September 3, 2007
Although I write in English and Tagalog/Filipino, I consider myself a regional writer not only because I also write in Bikol-Naga and Iriganon, but because I am based in Bicol. Staying here was a choice I earlier made even if there are more opportunities in Metro-Manila, where the national government seems to center its developmental projects. This is also true for literary activities. Being a melting pot of Philippine cultures, it pays to visit the NCR from time to time and meet with Manila-based and other visiting regional writers. This way, we can enter into some kind of a dialogue and avoid cultural and intellectual stagnation.
One opportunity to mingle with other writers was during the launch of ‘Latay sa Isipan: Mga Bagong Tulang Filipino’ published by the UST Press. It was released along with other titles produced by the UST Press in its aim to catch up with its quota of 40 titles a year, making up at least 400 titles by 2011. Now they ought to be lauded for this enterprise since the Press is also open for literary titles.
Being included in the ‘Latay sa Isipan’ anthology was great only that Bicol-based writers seemed to have failed to take-up much space in the collection contrary to my earlier presumption. Poets Jaime Jesus Borlagdan, Jose Jason L. Chancoco and Kristian S. Cordero only had one representative poem each to their name while the others have at most five. And Carlo A. Arejola was removed from the anthology due to age disqualification (after being told that he was included in the roster). I was also expecting more from the young poets that frequent the poetry pages of the Philippine Panorama. But then later on, we learned that it was Allan Popa who actually picked the poems in the collection and not Cirilo F. Bautista himself.
As if to complement the irony of the previous event, I found a copy of ‘Sawi: Funny Essays, Stories and Poems on All Kinds of Heartbreaks’ at the UP Press booth for Milflores Publishing, Inc. I am included in the said anthology and still waiting for my complimentary copy. I have already written the editors and I hope to receive it soon. You see, it is heartbreaking to be buying your own printed poem when in fact you ought to be paid for it. If not for KWF Chief Dr. Ricardo Nolasco who bought it for me (I was not so liquid), I would not have a copy of the collection.
But then again, brokenhearted or not, every reader should buy a copy of ‘Sawi’ as edited by Ada J. Loredo, BJ A. Patino and Rica Bolipata-Santos. Writers of note are Gemino H. Abad, Christine S. Bellen, Nikki Alfar, Jaime Jesus Borlagdan, Catherine Candano, Libay Linsangan Cantor, Ian Rosales Casocot, Jaime Dasca Doble, Luisa A. Igloria, Arvin Abejo Mangohig, Bernice Roldan, Elyrah Loyola Salanga, Joseph Salazar, Enrico C. Torralba, Edgar Calabia Samar, Naya S. Valdellon and many more.
The awarding rites for the Gawad Komisyon 2007 pushed through for all the other divisions except Pangasinense and Bikol. As Santiago Villafania would lament, the Pangasinan writers are on the verge of extinction. That is why they just held a conference on Pangasinan Cultural Studies and the same project will be held in Legaspi come December, this time for Bikol studies. The KWF will announce a call for papers for the conference. All of the essays submitted for the Gawad Komisyon Bikol will automatically be considered and the awards for the short-fiction category will be given during the said symposium.
I also attended ‘Pistang Panitik’, a lecture-forum on the body of works of our living National Artists for Literature. The lectures will serve as guide in reading and gauging the significance of the writings of Bienvenido L. Lumbera, F. Sionil Jose, Virgilio S. Almario, Alejandro R. Roces and Edith L. Tiempo. I was only able to attend Lumbera and Sionil’s day but it was worth my visit. J. Neil Garcia’s reading of Sionil’s ambivalent stand on Americanization and Nationalism further made the latter a more interesting postcolonial writer. As expected, the same postmodern and hybridist criticism were employed by Garcia (as he used it for Rio Alma). One important note was Sionil’s clear perception of nationalism as somewhat dangerous because of its romanticized state—being that it was still a case of a dominant upper-class joining in for the revolution at the last hour. As Franz Fanon once warned us, nationalism only breeds imperialism.
Truly, it was a feast of the written word. Not to mention that I also chanced upon the National Book Awards at the World Trade Center. And I know that soon, we will have local versions of the award—or better yet, the Manila Critics Circle should better open its roster for critics in the regional languages.