FEU’S TRANSITION LITERARY CONTEST
January 30, 2008
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.