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Shelter from the storm

If the house that literature built is full of incest-mongers, self-styled plagiarists, and other unsavory characters,

Under the Storm

, an anthology of contemporary Philippine poetry edited by Khavn de la Cruz and Joel Toledo (Antithesis Collective 2011), could provide some shelter for the literary misfit if not all-around miscreant. Launched last September during the dot-mov digital film festival, the book gathers perhaps the most eclectic bunch of poets this side of town, from the well-established names to the up and coming to the suddenly bursting forth like a wild and happy shooting star. Choose your wild —

Under the Storm

has something for everyone and anyone with even a passing interest in poetry.

Of the oldies, what a pleasure it is to read again Court of Appeals nominee and Cebu regional trial court judge Simeon Dumdum Jr., whose “The Last Rain of Summer” augurs well for the present hot days, and uses as conceit a dreaming frog in an evaporating pool of water, and how the narrator dreams in turn during urgent sleep by the doghouse about summer’s second and last rain.

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From far-off Baguio City, Frank Cimatu in “The Yoyo Routine” recreates the Pugo and Tugo comedy script while on tour abroad, the vaudeville verse rich in satire and humorous one-upmanship, yet the routine is steeped in anti-imperialist innuendo, and how the Americans appropriated such a wondrous thing as a yoyo.

Formerly of Baguio but long since relocated to somewhere in the US East Coast, or last we heard, Luisa Igloria’s “What I Don’t Tell My Children about My Hometown” digs deep into the recesses of elusive memory to unearth an isolated afternoon when the persona is molested by an uncle, who to this day she cannot refer to as uncle. Yet the monstrous remembrance is tempered with a lyric and impressionist tenderness borne both of pine and poinsettia.

Also remarkable is Igloria’s translation of Rebecca Anonuevo’s “Anumang Leksiyon” (Whatever Abides), though here is the rare instance where the English is lengthier than Filipino, as if to ensure that nothing will be lost, because nothing can be:

“May panauhin pagkat nakikinig/ang labi ng mga rosas, buko sa buko;/nabubuhay ang pagkain sa mesa,/halos magsayaw ang mga kutsara at plato;/nililinis ng huni ng butiki and agiw sa bintana;/sumisigid ang ulan sa mata ng buong bahay.”

(You know the Beloved has arrived, because even the mouths/of roses are shaped to listening, are moving from epiphany/to epiphany. As if miraculously, food appears on the table,/and the cutlery and dishes could just as well dance, suffused/with a sense of grace. The lizard’s tiny call is enough to banish/cobwebs from the windows, and rain washes clean the house’s many eyes).

Another Tagalog stalwart long lost in the margins of his own epiphanies, Fidel Rillo resurfaces anew stronger and with a voice whole in “Sa Ganang Akin Po Naman Ay Ito Lamang Ang Ipinamamanhik,” translated by the poet himself as “Thus Do I Humbly Express Myself,” which sees him bringing up the rear of an imaginary procession, as if fulfilling his vow never to publish a book of poems unless posthumously. The translation however of the last line seems to be the opposite of what it wants to say: “Walang silbi ang matalas na tabak kung lagi lamang nakasakbat.” (Of what use is a sharp blade if it should remain unsheathed?)

In ever-distant Dumaguete are the young poets Jordan Carnice and Ian Casocot, proving that there is no dearth of poetry in a city that has produced two national artists. Carnice’s “Stones” is a lyric variation in seven movements, highlighted by a snapshot of a trip to La Libertad in the summer of 2009, and how the persona is enlightened that chickens have no teeth and have to swallow the pellet feed whole. It was the same workshop summer, the last of Ernie Yee’s, when we left carrying bags of newly harvested green mangoes back to Dumaguete, “a true sign of a golden age.”

Now Casocot is better known as a fictionist, but “The Smallness of the Everyday” should be worthy counterpoint to a festering heritage of smallness, where cigarettes can be bought per stick and load can be had for small change, even via pasa load, in the time of Big Macs and giant condoms from the west.

Of the younger poets, Eliza Victoria shines in the sheer creativity of her “Crime Scenes,” where form and content meld and blend in a fine, cinematic mix. Her newspaper background and orientation come handy in breaking down elements of the crime story, though the stuff here is not something you would read in the metro page or come across in a mission expose documentary. Watch out for her, in a few years she is bound to out write many of the so-called fixtures in this allegedly uneven anthology.

For isn’t that how reviewers usually describe anthologies of this sort that solicits contributions from the four not necessarily strong winds, uneven?

Read, or at least try to make time for, Mes de Guzman’s “Ang Katiwala” (The Caretaker), and see how subtly but closely intertwined film and literature are, even if indeed the house the children of the imperfect storm grew up in is about to fall down with the years.

Or the two seemingly counterpoint poems on the black hole, Arlene Yandug’s “I think therefore I ant” and Marella Castro’s “Hinatak sa Kahulugan” (Catch of the Infinite Pull), one a light existential poser, the other freefalling to ruminations on a dead star.

There could also be significance in Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta’s “Tampuhan” being sandwiched by the spouses Jose Lacaba and Marra Lanot: “Each time you turn/your back to mine,/we cancel a year/spent face to face…” Or is it that Czeriza Valencia’s “Every dawn you dig your own grave” a foil to the image of Borges standing alone in a streetcorner after having outlived the night?

To paraphrase the poet Erwin Castillo, the odds are already lopsided against us artists and writers as it is. There’s hardly any room for fighting. Under the Storm then offers some refuge and comfort from whatever inclement weather. Still we bargain for salvation at the risk of being given a lethal dose.

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