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Arts and Culture

The Savage mind of a bikolano

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star
The Savage mind of a bikolano
At Savage Mind in Naga, Kristian Cordero (left) entertains guests, former Hungarian Ambassador Josef Benzce with the Deputy for Mission David Ambrus and former Naga City Mayor John Bongat.

Kristian Cordero of Naga PM’d a fortnight ago to ask if I could join in with a brief video clip to cheer up fellow poet Luis Cabalquinto, who was on a hospital bed in New York. Other well-wishers included Ian Rosales Casocot of Dumaguete, former Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr. who’s now in Los Angeles, and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Soon after Kristian had sent the get-well greetings, I noted that Luis was already back posting on FB. True enough, the most formidable literary lion of Bikol, the senior oragon in his mid-80s, had recovered quickly.

The quick exchange with Kristian led to me ask him for an update on his impresario ways as Bikol’s indefatigable wunderkind.

Since he became deputy director of Ateneo de Naga University Press, he had unfolded a busy literary calendar that involves not only his fellow Bikolanos, but writers from all over the country, as well as joint projects with European editors.

Then he set up a bookshop, now called Savage Mind: Arts Books Cinema, in the ancestral house of the supportive Lirag family at 5 Peninsula St. Mayon Avenue, Tinago, Naga City. It’s near the Raul Roco Public Library and the Jesse Robredo Museum.

Besides Kristian’s living quarters, there’s a small office and a creative studio, adjacent to which is the Luis Cabalquinto Room. The upper floor will have an art gallery and café. He hopes to soft-open the Cinema Bar in the back portion by September.

He says the bookshop was an offshoot of his experience in the US as a writing fellow in Iowa and in Michigan. Every place he visited, including Sitka in Alaska for a residency in the Island Institute, there was a bookshop that offered the best of classic and contemporary literature.

Returning home, he realized that Naga was becoming a highly urbanized zone, so it was the best time to create an alternative space for the community. Naga was also a university town, and remains the ecclesiastical center in the region.

“It became mission to put up this independent bookshop, which we are expanding later this year. Savage Mind has been a personal initiative, but relies on the support of writer-friends like Cabalquinto, Tito Valiente, Dr. Maryjane Guazon Uy, Atty. Luis Ruben General, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Christine Bellen-Ang, Gode Calleja, Marx Lopez, Mia Tijam, Niles Jordan Breis and Stephen Acabado, among others.

“Except for Neni, all writers mentioned are Bikolnons. So in a way this has become a space for Bikolnon creatives. But I don’t want it to be regional-centric. We allot space for writers of other regions, and highlight works by Waray and Cebuano writers.

“This was also the guiding philosophy of the Ateneo de Naga University Press. Initially, the goal was just to produce materials relevant to Bikol, and this remains the primary mission. But Bikol is not something like a bubble. We must reach out. That’s why we in Ateneo de Naga also solicit and publish materials from Kinaray-a, Waray, Cebuano, and from writers in Mindanao.”

Naga was supposed to host the Philippine International Literary Festival in 2020, but the pandemic disruption came. Working with John Sherwin Acampado, an ex-seminarian like him, Kristian sought to explore social media. They partnered with a local digital community mart and were able to transition to online selling upon the start of the lockdown.

They initiated the HIMATI, an online poetry reading feature that involved Bikolnon actors and poets. Jaime Fabregas read the poetry of Luis Dato, Luis Cabalquinto and Marne Kilates. Other actors and poets followed, the latter among those AdNU Press had published, such as National Artist Rio Alma, Merlie Alunan, Michael Obenieta, Gen Asenjo, Ayer Arguelles, Carlos Arejola, Jaya Jacobo, among others. An episode had Argentine actor Angelo Mutti reading Jorge Luis Borges in the original, and Filipino actor Christian Bables reading Cordero’s Borges translation in Filipino.

Fil-Am Broadway actor Marc de la Cruz is scheduled to read Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos and Bino Realuyo. Upcoming episodes will include the works of Angela Manalang Gloria, Luisa Igloria, Dinah Roma, Cesar Aquino, Frank Cimatu, Emman Velasco and Rico Abelardo. At least 50 episodes are being planned before the year ends.

The bookshop highlights works of translation. Among the bestsellers are the Bikol translations of The Little Prince, Carlo Collodi’s Pinnochio, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Borges’ selected poetry, Karel Capek’s selected stories, and an adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Savage Mind has also resumed partnering with the Czech Embassy in Manila, the Argentine Embassy, and of late the Hungarian Embassy. Czech Ambassador Jana Sediva and former Hungarian Ambassador Josef Benzce both visited in 2019.

“Last year, we ventured into small-scale publishing, considering that the university press has been affected badly by the pandemic. With some personal savings and some support from the University of California in Los Angeles, we published our first children’s book, Bahay Kubo, which will be followed by Sarung Banggi and Atin Cu Pung Singsing. The book projects recently got funding from the National Commission for Children’s Television to turn these books into a five-series TV animated program.

“We’ve also started a new series, called the Pangangalakalag, the Bikol word for ‘soulful searching.’ We have Niles Jordan Breis’ Tabaco as our first offering. For this series, we ask writers to write about their respective hometowns — as part history, part memoir, part ethnograph. We’ll have Frank Penones, Jr. on Iriga and Abdon Balde on Oas.

“Savage Mind has become the unofficial bookshop of AdNU Press. I’m happy for the support of Fr. Wilmer Joseph Tria, the press director, and Fr. Robert Rivera, SJ, our university president.”

Starting next month, AdNU Press will be releasing several books: Joel Pablo Salud’s Shot Glass, Michael Coroza’s May Di-Mawaglit Na Awit, and two new novels that won the Victorio C. Valledor Prize for the Bikol Novel: Niles Jordan Breis’ Kalatraban sa Alkawaran and Jerome M. Hipolito’s Dyurnal Intris. The books can now be ordered via Shoppee and Lazada as well as the bookshop’s social media page.

As for Kristian Cordero, the 37-year-old poet, fictionist, essayist, translator, and independent filmmaker just keeps adding to his laurels. These include the 6th Madrigal-Gonzales Best First Book Award, the 2007 NCCA Writers’ Prize for Bikol Poetry, the 2009 Maningning Miclat Poetry Prize in Filipino, the first Gawad Rolando Tinio for Translation in 2018, Palanca awards for poetry, fiction, essay and screenplay, and two National Book Awards.

His first full-length feature film, Angustia (Out of the Depths, 2013), received the Best First Film from the Young Critics Circle of the Philippines. His second film, Hinulid (Sorrows of Sita, 2016), was the first film of legendary actor Nora Aunor in Bikol-Rinconada.

In 2018, he was artist-in-residence at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the same year he was selected as the Filipino guest writer for the Frankfurt International Book Festival, where he presented his paper on “The Filipino Writer as A Translator.” In 2019, he received the SEAWrite Award in Bangkok.

So what’s next? Well, he’s been invited as artist-in-residence at the STIAS or Stellenboch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa, beginning in January 2022. By then, Savage Mind should have its art gallery, cafe and cinema bar to add to its books.

KRISTIAN CORDERO
Philstar
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