The Philippine STAR, 16 April 2007
Heh-heh! Now, don’t take that heading seriously. You know me. I’m here in your planet to spread love, joy, and good cheer. And sometimes a bit of humor, okay?
Why, I even appear on TV trying to do the same, besides drawing all kinds of texted plaudits on how buddy Jimmy Abad and I were so, uhh... (far be it for me to draw comparison with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in that "Cassidy" film; besides betraying vintage class) — but that the Syjuco girls, Trix and Maxine, were decidedly more telegenic, even more eloquent.
For you out in the boondocks this summer, quoting poetic lines to yourselves like "April me with branches," all this is in reference to ANC’s Media in Focus program aired last Thursday and repeatedly replayed owing to insistent public demand... Wait, wait, jocose there, too. Credit regular scheduling.
Anyway, the weekly show hosted by Cheche Lazaro, one of our finest-ever television journalists, may have inexplicably taken a turn for the strange with a special focus on Philippine poetry. And of course its weird practitioners.
So there we were, making sosi with Cheche for a full hour, in live public view all over our cable-channel-strung archipelago and then some, explaining what poetry we wrote, where, when, why and how. (Hey, even fellow poet Wendell Capili who’s still on academic sabbatical in Canberra SMS’d kudos to his former UP mates, right after the show.)
As producer Twink Macaraig (my sis-in-law, by the by; so now you get the konek) and her assistant, Pat Evangelista (former mentee gone wildly on her own; can’t blame her), explained to us guests how Cheche’s show had three "gaps" — which would feature a pair of poets each.
Thankfully, my vast experience in television (as a censor and sometime adept, both) allowed me to explain to my fellow guests that "gap" actually meant "segment" — and that they should just nod brightly and accept the license taken with language, heightened language, and nod brightly again and accede to their placement in Gap One or Two or Three.
Okay? Okey po. That last came from the three young ’uns, as against the three veterans ("pillars," as Cheche kept subtly inferring about our senior citizenship status). So Jim Abad and I took the first gap (as pillars of salt, for always trying to look back at a storied past), while the decidedly electric pair of sisters (progeny of that handsome cum brilliant couple Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco) filled up the second, and delivering the coup de grace were the balagtasero and premier poet in Filipino, Teo Antonio, and bilingual page-turned-page-trasher poet Angelo Suarez.
Good mix, good flow, good show. ’Twas a pleasure to commingle anew with the youthful trio of Gelo, Trix and Maxine — each of whom was allowed to perform as gap openers or closers, heh-heh. And all three were brilliant, as performance poets.
Well, what do you expect? When they learned at the feet of the masters, namely that legendary rock pop Cesare A.X. of De La Salle-Taft, the love diva Ophelia Dimalanta of UST, and the living icon Cirilo Bautista of both Taft and España?
That’s what Jim and I tried to say during our 15 minutes of fame portion (er, gap): that the torch keeps getting passed, that poetry and all other forms of art must necessarily evolve, since they’re trans-generational, blah blah blah. And that that’s why we admit upstart poets, oops, within our radius of salty significance.
Why, Trix Syjuco, Maxine Syjuco, and Gelo Suarez, exciting avant-gardists as they have been, should tow in all the other Spoken Word, Open Mike, Hip-hop Rapstyle readers and performers taking a stab at, and drawing a lot of blood from, poetry.
So hooray for evolution!
Take the recent Philippines Free Press awards night at the Mandarin Ballroom last Tuesday the 10th of April — a day that will glow carmine red in the millennial literary calendar as the Changing of the Guards milestone or some such. When important poets like Eric Gamalinda, J. Neil Garcia, Joel Toledo, and a namesake of this chronicler landed on the seat of their pants, after being upended by... why, who are these... upstarts?
Oops. Come to think of it, it’s about time that multi-awarded (that modifier our buddy Butch Dalisay hates and excoriates) poets and writers take a back seat, or bottom seat, to the upcoming, far more than promising, entrants in literary derbies.
And so we must congratulate the judges for the Poetry category, namely Jimmy Abad (him again?), Marj Evasco ("goldened by... tongue"), and RayVi Sunico (who knows "the secret of graphite") for their wizened deliberation that not only opened the trophy doors to fresh poetry but also produced two gorgeous winners, apart of course from finally giving credit to an underrated, oft-absent poet, in the person of Victor Jose "Bimboy" Peñaranda, who’s currently in Macedonia!
For the record, here are the prizewinners of the richest poetry contest in town, The Philippines Free Press 2007 Literary Awards, with a first prize worth P80K, second P50K, and third P30K (and those are for single poems!):
First Prize (one winner): Mookie Katigbak for "As Far As Cho-Fu-Sa";
Second Prize (two winners): Victor Peñaranda for "Josefina Sleeping" and Ana Escalante Neri for "Lightscape";
Third Prize (one winner): Eric Gamalinda for "Qana";
Honorable Mention (four winners): J. Neil Garcia for "Torso"; Alfred A. Yuson for "Concealment"; Joel M. Toledo for "Ascension"; and Joel M. Toledo (again!) for "New Century, With Dragon."
Some honors, of course, come with nary a cash prize but great distinction, so there.
And for the Short Story category, well, alas! No winner for First Prize, but two winners for Second Prize: Rhea Buela Politado for "Southbound" and Anna Felicia C. Sanchez for "Inventories" — and three winners for Third Prize: Timothy R. Montes for "To the Slaughterhouse"; Dean Francis Alfar for "Six From Downtown"; and Douglas Candano for "A Visit to the Exhibition of the International Committee on Children’s Rights."
For the Essay category, again, alas! No winners for First Prize and Second Prize, while there were two winners for Third Prize: Rosario Cruz Lucero for "Singer on the Mango Tree" and Sandra Nicole Roldan for "How to Deal With Dying."
The panel of judges for both the Story and Essay categories was composed of Menchu Aquino, Susan Lara and Luis Katigbak. Hate mail re parsimony may be addressed to... Wait, just kidding.
On this matter, let us reiterate that it often becomes a sore point at literary contests when cash prizes are held back. One school of thought has it that even a race featuring turtles ought to produce a winner, while a contending thought says simply, "But we gotta have standards that can’t be compromised."
Uhh, well, I dunno. Don’t ask me, I’m just a jokester, quipster, chronicler and gossip. And eavesdropper. Was that the great novelist Charlson Ong grumbling (sounded like him) over unnecessary remarks about having to preserve the prestige of a Free Press First Prize in Fiction, since previous winners include such a one as Jose Garcia Villa? Yeah. Who him again? An upstart in his own time, we may presume.
In any case, the FP contest is certainly something for our young writers to look forward to, especially since next year, on the magazine’s centennial, greater cash awards were announced by no less than Rep. Teddy Locsin: P100K for First!
Wow! Repeat: that’s for a single poem, or story. FP literary editor Sarge Lacuesta did mention that the Essay category might have to give way for either Children’s Story or Young Adult Fiction. Or maybe I wasn’t eavesdropping well enough.
Suffice it to say that the contest produced two youthful winners in Ana Escalante Neri and Doug Candano, both barely a year away from their stint as writing fellows in the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete. They were part of that illustrious batch of May 2006 — the rest of whom will surely make their mark as well in our literature.
That’s what we mean by the torch being passed. But must it be passed so fast? Should Mookie Katigbak, a student of mine at the Ateneo only some years ago, show up her, uhh, dementors so precipitately? Indeed she has every right to do so. For her edgy yet delicate poetry grants her the privilege. Just as the young Syjucos and Suarez, Candano and Neri, Sanchez and Roldan are starting up and taking hold of that torch so early.
Bravo the precocious bravura!