Archive of ‘books’ category

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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tim tomlinson comes to town

It was with great pleasure and interest that my daughter signed up for the three-day creative writing workshop conducted by writer Tim Tomlinson at the Filipinas Heritage Library last month.

It was a coincidence that I bought online, just a month before, the CW textbook that Tim co-wrote – The Portable MFA in Creative Writing – and that he drew on as a basis for the workshop lessons.

I got it online via Amazon

I asked my daughter to take it with her and have it autographed. She waited for the right moment, and figured it was after Tim told the workshop participants to try to get the “hard copy”. So she brought out my book, and his eyes widened in surprise.

That is why he wrote this dedication.

“For Jennifer – Thanks so much for purchasing the hard copy. All the best, T”. 

With e-books now becoming more common, and photocopied handouts more the norm rather than not in countries such as ours where some books, especially textbooks, are not easy to come by, it must be even more gratifying for authors when readers go to the trouble and expense of purchasing an ink-and-paper copy.

I’m glad I did get the hard copy of this book, because through the serendipitous happenstance of fate, I was able to get it autographed – a tangible, physical mark of the author, which elevates my copy from the disembodied words of experts into a living, breathing work of a person who practices what he preaches.

Too bad I did not get to meet Mr Tomlinson, nor was my daughter able to have her photo taken with him and the other workshop participants. But what counts is that she learned much that will help and guide her in her fiction writing.

Life works in mysterious ways.

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krip yuson: lush life

Last year, through the social connectivity magic of Facebook, I had the privilege of “meeting” writer Krip Yuson and  adding him to my list of Friends. From time to time he’d comment on links I’d post on my Wall. One particular weekend, I found a handful of literary links that he was quite pleased with, enough to send me an autographed copy of his newest book Lush Life: Essays 2001-2010 (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011).

I received the package he sent via LBC the morning I had to leave for the racetrack to attend a horseracing event. Excited, and wanting to savor the treat, I took the parcel along with me.

“Lush Life” nestled in the base of the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO) mother trophy, created by sculptor Ed Castrillo from brass. The event was held at Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite, from 15-20 November 2011.

Alfred “Krip” Yuson is a prolific, multi-awarded essayist and columnist who writes a column on literature and culture for the Philippine Star and teaches poetry and fiction at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Here’s an excerpt from “Getting Literary in Oz-Land”, first published in Philippines Graphic magazine, 29 May 2006. I love the Heinlein reference:

Walking through the Botanical Gardens [in Sydney] one early evening, I chanced in on a midsummer open-air concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s “1812″. The freebie audience I joined manifested the national character. Aussie couples, families, and large, motley groups were all lolling about in their comfort zones on the grass lawns and hillocks, romancing their beers. Some lay supine on mats, taking in the night sky as the musical strains led to the climactic crescendo-cum-cannonade – which was of course accomplished by real cannons by the bandstand.

Fireworks lit up that night sky to complement the cannonade, the mighty percussion, and ascending, spiraling strings. Oh what a scene to be in, to be part of – no stranger in a strange land, but one in the midst of casual if sublime revelry, all senses gratified, even one’s sense of marvelous environment.

Krip autographed the book’s flyleaf for me.

The collection of 75 essays is “proof, were further proof needed, that [Krip] has few equals in the field of non-fiction,” says UST Publishing House director and University of the Philippines creative writing professor emerita Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo.

The book, she adds, “demonstrates how a life fully lived – its dizzying heights scaled, its dark depths plumbed – combined with a large soul, an ironic vision, an unfailingly playful sense of humor, and the gift of bending the language to his every whim, are what lead to great writing.”

Not only did Krip send me a copy of his book, he also, with thoughtfulness and kindness, sent me a pack of Pei Pa Koa throat lozenges, which I shared with the racecallers at Santa Ana Park that cool November day.

Clutching the pack of Krip’s Pei Pa Koa, I pose with Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park racecallers – Vergel Caliwliw, Romy Cheng Tejada, and senior racecaller Ricardo de Zuñiga, whose father was racing writer and poet Oscar de Zuñiga. November 2011.

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doug allyn: the jukebox king

Doug Allyn wrote this short story that was anthologized in Best American Mysteries Stories 2003. ” The Jukebox King” is set in a blues bar in the 1930s, and being a blues fan, I found this passage interesting:

Brownie’s Lounge on Dequinder was buzzing by seven, jammed tight by ten. Selling Stroh’s beer by the gallon. Straight up. No glasses. Shop rats guzzling the brew out of the pitchers. Getting high, feeling mighty. Ready to hear some blues.

John Lee Hooker’s trio came on at nine, kicking out jams on Brownie’s postage-stamp dance floor. Big John wailing on his old Harmony guitar, James Cotton on harmonica, and a pick-up bass player.

No drummer. No need for one. If you can’t feel the beat when John Lee stamps his size 13 Florsheims on a hardwood dance floor, you’d best lie down. You might be dead.

John Lee Hooker sings “Hobo Blues” at the American Blues Festival in 1965. Screenshot from video here.

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pop goes the world: all i want for christmas

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  22 December 2011, Thursday

All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is for tropical storm Sendong to never have happened.

But that it has, it’s inspiring to see how the public has pulled together to send aid to the stricken victims in the flooded areas. Technology-boosted communication played a vital role in bringing this about.

The role of social media in mobilizing efforts was crucial in making things happen and happen fast. As the news of the storm’s devastation broke, news and images were being uploaded to Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube within minutes. Public awareness spread quickly, much faster than in the days of when only radio and TV were around to carry news.

Computer-mediated communication also made it convenient and easy for donations to be made. Nowadays, if you can click on a button, you can send money. No excuse for couch potatoes.

By Saturday afternoon, links were created to click for donations to the Philippine Red Cross. One could donate via SMS (automatically deducted from your prepaid load or charged to your postpaid bill) or via credit card; one could also sign up to volunteer. Upon donating, a FB user had the option of wearing a Red Cross “badge” on his profile pic, not only to show that a donation had been made, but also to spread awareness.

Artists also threw their creative support into the mix, coming up with interesting graphic posters that drew attention to important information such as the donation links; these photos were easily “Shared” on FB, making spreading the word more efficient.

The telcos SMART and Globe also had similar “text to donate” mechanisms, offering a range of denominations, from five pesos to as high as one thousand.

Radio host and writer Gang Badoy, who has a strong Twitter presence, called for prominent companies to donate their services. Within a couple of hours, LBC responded, offering to transport gratis donated relief goods – “bottled water, food, blankets, clothes, etc.” – left at any of their branches.

Convenience store 7-Eleven Philippines offered to donate for every “Like” on their FB Page: “On behalf of our fans, we are donating P10 for every new like, up to 1 Million Pesos. You can help by liking our page, and hitting the ‘share’ button.” They came under fire for taking advantage of the situation to generate publicity, but as some other comments went, “At least they’re donating!” The store chain now also accepts donations from the public at any of their branches.

Special interest communities also went on board to raise funds for its members. Writers on FB were sorry to learn that the house of Palanca Award-winning poet, writer, and Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology professor German Gervacio (Hari Maniwari is his latest novel) was inundated by mud.

University of the Philippines Filipino literature professor Jun Cruz Reyes, who is in contact with German via cellphone, posted on FB:Nalubog sa baha ang bahay ni German Gervacio. Hanggang bewang ang tubig. Warat mga gamit n’ya. Pati computer n’ya, damay, kaya ako na lang ang nag-post para sa kanya. Wala pa rin silang koryente. At wala na rin siyang mababasang libro. Back to square one ang mag-asawa. Tulungan natin s’yang makaahon.”

It horrified me to learn that German’s books were all destroyed and that he had nothing to read. No computer, pens, nor paper? How can he write? I started filling a box with books I think he might find interesting and wondered if LBC would ship it for free. My daughters asked: “But do they have food and water?” Priorities, indeed. But that’s how we writers roll.

The community sprang into action, and donations for German are still being accepted at the UP Likhaan-Institute of Creative Writing office at the Faculty Center building, UP Diliman.

It was German’s 44th birthday yesterday. Instead of celebrating, he is busy setting his house to rights – “Naglilimas na ng putik…Ang problema, walang mapaglagyan dahil mataas din ang putik sa labas”.

He is also helping others less fortunate than himself. More than 100 people in his neighborhood died; the homeless are crammed into a nearby covered basketball court with minimal sanitation facilities and nowhere to cook. No clothes, no shoes, everything gone.

The scene is replicated all over Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and the other flood deltas inundated by Sendong. Unattended corpses lie piled at mortuaries. The living lack food and water. Many are sick, others fatally ill. The death toll, now at 1,002, is expected to rise. This is no time to point fingers and assign blame; we can do that later. For now, we focus on priorities.

It’s a bleak and somber Christmas for our brothers and sisters in Mindanao. Let’s make it a little better for them – click on that link and donate some load, clean out that closet and drop off the boxes at LBC or 7-11.

Get online and find out how you can help in your own little way. It doesn’t matter if you can’t give a lot – every peso counts, and they’ll add up. Here’s an example: yesterday, soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines offered to give up one day’s subsistence allowance for Sendong victims. That’s about a ninety pesos per soldier. But they are 80,000 strong, so together they have raised a total of P7.2 million. That’s news that warms the heart, and I snap off a salute in their direction.

Spread the holiday cheer with others, and have a meaningful holiday season. *** 

Photo of Dr Gen Asenjo (De La Salle University), JennyO, and German Gervacio at the Palanca Awards Night last 1 Sep 2011.

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aldous huxley: crome yellow

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was an English poet and author, a humanist and pacifist. Some of his novels – Antic Hay, Point Counter Point, and Crome Yellow – dealt with the manners and hypocrisy of the upper class, while Brave New World was a peek into a dystopian future.

Here’s an excerpt from Crome Yellow (1921), where Denis Stone, a young poet, talks to the jaded critic Mr. Scogan:

“That’s the test for the literary mind,” said Denis; “the feeling of magic, the sense that words have power. The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what wonder if he loved words and attributed power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal fomulas together, and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant.”

Crome Yellow was Huxley’s first published book, and is part of the tradition of English country house stories.Though after this speech by Denis, Mr. Scogan deflates him with a puncturing comment (you have to read the book to get the full flavor of the humor), it’s still an enchanting passage that shows how Huxley felt about words and writing, and it captures exactly how I feel about it, which is what I do, and is my life’s work – it’s magic, it’s a superpower.

Aldous Huxley portrait here.

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the starbucks planner 2012

The Starbucks planner for 2012 is a 180-degree turn from last year’s elegant design that came in red velvet and metallic finishes. This time around, it’s all about trees, evoked with natural materials – wood and coarse-weave fabric. It’s acquired through the usual means of stickers for each drink purchased during the designated holiday period (November to January).

There are five iterations shading from light to dark, each named after a tree. This one’s Cherry, the middle shade (#3).

What’s more, the design took more than a few cues from the Moleskine notebook.

This unboxing happened at Starbucks Harbour Square at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex.

“Let’s give big hugs – and little gifts of hope.” Actually, I’m fine with the big hugs. Really.

The coarse-weave pouch is an innovation – it’s the first time it’s been done by Starbucks Philippines. The pouch keeps the planner clean, and is also handy for receipts, a pen, and other little items.

No worries that the planner inside will be damaged by things you might keep in the pouch – the covers are made of thin pieces of wood, with the siren design and edge text in bas-relief.

There’s a Moleskine-style elastic on the back. As always, the planner comes with coupons – nine, this time around, less than there used to be, at one per month, but then it takes less drinks to get the planner this season.

Instead of a Moleskine-type ribbon marker, a kraft-cardboard bookmark is provided. I love the horizontal layout. 

Now we come to the best thing about this planner – the paper. It is smooth, creamy, and fountain-pen friendly. The stiff nib of my daily-warrior Parker Jotter simply glides across the paper, as if it were glass. Or ice.

Another good thing for FP  users – there’s minimal show-through! 

As with every Starbucks planner, this one has magnificent photography.

A pocket attached to the inside back cover holds the coupons and bookmark. Again, just like the Moleskine. It’s handy-dandy for keeping more stray bits of paper and other ephemera. 

The size is smaller too, compared to previous editions. It’s about the size of a Kindle and fits neatly in my handbag, where I hope it gets along with all the pink things in there.

Photos taken with a 2MP Nokia C3.

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pop goes the world: much ado about gloria

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  24 November 2011, Thursday

Much Ado About Gloria

Was what was done to former president and current congressperson Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo right or wrong?

The debate continues to smolder, and because of its deep political significance has pushed other no less interesting topics to the side – the murder of Ramgen Revilla, the anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, the controversial victory of boxer-cum-lawmaker Manny Pacquiao over Juan Manuel Marquez, the dismal medal haul of the Philippine team in the SEA Games.

Having listened to and read various opinions on the subject, I’ve noticed that they tend to fall into two categories – “mercy” and “justice”.

The “mercy” side points to how frail and ill the former president looks in recent photographs and that she should have been allowed to leave the country for medical reasons, and that it’s a poor thing to beat someone when she’s down, and that her mugshots should not have been released to the media.

The “justice” side emphasizes the rule of law, that Macapagal-Arroyo should answer for the electoral sabotage committed during her time and that she apologized for. (Her flat, emotionless voice saying “I. Am. Sorry” for the “Hello, Garci” incident, without sounding at all sorry, is a stock sound effect of radio talk shows.)

If Macapagal-Arroyo believes herself innocent of any charges, then let her face her accusers with head held high (a posture she is forced to adopt anyway given the rigidity of her halo vest). If she is truly innocent, she need not leave the country right at the moment, since several specialists have opined that her condition is not life-threatening and that the Philippines has the equipment and expertise to care for her properly at this point.

Instead, the dramatic incident at the airport smacked of an escape try, exactly like Ramona Bautista’s red-veiled night flight. The timing was fishy, it was suspect. It was as if they had received a tip that there would be cases filed against her, thus the desperate attempt.

There is a definite sense of wrongness there – why did Macapagal-Arroyo try to leave the country so hurriedly that way, in that cloak-and-dagger fashion, with the props of the ambulances and the wheelchair?

Why, if she is so sick, was she wearing skinny leather pants and platforms when they tried to flee that night? Do you know how hard it is to get into leather pants, especially the skinny kind, when you’re well and healthy, let alone so ill that you’re wearing a halo vest that drastically limits mobility and your condition ostensibly so bad that you have to go abroad for medical attention? It makes you wonder if her mobility is all that compromised.

All these questions raise red flags. The entire thing seems contrived, and glaringly so to the discerning person. Macapagal-Arroyo and her camp should not be surprised at the lack of public support and sympathy for her, though intellectuals relish the debate on the matter.

That’s just my opinion, and everybody has one. In the end, I believe in the rule of law. Morality that is based on religion will differ among the various faiths with their constructed doctrines and dogmas; likewise, the standards of morality based on culture will differ from country to country. To be fair and just to all its residents, a nation should be founded upon secular law and it is this law that must be used to determine what is right or wrong.

In this case concerning the former president, as in all cases, let the law prevail. Let the judiciary be true to the spirit of their commitment to the people and to the nation and put what is right and fair above personal interest and utang na loob.  Let them bring out the truth in this case, apply the law to the former president as it has been applied to others, and show the world that the Philippines is a nation that hews to the law.

In the words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.”

* * * *

Award-winning writer Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House since 2010, revealed there will be a Christmas sale of their publications, the date and venue to be announced. UST-PH was named Publisher of the Year last November 12 at the 30th National Book Awards night at the National Museum. The award is given out yearly by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board.

Among the eminent writers in their stable are National Artists for Literature Virgilio S. Almario and F. Sionil Jose, columnists and professors Krip Yuson, Dr. Jose Dalisay Jr., and Dr. Michael L.Tan,  and musician/writer Lourd de Veyra.

* * * *

The University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing has extended to November 29 the deadline of submission of applications to the 51st UP National Writers Workshop.

The workshop is for writers in mid-career and will be held in Baguio City in April 2012.

I had the privilege of becoming a workshop fellow last year and it was a transformative experience. The feedback from the panelists and fellows were helpful and inspiring, the workshop activities eye-opening, and the friendships forged during the week-long event heartwarming.

Another reason for the workshop’s continued success is its venue. Baguio City is cool, calm, and pleasant, and its art scene warm and nurturing, a positive atmosphere that encourages the blossoming of the artist in everyone. Baguio is not just the market, Good Shepherd, and Minesview Park. Do visit Mt. Cloud bookshop, Hill Station Café at Casa Vallejo, Namaste, the BenCab museum and its café at the basement, VOCAS, Ayuyang, Café by the Ruins, Choco-Late de Batirol at Camp John Hay, and the other interesting pockets of creative and culinary pleasure that the locals will be happy to show you.  *** 

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo image here. UST-PH logo here. 51st UP-NWW logo here.

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pop goes the world: sotto’s scare tactics

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  3 November 2011, Thursday

Sotto’s Scare Tactics

The most frightening thing I’ve ever seen during a  Halloween season came from  Senator Tito Sotto – and he didn’t even wear a mask or costume.

His statement in the media on the birth of the symbolic 7 billionth baby was disturbing because it was downright irresponsible, negating the ill effects of rapid population growth.

He shrugged off the fears of a population explosion, saying that even if the world population doubled to 14 billion, “all of us could still fit in the state of Texas.” (Texas, according to Wikipedia, is the “second largest US state by area and population,” its oil wells, cattle ranches, and beautiful big-haired women sprawling over 696,241 square kilometers.)

Senator Sotto also said the birth of Danica May, one of the United Nations’ symbolic “7 billionth babies”, at Fabella Memorial Hospital last October 30 “should be a celebration of life and not be used to spread fear about population growth.”

This was most likely in response to Indian health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement that the birth of the 7 billionth baby was “not a matter of joy but a great worry…We shouldn’t be celebrating.” Interpreting this as coming from a macro point-of-view, the minister’s point was that hitting that number should spur the development and implementation of solutions on how to slow the population growth rate and improve the standard of living for most, if not all, people on the planet.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon echoed this, saying the “terrible contradictions” of “lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others” leads to the question “What kind of world has baby 7 billion been born into?”

Sotto’s statement about Texas parallels Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, Inc.’s arguments.  A newspaper report quoted the foundation’s website as stating that “six billion people on the earth today would fit within the state of Texas, with each family having a house with a little yard. So it is not a question of area. The problem is the growing concentration of large numbers of people in certain cities, caused by the deterioration and lack of opportunities in the rural areas…” with the result that “cities are confronting serious problems with basic infrastructure, health services, food supplies, education, transportation, sewage disposal, and housing.”

But Pro-Life and Sotto are looking at the problem upside-down and are arguing against themselves. No one has said it is a question of area or space. It is a question of living space, of arable space, of usable space. Not all areas are safe nor appropriate for habitation. Not all areas are suitable for agriculture or food production.

And not all countries have solved the problems Pro-Life itself has pointed out – infrastructure, sewage, housing, and so on. Billions all over the world live in poverty, fear, and ignorance.

In this country alone, the homeless families sleeping at the center islands of major thoroughfares, with sex their primary diversion because they can afford hardly anything else, not even a roof over their heads, are a compelling reason to pass the reproductive health bill.

The expansion of a country’s population when that country cannot provide a satisfactory standard of living for its people is folly. It is crass irresponsibility. It is downright criminal.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to accuse the senator of lacking critical thinking skills and a capacity for logic and reason. The fair thing to say would be that his thinking and resultant stand stems from religious doctrine and other cultural sentiments that many other Filipinos share – that, as the senator said, artificial birth control methods are “abortifacients”, that those advocating population control measures “shouldn’t be smarter than God…He has a process of life and death and they should not interfere with God’s process.”

But this line of thinking is self-serving. If the senator were consistent, then he should also believe that sick people shouldn’t go to hospitals and seek treatment for their illnesses. No one should drink medicines. Because doing so would “interfere with God’s process,” would it not?

* * * * *

To know more about this and other global issues, we need to do our research and seek out information. For everyone to be able to do this we need to spread literacy by instilling a reading culture. A person who reads – and I don’t mean this in a merely functional sense – is empowered to gain knowledge for himself. It’s like teaching a man to fish for himself instead of giving him fishes on a handout basis, which merely instills a mendicant mental culture, dependent on what the media supplies.

A major drawback to the development of a reading culture in the Filipino milieu is the lack of access to books. Without access to printed materials, how can people be encouraged to read?  We have few community public libraries, and the ones run by the government carry only outdated materials.

For instance, the one nearest my home – the Sta. Ana, Manila, library – though a sunny, well-lit place furnished with antique tables and chairs that I coveted from the time I first visited a decade ago, only has musty old books and no magazines. Over the years I’ve donated three balikbayan boxes full of books to that library, sometimes unceremoniously dumping them on the doorstep after office hours. I haven’t been back to there to see what happened to the books I gave; it was enough for me that those books were out there, benefiting someone, anyone.

A bit of good news related to this is that the Department of Education has declared November as “National Reading Month” to instill in the youth interest in the printed word. Among the DepEd’s planned activities are a Read-a-thon, to discover outstanding readers in class; the DEAR program, which encourages students to read 20 minutes daily; and the shared reading or mentoring program.

But these activities all take place inside schools. We need initiatives that will spread the word, literally, outside that context.

Now here’s an idea. There’s something called World Book Night, held in London for some years now, with the US to follow suit for the first time next year, on 23 April. The event was created to coincide with World Book Day, founded by UNESCO in celebration of books and reading around the world.

On World Book Night, volunteers hand out free books to passersby on sidewalks and street corners. The books are selected and donated by participating publishers.

Strangely, the venture’s effect is an increase in book sales. Sales of three of the books given away in 2010 surged in the triple digits: Nigel Slater’s “Toast” rose 367%, John le Carre’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (a classic thriller) soared 106%, and Seamus Heaney’s “New Selected Poems” climbed by 102%. Given that, perhaps Philippine publishers might consider doing something similar next year.

We don’t even have to give away new books – pre-loved ones are fine. If you have been touched by books, if reading has transformed your life in any way, then help spread the love and the magic. Calling on government agencies, private corporations, and book-loving individuals to join forces in organizing a Philippine World Book Night! ***

Photo of Senator Sotto taken by JennyO. Baby Danica image here. Homeless woman image here. WBN poster here.

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william empson: let it go

William Empson (1906 – 1984) was a British literary critic and poet.  He and his wife Hetta had an open marriage marked by dangerous liaisons, the frissons of which may have fed his art.

He said this poem – “Let It Go” – was about his decision to give up writing poetry, though it could describe how he felt about his life. Or we about ours.

It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.

The more things happen to you the more you can’t

Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.

The talk would talk and go so far aslant.

You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.

Consider letting go the strange deep mad blankness in your life. Let it go now.

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