Monday, February 12, 2007



Faulty Electrical Wiring: Poems by Ruel S. de Vera
(Office of Research and Publication, Ateneo de Manila University, Manila, 2005)


A Feast of Origins by Dinah Roma
(University of Santo Tomas (UST) Publishing House, Manila, 2005)


else it was purely girls by Angelo Suarez
(UST Publishing House, Manila, 2005)

[First published in The Philippine Star, Manila, March 28, 2005, Arts & Culture Section Editor, Millet Mananquil]

A grampa grunt’s theory of poetry

Ruel S. de Vera’s fine title, Faulty Electrical Wiring: Poems (ORP, AdMU), was launched at the Ateneo’s ComDept on March 18. Wired yet faultless it is as a second poetry collection.

I loved “Gambaphobia,” which can well be anthemic for friends who are tragic itchers once they sing along to sinigang na sugpo:

“… My body’s gory gatecrasher/ makes its perch just above/ my torn throat, and I can feel/ every part of this crustacean art —/ a car crash in the esophagus,/ a bender in the body’s blender,/ so exoskeletal, so lethal/ as it grows, until I remember,/ I remember. All the blood’s/ a minefield just waiting/ for the perfect accident./ But it’s what I can’t have/ that I can’t help but want,/ always wondering/ if this bit of dead sea/ really is oyster-moist,/ heaven in a whole shell,/ a taste of the forbidden/ that is truly filling,/ a goodie ready to strike back./ Imagining this allergy’s/ exactly what I don’t need:/ something I don’t eat/ that keeps eating me anyway.”

Ruey situates himself in every poem, makes no bones about his stances: matter-of-fact, lyrical, sensitive, compulsive, tender, serendipitous. Why, he often feigns a tough armor, too, except that we recognize it as his very chink, because he’s sensitive, lyrical, tender. The matter-of-fact compulsion just has to be rigged as another sail. Clever voyager. Despite sometimes being “barely awake/ in a nightmare/ of harpoons in linen.” (from “Ahab”), soon he will be Master and Commander.

His place poems on London and Zamboanga are pitch-perfect, the way visiting firemen pitch themselves feet-long if warily down the crotch-smoothened pole, never knowing if they’ll land smack on a blaring red siren or a Dalmatian’s tail. When he dwells (and Ruel dwells with both heart and mind) on the possibilities of erotica, it is also as if he is Marco Polo inspecting noodles with a smile, the bulb going off in his Mediterranean radar: Ah, we will call it spaghetti.

Mark the poem “Knowledge, Carnal”: “First I was a white lace bra/ type of guy, and then/ moved on to black bras,/ until it didn’t matter/ what color they were….” This self-insistent poem proceeds to badger the object of desire, in an imagined pas de deux that’s sheer cariño brutal, till it whips up strong closure: “Answer me dammit,/ answer me.”

Hey, yo’ the man!

Then there’s the offhanded solidity, so contemporary in its recognition of ellipses, in such poems as the lead “Mythology” which ends this perfect wise: “For we’ve finally learned to dance/ in whatever space is left us, doomed to search/ for clothes branded XL/ precisely because/ They will never fit us.” Astig!

In truth, de Vera is unafraid of ill-fitting itineraries, boats, overcoats. He likes to wander about in that much of private space, before sharing his reportage that is far removed from the confines of eyewitness quickness. He takes his time, laves in all that space, and time, before rendering the communiqué with his own filtered spyglass of perception.

The cute book’s cover is so apropos. Birdwatching. That is, a bird watching tutu-ed ballet dancers conducting tightwire acts on power lines. Artist Jason Moss is like Ruey, a young genius.

In the finer sense, this poet is well-versed. His stanzaic arrangements are never arbitrary, rather prefigured by the subject and mode of attack. His form follows his function always. He writes of “jetlag between past lives…” Well, Ruel S. de Vera just as soon finds equipoise, and balances himself right here, there, with her, in quirky paradise.


On March 18, National Artist Frankie Jose invited poets and writers to a reception at Solidaridad Bookstore in Ermita to fete his French translator, and a poet in her own right, Amina Said. She read her poems in the original French, and was in turn regaled by Domeng Landicho with a spontaneous Filipino paean to her loveliness. This was followed by readings by Shirley Lua, Dinah Roma, Lourd de Vera, Mila Aguilar, Alice Sun-Cua, Angelo Suarez, Marjorie Evasco, Kris Lacaba and Vince Groyon.

I came away with a gift copy from Dinah Roma of her first poetry book, A Feast of Origins (UST Publishing House), whose launch last December I failed to attend, thanks to Bayani Fernando’s traffic management efficacy.

I’ve been impressed with Dina’s steady maturity as a poet since her workshop days in DumasGoethe way back in 1988. When last I heard her read at Singapore’s Wordfeast in January 2004, I felt so proud that the Pinoy contingent was more than holding its own among the invitees. Dinah leaves for Brazil shortly; lucky girl. And luckier are the cariocas who may be privileged to hear her read her poetry to samba music.

Like this one, “A Reveller’s Song”: “I cannot enter the door/ you kept open for me/ nor sing and share/ the rhythm of songs/ rehearsed for your return./ I shall stand slender/ distal and safe from the union/ of these journeying spheres. I/ delight myself with voices/ fragmented from jungles you/ have sought, until I feel/ the surface gathers us alone/ to the center/ where I now kiss/ the mountain’s feet/ and wait for the embrace/ hidden in the rhythm/ of a reveller’s song.”

Note the purposeful enjambements that exempt themselves from the otherwise careful line breaks. It is the “I” and the “you” that are made to stand on edge, and hang there like listing forces disengaged from… one another? The tension of stasis is what gives them impetus, from inertia. Such is Roma’s poetry, hailing eternity of feasts and circuses.

The poems are so well-ordered that the disengagement in the one quoted above properly precedes another titled “A Process of Connecting.” I like this, too; Dinah does exceedingly well with the imperative voice, or what’s also called the lyric of address, as in: “…If, in digging, you reach/ the hardened stone, take it with you, take it to your Temple….// Leave it there until songs/ careen from the earth’s throng/ to pull your hand, lengthen its reach./ Leave it there until you learn to weave silence/ in ligaments of sounds/ and learn how blood flows/ into smug bones underground.”

Excellent. The subtle end-rhymes reinforce the idea of connection. Each poem here is well-thought-out, sentiment and sentience coupling for all time in an ironic sentence, make that fragmented lines, as in “… You want us/ to outlive this room/ as if it has anything to do/ with us…” (“The Room”)

Intensity is mitigated by a gentle quiescence in her cycle of song, and dance, so that even her travel poems can end with such sage quality: “In remembering name, you tell me to hold/ out my hands—still, open and bare,/ if each pilgrim is to understand/ why each quest longs to be endured.” (from “Pura Besakih”)

This is quiet, mature poetry of the first order. The boys of Brazil better watch out, for Dinah Roma can bend verses into golden goals.


On the other hand, the recently released else it was purely girls (UST Publishing House) by Angelo Suarez borders on the proficiently prolix. There’s a jaunty, hip-hop sort of prosody that relies more on clever word associations than real insights, hardly present the solid grounding this precocious poet once displayed.

Here it’s the rapstyle that shows. Revolutionary Angelo Poetry? At its launch at PowerBooks on March 16, with Thomasian barkada dishing out poetry performances, I got the impression that everyone chanted with a distinct anapestic line, or more strictly, with a starting iamb followed by three anapests, as in ta-tum ta-ta-tum ta-ta-tum ta-ta-tum. Maybe they were all following the lead of the pioneering Lourd de Veyra, SAGO Man, whose Intro to Suarez’s collection, by the by, is as tastefully endearing as arnival.

Here goes moi, out on a grampa limb. Sometimes it’s not too advisable for very young poets to be in such a hurry to come up with collections. Gelo risked the challenge of topping last year’s debut, The Nymph of MTV, which went on to win Macedonia’s Bridges of Struga Prize for best international first book, AND the National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle. Such a thing as the Sophomore Jinx, unless you’re LeBron. And Gelo’s ONLY the Kobe of Philippine poetry.

He should watch his back(pack). Some brat in high school, maybe at Miriam, could out-prodigy him soon, unless he settles down a bit in his junior year, and desists from regarding season’s infatuation as the be-all and end-all just like the Grecian urn.

Consider the following poem titles: “yes there is love beyond sex” / “Back-to-back Showbiz Love Cycle” / “to a girl sitting on the table” / “Prelude to a Falling Out” … Etcetera. All about one’s T.L. As in Talo Lagi? Grow up, boy. It’s a man’s game. Heh-heh. I know my buddy Gelo won’t mind this so much, which is just as well. But I have to say that I much preferred the domestic concerns, even the steady loopiness of his first book. All he tells me this time is that he can hardly handle his testosterone. Now before the pimples strike, hear ye! People are dying in Iraq. Bayani Fernando’s getting away with murder as MMDA’s Caligula. Terrorists are afoot in our holiest of seasons. And you write about making out in an inn in Baguio? Man. De-fense! De-fense!

For now he seems to be acting his age. He’s gone bananas over typographical whimsies, which are turning into the flavor of the season for impatient poets. Yet nothing beats the four-square idea, even behind a surreal presentation as in his classic “Mothers Chasing Cats” written 2-3 years ago when he was 18!

Here they’re mostly juvenile outpourings bereft of tropes other than graphic imagery and cute run-ons. Not that it’s a failure of a collection. Besides, as has been said, some artists’ failures can be more interesting than others’ peak effusions. And Suarez retains the domestic concerns that were his bread-and-butter; this strength is seen in the adroit poems “Home” and “Fathers’ Congress” and “Mother.”

Sometimes the clarity is sustained even in his love/lust keenings, as in “So”: “… I left her/ and now she has fingers/ like sunlight on the thatch// of a home in the city….” For the most part, however, it all seems like easy articulations. And outright croppers like “To err is human, but her ear divine.” Eeow.

One should, even while still young, guard against the atavism of the personal and private/s. So this Old-Guard Sarge says. But not to worry. Gelo just went AWOL: maybe it’s his idea of a holiday, a lark. Well, come back down to earth soon, son. There’s still real work out here. Especially for us grunts.

Let me explain. Years ago in Mukkula, Finland, a Danish lady novelist, ageing but regal, would herald poets’ arrival thus: “Here come the Cavalry.” She’d smile and add, “Us fiction writers, we’re just the foot soldiers.”

True, there is a bit of glam in being a poet. Ages have seen stories of poets as seers, as pretty boys, as maverick bohemians whose dashing antennae pick up legislation from the air, from very ether, and turn it into attar of roses. Sure, Dylan and Yevtushenko caused swooning. And Villa, sparks.

Some poets think all they have to do is brush that Peter Pan wand across graffitti, and Tinkerbell will ring forever. Naah. No go, not for long. One has to work with poetry.

I like what Dinah Roma is doing. She’s scaling poesie by tidal increments. I like what Ruel de Vera is doing. He’s found his métier among the observables and remarkable(’)s -- from allergy to bra spectra and then some. I also like what Angelo Suarez does when he “leaps across the air of contraband.” As long as he comes back down occasionally. And, surefooted as in his… uhh… early youth, he conducts the hard work again.

One has to work hard with poetry. Even the best of us can only pull so many Easter bunnies out of a hat.


Alfred A. Yuson, nicknamed Krip, has authored 22 books: novels, poetry collections, short fiction, essays, children’s stories and biographies, apart from having edited many other titles, including literary anthologies and travel and corporate coffee-table publications. His distinctions include the SEAWrite (SouthEast Asian Writers) Award from Thai royalty for lifetime achievement. He has been elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippines’ most prestigious literary distinction. Yuson contributes a weekly literature and culture column to a national broadsheet, The Philippine Star, and a fortnightly column to the weekly Philippine Graphic magazine. He teaches fiction and poetry at Ateneo de Manila University, where he held the Henry Lee Irwin Professorial Chair.


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