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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Rolando Tinio's Valediction sa Hillcrest

07 March 2009
Rolando Tinio's Valediction sa Hillcrest

It's not exactly a hot topic on the Web (with only 134 entries on Google), but Rolando Tinio's poem "Valediction sa Hillcrest" (1958) has been baffling students when given as a standard text in literature classes in the Philippines. The poem is written in Taglish, the code-switching dialect of Tagalog that uses many words, phrases, and even sentences from English. (Taglish should not be confused with Philippine English, which is the object of much study by linguists). Most students find the work opaque because of (a) the situation, and (b) the language.

The situation is easy to understand if you studied outside your home country and deluded yourself during those years of study that you are a native of the foreign country. When you are forced to return home by your student visa restrictions, you don't quite know where your home is. Once pointed out to students, this situation (which students can relate to, since many of them live away from home to go to university even in their own country) becomes easier to appreciate.

The choice of language raises questions because hardly anyone wrote or writes poetry in Taglish. Considered subliterate by most university professors, Taglish (a pidgin, technically speaking) is used mostly in popular romance novels (which, btw, sells in the millions of copies in the Philippines) but not in Literature (with the capital L).

Tinio (posthumously declared a National Artist of the Philippines), with unimpeachable credentials earned in the USA and the UK, made Taglish respectable as a literary language in this one poem. (He later moved away from pidgin and into classic literary Tagalog.)

Taglish as a language neither here nor there is a perfect objective correlative or symbol of the identity crisis of the young man in the autobiographical poem. The shifts from English to Tagalog to something not quite English nor quite Tagalog mirror the conflict inside the young man as he easily recalls the happy recent moments spent in Iowa and tries valiantly to recall the happier earlier moments spent in his native Tondo (a district in the city of Manila in the Philippines). At the end of the poem, he sheds tears unabashedly, in a striking image of water falling from his eyes into snow melting on the ground as he walks towards the bus station.

For non-Tagalog readers, here is a taste of the linguistic beauty of the poem:

There’s a flurry, ang gentle-gentle.
Pagwhoosh-whoosh ng paa ko,
The snow melts right under.

Ang is a marker, like so; pag- is a marker for the onomatopeia; ng means of; paa means feet; ko means my.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:31 AM


Rolando Tinio captured the peculiar nuance of Taglish, a dialect that might have sprung willy-nilly out of the various campuses of the Greater Manila Area. It is, indeed, how an erstwhile university habitue would banter while walking through the streets of Manila -- Azcarraga, Espana, going to Aleng Mameng in Dapitan...

Indeed, the Iowa Writer's Workshop alumnus would find going home to the old Manila hometown rather "sentimental". Relationships developed among attendees in writers' workshops like this are particularly deep however briefly they last. From those no-holds-barred seminars to soirees at night which even breed romances, one wakes up to some jolting reality -- one must go home. One must now write the great Filipino Novel, the great poems inspired by the reputation of Iowa, the Engels, the Filipinos who have attended the world-class workshop ahead of one who would rather carouse in the halls of the great university of Iowa...

Would Taglish have prospered as the Filipino English for poetry like Tinio's? It is still the lingua franca of the student districts of Manila and elsewhere. It is the virtual Pilipino now called the national language.

Tinio and I graduated from the University of Santo Tomas. I admired his work in the Aquinas Dramatic Guild where he wrote, directed, and acted in his own plays. We met again at the Ateneo Graduate School where I enrolled in his Modern Poetry course some years later (we were "encouraged" to finish our Master of Arts degree in order to get promoted to professorship). I was annoyed about having to commute to Ateneo from my domicile; I dropped out, and last saw Tinio at a Poetry Award ceremony for "Parnaso Philippines" (sponsored by a company where poet Cesar Mella worked as a PR grunt). I won the Parnaso Poetry Award that year over Tinio and a second-placer Dumaguete poet, the late Artemio Tadena.

I wonder now if Rolando Tinio might have won that national poetry award had he continued using his Taglish. I like his "Valediction..." Then again, the judges then like Godofredo Burce Bunao and Cirilo Bautista might not have considered Taglish worth the trouble.

I did not quite have the same sentiment though after attending the vaunted Dumaguete Writers Workshop in the 70's. (But that was only for several weeks. I cherished the carousing and native-wine-"tuba"-drinking I had with Poet Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, now a US resident, and a Cebu priest, Rudy Villanueva (a.ka. Renato Madrid) whose fiction the late Nick Joaquin thought "marvelous, dahling." I wrote a poem on the late gay poet Franklin Osorio ("Village Poet" in my "Theory of Echoes and Other Poems" (UST Publishing 2009) who was also at that workshop.

Recherche du temps perdu.

08 March, 2009 14:09

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