Snarl of Traffic & Memory of Rain
You can take out the boy from the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy, said the old Latin example of a chiasmus. I am a proud provinciano but a studious observer of the city I’ve migrated to, because it does violence to the usually innocent native of similar origins. If he is a poet, he is “hurt into poetry,” as Auden said of “mad Ireland” doing to Yeats. And our country (not just the province in that “lost peninsula in south” where I come from) is mad. The poet’s torment is where to find a place for beauty (or where to find beauty’s place) in the national dementia. And I think this is not exclusive to me, my torment does not give me bragging rights over any other poet’s. So I wrote books that are few and far between, in the middle of writing press releases and advertising copy, and mainly after what poet Jose F. Lacaba calls our “days of disquiet, nights of rage.”
I was in the province trying to understand T. S. Eliot and the "new" poetry then when Marcos put the country under martial rule; I was an interloper among activist circles, and looked for hiding places for friends who had come down from guerilla zones, some of whom gave their lives (while I was trying to be a poet); I spent a month in the provincial “detention center” after the military took hold of the attendance sheet of a meeting with “militant youth” which I hosted in the office of the college school organ I edited, and we got “invited” by the provincial commander (while my other friends spent months and years at Fort Bonifacio); until I finally found myself in Manila and attended the U.P. Writers Workshop, then the one at Silliman University and finally felt like a poet. Rio Alma and Freddie Salanga befriended me (as I sought them out too). And so did Teo Antonio and Mike Bigornia and Jimmy Abad and Krip Yuson and Ricky de Ungria and Eric Gamalinda, and Marjorie Evasco, and Adbon Balde Jr. and Dan Pinto, and my betters became my friends.
I married and unmarried, had two beautiful children, got promoted to the highest “creative” position in advertising and got disenchanted and became obsolete. (And found an new significant other.) Then I had no money but owned my time and a five-year-old Powerbook G4 and blogged and was happy, and I was writing and translating and freelancing. And I started feeling old as I hang around with younger poets who called me “sir” and listened intently to my “insights.” And after 55 monsoons, I was still on my way to becoming a “real” poet.
These, then, are my “influences,” where this mad enterprise of my poetry might be coming from. The city that almost scares the country out of the country boy, the demented country which I will never give up because I have no other, a foreign tongue which I insist on using because I can taste life with it, the native tongue which I love and can only translate into the foreign tongue, the elusiveness of beauty and the “poetic” experience, and very good real friends who come from the various regions and persuasions of the national imagination. And here are some of that experience, cobbled from intuition and memory, from my first three books, which I hope you, since you are here, will read with me.
The second picture is catalogued (in the Old Manila Prints shop I bought it from) “Marche de Daraga [Daraga Market], Montano, Dr. Jose / Dosso / Barbant, 1886.” Unnumbered, probably bought by a rich insular from a European printmaker. Note the reversed profile of the church compared to the topmost picture, about which some friends comment that it may just have been added by the French artist from memory, perhaps at the time traveling with Fedor Jagor or other fashionable colonial chroniclers). Apologies for the bad reproduction.
Chili, or sili in Bikol, left, (of course from the Mexican or Nahuatl), here shown in its bush in full bloom, is the stimulant the Bikol male swears by. He is said to prop up his sili plants even before he does his hut before one of those Pacific storms hit land.