pop goes the world: one class, three palanca essays

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  23 August 2012, Thursday

One Class, Three Palanca Essays

There is a wealth of stories in the places we call home.

“I am always drawn to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods,” wrote Truman Capote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this seems to be a universal yearning. For what are autobiography and memoir in a certain sense but a return to one’s home, an exploration of memory that time has washed over with a sheen of sentiment, an Instagram photo rather than a jarringly colorful image.

The concept of home is so powerful that works that deal with it seldom fail to capture interest. This is true for three Carlos Palanca Memorial Award-winning essays from last year and this.

Last year’s winner for first was myself for “The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park”, which explores my early adulthood as a wife and young mother lived beside the now-defunct Makati racetrack.

The second place winner was Jeena Rani Marquez-Manaois’s “River of Gold”, memories of her youth in Cagayan de Oro. Here’s an excerpt from her draft from 2010:

“This golden fish was not some prince under an evil spell. It had been a golden fish all its life in the Cagayan River, which was why, according to the grown-ups who explained it to me, “de Oro” became a part of the city’s name.

“Some of the older people of the city swore they had seen it. The colossal fish had emerged from the Cagayan River sometime in the 1950s. It was so huge that all of Cagayan de Oro City shook violently in a mighty quake when it came out of the depths of the Cagayan River.

“Those who had seen it in their childhood claim it was not a fish; it couldn’t have been because of its towering height and the power of its majestic movement. It was a sleeping red dragon which lives in an invisible river beneath the San Agustin Cathedral on one side of Carmen Bridge.”

This year’s first prize winner is Hammed Q. Bolotaolo, a well-traveled man with an interesting past spent in Malate and a present spent roaming around the world. His winning esssay combines elements from his “Malate” (2010) and “Of Legends” (2011) pieces.

From his “Malate” draft:

“I also remember one bar along Adriatico having a logo of a small, partially damaged plane in blue neon lights, with fractured windows and wings and busted rudder and propeller. It was no longer working except for its flashing beacon. Whenever I found myself staring at it as a young boy, I wondered whether the plane had really crashed on that spot.  It looked real from what I could tell. And I never asked my mother. But such is Malate: a fusion of illusion and reality, a dreamy place of incandescent lights, of virile laughter and vigor.”

All different places, different homes. But these three pieces have one thing in common: they have their origins in a couple of creative non-fiction writing graduate classes taught at the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters by professor emerita Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo.

Dr. Hidalgo, often called “Ma’am Jing” by her students, is one of the foremost teachers and writers of CNF. In those classes held during the first and second semesters of 2010-2011, she not only guided us in the technique of our craft, she also encouraged us to tap deep within ourselves for the creative impetus that would allow us to write not only with lyricism and beauty, but with truth and honesty.

For the first class, her instructions were “write about a place;” during the second, “write about a personal memory.”  We wrote, critiqued each other’s work, and in the process shared food, laughter, and our lives.

Those classes were home in the way no other classes were, and we were family to each other.

It is perhaps the first and only time that a class under one professor has produced three Palanca Award-winning essays. I hope this is mentioned during Palanca Awards Night on September 1. How rare and beautiful is that?

It would be a fitting tribute to a well-beloved teacher, who nurtured her students and helped them fulfill the potential of their talents and make their own contributions to Philippine arts and letters.

Thank you, Ma’am Jing, and happy birthday (August 21). We couldn’t have done it without you.   *** 

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1 Comment on pop goes the world: one class, three palanca essays

  1. Bird
    28 August 2012 at 11:13 pm (1735 days ago)

    Hi, Jenny. Does this not confirm further the open secret that there is a formula in winning a Palanca? The language, tenor, and, I would think, direction of the pieces seem pretty identical. Woe.

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