Review of Galaw ng Asoge by Jason Chancoco

Review of Galaw ng Asoge by Jason Chancoco
Book Review: Galaw ng Asoge
By Cirilo F. Bautista
443 pages
UST Publishing House

"Asoge", otherwise known as mercury or Hg is described as silvery white and weighs 298K, making it the heaviest elemental fluid. Heavy but swift and dexterous, just like the nearest planet to our sun, or Mercurius, the messenger of the gods and god of traders. A poor conductor of electricity, it is sensitive to temperature and thus used in making thermometers, barometers and other heat measuring devices. When absorbed through the skin, it can be hazardous to health but still it is used by some people as talisman, injecting the fluid in their system believing that it can prolong a person's lifespan, even delaying death during the last hours of life.

"Asoge" has all this reputed properties, thus the term quicksilver, but it could very well be National Artist for Literature Award top contender Cirilo F. Bautista's latest Tagalog novel. Galaw ng Asoge has all the qualities and ways of mercury, plot-wise and character-wise.

The narrative has sudden playful shifts in the point of view.

From deliberately writing boring sequences (except the sex scene) and off humor lines in the first three chapters, the author jolts the readers through a sudden shift in POV in chapter four. Here Bautista talks to his readers and explains some points-that it was a case of wrong choice in POV and some details were missed out because of it. Very modern. A sort of creative acrobatics or literary discourse combined. Reading those parts would seem like the author was doing a lecture on how to write an effective story.

Ending almost like the way it started (as the author finds the first person POV of Amado, the main player, as misleading), the narrative restarts in chapter forty-four, employing the third person POV once again. Obviously there will be a sequel, and in fact Galaw ng Asoge is conceived to be part of a trilogy.

From here we can say that it has the "birtud" of mercury as talisman. A sort of a delaying tactic that leaves the readers craving for more, even if it is just a cycle or repetition of the same storyline but only with varying POVs. Each sequence is well planned and with inputs on the philosophy of the author as articulated by his characters.

But these characters tend to hide certain truths that only the author knows.
Thus we not only have a deceptive narrative but also some characters whom we cannot trust such as the corporate tandem of father and son Carlos and Amado Ortiz.

Amado's Weak Voice
Again, this is deliberate. As this novel is designed to play tricks on its readers, it is easy to fall into the trap of Amado's narrative. A poseur, a poet, and a romantic, his lines are metaphorical, dreamy and unreliable. He is the novel's weak voice and he sees, feels and says only what he finds necessary in building up his image around his selfish motive, and he is so good a pretender that he sounds so sincere-and so perhaps he believes himself.

As the author himself pointed out later in the novel, Amado's viewpoint is limited. For instance, he kept on referring to his mother as "Mama", which is understandable, but almost missed out on mentioning her real name, Rosario. Also his detached relationship with his mother deprived the readers of Rosario's greatness as a woman and mother.

Being a poet, he tends to exaggerate on some details. Not to say that all poets are like this and that in effect they are liars like Amado. Perhaps this goes to say that the dreams of a poet are much different from the ambitions of a politician or business tycoon.

When he says that he adores his sister Clara he also tries to paint a picture of them as soul mates, if we could call it that. He says they could read each other's minds. However, if this were true, how come he did not learn of Mita's (Amado's girlfriend) early relationship with this father? It was later revealed that Clara actually knew all about it.

Amado's younger brother, Gerry is the only character allowed to witness his confused side and this was after Mita's suicide. In the same way that he looks up to his father Carlos for guidance, Gerry also tries to emulate him, as he seems to be so at ease even when in times of trouble. But of course this is just a pose. He still has to learn the "birtud" of his poet-boxer friend, Ben.

Even during his most triumphant moment, Amado is still unimpressive. Sure he was able to trick the corporate trickster Don Agustin. But he was lucky the old man did not have a gun with a silencer when he was trying to blackmail him. He could have easily been shot and disposed of in Manila Bay. Who would suspect a president maker like Don Agustin? Not his Mama who was the fiancé of Agustin in their youth.

Among Amado's exploits was his portrayal of Carlos Ortiz in the novel as a loser and a quitter so that only he would gain glory for their redeemed fortune. Perhaps the sequel will have Don Carlos as voice so that we can hear his side. When he calmly took his own life, there was an attempt in his part to recover his honor.



Impact of Creative Writing Workshops
Author:Cirilo F. Bautista
Date Published: March 01, 2004

The creative writing season in the country begins in March and ends in May. It has nothing to do with the weather but with the state of mind of young, aspiring writers who, having been accepted, go through the process of discovering their skills and disabilities. They are the so-called “fellows” to the annual writing workshops conducted by the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Baguio City, by the Iligan Institute of Technology (IIT) in Iligan City, by the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Baguio City, by the University of the Philippines (UP) in its various campuses, and by Edith Tiempo in Dumaguete City.

No formal studies have been made as to the effects of these workshops on the style and character of the participants. Have their abilities improved? Have their artistic consciousness been significantly affected by exposure to criticism and discussion of their works? Do workshops help advance the national programs for cultural growth and literary excellence?

Literary Discourse and Social Environment

Workshops, ultimately, deal with language more than with ideas. As a communal text, any literary discourse is a contrived utterance that addresses several levels of reality, but to communicate through this text, writer and reader must put into operation certain sociological process that will make it intelligible. “I write, therefore, I am,” might as well provide the structural foundation of this sociology. To write a poem or a story involves the deliberate reworking of social elements to achieve the writer’s intentions, one of them being to ventilate his social and personal perspectives. But it is, first of all, a linguistic construction, fixed in a situs of specific explication, demanding of the writer and the reader a vast expertise in language; in the first, to configure the human condition according to a planned aesthetics, in the second, to be able to embrace it.

Grammatical and compositional knowledge—the first level of reality—clears away impediments to the comprehension of the work’s literalness, that is, the human condition as articulated through concrete and physical verbality. Fundamental matters of diction, idioms, and phraseology, when clarified and refracted in relation of the writer’s sociological perspective, will ultimately lead to the formula that encodes the work’s thought or idea. At the same time, when linkages between the cultural milieu and the linguistic character of the work are established, semiotic signals enrich the understanding of it. The enlargement of this semiotics produces, among other things, the metaphoric significance of the composition. On this second level, figurative language processes literalness to make it yield additional facets. Meaning becomes more than literal and offers itself to cultural interpolation and intervention. Consequently, the work encourages the reader to draw from the wellspring of his societal consciousness those materials that will complete and validate his interpretation of its impact and significance.

In this sense, the text (the poem or the story) must be properly situated in relation to the subtext (the social or human conditions) before a signification is gained. Their context (relationship) produces in the reader a particular perception of the textual idea. A creative discourse, then, is ultimately culturally determined. It cannot be understood without reference to the extra-linguistic realities that surround it—the human factors that provide its framework. Also, it emerges as a rational conjoining of individual and national experiences, the raw materials really of any creative product. This was what Shelley meant when he wrote that the “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Through their meditations on human affairs, their texts become the uncredited almanac of human development. The power of such works as Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and Hernandez’s “Isang Dipang Langit” resides in their ability to pragmatize in artistic terms the crises and exigencies of the human condition without erasing its artistic character.

The world of literature itself, it must be apparent now, comprises another level of reality. All existing literary discourses exert a tremendous pressure on the human mind and heart, compelling them to examine things in a new and, sometimes, perilous manner. This “intertextuality,” which occurs on the cultural level and intervenes in the operation of the other levels, improves our comprehensive of the text and, at the same time, provides a rigorous criticism of any aspect of personal and social existence. The writer, consequently, occupies a delicate and crucial position vis-à-vis the progress of human consciousness.

All of that, however, is easier said than done. Creative writing is the loneliest art. The writer labors in isolation, and he is not even sure that the poem or story will turn out the way he intends it to. He only has himself to rely on in his attempt to explicate the mysterious meanderings of his soul and of his people. It is a painful and demanding commitment the avoidance of which will gratify him. But it cannot be avoided; consequently, he inclines to the invention of devices that will postpone it, even if only momentarily. Such ritual evasions—smoking cigarettes, taking a shot of whiskey or a bottle of beer, fussing over pages of notes, cleaning the computer, making that needless last-minute phone call—are ostensibly intended to oil the machinery of his imagination but in reality are merely diversionary tactics to try to justify the delay. For man is a social animal, and writing frustrates his contact with his species. Dylan Thomas called it a “sullen art” because it effects melancholia in the writer. “The most terrible thing for a poet,” Paul Engle once told me, “is to be confronted by a blank sheet of paper.”

To write is to wrestle with that horrible blankness, to squeeze it and to bleed it and to maul it until it surrenders to fruitfulness. The struggle debouches into a war whose rules are unclear but whose pain is all too real. Only after his war with words can the writer be at war with other men, Thomas added. That is why it is imperative that the writer be adequately equipped for this job. It is not enough that he knows the principles of grammar, diction and composition—the basics of linguistic usage—but he must know their aesthetic ramifications as well. The role of metaphor, the forms of versification, the reason for rhymes, and the balancing of illusion and reality, for instance, once comprehensible to him, will confer on his work unmistakable direction and a convincing excellence.

The Third World environment, in general, does not offer the writer sufficient equipment to accomplish his task. In fact there is a certain amount of hostility with which writers are viewed in the Philippines, truncating their efforts to make creative writing a profession. It is almost impossible for a writer to survive through writing alone in our milieu. Why this is so is the subject of another paper, but it is relevant to mention in passing that we are a “seeing” society, not a “reading” society. The tri-media of radio, television and newspapers are the dominant purveyors of what is called “literature in a hurry,” which reflects the primacy of simple survival in a society that is not yet prepared for the refinement of its national intellect. The tri-media productions overwhelm the social mind, influence the social taste, and determine cultural priorities.

In such an environment, creative writing workshops perform significant roles in influencing the writer’s artistic growth, creative potential and, ultimately, literary productivity.

Creative Writing Workshops in the Country

The importance of creative writing workshops started to be felt in the 1970’s. Before then, writers had to learn the craft largely on their own, mainly through trial and error and emulation of their favorite authors. On the side, they relied on their friends’ critical evaluation of their works. Their language teachers, if any good, taught them the skills with which they understood the first level of reality; their literature teachers, if any good, encouraged them to read the classical and contemporary masters. But the matter of stylistic refinements, of philosophical and cultural groundings needed to situate their compositions in aesthetic excellence—these they had to gain through personal application and consistent studies.

But the advent of workshops helped clarify mystifying areas of creativity and craftsmanship. Teachers with sufficient training in the creative art fashioned pedagogical models that served as guidelines to beginning writers. Lectures during the sessions delineated linguistic and artistic concepts that helped the writers focus on specific problems and their solutions. Discussions of various critical theories and their influences on writing techniques provided a variety of options for literary approaches. Finally, and this was the heart of the workshop, a communal critique of the submitted works brought out the author’s strengths and weaknesses. The analysis involved a close reading of the text to discover how it internalized the elements of coherence, harmony, and counterpoint, etc.; to justify or reject prosodic or narrative tactics in the context of the work’s aesthetic direction; and to evaluate the clarity of its meaning within the boundaries of its functions.

The machinery of today’s writing workshops are no different, except perhaps in the sense that it is more organized, more monetarily sustained, and more attractive to aspiring writers. The National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City was the first to be formally set up in the country in the 1950’s. Directed by Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, it is patterned after the famous Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City, USA, which they themselves had attended. It has since become the model for all institutionalized creative writing workshops in the Philippines.

The creative writing workshop in Iowa, it must be remembered, has three levels—the undergraduate, where students majoring in creative writing are accommodated; the graduate, where students taking up the degree Master of Fine Arts major in creative writing are guided in their areas of genre concentration; and the international, which is really a separate and independent workshop for writers from various parts of the world. Participation in the international workshop is by invitation only, and participants are acknowledged major writers from their specific countries. It is not really a workshop any more for, as its former Director, the late Paul Engle, averred, the participants are already master of their crafts, and the workshop was really meant to give them “a vacation, to do whatever they want to do.” The Tiempos shaped their Silliman Writers Workshop after the first two levels of the Iowa workshops.

Practically all Filipino writers of any importance have joined the Silliman Writers Workshop at one time or another, either as fellows, lecturers, or panelists. Now in its thirty-ninth year, it is held for four weeks every summer amidst the pleasant and quiet surroundings of the seaside city of Dumaguete. It is an understatement to say that it has a significant influence on the growth of our literature. The number of applicants increases each year, and the works of writers who have passed through it continue to enrich our arts and letters. The amount of learning these writers got from this workshop is incalculable, approximated only in the way they have contributed to the qualitative and quantitative growth of our literature. Being a pioneer, the Silliman Writers Workshop occupies a premier position in the history of creative writing in the Philippines.

The UP Creative Writing Workshop is also held in the summer, and it is held in the university’s campuses located in various parts of the country. Understandably, it has the widest coverage in terms of participants, for it can draw from thousands of potential writers among the university’s vast student population. Yearly, it holds workshops in Baguio, Davao, Leyte, and Diliman. Its staff includes Gemino H. Abad, Jose Dalisay, Jr., Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Ricardo M. de Ungria, and Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio.

The Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of DLSU, established in 1991 in honor of the noted fictionist, holds a workshop every December. Following Santos’s expressed wish, the workshop gives priority to new writers from our mass-based universities—University of the East, Far Eastern University, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Polytechnic University of the Philippines—and from the La Salle campuses. The Board of Directors of the Center includes Isagani Cruz, Marjorie Evasco, Buenaventura Medina, Jr., Efren Reyes Abueg, Connie Maraan, Cirilo F. Bautista, and Estrellita Gruenberg.

The Iligan National Writers Workshop, in the nine years that it has been operating, has already established a firm reputation as an excellent training ground for aspiring poets, fictionists and dramatists. Established by the encouragement of Cirilo F. Bautista, managed by Jaime An Lim, Tony Tan, and Christine Godinez-Ortega, and supported by funds from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology Office of the Chancellor for Research and Extension, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and private corporations, it brings together some fifteen writers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindano for a week-long intensive literary interaction. It is the only workshop that publishes in book form the fellows’ works taken up in the workshop and the transcripts of the panel discussions. Emphasis is given to writing in Cebuano.

The UST Creative Workshop, directed by Ophelia A. Dimalanta, holds sessions in April. Its fellows in 2002 included writers from Samar, Bacolod, Bicol, Cavite, and Metro Manila. Panelists in the workshop have included National Artist F. Sionil Jose, Dimalanta, Cirilo F. Bautista, Joselito Zulueta, Lourd de Veyra, Ramil Digal Gulle, Rebecca Añonuevo, Michael Coroza, and Jose Victor Torres. Aside from this national workshop, small local workshops are also conducted as needs arise.

The aforementioned are the “institutionalized” workshops. There are other, smaller and struggling ones sponsored by other offices and agencies. Writers in English and in Filipino get training from workshops sponsored by Unyon ng Mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL), Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo (LIRA), the Rio Alma Poetry Clinic, the Cirilo F. Bautista Poetry Repair Shop, Palihang Amado Hernandez, Writers Academy of the Philippines, Carlos Palanca Foundation, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, to mention a few.

The Carlos Palanca Foundation, before being caught in the economic crunch, held its own national writing workshops for a few years started from 1995. Through its Executive Director, A.B. Battung, it started a series of workshops designed for emerging writers in the provinces. “In this way,” Battung said, “we would bring the benefits of formal literary know-how to those who are not able, by reason of time or distance, to join workshops in Metro Manila.” He put together a team—composed of fictionist Jose Dalisay, Jr., poet Cirilo F. Bautista, and dramatist Rene Villanueva—which managed three-genre workshops for pre-enrolled participants. The team held workshops in Bicol at the Ateneo de Naga University, in Cebu at the San Carlos University, in Laoag at the Divine World College, and in Pampanga at the Holy Angel University, among others. “In holding these workshops,” Battung added, “the Palanca Foundation is signaling its recognition of the important role that our writers play, not only in advancing our literary development but also in shaping our national cultural taste.” Several outstanding writers from the provinces have been discovered through the Palanca workshops.

Impact of Workshops

What impact do these workshops have in the production of Philippine literature in English? A very significant impact, it can be said. From the ‘70s to the present, “literary workshoppers,” to coin a convenient term, have formed the first order of literary artists who have, to a large extent, determined the configuration and philosophy of Philippine literature. Most of them are college graduates or have had college experiences. Because workshops are inextricably linked to the academe, they have a sustained faculty of mentors and well-managed programs. We must not forget that Philippine literature in English was born in the campus as an initial adjunct to obligation of Filipino students to learn the English language. Because the American teachers in our school used literature to teach the language, the students acquired linguistic and literary skills at the same time. Those with literary ambitions were encouraged by their teachers and, if they went on to the teaching profession themselves, in turn encouraged their own students. Before the ‘70’s, therefore, the linkage was tenuous and temporary, depending on the presence of teachers with literary inclinations; afterwards, with the workshops being set up and managed by English departments in the universities, student writers’ training became more systematic and directed.

This training eventually developed into two branches: the criticism of creative writing and the teaching of creative writing.

The first is really the focal interest of most of our writers workshops where participants do not actually do any writing but where their submitted works—the workshop materials—are subjected to rigid and meticulous critical scrutiny. In effect, literary analysis serves the purpose of showing the writers the different philosophies and techniques of writing. Depending on the persuasion of the panelists, therefore, the writers, in the end, may be convinced to adopt this or that school of thought in his craft. The Tiempos, for instance, are very strong exponents of New Criticism; the UP Writing Center inclines heavily toward all forms of Marxism; the DLSU Writing Center encourages various kinds of engagement; and UST, to a large extent, remains Thomasian.

The second emerged with the offering of creative writing courses in the universities. By the ‘80’s, the academic community realized the growing need to organize and systematize the teaching of the writing craft. The quality and quantity of literary production could only be improved through a deliberate and planned program to uplift the literary producers. In DLSU and UP, for instance, there are Bachelor of Arts Major in Creative Writing degrees, as well as Master of Fine Arts Major in Creative Writing degrees in the graduate schools. In other universities, creative works are accepted as thesis requirements for graduation in the undergraduate levels. With creative writing getting degree units in formal educational curricula, students with literary ambitions acquire competent and sufficient instructions from teachers with adequate preparation and experience in literary craftsmanship. Many of them are writers themselves who pass on to their students invaluable knowledge not found in textbooks. It is also worth noting that there has been a significant increase in the number of students pursuing creating writing degrees. In DLSU, the idea of offering creative writing courses in the undergraduate and graduate levels was unthinkable ten years ago. This semester, they have the fifth batch of graduate creative writing students.

Thus, these two branches provide the serious beginning writers with sufficient support and encouragement to fulfill their potentials. At the same time, they have attracted more and more new writers. The mergence of the classroom and the workshop, as it were, has brought together all the forces necessary of make creative writing a profession, with the underlying assumption that literary production, like any human discipline, can be taught and learned in a controlled environment. In addition, the quality of writing continues to show marked improvement. The new writers, possessed of the advantages of expert teachers and technological facilities, are more familiar with recent developments in literary theories, techniques and philosophy. Consequently, their immersion in the world of letters hastens their expertise and mastery of their craft. Also, with more writers joining the field, national literary production has shown a significant increase, as evidenced by new literary titles exhibited in the various book fairs held more frequently now.

There are those, of course, who belittle the effectiveness of writing workshops. They argue that workshops do not make writers; they even unmake them. What can be learned in workshops can be learned somewhere else. A sane enough attitude, on the surface, especially when we hear of the insanity of some workshop panelists, like the one who would tear a poem to pieces to register his displeasure with it, or the one who would insist that young fictionists would do the country a lot of good by giving up writing and planting kamote instead. We remember Sinclair Lewis telling participants in a workshop on how to write fiction, “You want to know how to write a novel? Well, go home and write a novel.”

But that is not as easy as it seems. One does not simply go home and write a poem if he does not know what a poem is or how to go about creating it. True, he can read poems, and books about poems, but he would have the benefit of another consciousness explicating to him the phenomenology and problems of writing. He would not, in short, have appropriate direction suited to his potential and limitation. Only live teachers can do that. True, there are teachers who abuse their position, but they are really the exception rather than the rule. Alone, it will take the beginning writer some time to master his craft. With the help of workshops and literary courses, this period can be significantly reduced. With his sensitivity and imagination unhampered by misconceptions, he can apply himself more productively to the acquisition of those qualities that will maximize his writing potential.

Taken historically and psychologically, then, the effectiveness of these workshops is beyond doubt. The Tiempos of Dumaguete believed that workshops confer on the participants an amount of critical skill by which they will able to examine a text rationally and dispassionately though they may belong to different philosophies and personalities. “Communal textual investigation,” as we call it, exposes writers to crucial and even nebulous aspects of creativity which will have profound repercussions on their own craftsmanship.

Knowledgeable in the way of New Criticism, the Tiempos emphasized poetic integrity and resonance, formal excellence and veracious autonomy—qualities a work must possess by necessity and not by endowment of external agencies. “Many Palanca awardees come to us to find out if they really can be a writer, “ Ed Tiempo once averred. He implied a suspicion for awards, for they are, at best, palliatives. Workshops, Edith Tiempo said, “ teaches a writer to be his own severest critic.” If he learns anything at all, it is how to exercise the ability to tell when the parts of a work succeed, and how to functionalize these parts through judicious selection, paring, repairing, and harmonizing. In due time, his expertise may lead him to introduce innovations in the structure and concepts of the literary genres. Indeed, as a literary editor and critic, we have come across such innovations in the works of Filipino poets and fictionists.

Summary and Conclusion

Its is evident that there is no need for statistical figures to confirm the factuality of creative writing workshops’ effectiveness. Indeed, there is no need for statistics. After all, the effects of workshops are cumulative, rather than periodic. But the encouraging energy evident in writing scene denotes a reinvigoration of the creative spirit, and this alone is a positive sign. Big or small, these workshops answer the need for a rational and sustained effort to build up the country’s literary resources by attending to the requisites of its primary component, the writers. The number of books published by literary workshoppers increases annually, thus fattening the literary treasury. Creative writing workshops attract more and more new writers who realize the beneficence of the workshops’ intention to develop persons extremely sensitive to the human condition, to the alterations and flow of the cultural milieu, and to the determination of the national consciousness. Writers contribute to the sharpening of the people’s desire for the finer things in life, for the improvement of the national intellect. Through their literary productions, they propose ways of upgrading the quality of national life. Their works, when judiciously inputed by the state authorities into their national policies, may provide the government with ideas for social amelioration. The writers’ honest and profound critique of social realities is their ultimate contribution to the formation of an uplifted national intelligence. But the sensitivity, the imagination, and the craftsmanship they need to accomplish this critique are inaugurated to a great extent in the environment of writing workshops.


The First Iligan National Writers Workshop – Pioneering Literary Development in Mindanao

The First Iligan National Writers Workshop – Pioneering Literary Development in Mindanao
source: Panitikan.com.ph

WE were a participant in the successful Iligan National Writers Workshop held the first week of May 1994. It was a historical event, to say the least, since, for the first time, writers from south of the country acquired the long-needed voice and forum for their creative consciousness. Conceived as a national workshop where the best poets, fictionist, and dramatists can interact and discuss their works, credit for its realization must be given to the officers, teachers, and staff of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, specifically Vice Chancellor Jimmy Y. Balacuit of the Office of Research and Extension; Dr. Jaime An Lim, Workshop Director; Christine Godinez-Ortega, Workshop Co-Director; Dr. Anthony Tan, Resident Panelist; Ralph Semino Galan, Chair of the Secretariat; and Ferdie Areola, Chair of the Accommodations Committee. Our humble contribution was suggesting to Tony and Jaime, when they visited us in the Panorama office the other September, the need for Iligan writers to concretize such a workshop. We never thought that they would do so in such a short time.

The workshop was held also in conjunction with a Literature Teachers Conference, in the belief that the thirty or so mentors, mostly from Visayas and Mindanao, could learn from the discussions in the workshop. And they did so, on their own admittance at the end of the week, especially concerning matters of teaching methodologies, materials, and philosophy. The panelists gave them particular lectures on these areas and their involvement in the workshop enabled us to consider literature from both the creative and the educationist points of view. The output of such an encounter will undeniably be of much help to future classroom activities.

Discussions and criticisms during the workshop were enlivened by diverse perspectives and experiences coming from the fellows. Luzon was represented by J. Neil Garcia, Camilo Villanueva, Jr., Charlson Ong, and Jim Pascual San Agustin; Visayas by Felino Garcia, Jr., Ma. Milagros Geremia, and Dino Enriquez V. Deriada; and Mindanao by Eduardo P. Ortega, Eulogia Salalima, Nancy Allen, Maribel T. Ora, Man V. Gervacio, and Saturnina S. Rodil. The level of discourse was generally high, with theoretical frameworks from New Criticism, Post-colonialism, Pragmatism, Reconstruction and Ethical Criticism being brought in to bear light on the literary works under consideration by panelists Leoncio Deriada, Steven Patrick Fernandez, Anthony Tan, Jaime An Lim, Christine Godinez-Ortega, and Cirilo F. Bautista (whose wife, Rosemarie, was conceded as an unofficial special panelist). Some of the poems were so exceptional that we have asked their author’s permission to have them published in future issues of Panorama.

The formal opening ceremonies of the workshop took place on May 2 at Café Hermoso. The Church, the city administration, and the academe were represented. The Most Rev. Fernando Capalla, Bishop of Iligan diocese, gave the invocation; Mayor Alejo Yañez sent a proxy, Kagawad Pedro Generalao, to read his welcome speech; MSU President Emily M. Marohombsar articulated the importance of writers in national development, of literature to teachers, and culture as a component of the national soul. She cited her own initiatives in supporting the arts as head of the biggest academic community in the South. “Writers are an endangered species,” she said, but they “draw out the richness of life in their works,” providing teachers and readers with “a bridge to various worlds.” We found her speech a blend of intellectualism and common sense, based on a correct understanding of the role of the humanities in social progress. She invited us to visit the Marawi campus – “a most beautiful place,” she said – but we doubted if we could, given our tight schedule. Perhaps next year, we told her, if the workshop organizers could include a session outside Lanao del Norte.

Then the panelists and fellows were introduced to the guests, after which Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, 1993 Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, delivered the keynote speech. Focusing on the theme of the writer and the institutions of learning, Lumbera averred that “literature today is largely a product of the academe,” that in fact one could not think of writing in the country apart from the schools. This, of course, is true, especially in the case of our literature in English which was spawned by the American educational system. Its language and awareness took roots and blossomed in the classrooms. Now, because of education’s empowering values, even our literatures in other languages have academic configurations. Yearly, upon graduation, writers from the campuses join the national literary streams.

Because of this, Lumbera suggested a re-appraisal of our historical heritage vis-à-vis the literary craft. “To what extent must the Philippine writers allow themselves to be constricted” by western norms acquired in college? He asserted that the search for identity is no longer the concern of the writers, but creative freedom – “to break the confines that limit creativity, to interrogate the past, as it were.” This is a form of subversion, he said, for the sake of liberating the literary mind so that it could soar to new heights and expand its magnitude. Though academic standards have a strong historicity, they can be reshaped to answer the imperatives of the present, thus making the writers attuned to the vibrations of contemporaneity. Lumbera advocated the use of new modes of interpreting social realities to widen literary boundaries, for it is an important tool to creative progress.

Vice Chancellor Balacuit assured us that the Iligan National Writers Workshop will continue annually as long as he is in office – “the funding of next year’s workshop is already budgeted,” he told us. He is very supportive of arts and culture, for a head of a technological university, because he is committed to creating humanistic men and women of science. We admire his commitment and look forward to seeing him and all our writer-friends in Iligan in April this year.

February 1995


Radio Boy

Breaking Signs
Panorama 10.11.09

AS A YOUTH growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, I was a son of the radio. It was just becoming popular then, one of those foreign items brought by American colonialism—together with apples, oranges, chewing gum, canned sardines, boogie-woogie, jazz, and cigarettes—that irreversibly changed Philippine cultural landscapes. It gained ascendancy over our everyday life from sunrise to sunset. In our humble house in Balic-Balic, Sampaloc, it was the centerpiece of communal living. It was installed in a specially made shelf out of reach of children and covered with a clean mantle when not in use. It was clock, newspaper, and entertainment all at the same time to millions of Filipinos then struggling for a better life after the Second World War. We told time by the soap opera in progress, got the latest political updates from the newscasters, and sat infront of it in rows of benches while listening with our neighbors to our favorite contestants in a singing competition. In our community, it was also an arbiter of sort. An argument was settled when one said, “I heard it over the radio.”

It was a clever contraption—inside a box of wood were bulbs and electrical connections that captured airwaves and processed them to sensible sounds! You turned a knob and you get the program you desired; you turned another knob to regulate the sound volume. As an object it was a work of art and a marvel at the same time. The highly varnished wood was of the best kind, manually shaped to bring out a geometric design. Its working intrigued my young mind no end, and I wanted to take it apart to see how it functioned, but I was afraid I would not be able to put it back together again. The well-to-do families had big models with elaborate facial carvings and sharper sound reproduction.

Unknown to me then, the radio was educating my young imagination. The programs to which I listened formed the seminal character of my perception, making me curious about things in the beginning and in the end, when I was already writing prose and poetry, sensitive to the nuances of words and their connection to human existence. Serial romances, on the one hand, taught me the existence of passion and charity. The plots of Gulong ng Palad and Siete Infantes de Lara, for instance, helped form the behavior code which I would follow in my later years, focusing on the need for moral uprightness and self-enterprise. While I cried over the travails of the poor characters in the story I was impressed by how the scriptwriters understood very well the human condition. I was involved in the story; I was this or that person grappling with tragedies to rise from the clutch of poverty and gain success. I was fascinated by the imagery of the wheel of fortune for it applied to my family’s real situation—we could not always be in the mire; someday, when the wheel turned in our favor, we would be on top, enjoying life.

Horror dramas, on the other hand, taught me the importance of suspense in creative writing. That feel of excitement on the part of the listeners or readers when they anticipate the inevitable outcome of a crisis-- that is something you have to work for, something nobody gives you, and you learn it by the strictest application of narrative rules. My best favorite, Ang Gabi ng Lagim with its howling dogs and mysterious strangers haunting cemeteries, gripped my heart like a vise with its terrifying tension and stress. Each episode left me quaking in my seat and gave me nightmares at bedtime. The more I got scared, the more I enjoyed the story. Is that not what critics desire from horror stories? There too was Ang Sepulturero sa Lumang Libingan which became the model for harmonizing story lines with appropriate sound effects for crickets, snarling animals, storm winds, horses’ hooves, and human anguish.

To our family then, radio and literature were one. We could not afford to buy magazines and newspapers—our little money went to rice and dried fish—and the few books I had were school primers. Consequently, I heard more than I read. Words were sounds I had to reconcile with speech morphology before they became written codes. This training was eventually to be beneficial to my writing verse, for it connected me subliminally to the tradition of oral literature, making me grasp the concepts of language rhythms, especially in reference to opposition and unity, caesura and closure. This knowledge, together with the lessons I learned from the Balagtasan which was then still a popular radio entertainment, shaped my poetic consciousness. Years later, with the publication of my first book of poems, I realized how greatly radio had influenced my literary voice.


Literature as Religion

Literature as Religion
Panorama, 08/02/09
By Cirilo F. Bautista

In Carlos Ruiz Zafon's bestselling novel, The Angel's Game(London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves, 2009), the mysterious publisher Andreas Corelli proposes a commission to the protagonist, David Martin, "I want you to create a religion for me," he tells Martin. It seems a ludicrous mandate when seen from the labyrinth perspective of theology, but when Corelli explains the foundation of his thinking, Martin senses some glowing light.

"Religion is really a moral code that is expressed through legends, myths or any type of literary device in order to establish a system of beliefs, values and rules with which to regulate a culture or a society," Corelli says. "Everything is a tale, Martin. What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated." Martin, a sickly, impoverished writer, succumbs to Corelli's offer of small fortune to work for a year "to create a story so powerful that it transcends fiction and becomes a revealed truth." Shorn of it's Gothic complicated subplots, how Martin pursues this commission is the central concern of "The Angel's Game," a most wonderful and exciting Gothic tale set in the early 1900s in Barcelona.

The idea of literature as religion had earlier been mentioned by Andrew M. Greeley in his autobiography, Furthermore! - Memories of a Parish Priest(New York: Forge, 1999). Like Corelli, he advances the theory of religion as embedded in literary narratives. Whether in story or poetry, religion, in this case Roman Catholicism, is a body of symbols which aims to explain the meaning of life and death. Since the Greek word "symbolon" was translated into Latin as "sacrament," meaning a revelation of God," religion was first of all a narrative symbol. "Our religion was story and nothing else. We learned about religion from our parents through stories (Especially Christmas and Easter) before we ever learn about it in school," Greeley writes.

These stories form what he calls "popular tradition" - the first component of religious tradition - made up of stories, metaphors, rituals, common devotion, and evidences of superstition and magic. They co-exist with "high tradition" - the second component - which is "organized systematically and logically and presented in prose propositions which are often supported by philosophical arguments. The proposition tell the devout member of the tradition what one must believe, how one must behave, what rituals one must follow, which leaders one must obey. It is assembled from the writings of the ancients, the teachings of the wise, and the decisions of the leaders. It is supported by a claim to sacred authority. While the propositions, may sometimes change and will almost always be added to, the assumption is that they are always the same truth in slightly different wording."

Did Zafon borrow Greely's idea, or was he really simply expressing a fascinating theory that is gaining wide adherence? It does not matter; what is important is that Zafon gives us a novel that is the literary manifestation of that idea.

For Corelli, religion is all about form - the other gestures, words, actions, and elements that are understandable and graspable in the content of the truths of narrative. "As in literature or in any other act of communication, what confers effectiveness on it is the form and not the content," he says. This is Greeley first component, the popular aspect which, in the end, determines the religion's survival. If there are no devotees there is no worship and the gods would be irrelevant. The second component supports with additional or emendatory narratives the first, though its real purpose is to control the society of worshippers. A system of organized government develops therefrom, always vigilant, always insuring that the form is maintained and attractive. The story of Jesus Christ, the story of Buddha, the story of the various saints and martyrs, for instance, have to be told again and again with increasing avidity and faithfulness according to accepted methods previously arranged. Both components are important, though. Without high tradition, folk practices would be directionless and might lead to idolatry. Without popular tradition, high tradition, "becomes abstract and has little appeal to the total human personality. It becomes an arena in which scholars and leaders play their own self-important games with little regard for the problems and possibilities of ordinary people," Greeley says.

It is not difficult to see how ordinary people's metaphors may affect the religious environment, though often they escape the attention of scholars and high leaders. Acts and experiences whose meanings reside outside official propositions but have crucial importance to the common people help build the popular tradition, strengthening their faith in God's graces.


Night Train to Paris

Night Train to Paris
Panorama, 08.30.09

SOME YEARS AGO in May, I took the night train to Paris. I was a guest of an Italian poet in his house in Rome, and that evening his assistant, Romy Sibug, was taking me on a tour of the nearby countries. I occupied a sleeping berth near the window, and waited for our time of departure. The bed was a bit cramp, but the pillow and mattress were clean and comforting. I had already brushed my teeth and changed my clothes in the small washroom in the next compartment.

As always in such a situation, I could not help engaging in the pastime of comparisons. Why could we not have such kind of trains in the Philippines? The last time I saw the Bicol Express stopping by the España station, it was a pitiful sight—rusted on the outside, uninhabitable inside. Time and hooligans had rendered it obsolete, but the government seemed to have no time for its rehabilitation. I gazed out in envy at the many trains lined up for various destinations in Europe, looking proud and sturdy in the twilight.

Romy seemed to have followed my thoughts. "I was in Manila last summer," he said, "and I could not believe how backward it has become. So many hungry people, so many without jobs. I visited Leyte and was just in time to prevent my two sisters from dying of starvation with the goods and money I brought them. I went to Bicol in the PNR train to see some friends and I must tell you it was a nightmarish ride! Dirt and garbage in the corridors, stinking toilet, mutilated couches— "

"I know. And cockroaches everywhere."

"Those too. And they say Martial Law is a blessing from heaven. I shouldn’t care, you know. I’m already a Roman resident, but I worry about my relatives there. My uncle was picked up on suspicion of being with the underground. He was just planting eggplants on the mountainside. From what I hear in the Filipino community here, the people in power overreact to criticism of their rule."

"That’s the trouble. They see things that are not there and impose sanctions for imagined violations. Soon the imagined assumes real form and becomes their enemy. They are sometimes paranoid in this regard but they hate being ignored, so they must act. Power is not power unless it is used."

"Even to the extent of imprisoning innocent men or confiscating their properties?"

"Often to that extent, I’m sorry to say. No one is safe from their scrutiny and suspicion."

"That’s why I felt an unusual silence in Manila even though the traffic mess has not changed," he said, shaking his head. "What, the silence before the storm? Or of helplessness? But can they not do good things in the meantime? They have all the power, so why not change some things for the better? Like the train system, for a start. You see in Europe that efficient train transport contributes to the overall prosperity, for it brings people and goods everywhere they are needed. You can go anywhere in Italy by train. But I suppose they will say that will involve a lot of money and the Philippines is just a third world country."

"Don’t fall for that trick of us being called poor. We have money, only it goes in the wrong directions, if you know what I mean," I said. "That is why no public project, like a road or a building, is ever done to specification, so the people ultimate gets the rotten end of the deal, with the road or the building deteriorating after one year."

"You know I want to go home and retire in the Leyte. I am not really at home here. My heart and soul long for my place of birth, but as things are going, I might be forced to be stay here till I die. When will things improve in our country?"

As I said, that was years ago, and as our train pulled out of the station for the overnight trip to Paris, I had no answer to Romy’s question. I have no answer to the same question now, for we seem to live in a perpetual cycle of promises and disappointments when it comes to our national life. Each government seems to be like the previous one. All we can do is hope that the storm will not demolish us this time.


Rain is Good for You

Breaking Signs ( Panorama 08/23/2009 )
THE HEAVIEST RAINFALL so far this year came to my part of Quezon City last July 26.
It poured in torrents from four to six in the afternoon. I sat in the garage and watch it shake the mango tree out in the road and the plants in my small backyard garden. The bougainvillas, yellow bells, and suntan submitted to its fury. Nature is most awesome when it is angry, and angry it was that week, burying people in landslides in Cotabato and Antipolo, flooding the main streets of MetroManila, and stranding, as usual, the unlucky commuters.

I had just brought out of the storeroom for re-reading H. Allen Smith’s autobiographical narrative, To Hell in a Handbasket (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962), and was dusting it when the rain fell. It was accompanied by a gusty wind that swept everything that was not nailed down—plastic buckets, old newspapers, garden chairs. I watched in fascination as the silver drops arched and looped in some strange geometric patterns while the wind swished and swooshed in abandon. Smith provided a counterpoint to the noise with his well-known gray humor. "I have heard it said many times that a person cannot tell the whole truth about himself in a book. I honestly think that I can come closer to it than most authors of autobiographies. Gypsy Rose Lee and George Bernard Shaw have said that all men past forty are scoundrels. I am past forty and I have all the instincts of a scoundrel. Even in this time of pressures and compulsions, I tend to speak my mind."

And no one could speak their mind more than Smith who took delight in exposing the frailties and foibles of the great and the mighty. As a reporter, rewrite man, and sports commentator, he watched people and events with objective profundity and wrote about them with acidic keenness. "Scholarly investigators in the field of roughneck linguistics say that a person who is going to hell in a handbasket is going to hell because of amateur sinning, such as playing the horses, social drinking to excess, striking a lady real hard, gossiping, indulging in sex orgies, and other small misdemeanors. Such a person has not murdered anyone, he has not robbed any widows or widowers and he has not been a member of Congress. His sins have been the sins of pleasurable dissipation and I understand, from high authority, that when he arrives in hell they may even turn him away form the gate, telling him that his credentials show he belongs in the Other Place."

How close to home he was as I thought of the hundreds of congressmen we have with their endless inclination toward unpardonable transgressions. The rain pummeled the garage roof so hard that it leaked in two places, and I made a mental note to buy another can of plaster sealant. The rising water in the garden seeped into the floor of a downstair room. My wife cleared the clogged drainage outlet to ease the rise, and old newspapers came in handy in cleaning the room. When I was young, my mother would say, "Go out in the rain. It’s good for you," and so I would bring a piece of soap and take a bath in the street.

After watching the rain for a few minutes, I retreated to my room to go over Recipes for Life: Food for the Heart, edited by Jennifer Lee-Bonto and Christine Penaranda-Concio (Los Baños: Pages Publishing Artists, Co., 2009). This brainchild of St. Theresa’s College, Quezon City batch ’85 is a delightful collection of autobiographical narratives penned with sensitivity, humor, and energy. Like recipes, they are meant to guide, instruct, and direct persons engaged in the kitchen of life to feed body and soul.

As Charo Santos-Concio writes in her foreword, "Every chef has a secret ingredient: it may be the most unique spice you can find in Paris, or it may be just the right amount of soy sauce. We, women, are also chefs. We whip up the best of life. We want it spicy…sometimes sour…sweet…salty… hot… cold…or just right. What we are serving for appetizer, main course or dessert, matters. How we serve it is important. This is what made me crave reading this book. It’s the spices of life that women had to have a taste of and how women handled even the most sour and bitter of experiences. Every woman stands tall and strong…giving hope, courage, motivation and inspiration."

The 56 or so articles—three are poems— in this well-designed and unique book are arranged in the manner of daily eating structure—Prayer Before Meals; Breakfast; Lunch; Afternoon Tea & Biscuits; Dinner with its Starters, Main Course, Dessert; Cocktails, Mocktails & Bedtime Drinks; and Prayer After Meals. They concern human responses to critical situations and show us life’s beauty and meaning in the midst of battering storms that challenge our very faith in God and belief in humanity.