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Poems benign, of impish joy

Among our poets writing in English, the most productive of late have been Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Marne Kilates, Victor Peñaranda and Simeon Dumdum Jr. I base this assessment on the frequency of their poem postings, fresh from the oven as it were, in social media. Read: Facebook.

Oh, to qualify, I mean among homegrown and yet home-based Pinoy poets. In the USA, Luisa Igloria who had a recent blitz visit here still abides by her pledge to write a poem a day. And I think she’s matched by Albert Casuga who’s based in Canada. In New York and California, a number of Fil-Am poets also continue to produce much scintillating poetry.

Here, there could be others who hold back on sharing their freshly baked (and shaken) poems through the Net. I know of at least four or five of my closest poet-friends, premier ones all, who simply come up with collections whenever they reach a personal quota for a new title. One of them’s a National Artist for Literature, chiefly on the strength of his poetry. No Net teasers for him, and others who prefer private accretion.

I repeat: I speak here only of those who write poems in English. Otherwise my friend Abdon Balde Jr. might top the list with his frequent posterized tigsiks in Bicolano — often translated into Filipino and sometimes into English, then rendered into multilingual memes since the text complements a photographic image.

Back to our qualified quartet, their regular produce has rewarded us with recent poetry books. Aquino just came up with Like a shadow that only fits a figure of which it is not the shadow (UST Publishing House), recently reviewed in this section by the hirsute herald Juaniyo Arcellana.

Peñaranda’s Lucid Lightning, also from UST, celebrated its first anniversary of publication earlier this month. At no surprise should we surmise a follow-up collection soon from this poet of gently crafted musings.

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Two books of poetry this year alone mark Kilates’ prodigiousness. Time’s Enchantment & Other Reflections (Ateneo de Naga University Press) came out earlier this year. Due by November is Lyrical Objects (UST Publishing House).

This brings us to the fourth active horseman of the Pinoy poetry calypso: “Jun” Dumdum of Cebu, retired as a judge, in a sense holistically liberated to luxuriate in the time and environment he enjoys — on balconies with books and roses, while holding a door open for a picture of a grandchild, reflecting on a rain puddle, justifiably patting himself on the back for being privileged with a beloved partner, or contemplating with an incipient smile at seemingly trivial paradoxes of daily life.

Eighty-Four Words for Sorrow, published last June by Ateneo de Naga University Press, is his seventh poetry collection. And like its predecessors, it delights and satiates with quiet, astute verses, often charmingly beholden to form (as with sonnets, a ghazal, a rondeau, a villanelle), bequeathing pearls before the swine in us as he uncovers magic tricks of simple reality and compound-complex spirituality — the very unraveling of all deceit.

His first poem in the collection is titled “Afternoon”: “It rains as I write this — a puddle spreads/ On the pavement, on which the drops form rings/ That race across the pool to reach the edge,/ And wane to turn into all sorts of things/ Within my mind, whatever fancy brings,/ And fancy gives whatever disappears/ A life, a story, love beyond our fears”

So many other poems are entirely quotable from this collection, which, despite the title poem, consists essentially of words of joy born of sleight-of-heart-and-mind. And a gifted poet’s surfeit of soul.

To the impish manner born, he crafts bemusement, as in “Behind Every Happy Man Is a Big Mirror”: “The afternoon I waited for my wife/ Having her hair and nails done at the beauty parlor,/ It felt strange, finding myself there alone/ Among the women, some with their heads wrapped,/ Some reading while ther feet were being cleaned./ Lost, I retreated, found myself a seat/ Near a wall, not knowing it was a mirror,/ And I felt honored, if a bit perplexed—/ Before the women went out, they would stop/ And fix themselves before a smiling me.”

Musicality is a prime virtue. Listen to “Ghazal”: “If she met him I would just pass them by/ And see no one for I’d pass them by// How could I know that she would hug and kiss him/ It was past four I would just pass them by// I did not know how silent they would be/ Seeing the wide floor I’d just pass them by// Nor did I know I would see them again/ And at a corridor I would just pass them by// I thought that I would see them in the garden/ And there for sure I would just pass them by// And if they called and waved to me, ‘Hi, Simeon!’/ Just as before I would just pass them by.”

And here’s an excerpt as bookends, from “Villanelle”: “Show me the moves, the way the hips should sway/ Teach me your saucy art before you leave/ And if I dance, I hope that you will stay/… Please do not hurry, whatever I say/ Or have said is no cause for you to grieve/ Show me the moves, the way the hips should sway/ And if I dance, I hope that you will stay.”

It’s not just a matter of repetition or the quick exercise of rhyme. With Dumdum, the melodic refrains he crafts turn into exquisite earworms, by pulling simplicity itself out of a mundane hat.

In “Children’s Party,” where “Illusion is a child’s delight,” he narrates “a tired magician’s” elementary conduct, with “… the only damage/ In the melee a popped balloon./”

Until: “… And other tricks, which he had done/ All his life, making the small girl/ Dangerously fascinated,/ And then his valedictory—/ The white-dove-out-of-the-hat-trick,/ For which he showed the little one/ The inside of an ‘empty’ bag,/ But the girl seized and stepped on it./ And he was stunned—and, his hand shaking,/ Through the false lining of the hat,/ He drew the shivering bird, wings broken,/ And showed it to the silent crowd—/ The little girl broke into tears,/ She had not known the magical/ Could be as painful as the real.”

Such truths are arrived at when the quantum pocket of curiosity is turned inside out, spilling verity from the ordinarily acceptable tedium of false linings.

Imaginative narrative takes its magical, illusory turn of revisionism in “The Ballad of the Three Wise Men” — where camels are replaced and the mythical Magi, having traveled separately, meet only at their destination, as three horsemen, and “… none/ Of them had seen the fourth, whose horse/ Was white, the conqueror, the source/ Of all authority, possessed/ Of bow and crown, in all things blest.//

“And when they found the house and saw/ The infant, they proceeded to draw/ Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh./ And seeing Mary spoke to her/ About their journey, and she smiled,/ And kissed the fingers of her child./ And as they left, the wise men heard/ A neigh, and then without a word/ Looked at each other, for from among/ The cattle by a manger, swung/ A graceful horse tied to a post,/ White as a consecrated Host.”   

No less whimsical is a page from the professional reality the poet has left behind, as in “The Dog Barks and the Truth Moves On”: “One day I’ll have a German Shepherd/ And then it can approach the courtroom/ Ahead of me, and so the call,/ ‘All rise,’ is made upon its entrance,/ And as I settle in my chair/ And bang the gavel, it can crouch/ Near me, to sleep with one eye open/ Dreaming of butterflies perhaps/ … And then I want the German Shepherd,/ Because a lie makes one perspire,/ To sniff the witness, and if ever—/ Just as K9 does with dogs—/ Sit next to the witness stand and bark/ Until the truth is told.”

Here is a poet who can quickly make readers respond with a complicit nod, if not turn them into jelly, with the simplest of opening lines: “A baby’s smile—that’s more than all/ The world’s economics combined,/…” (from “The Economics of Tenderness”)

Of all these gems in this latest prized collection from Jun Dumdum, my favorite would have to be “What We Talk about When We Talk About Love”: “And when the news is met with disbelief,/ What angel could one turn to but the angel/ Of honesty itself, who heals the grief/ Of separateness, binding with the shackle/ Of that light that makes truth believable,/ which we have squandered, lost the memory of,/ What flies, what does nothing but hedge on love.”

Ahh, wisdom, wisdom — from a sage benign. 

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