Forthcoming books win out over lockdown.
Literature vs. the lockdown
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Had it not been for this darned virus and consequent extended lockdown, I would have enjoyed getting together with writer-friends towards the third weekend of May in Bacolod City, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the IYAS Creative Writing Workshop.

The invite had come early in the year from University of St. La Salle Law Dean Rayboy Pandan, the homecoming organizer, who had planned a series of thematic forum sessions involving lectures — by, among other buddies, Jimmy Abad, Ricky de Ungria, Marne Kilates and Danton Remoto. These would have been in addition to the workshop sessions featuring regular panelists Marj Evasco, Grace Montederamos, Susan Lara and Danny Reyes.

So I was looking forward to the reunion, apart from a day trip to some beach and a chance to drop in on compadre Peque Gallaga. In hindsight now, that wouldn’t have happened, sadly enough.

But the IYAS Homecoming would still have made up somehow for my missing the Silliman University National Writers Workshop that had been scheduled earlier last month. It would have been only the second time in the last few decades that my Maytime presence in Dumaguete wouldn’t be accounted for. Understandably, the revised protocol decreed changing up the composition of the SUNWW guest panelists at least every other year. That workshop, to be directed for the second straight year by Anthony Tan, was similarly shelved on account of the lockdown.

Oh, how many young and aspiring writers have been frustrated by the cancellation of traditional events where they had earned the privilege of participation. The same happened with the annual UST writers’ workshop held in Baguio over the summer, as well as the UP Likhaan advanced workshop for mid-career writers.

This year’s winning candidate for the English Speaking Union’s international public speaking competition in London — Kaira Gonzales of Philippine Science High School — will now have to content herself with online participation later this year.

Similarly, our representatives for the Medellin International Poetry Festival scheduled for July — poets Gingging and Jun Dumdum — would now have to join the online readings together with the rest of the invited poets from all over the world.

Personally, I had also looked forward to joining the annual jaunt to an Asian country as part of the prizes for the 1999 winners of the Brightleaf Agri Journalism Awards, for which I had been a judge. Also scheduled for May, the four-day R&R courtesy of PMFTC Inc. would have been conducted in South Korea.

Early in March, the Palanca Foundation announced the cancellation of the Palanca Awards of 2020, breaking a hallowed tradition. It would have been the 69th Palanca Awards. Sod the year, no thanks to the global pandemic.

Despite these setbacks for writers, it shouldn’t look to be a wasted year. Typically for indomitable creatives, as with our singers and musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and stage performers, our writers haven’t exactly given up on their responsibilities, even with all the aborted traditional venues for congregation and literary sharing.

As initiated by the indefatigable Kristian Sendon Cordero, his bookshop Savage Mind has coordinated with Ateneo de Naga University Press in producing “Himati, A Bikol Poetry Reading Series,” featuring video recordings of poems written in Bikol and other Philippine languages. The reading series, shared via YouTube and now having gone over a dozen episodes, has featured popular showbiz entertainers such as Jaime Fabregas, who read poems by Marne Kilates.

The extended lockdown has also given many poets and writers time to produce manuscripts for publication. Some have even gone into white heat during this period, a sterling example being National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario, a.k.a. Rio Alma, who started posting his poems in Filipino at a daily rate on his Facebook page.

On May 16, he announced that he had compiled enough poems throughout the period of March 22 to May 15 to make up a collection titled ]Kwarentena[ — of which he shared the cover design, so that we can be assured of physical printing sometime soon.

Coincidentally, on the same day, Abdon M. Balde Jr. also posted the cover design of his completed Quarentina: 40 Kislap — (Kuwentong Isang Iglap) sa panahon ng coronavirus).

Initial if slight confusion over the similar titles was resolved by clarification issued by the two friends. Rio explained that the title for his latest poetry collection is the Filipino translation of the Spanish cuarentina, which had been in use in our country in reference to periods of cholera outbreaks.

For his part, Balde had used the Italian quarentina for his flash fiction collection in Filipino — as a tribute to Boccaccio’s Decameron, the collection of 100 stories written in 1348 during the period of the Black Death. “Quarentina” also serves as the title of Jun Balde’s signature story, of a lady of the same name, of Portuguese descent and possibly a witch’s daughter. This title story is much longer than the rest of the “Kislap” collection that limit their word count to 150.

Balde has since issued Quarentina as an e-book for online purchase, but it will also see actual printing. For now, it is available on subscription at a small fee, by accessing am.balde.me/quarentina.

Other books have also been in production during this lockdown period. The poet Jim Pascual Agustin, long based in South Africa, has announced that his latest collection, Crocodiles in Belfast and Other Poems, has been released locally by San Anselmo Publications. Copies of the limited hardbound edition can be ordered via its Facebook page, while Amazon Kindle is also available.

Philip Yerro Kimpo has also announced the completion of his eighth book that was eight years in the making. Alattala is his first collection of poetry in Filipino, with 63 poems dating back to 2004. Kimpo designed his own draft cover, with artwork by Ed Garingan.

Publication is still to be finalized with a publishing house in Metro Manila.

Niels Jordan D. Breis has completed his fourth novel in Bicol, with the working title Nalup-og, which may be translated loosely as “droop.” He says that it’s his contribution to the (re)emerging literary “tropes and schemes” surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m happy to note that poet-in-English Rafael San Diego is also soon coming up with what I believe to be his long-awaited first collection, Cycle, illustrated by Panch Alvarez. An e-copy of this “graphic poetry” is scheduled to be released by the second week of June, while the original artworks will also go on sale.

Finally, a call for contributions to “Lockdown Poems” in Filipino and English has been issued by co-editors Marne Kilates and Mikael de Lara Co.

Anyone may contribute a maximum of five brief, unpublished poems to the e-book (later to be printed, likely by Ateneo de Manila University Press) “that will chronicle how we let our art sustain us, or even transform you and me, and everything around us, after the lockdown.”

Contributions, together with 65-word bionotes, may be sent to Lockdown Anthology Editor at lockdownpoetry2020@gmail.com by June 30.

LOCKDOWN
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