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Votive hours

This year’s National Writers Workshop fellows at Silliman University with the second-week panelists — from left, sitting: Nassefh Macla, Daryle Rubino, Jona Bering, Abelink Patenio, Patricia Lim, and mentee Silvin Maceren; standing: workshop director Ricky de Ungria, panelist Patricia Evangelista, Edmark Tan, Aimee Cando, Rowena Lee, panelist Eliza Victoria, foreign panelist Tammy Ho Lai-Ming from Hong Kong, Rodolfo Santiago, Luis Diores, Miguel Lizada, guest observers Thazin Oo and Thiri Soe from Myanmar, and resident panelist Cesar Ruiz Aquino of Dumaguete.

The 54th edition of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop opened two weeks ago at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Camp Look-out, Valencia, Negros Oriental.

Founded in 1962 by S.E.A. Write awardee Edilberto K. Tiempo and National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo, the longest-running creative writing workshop in Asia has received the Tanging Parangal in the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining from the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Twelve writers gained fellowships this year: Aimee Paulette Cando of UST, Angela Gabriele Fabunan of UP-Diliman, Darylle Luzarita Rubino and Mohammad Nassefh Macla of UP-Mindanao for poetry; Luis Manuel Diores of University of San Carlos, Kristine Abelink Patenio of University of St. La Salle in Bacolod, Patricia Corazon Lim and Rodolfo Eduardo T. Santiago of AdMU for fiction; and Jona Branzuela Bering of Cebu Normal University, Rowena Rose Lee of UP-Mindanao, Miguel Antonio Lizada of AdMU, and Edmark Tejarcio Tan of UST for creative non-fiction.

The supervising panel of poets/writers/critics for the first week included this year’s workshop director Ricardo M. de Ungria of UP-Mindanao, Cesar Ruìz Aquino of Dumaguete, Dr. Gwee Li Sui of Singapore, and guest panelists Dinah Roma and Timothy Montes. The following week, De Ungria and Aquino were joined by guest panelists Patricia Evangelista, Eliza Victoria and Dr. Tammy Ho Lai-Ming (founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal).

The first week featured a lecture by Dr. Gwee Li Sui on “Poeticising Love,” while a panel discussion on book publishing, preparing manuscripts for publication, and online publishing was conducted by the National Book Development Board with its executive director Graciela M. Cayton, Andrea Pasion Flores and Mina V. Esguerra. Venues were the ASRC Robert B. and Metta J. Silliman Library and the Byblos Reading Room, respectively.

Last week, on May 21, Dr. Tammy Ho lectured on “The Ghost in the Machine: Poems on Photographs” and also had the Philippine launch of her first poetry book, Hula Hooping, at the ASRC Robert B. and Metta J. Silliman Library.

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Starting today, regular panelists Gémino H. Abad, Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara, and this writer join mainstays De Ungria and Aquino for the third and last week of the workshop, which is co-sponsored this year by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

On May 28 at Byblos, Dr. Evasco and Ms. Lara (workshop director for the last two years) will talk on literary friendships and doing writing residencies abroad. All the lectures are meant to introduce the young writers to the different support systems available to enhance their literary production and careers.

Below, for the benefit of the workshop fellows, the aspiring poets in particular, I tack on a brief essay on crafting poetry. This was written sometime ago for Antologia Filipina, an anthology on how Filipino poets conduct their craft — which still has to be published in Spain. I’ve titled it “Votive Hours.”

*  *  *

My poems begin in various ways. There is no set formula for inspiration, conception, or resolve to commit an irresistible urge onto paper. Very often, a particular idea or feeling launches the creative process. It is always either ideation or emotion that initiates the votive hour.

Sometimes the impulse to write poetry is fed simply by a turn of phrase that sounds felicitous or ominously striking. If this stimulus seems eminently workable, and the mood is right, the germ of a phrase is massaged until a concept develops.

Ideationally, the process in turn leads to the crafting of an exemplary scene or situation, to the unraveling of paradox, irony, insight — as some form or other of personal illumination.

My poetic process relies much on a lyric predisposition that, through joyful or quiet song, shows the way to either celebration or contemplation.

Myriad are the sources of exploration and delight. The poem may be an exultation of person, one’s own or another’s, as with paeans to romance and worship. Or it could serve as an extension of persona, as in fanciful tales of inventive value.

The poem could develop into an exaltation of place, as part of a travel episode. Or of a particular crossroads of time and place — one’s presence before a rare horizon — as a recording of experience condensed into a precious reminder. By the same democratic token, it can also be an impressionistic, quietly magical rendering of an ordinary moment.

The poem may attempt a statement on the social condition, even masquerade as a condemnation of daily features. Or it might speak of love and human relations, of family and intimates, of the self that is very much alone, the self vis-a-vis nature, the Self surrounded and overwhelmed by marvels of illusion.

Short lyric poems allow for the luxury of choice from among innumerable concerns — from the exceedingly private to the terribly mundane or the terrifyingly universal.

One begins with the short lyric for the confessional exercises that characterize early versification. These preliminaries need not sustain a lifework, however. A poet must graduate into a more acute, if covertly impersonal, level of relationship with the outside world.

It is important that we continue to evolve. One says quick goodbyes to affections, mannerisms, puerile stylistics, lest he face the unwholesome prospect of turning into a deathless bore.

Change of pace is paramount in any sportive undertaking, in poetry no less. The more private, the more deeply personal one’s poetry claims to be, the more urgent must sound the commands for fresh tactics, alternative maneuvers, shifting attacks.

The poet makes up the rules by which he abides, all in the context of play. Everything is permissible, else the universe of literature suffer from metronomic drone. Bardic levity, experimentation, distraction, ludic nonsense, cryptic privacy, even occasional obfuscation — these are allowed entry as particulars of amusement that may aid and abet the poet’s soulful ego as he emotes through a poem.

Intellectualizing the poem is the obligation; assigning an emotive ambience — the feeling mode — is pure privilege.

An important factor in the crafting of good poetry is the determination and execution of an appropriate cadence. The rhythms in my lines have since evolved from purely melodic ones into what is often a contrapuntal, rather quirky pattern that makes much use of such technical devices as caesurae, enjambments, false endings, run-ons, hesitation moves and other versifying features, especially where they involve line-breaks.

I like to think that the poetry I am writing now, while retaining a musical quality, continues to adapt its lyric suitability to the demands of enforced attention, especially in these times of increasing information and entertainment overload.

I will continue to sing. But to become memorable, the song warrants the invention of new rhythms, fresh cadences, startling prosody, even. And the old themes and concerns (while possibly sliding into or merging with modernist motifs), will have to be viewed, most internally, in a rejuvenated light, before being sung with reinvigorated passion.

Of late I have projected my voice well beyond the “I” persona and assumed the viewpoints of other characters. I am enjoying this ventriloquism, especially when it involves nefarious voices.

Here in our country, there are many of them, just as there are so many excellent poets. If I hope to compete favorably with my contemporaries, I should go beyond what I personally know, and assume the experiences however heinous of those around us.

It is one of the delights and luxuries of being a Filipino poet, whether writing in the native language, as I sometimes do now, or in a supposed foreign tongue that we have long since colonized. In fact I still find it pleasurable to conduct poetry in an adopted tongue, and several adapted voices.

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