Born on November 5, 1952 in Daraga, Albay, to Dorotea Ll. Losantas and Eugenio H. Kilates, and baptized as Mariano, Marne has been known by the latter name since childhood. His father, a vernacular writer, school official, and former guerilla of the Philippine Scouts, probably took the name of the river on which took place an important battle in World War I. (Marne never got to ask, when later he was reading about it, as the elder Kilates died when Marne was 12.) He is a product of the public school (Daraga Elementary) and high and college education from the SVD priests (Divine Word College in Legazpi City). It is partly the reason why he considers these two contiguous localities his "twin hometowns in Albay province, on the inexorably urbanizing trail of the typhoons" that periodically sweep the Bicol Peninsula.
The rather rare Kilates surname (native, apparently, of the Camarines provinces) was sourch of both teasing and compliments. His childhood playmates rhymed it with kamatis, tomato in Filipino, or those who liked him said it bespoke the quality of his poetry. In gemology, a quilate is a unit of mass equivalent to 200 milligrams, or a metric carat. Kilates' forebears Filipinized their surname so their offspring may avoid being forever called among the last in the class roll call.Kilatisin in Filipino means "to assess the quality of." "Katorse kilates" is a fairly good assessment of gold-plated wedding rings.
Marne traces back his poet's sentimental education to the well-provided municipal library of Daraga, which was under the strict supervision of a distant aunt, Fuen Quintano, the open-shelf system of the Divine Word College library, high school class adviser Mrs. Navea, who was an unflinching grammarian, and Ms. Linda Reyes, the literature teacher who taught him to read but from whose terrible stare he couldn't escape with his high school antics. Earlier, he had a grandfather who was a church cantor and an escribiente for the Franciscan priests, and whom he never knew but lived in the family legends, a childhood spent among the centuries-old acacias and lantana bushes on the grounds of the Daraga church on the hill.
Many a time in his rather withdrawn and contemplative youth he stood on this hill at dusk after school or after serving the five o'clock mass or the novena for the Lady of Perpetual Help. There he practiced "owning" the world for he could see the four cardinal directions. The hill and the boy overlooked the town poblacion when he faced south, and the rice fields and the curve of railroad that disappeared into the footslopes of the ubiquitous and commanding presence of the Mayon Volcano, when he faced north. To the east shimmered the Albay Gulf and the Cagraray and Rapu-Rapu island chain (which did not stop the storms and once a tsunami warning from the Pacific), while to the west began, at least to him, long stretch of the Pan-Philippine or Maharlika Highway, which led to the rest of Luzon and the city of Manila.
After college he went to work in Manila, the city of every provincial boy's dream. First in government, and eventually becoming an executive creative director for a big advertising agency. He joined the Galian sa Arte at Tula weekend poetry workshop at the old Heritage Art Gallery of Odette Alcantara, where he studied Tagalog poetry under National Artist for Literature Rio Alma, and attended the UP National Writers Workshop, and the Silliman University Workshop conducted by Dr. Edilberto Tiempo and National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo.
Kilates later won awards for his poetry which he has since gather into three collections: Mostly in Monsoon Weather (UP Press, 2007), Poems en Route (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 1998), and Children of the Snarl (Aklat Peskador, 1987). His translations include works by major Filipino poets, including several poetry collections by National Artist Virgilio Almario or Rio Alma, Gagamba sa Uhay / Spider on a Stalk by Rogelio Mangahas (C & E Publishing, 2006), and Gitara by Jesus Manuel Santiago (Sipat, 1997), and Maguindanao Folktales, a translation of oral history (Phoenix Publishing House, 1993).
He has been described by Rio Alma as "now gaining a unique reputation in Philppine literature. Aside from being a major poet himself in English, he is now the most sought after literary translator from Filipino into English." Kilates translations of Rio Alma include Isang Sariling Panahon / A Time of One's Own (Aklat Peskador-NCCA, 2008), Mga Biyahe, Mga Estasyon / Journeys, Junctions (Anvil, 2008), Sonetos Postumos (UP Press, 2006),Dust Devils: A Bilingual Selection of Poems on Youth (Aklat Peskador, 2005), Rio Alma: Selected Poems (co-edited and translated with Alfrredo Navarro Salanga and Mike Bigornia (Maya Books, 1987), and Romanza(Giraffe, 2008). Romanza is a special bilingual edition of Alma's short Tagalog verse paired with the stunning paintings of Marivic Rufino. Kilates' latest translation work is the bilingual UP Centennial Edition of Florante at Laura (UP Press, 2008), the 16th century masterpiece of Francisco Balagtas, the premier Filipino poet.
Kilates has won several Don Carlos Palanca Memorial awards for his poetry, and the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award for his poetry and translation. In 1998, he was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award (SEA Write) by the Thai royalty.
...are what we have when we try to be poets. They're what words give us: sunny, yellow, blue, blah, days. And nameable days were what I had as a boy wandering around the patio of the stone church on the hill that overlooked our town and at the foot of which our family lived. The old venerable church (surely despite its colonial history and ours) has since then been declared a national treasure. Though no longer the exclusive domain of my adolescent poet's daydreams, because "national treasure" means giving more people the chance to make their own memories of it, I keep its image, and those of the acacias, here—my nameable memory of it.
The name of our place in the Web derives from a poem by friend, mentor, and eminent Filipino poet Gémino H. Abad. While contemplating a family portrait framed in a little native wood sculpture sitting on his university office table (the sculptured frame a gift from another friend, poet Alfred 'Krip' Yuson), Jimmy wrote the the poem with these lines:
we had always known our gift,
the common household that needed
no speech for its duties and pleasures,
and on either side of us, our two daughters,
and behind, out twin sons, looking all
their clear, nameable days of lightsomeness.
From such words of knowing (words and speech being the daily staple of poetry), let us then continue to treasure, in these cantankerous times, all our nameable days of lightsomeness.
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