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09 November 2010

From Lito D. Zulueta, Philippine Daily Inquirer: Media, letters mourn death of Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta

THE DEATH of Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, poetess extraordinaire, writer-in-residence and former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas, and supreme doyenne of at least two generations of poets, writers and literature educators in the country, has touched off a wave of grief in the media and literary world.

Dimalanta died in her Navotas home Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. She was in her late 70s.

One of the first to attend her wake at Floresco Funeral Homes in Malabon was National Artist F. Sionil Jose.

Dimalanta was an award-winning poet in English whose several collections, especially “Montage” (1974), “Time Factor” (1984), “Flowing On” (1988), and “Lady Polyester” and “Other Poems Past and Present” (1993), have remained treasured by literature lovers for their technical craftsmanship, uncanny musicality and fine sensibility.

The first lines of “Montage,” which won the Palanca Grand Prize for poetry and Best Poem of the Year of the Iowa State University in the United States, are often quoted by poetry lovers and reveal Dimalanta’s mastery of metaphor, versification and insight: “Monday jolts and she bogs down,/ A ragbag splayed off at tangents.”

In depicting a woman with a hangover from weekend but forced to contend with the Monday rush, Dimalanta is said by critics to be portraying the Filipino woman in transition—from housewife to modern career woman, much like herself, who was raising a family while teaching and writing professionally. Feminist critics now call her a pioneer feminist, although she remained ambivalent about the claim.

Dimalanta also became noted for her erotic poetry, much to the consternation of the Dominican fathers whose UST Publishing House has published nearly all her collections. She once rewrote the famous lines of John Donne—“for chrissake, hold your tongue and let me love!” to “for chrissake, hold your tongue and let me come!”

But her most enduring verses will probably be those about love and its ineffability. One of her most famous poems is “A Kind of Burning,” about love that remains love because it is kept at a distance, unconsummated and unrealized, so that the burning seems to last forever. Its last lines are often quoted by her fans: “we have been all the hapless/ lovers in this wayward world/ in almost all kinds of ways/ except we never really meet/ but for this kind of burning.”

Dimalanta was also an award-winning critic, fictionist, essayist and textbook writer. She took up all her higher degrees at UST. In college, she was literary editor of the official student organ, The Varsitarian, where she published the first poem—in English—of a classmate and co-staffer who would become a National Artist for Literature, Bienvenido Lumbera.

After graduating with a Journalism degree from the old UST Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, she taught in the same school, which later became the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

As a teacher, Dimalanta followed a long line of well-loved literature pedagogues from UST: Paz Latorena (the teacher of F. Sionil Jose), Clemencia Colayco, Josephine Bass-Serrano, Erlinda Rustia (the favorite teacher of Lumbera),Carolina Garcia and Milagros Tanlayco.

Her students would constitute the Who’s Who of Philippine letters: Rogelio Sicat, Cirilo Bautista, Francisco Tatad, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Norma Miraflor, Rita Gaddi, Arnold Molina Azurin, Bernardo Bernardo, Antonio Lopez, Nestor Cuartero, Merlinda Bobis, Vim Nadera, Mike Coroza, Rebecca Anoñuevo, Neil Garcia, Wendell Capili, Angelo Suarez and several others.

A prayer

In the Inquirer, her former students include Rina Jimenez David, Ruben Alabastro, Miguel Suarez, Chito de la Vega, Voltaire Contreras, Christian Esguerra and many others.

In the the media in general, her former students include Glenda Gloria, operations chief of ANC; Fr. Nick Lalog of Radio Veritas; Isabel de Leon of Manila Bulletin; and Rodolfo Lana of GMA.

She was also mentor to several activists, such as Ronald Llamas of Akbayan.

Cuartero, editor of the Manila Bulletin and Tempo and a journalism professor at UST, said Dimalanta was an excellent teacher.

“She pushed us to do our best,” he said. “The way she writes alone inspires. I feel so sad. She’s like a mother you come home to when you go to UST. But now our mother is gone.”

Coroza, a professor at Ateneo de Manila University, dedicated a prayer to her:

Ma’am Ophie, mahal na mahal kita na parang tunay kong ina. Paumanhin at ‘di ko natupad ang pangakong pagdalaw sa iyo nitong Hunyo at Hulyo. Mamayapa ka sa piling ng Lumikha. Mabuhay nang walang hanggan ang iyong talinghaga.

Necrological Mass for Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta will be tomorrow, 9:30 a.m., at the UST Santissimo Rosario Church. Main celebrant is UST Rector Magnificus Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP. On the eve of the burial and necrological Mass, a writers’ vigil is being held at UST.

Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta

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