I have long resolved that my writing life would be limited to the writing process per se and sending my works for publication or validation. No more of writing groups and gatherings. Reason: No time. My other preoccupations are more primordial, more practical, that I would rather spend more time there. Anyway, really, gone are the days when literature was more of a communal activity. These days, it is better practiced alone. Better to limit human contact, the contract being only between the writer and the publisher/editor/contest directors. The readers are presumed to be just everywhere. No need for extra-effort to reach for them. Life is hard and we can only bear so much.

There is also something about spending long hours with the law and jurisprudence, right after scribbling some stanzas and reading something artistic. I have come to reconcile the two: Law and Poetry. They complement each other, and as I earlier argued, poetry is custom, and custom is law. And law is language.

First I would read the Bible, then the newspapers. Then I would write, and if nothing comes out, I’d reach for a poetry book and read. After half an hour or so, I would read my SCRA. I read the plot of jurisprudence like I read fiction, and I dissect it like I would dissect poetry. Otherwise, I would not enjoy it. And my limited knowledge of the law would not be remedied.

I attended Su’pay because it was there. I attended it because I wanted to deviate from my routine. Little did I know that I would end up with the gatherings that I have been avoiding. I stayed over at Gode Calleja’s place and saw the Kalikasan Press books for sale. He owned said publishing outfit and only had to stop due to health reasons. But then he still keeps copies in his Legazpi house for sale. I even acquired some new titles for my library: Herminio Beltran’s Bayambang, Galian 8 (Santiago, Santos, Zarate, eds.), Jun Cruz Reyes’ Negros, Parikala (Almario, ed.), Caracoa 25 silver Edition (Yuson, Abad, eds.), Ricardo de Ungria’s R+A+D+I+O, Gemino H. Abad’s Poems and Parables, Alex Magno’s Power Without Form, Alfred Yuson’s Dream of Knives, GB Calleja’s Hand to Hand (Mga Buwaya sa Paligid), Cirilo F. Bautista’s Boneyard Breaking, STR Mga Tula ng Digmang Bayan sa Pilipinas, Heartland: Poems from All and Sundry: Poems  (Arnold Molina-Azurin, ed.), and Sa Mga Burak, naglalayaw-layaw (Gode Calleja, ed.).

Now I figured, a once-a-month poetry night would not be too much to ask. Say, every last Saturday of the month from 9-10PM at Wharf Galley here in Naga City. There will be poetry readings, music and what-not. The featured poets will open for the first 30 minutes, then open-mic. We could call it Verses: Writers Galore at Wharf Galley.

I was standing outside of the Wharf Galley bar last night when Jonjie indulged me the idea. There is nothing wrong with a once-a-month poetry night at a nearby bar to compensate for my reclusive self, nothing wrong at all.



September 22, 2010

I don’t usually eat at McDo but it was a Saturday night full of mishaps. Law professor who likes to terrorize everyone seems to make it a point never to call me for recitation when in fact I spent the whole day preparing. I set a gimik date with friends and it gets canceled. A friend sets a date and I cancel. Girlfriend is away and I miss her. Feeling tired and hungry I head for McDo, the undying symbol of American pop culture.

Eight or nine years ago, I was at McDo at Philcoa. I was young and hungry. Suzette had been meaning to treat me for some squidballs, but somehow she sensed I was hungrier than that and brought me to McDo instead. She told me she had a new corporate job and it was her way of celebrating. She ordered Big Mac for me. I don’t remember anymore what she ordered for herself.

Somehow when we talked, I could see that her eyes were giving her away. She was smiling yet her eyes would not sparkle. I took note of that and I felt bad about myself, in fact I felt bad about everything. She had warned me about that girl.

Earlier we would spend long hours over the phone. She would ask how everything was, making sure to remind me of my household chores and meal schedule. Even her mom knew me like a constant visitor, expecting my calls all the time. Suzette lived with her mom.

They once invited me for New Year’s Eve back in 2002 when I failed to secure a ticket for Bicol. I never made it to their house for I preferred the company of Weng, a young lady I knew back in college who brought me wine and promised to come back later in the night. I was staying in my aunt’s flat in Imus. Weng failed to come back for the countdown so I spent New Year making noise, overdriving my guitar. I really should have spent my time with Suzette and her mom. I did call them before I left my dorm for Imus, telling them that I was expecting one of my poems to appear in Philippine Panorama. That it was a real end of the year treat for me.

I knew she had asthma. And much as she liked cats, she had asthma. We both liked cats. Since I was a kid, I could relate to cats. I like their non-apologetic attitude, their solitary nature, smooth moves. Suzette loved feeding stray cats, and she would describe them to me one by one. I did warn her about cats, that they induce asthma attacks. But she was okay with it and was not worried at all.

She also told me about Maningning. How they used to watch films at CCP. How the late painter-poet would call her often, and how depressive she was, forgetting an award she got the day before and choosing a reason to be sad. How she had called her a few days before she jumped. She told me about Koyang Mike, how they were all so shocked because of his sudden death. She told me about his zen-like calmness and samurai-like philosophy.

It was more than a year already when I learned that Suzette had a severe asthma attack and died. I was at Imus then, and I texted a fellow writer to ask about her contact info. That’s how I got the late sad news. Before she passed away, The Ubod Writer’s series had come out already. At least she left a book. She called it “Patay Malisya”.


September 20, 2007


Was away during the Peñafrancia Fiesta. Here I am claiming to be a Bikol writer and I can’t even be there for Ina on her feast day. Not to mention that I made a promise back in ‘O3 that I would never again miss it. I wanted to personally ask for permission, to visit her before I leave. But next thing I knew, I was already on a bus. I forgot

And I got sick in Manila. And believe me, it’s a place you can’t afford to get sick in. Complaining of runny-nose with watery mucous and fever, I was diagnosed of a viral infection. Manila Doctors Hospital is high-tech and topnotch but comes with a price tag.

I went on a soiree with Esmi that day. Checked on the National Museum and went for a stroll in Intramuros. We heard mass at the San Agustin Church, it was a wedding too. Come sleeping time, I was burning with fever and trembling with chill.

Cause and effect?

Part of my soiree gave me the chance to look into the exhibits at the CCP just before the Ani 33 launch last Friday, September 14. I also spent some time at the library. The program for Ani 33 allowed for public readings of some excerpts from Luis Gatmaitan, Nestor Lucena, Santiago Villafania and Raul Funilas. Bayang Barrios also rendered us one of her environmental songs. Too bad that the open-mic portion came in time with the cocktails. I was the first one called-up to read but had second thoughts because almost everybody left their seats for some food, ensconcing themselves in different areas and corners of the wide spaced CCP Ramp. I was afraid that nobody would listen to the readers and as the first one in line; I would get the first taste. I was right. And so for my next poem, I read aloud a Bikol work—without translation.

I also spent some time in Imus, trying to recuperate from fever. I actually celebrated my birthday there, my Esmi coming over for a visit. We went to Pizza Hut in Robinson’s Imus. Earlier during my visit, we went to Delicious Restaurant in Binondo and indulged in authentic Chinese cuisine. What a way to compensate for the feast I missed here in Naga!

I was also one of the judges for this year’s Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon. Too bad I missed the awards night last Wednesday, September 19. It was held at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary, and I heard, was well-attended by government officials, civil society, artists, writers and cultural workers. Congratulations to all the category winners and finalists.

Cited in the essay category are: “Ringgaw nin Imahinasyon, Kawat sa Pagtukdo” by Judith Balares-Salamat of Pili, Camarines Sur” and “An Dalan nin Pakikisumaro” by Adrian V. Remodo of Lagonoy, Camarines Sur. The category grand prize went to Judith Balares-Salamat.

The finalists for the fiction category are: “Abaniko” by Marissa Reorizo-Casillan of Naga City and “An Kris” by Irene L. Taniegra of Pili, Camarines Sur. No category grand prize for fiction.

The ten poetry collections cited this year are as follows: “Ini, an mga buhay ta” by Jaime Jesus Borlagdan of Tabaco City; “Tinalbong ko su Tibabong” by Ryan B. de los Reyes of Baao, Camarines Sur; “Mga Tigsik” by Aida B. Cirujales of Naga City; “Agbay a Oras Sana” by Eurely P. Arroyo of Buhi, Camarines Sur; “Paradakop kan Pangiturugan” by Marissa Reorizo-Casillan of Naga City; “Hapiyap kan Kalangitan” by Jerico Rebadeo of Calabanga, Camarines Sur; “Rawitdawit Haleng Camaligan” by Jhonald A. Caballero of Camaligan, Camarines Sur; “Sa Banal asin sa Mga Tampalasan” by Adrian V. Remodo of Lagonoy, Camarines Sur: “Lagatak sa Riles kan Tren”by Christine P. Cordez of Milaor, Camarines Sur; and “Antisipasyon asin iba pang mga rawitdawit” by Victor Dennis T. Nierva of San Fernando, Camarines Sur.

Jaime Jesus Borlagdan and Victor Dennis Nierva tied for the grand prize, poetry category. Honorable mention went to Marissa Reorizzo-Casilan.

The title of Writer of the Year went to Judith Balares-Salamat. And writer Abdon M. Balde, Jr. and culural advocate Leonor Dy-Liaco are this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awardees.

Congrats also to the other members of the Board of Judges, Kristian Cordero and Jo Bisuña, for pulling off the difficult task of coming up with category winners and Writer of the Year after much deliberation.

Congrats also to the Arejola Foundaion for getting the judges’ nod for Naga City’s Mayoral Awards for Literature. Way to go!



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.

Whether it is regional or national literary landscape, the real problem is not really with the number of literary practitioners—it is with the number of readers. This was discussed in Cirilo F. Bautista’s latest column in the Philippine Panorama last Sunday, August 19, 2007. Because we cannot get more Filipinos to pick-up literary titles by Filipino authors, we have lesser incentives for our writers.

Truly, we do not even see authors being featured on TV during primetime news. We have yet to see the Palanca Awards being featured in TV Patrol. Only Cecile Guidote-Alvarez’ NBN program made a run on the latest Talaang Ginto and Gawad Soc Rodrigo in Malacañang last April. We are lucky here in Bicol because our local ABS-CBN, particularly the Bikol Espesyal: Oragon Na! would sometime focus its lens on literary activities.

One big challenge is to write even without contests. Writers ought to be given prizes because they are writing, and writers should not write just so that they will be given prizes. The deadline for the Bikol division of Gawad Komisyon 2007 sponsored by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino has recently been given indefinite extension due to lack of entries. Now the Bikol writer needs to make-up for this neglect. We should look at the Tausug writers who made a staggering turn-out of hundreds of entries.

Or perhaps the notion that we have more Bikol poets than fictionists or essayists is correct. The Gawad opened only the short-fiction and essay category for the Bikol division. And lets us also consider the upcoming Tagalog poetry anthology by Cirilo F. Bautista to be launched on August 30, 3pm at the World Trade Center. Bikolnons are expected to take-up much space in the collection. No less than the assistant editor himself, Allan Popa, is a Bikolnon along with Carlo A. Arejola, Jaime Jesus B. Borlagdan, Jose Jason L. Chancoco and Kristian S. Cordero; whose poems will also see print in the said book. Truly, we have more poets.

Now if Filipinos do not like to buy books with a single by-line, maybe his/her communal nature coupled with ‘pakyawan’ culture would prefer an anthology. The more names, the better. Or perhaps publishing via the literary sections of various magazines and newspapers would be the easiest way to reach one’s audience via the so-called ‘literary bangketa’. A poem safely tucked in the pages of Philippine Panorama could fly as second-class mail and land in the magazine/newspaper stands of Mindanao, and even crawl its way to the front right there in Basilan or Jolo.

Let me reprint here my latest Bikol poem published in the August 12-18 issue of the Bikol Reporter (All Rights Reserved).


Minapoon sa palibot an paglalang
Arog baga kan pagtaram kaning uran.
Dangogon ta: Ining paros nakurahaw
Nin emosyon kan panahon na dalisay.

mayo pang minaabot na dayuhan
Na nagsakop poon bukid astang pampang.

Alagad an satong birtud minasanib.

Kan an dila kan poeta minalangoy
Sa salog kan sadiri n’yang tataramon.

Kan an langkaw kaning kalag asin dunong
Tinatangad bilang kusog nin Oragon.

Alagad an satong birtud minasanib.

Kan pigmukna ining nasyong Filipinas
Kan kikilat na nagkilyab haling luwas.
Kinuryente an puso ta asin kalag.
An hawak ta asin isip nagsiribwag.

Alagad an satong birtud minasanib.

Taong-lipod an poetang nagdadangog
Sa pag-awit kan kadlagan asin bulod.
Kun an banwa sa dayuhan minasulog,
An boses n’ya sa may Sulong minaanod.
Talinghagang Ingles, Bikol o Tagalog,
Sa papel man o sa bayle kaning duros,
Minatadyok sa may s’yudad garo pandok

Kan santelmong dai dakop kaning kamot.

Kun kaya an satong birtud minasanib

Minapoon sa palibot an paglalang.
An pagsulit kan memorya kan kagabsan

Kan poeta sarong ritwal na eternal.


July 31, 2007


Just arrived from a visit to Cavite and Metro-Manila. I came to check on my uncle and cousin in Imus and send-off my cousin Tots, a seafarer, to his ship in Europe. I also visited writer-friends, and more importantly, my Esmi. It was also a chance for me to check out the Cinemalaya 2007 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I was also there to buy new DVD for our videoke and battery for our Sharp camera phone and open the line of the LG camera phone of my aunt.

Although I have stayed for a long time in Manila, it is still easy for me to get disoriented in its complicated gridlock of traffic and pollution. I have been living here in Bicol for quite sometime. And here, almost always, I just walk my way and get to places. There, moving about can get really expensive. You will need food and transportation allowance. And soon enough, there is a risk that a friend might just stick a knife or gun unto you and ask for money.

Thankfully, I was able to negotiate my way around the place. First stop was the Mall of Asia where we ate and roamed around. It was there where I was able to open the line of my aunt’s LG camera phone. You see, it was sent to us (along with my Nokia) by my cousin Anne from the United States. I could not find an able technician here in Bicol but there, it took them only about 15 minutes to finish the job.

I also attended a lecture on digital engineering by George Palmer, an American, right there at the CCP as part of the Cinemalaya festival. He focused on the duties of a digital engineer as tech support during filmmaking. It was well-attended by cinematographers, writers and producers. By the look of things, digital films will not only be the way to go for indie filmmakers, I think it’s also the way of the future. The lecture was made possible by Sony.

Afterwards, I went to my girlfriend’s office in Makati. While waiting for her, I found this decent but cheap restaurant where they serve beer. It was just in front of their building. Next thing I knew, I was already gulping a couple of San Mig light. I was thirsty, Makati disoriented me again that I almost got lost. The smell of beer annoyed her to no end as we were to watch Harry Potter in a nearby cinema. Lesson learned: Esmi first before beer.

Meeting with poet Cirilo F. Bautista has been part of my Manila tradition. And so there I was, along with Pangasinense writer-friend Sonny Villafania at Burger King-Kanlaon waiting for the Master. He did arrive shortly with his usual blue Honda CRV and treated us for merienda, big burgers and coffee. We talked about our projects and the writing life. It was cool that he shared anecdotes about himself and other writers. Did you know that he keeps his trophies and awards in their upper and lower comfort rooms? And that he is allergic to beer? His father used to scold him thinking that the he was drunk just because the allergic reaction caused skin rashes and redness.

As usual, the Master gave us lots of books. Perhaps those stuffs were sent to him as complimentary copies from publishers so that he can write about it in his Breaking Signs column in Philippine Panorama. Too bad I forgot Pili nuts, he wanted some. He also expressed disappointment because I forgot to greet him on his birthday. He never fails to greet me whenever I celebrate mine.

We stayed in there for about three hours, just talking about literature. It is no secret that our group nominated him for National Artist, and we will repeat the process. Far from being a recluse, Cirilo F. Bautista loves to talk about writing in front of younger writers. He also goes out often, perhaps observing people at the marketplace. It is a known fact that he is the household cook and gardener.

But above all, it was my Esmi that I missed the most. And so I spent more time with her. A writer cannot live without a muse, and I have found mine.