pop goes the world: poets driven mad by love

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 14 April 2011, Thursday

Poets Driven Mad by Love

Baguio City – Steeped in words, simmered in rhythm, cooked in sound – twelve writers baked in a literary pie serve a taste of Filipino literature at the milestone 50th University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop.

The week-long workshop for writers in mid-career is taking place at AIM-Igorot Lodge, Camp John Hay, April 10-17. It brings together twelve Fellows – six in Filipino, six in English – invited by UP’s Institute of Creative Writing, to receive feedback from their peers about their work, and suggestions where to take their works-in-progress and future projects.

The panelists are a Who’s Who of Philippine literature and academe – National Artist Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, UP-ICW director Dr. Jose Dalisay Jr., workshop director Prof. Jun Cruz Reyes, Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Dr. Gemino Abad, Dr. J. Neil Garcia, Dr. Rolando Tolentino, Dr. Mario Miclat, UP-ICW deputy director Prof. Conchitina Cruz, Prof. Charlson Ong, and Prof. Romulo Baquiran Jr.

According to Dr. Hidalgo, the workshop began many years ago, for beginners. Workshops then burgeoned at different universities after that, so UP decided to up the ante by shifting the National Writers Workshop focus to being a homebase for established writers who might need a little encouragement and direction.

The twelve Fellows for 2011 are: Genevieve Asenjo, Ronald Baytan, Khavn de la Cruz, German Gervacio, Nerisa Guevara, Clarissa Militante, Allan Pastrana, Axel Pinpin, Yvette Tan, John Iremil Teodoro, John Torres, and myself.

50th UP National Writers Workshop Fellows 2011. Axel, Gen, Jie Teodoro, Yvette, JennyO, Clarissa, John Torres, Nerisa, Ronald, German, Khavn, Allan. Image here.

This historic event brings together a diverse collection of souls, whom I would not have met otherwise, nor whose works I would have encountered. My first taste of protest literature is through activist-poet Axel Pinpin’s short story which hides pain behind humor. Gay lit is represented in the prose of Ronald Baytan and poetry of John Iremil Teodoro, who could well be a stand-up comedian.

Clarissa Militante, long-listed for the 2009 Man Asia literary prize for her novel Different Countries (2010), delves into how the philosophical, social, and political are woven inextricably into a person’s journey. Genevieve Asenjo writes prolifically in Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Filipino – dense, rich, and thick tapestries.

Filmmakers Khavn de la Cruz and John Torres explore different territories in their scripts. German Gervacio plays with form in his pursuit of the epic; Nerisa Guevara seamlessly blends concepts of father, city, and home to craft lyrical prose-and-poetry. Allan Pastrana, rooted in the semiotic tradition, seeks to redefine the boundaries of poetry by playing with language.

Genre fiction finds a strong, distinctive voice in Yvette Tan’s short stories, which raise the bar for literary quality in Philippine horror fiction. Her “Seek Ye Whore” combines themes of enchantment, desire, love, and gourmet cooking in a lusty tale about alluring mail-order brides sent in pieces to America on installment. “Stars”, her piece for the workshop, is a tour-de-force of references to Lovecraft and ‘70s Eddie Romero B-movies of the schlocky persuasion.

My own work launches from my roots in sports journalism and dives into creative non-fiction via a memoir-in-progress centered on love exchanged and returned, unrequited and unredeemed, but which in itself is its own salvation.

Seven of the Fellows have had their sessions (mine was the first) with the other five scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Comments on the different prose and poetry texts brought up issues of form and structure, meaning and identity, with some panelists grounding their analysis in theory and philosophy, others emphasizing readability and literary quality.

One of the issues that surfaced in the discussions was the difficulty of marketing Philippine books. First, we are not a reading public. Second, local bookstores tend to place less priority on giving Filipino books prime display space. Authors have a sense of being marginalized in their own country; their books, regardless of subject, are crammed together on the Filipiniana shelves.

Why not also put works by Filipino writers on the shelves by topic, with those of foreign writers? If Philippine literature is to develop, the circumstances that will drive that evolution should be laid on a foundation created by the stakeholders in the publishing industry working in concert to create a win-win situation for all.

Meanwhile, still here in Baguio, enveloped by the aromas of pines and fresh-brewed Benguet Arabica, we immerse ourselves in the creative experience, reveling in our power as wordsmiths, our skill wielded deftly as we blaze new ground together.

After dinner last Tuesday night, we all went to Ayuyang Music Bar near Session Road, where over beers and weng-wengs we crafted a renga – a round robin poem. (Strictly speaking, a renga is a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry.) Each person was given only one minute to write a line of free verse, writing one after the other. This is the first time this poem is published. It is as yet untitled.

Our inspirations? Baguio, food, the chill of a summer night, the fire of lust, the thrill of creation, sin, desire, redemption, love unending.

Nangangagat ang malamig na pag-ibig ng Baguio

If then, why not leave the limning?

Nginangatngat ang lamig ng yelo ng lapot ng Baguio Oil

Walang sinasanto, walang pahinga

Walang sinisinta, sintas ng santa-santita

Sintas ng santa-santita, ipinanlatigo ng demonyita…

Ang gusto ko lang naman, magluto

Ang gusto kong laman, magluto

ng sisig. Utak, tenga, nguso, sizzling! sizzling!

Lumiliyab, umaapoy, umaalab  – ito ba’y pag-ibig o gutom?

Kung pag-ibig man o gutom, ang sikreto sa pagnamnam,

eskandalosa o kontemplatiba.

Awitin natin ang kasalanan nitong gabi!

Sing the pining needle to its thread, green, green!

Ganito, ganitong tumula

Ang mga makatang binaliw ng pag-ibig!

*© 50th UP NWW Fellows 2011*

I asked my fellow Fellows for one-word sound bites about the entire experience:

Khavn: “Wasaak!” John Torres: “Sex!” Yvette: “Panalo!” Axel: “Kumpisal.” Clarissa: “Contemplation.” Allan: “O—“ Nerisa: “Sanctuary.” Genevieve: “Resurrection.” John Teodoro: “Vongga!”

Visit the workshop’s live blog at upworkshop2011.wordpress.com and follow the live Tweets until Sunday at@upworkshop2011. ***

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2 Comments on pop goes the world: poets driven mad by love

  1. Bea
    16 April 2011 at 9:43 pm (2352 days ago)

    Wow. I have no words. You really did it, Jenny! Good things keep going your way and you TOTALLY deserve them! :D Congrats, dear. Hug!

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  1. [...] title of an essay simmering on the stove (it’s what I had workshopped at this year’s University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop last April). Excerpts from the essay are here, here, and here. taste more:full moon risingbasic fountain [...]

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