pop goes the world: words wild and wondrous

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 March 2012, Thursday

Words Wild and Wondrous

“Poetry is a great deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Poetry is story; it is experience and emotion described in words carefully chosen and combined in such a way that they exude cadence and rhythm. Set to music, poems become songs. Filipinos are a poetic people more so because we are also a musical people. We can point to a poetic tradition in the old epics such as Lam-Ang, in the works of Francisco Baltazar, Jose Rizal, and all the way to the modern-day versifiers.

One such makata was lauded in the international arena recently. Romulo “Joey” Baquiran Jr., assistant professor at the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters, received the 2011 Southeast Asian Writers Award (also known as the SEA Write Award) last February 16 in Bangkok.

The award has been presented annually since 1979 to poets and writers in SE Asia, though not all countries are represented every year. The award may be given for lifetime achievement or for a specific work. The award was organized by the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, with backing from other corporate sponsors, and is supported by the Thai royal family, a member of which graces the awards night each year.

Among the 32 other Filipinos who have received the award are Nick Joaquin, Greg Brillantes, Jose Maria Sison, Bienvenido Santos, Virgilio Almario, Alfred “Krip” Yuson, and Vim Nadera.

Baquiran says among the memorable moments at the SEA Write awarding ceremony was meeting fellow ASEAN writers. “One awardee, Nguyen Chi Trung,” he said, “from Vietnam, is more than 80 years old. He has been active in the people’s army most of his life. He wrote novels about the struggle of his nation. Amazing lolo.”

He also found interesting the reverence that the Thai people bestow upon the members of the royal family. “When Princess Sirivannari Nariratana entered the room, everyone bowed and deferred to her with their whole being.” Even a dog she had with her “was treated with the utmost respect.” It’s cultural observations like this that inform his writing.

“Writing is a social act,” he says. “Writers must always externalize their concerns, for it to resonate in their community. I will stick to this concern.”

Baquiran teaches creative writing and literature in Filipino to undergraduates, and literary history at the graduate level. He has published two collections of poetry with another one due for publication soon, and a collection of personal essays, among many other published works.

Various awards-giving bodies have heaped recognition upon him; he has won several prizes from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature and two Manila Critics Circle National Book Awards (poetry and creative non-fiction).

On the present state of Philippine poetry he says, “We have a writing boom right now among the young writers, both in English and Filipino. It’s pretty exciting. And the veterans are very productive too.”

Baquiran is completing a poetry collection titled Kung Nanaisin (If It is To Be Wished) to be published by the UP Press, while a Thai publisher will soon be releasing a Thai version of his essay collection Hospital Diary.

The significance of his achievement is such that the Academy of American Poets and the United States-based Poetry Foundation have Tweeted the news to their tens of thousands of followers, with the latter even posting an article on their website.

May the day come soon when international-award-winning Filipino writers and artists will be feted by the nation with as much enthusiasm as they do the boxers and singers. Literature carries within it a nation’s history and narratives, even those of its singers and boxers, and, along with other art forms, is the repository of a people’s soul.

Let Baquiran have the last word, with the opening line from his “Gagamba” (Spider): “Heometriya ng pagnanasa ang hinabi ko sa hangin…” (I wove the geometry of desire in the wind…)

* * * * *

The UP College of Mass Communication celebrates its 47th Foundation Week from March 3 to 9 with various activities including an alumni homecoming, launch of the latest issue of its journal Plaridel, and the blessing of various new facilities.

A recognition ceremony of outstanding students, faculty, alumni, and staff will be held tomorrow morning. Congratulations to the honorees and to my alma mater on reaching another milestone! *** 

Image of Prof. Baquiran here.

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