Three Books and the Copyright Law

DEAN Francis Alfar’s novel, Salamanca (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006), is now available in bookstores. It won last year’s Palanca Contest for the novel in which we were the chairman of the board of judges. We found it way above the other entries for its linguistic competence and artistic merits. Later, as a reader assessing its worthiness for book publication, we gave it a positive recommendation. For Alfar has created a love story that is memorable for its emotional restraint, sustained interest, exceptional characters, and well-conceived plot. The narrative moves at an appropriate pace to render unique interpretation of a slice of Philippine life. The title it all – there is some magic determining the relationship of the main characters Gaudencio Rivera and Jacinta Cordova, and Alfar does a sleight-of-pen that attempts to draw us into an enjoyable spell.

Alfar is one among those many Filipino fictionists influenced by the technique of magic realism. Popularized by South American writers, it fuses history with imaginings to configurate a situation that verges on the fantastic. The technique is almost made to order for the Filipinos who, like the South Americans, possess a consciousness which is a source spring of the unusual and the grotesque. Our geography and climate encourage extreme imagination. The influences of native religions, myths, legends, folktales, and epics have not been dimmed by the pressures of colonization and advent of modern technology. In fact, this consciousness gains energy by adjusting to western thoughts and gadgets. It accommodates imported realities without surrendering what it considers sacred and inviolable. It is not difficult, then, for our fictionists to write like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And, alas, that it the peril that they face. They may just end up being clones of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They have to reinvent magic realism, as it were, to Filipinize it, so that it reflects the Philippines and not South America.

There is nothing magical in Edgar Calabia Samar’s poems in Pag-aabang sa Kundiman – Isang Talambuhay (Quezon City: Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 2006). They are firmly anchored on the ground, being a collective pursuit of personal roots and identity. The familiar, not the fantastic, delineate the fervor and dangers one must face in trying to discover the land he has left and the land he has returned to. As the poet intimates in the title poem, Pag-aabang sa Kundiman, things change, feelings, ideas, places – the better thing to do is to leave the place again, to just keep it in the memory as it was first gleamed, or experienced. Samar’s Kundiman is both the street in Sampaloc and an imagined country of fulfillment which he can never attain.

The collection’s design is to show through the poems some pattern of the age old theme of journey and quest for the meaning of life. Here, the life of the poem becomes the life of the persona – a believable metonymy if properly accomplished. But that is largely unattained in Samar’s book because the theme has not been profoundly explored and there is the absence of the vital energy that should link the various poems to be thematic structure. Some of the poems even seem to be irrelevant to that purpose (Panaginip, Panganay, Palaging May Ligaw na Pusa). The linkage could be signaled by certain words or ideas that reverberate through the various poems. At the same time, Samar could have used a dominantly poetic rhythm. As it is, his rhythm is prose because he uses paragraphic rather than stanzaic patterns. Indeed, some compositions here are not poetic but prosaic (Liham Kay Elias, Kay Ligaya). How are they to be taken in the context of the book’s overall intention? They have to be justified one way or another.

The best way to approach these poems is to think of them as individual, separate compositions. Then we can read with delectation such competent performances as Mga Pagtakas sa Kamatayan, Pananalig sa Kamalig, and Huling Awit Kay Mariang Makiling.

There are many things that can be said of Poems for Leaders (Naga City: Ina Nin Bikol Foundation, 2005). It is a handsomely designed clothbound collection. It has a noble intention. In the words of Fr. Leonardo Legaspi, O.P., these poems "bring to life the themes: Hopes and Dreams, Faith and Prayer, Courage and Perseverance, Character and Influence, Love and Service, Success and Fulfillment. The poets have employed metaphors that allow them to instruct in a manner that pleases and edifies the spirit." Classical and modern poets are included in the volume – St. John of the Cross, Shakespeare, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Alexander Pope, John Donne, William Blake, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, Alexander Pushkin, etc.

The important thing that must be said about this book, however, is that the editors did not observe the copyright law regarding literary products. We know this for a fact because two of our works, "The Late and Hardly Lamented Canuplin and our translation of Amado V. Hernandez’s Isang Dipang Langit are included in the book without our permission. We would never have known about the existence of Poems For Leaders if Jason Chancoco, our friend in Bicol, had not mentioned it to us. Worse, we have not received any royalty for the poems used. The editors must remember that they are punishable under the law for this irresponsibility. Poems are properties of the poets and they must be compensated every time these poems are printed in books or magazines. The exception is when the poems have passed to the public domain because their copyrights have not been renewed by the authors or their heirs. We hope the people behind the Ina nin Bikol Foundation will rectify their great mistake.