero na pagtangis kan san ako inhimusudan/Promisa san ginikanan “an buhay sine dapat may mapakadtuan. I translated it into English, and the lines now read: From the beginning of the beginning I would hear/In my Mother’s pregnancy and in the breaking of the water in her womb/In the first cry and in the act of cutting the umbilical cord/The promise of where we came from is that this life should a direction have). Devoid of modifiers, Dejucos offers his readers the primal elements of nature put together to conjure the most primeval of thoughts: An kagab-ihon amo an tuna sin akon pagka-aga. Translated, it becomes a prayer: The night is where my morning begins.

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