I got an SMS from Far Eastern University instructor and writer Miel Kristian Ondevilla on January 23, 2008 at 5:30:06pm informing me that I will sit as one of the judges along with himself, Kristian Abe Dalao and Alfonso Dacanay for the 2008 Transition Literary Contest. And on January 26 (Saturday), I received via LBC the entries for the poetry and one-act play categories.

For poetry, I am supposed to prepare a ranked shortlist of 10 poetry collections, although only five of which will be given prizes. I got from the mail a total of 42 entries for the poetry category. I immediately screened the manuscripts and eliminated 19 entries, leaving me with 23 entries for my first shortlist. During my second screening, I removed 12 more entries, leaving me with 11 entries for my second shortlist. To come up with my top ten, I eliminated one more entry. Then I started ranking the remaining entries.

And here’s my final and ranked shortlist:

1. et., al by humblestsauthor

2. Nursing is an Art by Poet with a Lamp

3. Rain of Ours by Drench

4. Poems by Atomos

5. Necessary Truths by Go the Distance

6. Miscelaneo 2007 by El Soñador

7. One-Night Stand by Fool

8. Mirror of Thy Soul by Atropos

9. Mendacity by Miss Nomer

10. When White Wings Became Black by Akimoto Ren

I think “et., al” deserves the First Prize because the poems in the collection have clear and intuitive images and clear-cut endings. The author also has eye for detail and contrast, and knows how to shift POVs and use run-ons effectively. The collection also presents 3rd World reality and has a well-established milieu (Quiapo, Manila area).

This eye for detail is exhibited in the way “The Gypsy” is described for characterization and likewise in lines such as: “And then you asked yourself on what sight might embrace you upon arriving home. Perhaps/a house, columns so fragile to touch, eaten by some/pests, a withered frontyard yielding death, kitchen/sink growing moss, appearing like mini continents//and islands floating on infected waters.” (The Wanderer)

Also, observe how the author employs the magic of enumeration: “On her way she saw everything/was the same but then more significant, substantial/in her subconscious: the rough texture of the pavement, the number of lines the pedestrian lane//has, the faces of the people distinct despite mixed up in the crowd.” (The Victim)

Stark contrast also amplifies irony in the way “The Woman” is described: “Sleeve of a cloth, more so/like a rag, protruded in her dilapidated suit case, perchance/she spotted in a trash bin of an executive company.”

Effective use of run-on lines also shows that the author has great grasp of the ebb and flow of words and details—and emotions: “Some clients who have proven/her factual go back and offer a gift as a gratitude:/sometimes a charm, sometimes an adorable stuff toy,/sometimes money, which she will accept with extreme//joy.

The poet also veers away from the pitfall of didactic poetics such when presenting in a detached manner a situation or image that could justify why a mother would rather be a fake fortune teller just so she could support her ailing child: “As she opens the door, a child about nine years/of age, crippled by polio and suffering from renal/failure, smiles despite pain, a teddy bear in her grasp. (The Gypsy)

The same may be observed as to the concluding vision of the problematic persona in “The Wanderer”: “In the end of your vision an inhabited shore in grief,/from afar resembling like the hand of your only son,/trembling in the dusk, begging for a filament of light.”

The greatest virtue of “Nursing is an Art” is sincerity of voice and tone, establishing the collection’s common persona early with the first poem “Memoirs of a Nurse”. It deserves the Second Prize because poem after poem, the author displays sound stanzaic strategy. The collection also presents the insights of a nurse still very much attuned to his humanity and thus exposes us to common issues surrounding the life of a healthcare front liner. In effect, it brings us to the phenomenology of caring. This type of poetry may very well create a niche in the Philippine literary landscape to coincide with the “Nursing Syndrome” we are into now.

Sincerity in this collection is not coupled with ignorance but with knowledge: “There is pain/deeper than wounds./Immeasurable, incurable pain./Pain resistant to medications.” (Pain)

Great poetic control is exhibited by inserting great emotions into separate and short stanzas: “”Papa, if you will stop the chemo,/I will love you more.”//His words like daggers/stabbing me infinite times,/every stab a pang of death.//But what can I do?/I hugged him tight,/kissed him/and hugged him again.//Unspoken love.” (Paternal Love)

Healthcare workers are humans after-all, with personal longing and needs: “Then she called me anak,/an endearment/I longed to hear/eversince.//I was struck.//Should I present reality/that I am not her daughter?/Or should I give in/to my emotions/and pretend/even just for a moment/that she is my mother?” (Mind Games)

Third Prize should go to “Rain of Ours”. It caught my attention because of its collective design. It has rain as central image. Now the challenge is on how the poet will situate it alongside various POVs, situations and personas and not run out with fresh insights. The author was able to achieve great success most of the time, if not for some lines that would tend to be bare and declaratory. The modern poet as a philosopher should also try not to romanticize and yield to higher powers and let them operate and resolve the pivotal issue within the poem.

The author exhibited great skill on craft just with the first poem “Rain”. He/she was able to employ the first and third person POVs without much trouble—from She, he to I. Likewise, the author was effective in using rain as metaphor for human situations and temperaments. Just with the first poem, he/she was able to summarize the collection’s thesis: that we as humans, give meaning to the rain even though the rain is just as it is. That is why we have a she-persona so happy about it, and a he-persona so sick of it, and the I-persona also joining in the contemplation.

There are great lines such as the hyperbolic: “Falling, your force/creates clanging, disturbing sound against/our roof, moreso like tiny, billion death/bells struck all at once.” (Rain, 3)

There are cool images too such as this one from “Rain, 4”: “Papa once walked there, the crack/grew like a spider’s web from his point to all directions./He said it was frightening.” Or this one from “Rain, 5”: “According to the news, there was a village already soaked underwater,/cadavers floating like brown leaves.”

However, there are lines that are actually good but go too far and declare: “It is falling rain, giving everything/to the land yet getting nothing/beautiful in return, only rain/again – cycle of sadness.” Or “I gaze on the outside through the pane, wondering/how rain depicts sadness and loss/despite giving itself unselflessly,/persistently – sacrifice.”

There are also parts that would tend to overspeak and romanticize: “We thrive in your center, oh rain, let us/thrive within you, wash our minds from/sorrow, claim our bosom from pain, grudges,/revenge, fragmented love and lost dreams.”

The same yielding to a higher power is seen in this deus ex machina line from “Rain, 4”: “Yet, still, we pray. In the night/endless rain came and soaked everything.” Or from “Rain, 5”: “Still, we pray./Slowly, rain subsided like a child’s whimper, fading.”

Fourth Prize should be given to “Poems”. Same as “et., al” the poems in the collection are well ensconced in its Manila milieu. Employing the same intuitive imagism, the author also has eye for contrasting details. The poems, having high degree of orality, are very much performable. The poet also found effective use for line-space as pauses. However, some poems would tend to delve into what I call as “angas poetics” and contaminate the poet’s philosophy with ranting.

Intuitive imagism can be seen in lines such as: “Too much for this,/we uncoil our hair,/chop off/and outside/where pebbles are scanty,/we shooooouuuuut/our baptismal names,/running barefooted/along the rampaging shore.” (Amateur)

Here we could visualize the first-person plural poet-personas running wild as if in Silliman Beach, leaving their poetic footprints for posterity.

Also notice the effective stanzaic strategy in segregating contrasting images/details between the Nazarene’s foot and the devotee’s in the poem “Quiapo”: “In Your/greasy, wounded feet/with nails blood tinged/and jagged and swollen ankles,//Bless these acrylic, well-trimmed/nails of silk feet in a/polished leather sandal.” Indeed it seems that it’s so hard to follow His ways, even in Quiapo Church.

However, with the poem “Postmortem,” inasmuch as it can be better served by a stanza break starting with “the smell of incense/and formalin, telling you/it’s time to start the postmortem care before everything decays and fouls” can also be rid of it’s “angas poetics” with regard the sound and legal purpose of postmortem. Perhaps the poet could be more specific with regard the postmortem’s ‘client’ so as to justify that indeed it’s already a clinical abuse of his/her resting body.

Now even if “This Morning, Or We are Never Tired of Using the Rain as Metaphor All Over and Over Again” succeeds in effecting the tone of apathy with regard its persona, the poem “Free Verse” is again, pure sexual ranting as “An Incident in the Cemetery During a Windy Todos Los Santos” is pure “angas poetics” and existentialist hopelessness

Fifth Prize should go to “Necessary Truths” because of its cool lines, effective use of repetitions and oriental endings. However, I could sense that the poet offers not much new insight even if he/she uses poetic devices. The poetic form ‘haiku’ is also erroneously employed in the “Haiku Exercise”, being that it is not really in conformity with the haiku’s 5-7-5 syllable structure.

Repetition is effectively employed in the poem “Dancers”: “They are there,/gymfit, sculptured bodies…//They are there,/bodies moving,/” However, here, the persona/voice seems to be an outsider looking in, and therefore maybe too judgmental. This is not the case with “Avenida, 2:57 AM” from the collection “Poems”. It’s the better poem because there is involvement with regard the persona in being one with the ‘ghosts’ of the streets.

Arguably, the best poem in this collection is the “Embalmer” with cool lines such as: “You have spent/almost your whole life,/and maybe, your remaining/productive years sealing/ a covenant with the dead.”

The poem also exhibits oriental temperament when it ends with: “One night while sleeping/on your working table,/a dried leaf rested on your face/from an open window.”

“Child Poem” and “Morning Scenery in Japan” are poems devoid of fresh insights. The first poem for instance simply restates that love necessitates child-like innocence and the second poem is simply the persona’s visualization or contemplation of a Japanese scenery as depicted in a calendar.

I received 7 entries for the One-Act Play category. I would eliminate an entry early on—whenever I encounter too much grammatical lapses or get the plot figured out just with the first or second page. I am also particular with form, so if it’s not a one-act play it’s out.

Here’s my final ranked shortlist:

 

1. Violet by Zuj

2. Cosmic Lapses by Martian Hunter

3. Where Is It Again?’ by Bad Robot

4. Because I was Gay’ by Siegfried Ulysses

5. Maria Clara of 20th Century by Bittersweet and Strange

6. The Decision by MondE

7. Sitting with Eloisa by Vanrout

First Prize should go to ‘Violet’ because just as it is cool to watch because of its theatrics, it is also well-grounded on Philippine realities. It also builds its thesis with convincing characters, smart dialogues and a plot with a parting shot. However, we ask, do we really have to use the male archetype in forwarding feminist ideals? Here, the powerful Don (ala-Godfather), revered and feared by many turns out to be a woman named Angel who wants to start a new world order, a feminist one, that is. Again we ask, will it not simply reverse the polarity?

Second Prize should go to ‘Cosmic Lapses.’ I read this as an existentialist play with an interesting thesis with regard the absurdity of this world—that everyman is really for himself. Here, a mentally ill protagonist is met with detachment and apathy by his female psychiatrist and her secretary/intern. This way, he gets more chances at psychological normalcy from his imaginary friend. My only argument with this play is that it is hard-up on Philippine realities and could very well be set somewhere in the US. Even the imaginary friend looks like an American.

Third Prize should go to ‘Where is It Again?’ because just like ‘Cosmic Lapses’ I read it as an existentialist play, a story within a story delving on the absurdity of life. Here, the protagonist has a peculiar need to always carry something in her left arm. She looks for a book where a story that she will need for an upcoming class is printed, but simply cannot find it. One of her friends tells her of the story’s plot—an absurd tale of mishaps, only to find out later that she has the book safe in her left arm the whole time. This play could get a bit talky and dragging so it needs to be trimmed down a bit.

Fourth Prize should go to ‘Because I Was Gay’ because it’s an unusual love story albeit with the ‘highschool reunion genre’ as backdrop and saccharine ending. And although ‘Maria Clara of 20th Century’ ranks fifth, I don’t recommend it for a prize because it’s quite sophomoric and tends to be predictable.

Since the 1950’s, the Transition Literary Contest has been part of FEU’s literary tradition. It’s a hell of a big deal for FEU writers to win a Transition prize and get printed in the Transition journal with the late Jess Q. Cruz‘ pointillist cover design. With the Transition and the FEU Press, we can expect more great writers coming from this university.

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STARTING THE YEAR

January 15, 2008

2008 starts rather fast for this blogger. First, my poem ‘Pagsilung’ appears in the December 30 2007-January 5, 2008 issue of Bikol Reporter. Its Tagalog/Filipino version ‘Panonood’ had an earlier peek at daylight in the pages of Philippine Panorama in November 2006. Second, my by-line came out as one of those featured by master poet Cirilo F. Bautista last January 6 for his ‘Breaking Signs’ column, also in the Philippine Panorama entitled ‘Winning Writers’. Third, another poem of mine in English, one I call ‘In the Green of Marahan’ gets printed in the January 2008 issue of Homelife magazine. It’s such a bonus because in the same issue, poetry editor Dr. Leoncio P. Deriada discusses the results of the 2007 poetry competition.

Iriga City once again proves to be the undisputed home of Bikolnon contemporary writers. Deriada writes: ‘Among the cities, Iriga and Quezon were topnotchers with four poems each.’

Now Quezon City is home to UP-Diliman and Ateneo de Manila. It is a place teeming with writers. Now Iriga City is in the Bicol region’s Rinconada area and one writer even said that Rinconada means ‘sa tabi-tabi’. Oh my! We are not living up to our name.

Deriada also reports on the contenders for the Filipino category. Noted names include Ariel S. Tabag, Alex C. de los Santos, Isidoro M. Cruz, Carlo A. Arejola, Genaro Gojo Cruz, German V. Gervacio and Genevieve L. Asenjo.

In any deliberations, the judges’ level of expertise on craft will define the results. And here is Deriada’s report: ‘Of the nine, five merited our lengthy discussion: “Mayon (by Jacob),” “Imnas (by Tabag),” “Ille de Tulle (by Arejola),” “Paglubog (by Cordero)” and “Gabing Ganito (by Chancoco).” Even if we discussed “Ille de Tulle” very extensively, we finally removed it from the winning list. So was “Imnas.” We found the remaining poems very good and so we discussed them further. We could not fault Chancoco’s craftmanship. It deserved the first prize. Cordero’s technique of imaging was practically faultless until the less-than-skilled poster-like last lines. Even then, we found “Sa Paglubog ng Araw” superior to Jacob’s “Sa Muling Pagputok ng Mayon.”‘

Needless to say, I am happy that the judges were privy to the techniques I employed. Otherwise, they would not have appreciated my entry. But then again, this is all just a game (as all contests are), and should not be taken seriously. A writer must serve his art and not the judges of any literary contest.

Right now, I am also giving a lecture-workshop series to 16 young writers all from a nearby exclusive school. It’s theory and practice, lectures then poetry clinic. Of course, I don’t claim to know everything so it is also a way for me to learn new things with them. The teacher-student relationship has always been a dialectics.

By the way, this blog would like to congratulate Mr. Marcel L. Milliam a First Place Co-winner in the 2007 Meritage Holiday Poetry Contest as adjudged by Eric Gamalinda. Marcel was my co-fellow during the 12th Iligan National Writers Workshop. Sharp and outspoken, our sessions were always lively because of him. He would always visit our room and bug us to come out and have some beer. And I am sure he will treat us some more when we both get to visit Manila. Congrats again, Marcel!

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS


Man Asian Prize Exec Director to Meet with
Local Writers Jan. 24

Peter Gordon, Executive Director of the Man Asian Literary Prize, will be in Manila on Thursday, January 24, to promote the prize among Filipino writers and to speak on “International Opportunities for Filipino Writers.” The UP Institute of Creative Writing is hosting his talk, which will be held that day at 2:30 pm at the AVR Room, 2nd floor, Rizal Hall (Faculty Center), UP Diliman.

The Man Asian—informally known as the “Asian Booker”—was established in 2006 and made its first award in 2007 for the best unpublished novel in English or English translation by an Asian. Filipino fictionist and UP professor Jose Dalisay Jr.’s novel Soledad’s Sister made the shortlist of the inaugural prize, which drew 243 entries from all over Asia. The deadline for the 2008 Man Asian is March 31.

Gordon will speak about the prize and on literary publishing in Asia in general. The UPICW is inviting all interested writers, translators, publishers, teachers, and students to attend the lecture-discussion, which will also feature Dr. Dalisay and fellow novelist and columnist Alfred “Krip” Yuson.

Peter Gordon is also a founder and former Director of the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival (held each March in Hong Kong), founder and editor of the Asian Review of Books, and publisher at Chameleon Press. He writes a weekly op-ed column in the Hong Kong daily The Standard and is chairman of the Russian Interest Group at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

(From Vim Nadera)

2007 Meritage Holiday Poetry Contest

Meritage Press is delighted to announce the results of the 2007 Meritage Press Holiday Poetry Contest, judged by Eric Gamalinda. The results include this contest’s second time for a tie for “First Place”, and also the first repeater for “First Place”:

First Place, Co-Winner: “First Winter Passing” by Naya S. Valdellon
First Place, Co-Winner: “O.N.S.” by Marcel L. Milliam
Honorable Mention: “AN EXPLANATION” by R. Torres Pandan

Naya S. Valdellon is this contest’s first poet to receive “First Place” twice, the prior time occurring in 2002 when she tied with Michella Rivera-Gravage in the contest judged by Oliver de la Paz. The 2007 results also feature our first non-English language poet winner. Unfortunately, Eric Gamalinda felt he was only able to assess the Tagalog entries, and so entries in other Filipino languages were not included in the judging.

Judge Eric Gamalinda says about the winning entries:

“First Winter Passing” is a lovely poem about how language connects and disconnects, and how it is nearly impossible for many of us to bridge this solitude except perhaps through poetry and its spectral silences. “O.N.S.” is deceptively old-fashioned like a kundiman, but fused with a naughty, graphic eroticism and a verbal precision that no translation can do justice-by lines 7-9, I was captivated by its masterful lyricism. “An Explanation” is a quiet, elegant little poem that feels like an iceberg: beautiful, mysterious, larger than it seems. I apologize to those who sent poems in other Filipino languages that I couldn’t read; I had to exclude them from the competition, and thus only judged the Tagalog-language poems.

Here are some information about the winning poets:

Naya S. Valdellon is currently finishing her M.A. in English major in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto. Her chapbook of poems, The Reluctant Firewalker, was published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as part of its UBOD New Authors Series in 2005. Her poetry has received the Hart House Poetry Prize, the Maningning Miclat Award, and the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature.

Marcel L. Milliam is Ilonggo by birth but Capiznon by association. He is the founding Chairman of “Yanggaw”, The Capiz Writer’s Circle, and a member of the “Dagyang Pulong” Iloilo Writers Group. He works for GMA TV6 in Iloilo as a talent under the ETV Department. He writes poetry mainly in Hiligaynon, but produces pieces in English and Filipino as well. After receiving fellowships from the 1st Fray Luis De Leon Creative Writing Desk of the University of San Agustin, Iloilo, “2nd Panagsugat” Writers workshop of UP Vis-Min, 12th Iligan National Writers Workshop of the MSU-IIT, and the 7th Iyas National Writers Workshop for his Hiligaynon poems, he has now “crossed-over” into fiction. He has won twice the NCLA-VI “Paktakontxt” of the NCLA-VI, consecutive wins in the UPV SWF Bigkas Binalaybay sponsored by the NCCA from 2003-2007, both in the Pagbigkas at Pagsulat Categories. His works have been published in four issues of SanAg, the official literary Journal of the Fray Luis De Leon Creative Writing Desk of the USA-Iloilo as well as in the 33rd ANI of the CCP and numerous other local and national publications. At present he is a 3rd Year student in the Bachelor of Laws Program (Llb.) of the University of Iloilo College of Law and is actively involved in the works of the Alternative Law Groups Inc. (ALG) and was a paralegal intern of the Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB), Cebu. When he miraculously has free time, he is also involved with the Iloilo theater scene as a stage actor.

R. Torres Pandan has been a law school dean for ten years and a partner in the biggest law firm in Bacolod City, Philippines for 16 years. He has won the Palanca Awards for poetry and his first book of poetry was short-listed for the 2005 National Book Awards. He is also the Research Director of the Philippine Supreme Court‘s JURIS project on mediation.

The winning poems can be seen at the Meritage Press “Babaylan Speaks” link at
http://meritagepres s.com /babaylan/

Be ONE of the 15 FELLOWS with multi-awarded writers!

IYAS Writing Worshop

  • Aplicants should submit original work: either 6 poems, 2 short stories, or 2 one- act plays using pseudonym, in five (5) computer-encoded hard copies of entries, font size 12, bound or fastened, in separated folders with a diskette (MSWord).
  • These are to be accompanied by a sealed size 10 business envelope with the author’s real name and pseudonym, a 2×2 ID photo, and a short resume, which must be mailed on or before March 14, 2008.
  • Entries in Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Tagalog or Filipino may be submitted. Fellowships are awarded by genre and by language.
  • Grant will cover board and lodging and a partial transportation subsidy.

PANELISTS

Dr. Cirilo F. Bautista

Ms. Genevieve Asenjo

Dr. Marjorie Evasco

Prof. Danny Reyes

Dr. Elsie Coscolluela

Dr. Antonio Tan

Wokshop is on April 20-26, 2008 at the Balay Kalinungan Complex, University of St. La Salle , Bacolod City .


Sponsored by:
University of St. La Salle, NCCA, Benvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center , De La Salle University, and Negrence Studies Development Center


SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION TO:

Dr. Gloria Fuentes
Asst. Vice President for Academic Affairs Office
University of St. La Salle
La Salle Avenue , Bacolod City