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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.

Monday, April 27, 2009


OPHELIA A. DIMALANTA, poet, critic, playwright, professor, writing workshop director, writer-in-residence, and multi-awarded author, is my nominee for the Philippine National Artist Award. If she is not recognized at this point of her literary life, I shall continue nominating her until she wins a well-deserved title: National Artist.

An exile from the current literary scene of that country, however, I am afraid I will not qualify as a nominator. Neither would I have a voter’s card.

Will my being a life-long literary creature give me some credentials?

As a critic and a reader of Philippine literature for decades now, I believe Dr. Dimalanta should already have been proclaimed national artist. Not that she would need it. Of course, that would even be superfluous. A tautology.

Dr. Dimalanta is an important poet. An author of unassailable credentials, she is by definition an artist who would lend her reputation to that award.

But that would all be prattle if her art would not bear her out. The following poems illustrate the range of her style and content.


Monday jolts and she bogs down, a ragbag
Splayed off at tangents. Windows
To the outside and flecks of faces
Spring the morning clear at her
To set her into her old dimensions.
Piece by piece she puts on eight o'clock;
Pillows and bedcovers in a tumble pat
Her in place. The clearest cutglass
Of grapefruit juice teetering on a silver
Tray for breakfast-in-bed exigencies
(Both for effect and effectivity)
Is for a fact but fictive in the mind
Which holds the fleeing moment longer,
Stalls the stupor of the previous spree,
Images of her beautiful in blank spaces
Wandering truantlike in private regions
Of the night, wisps of clouds jammed
In one wicked corner of sleep. She hoards
Them like a child at play, triumphantly
Pieces them into a single total perspective:
Splayed off tatters of Sunday, a dark
Undiscipline of clouds settled right
Into this alarming set-up environing
Her Monday-world, jolted suddenly
Into the teeth of everyday people
And cluttering sounds of slapdash.

She exudes it now becomingly
As she glides and putters about
By turns, spreads it as a scent
Ambiguously enwombing her, her form
Dissolved in semi-tones, nameless jewel
Durably ensphered in mist, constantly reborn,
Solid, whole in ever renewing shades.

Montage is the title poem of her first collection which won her first prize in the Philippine Palanca Memorial Literary Award and the best poem in the Poet and Critic Award at the Iowa State University in the USA.

Montage was the “given” central image of a short story I wrote which was published in the student magazine, The Varsitarian – “Monday Morning in a Bus.”


Wakes conjure in an uncanny pall,
A kind of sepulchral air evoking
Tombstones turned trysting chambers
For romancing late lovers freed
From life’s containing vaults.
How she hates funerals,
This communal show
Of makeshift grief, as leaden
Feet shove mourners in, deader
Than the mourned dead,
The pale gloss of sympathy
Plastered on thicker than the
Expert’s swab of simulated smile
Upon her own bemused face.

Here she flits around hovering
Over all, once and for all,
Up and about to watch them
Finally mourn her, (miss her?)
For once and then,
Be done, begone!
She is there, and not there,
In the box and everywhere else,
On the wing, her stilled heart
Sprung into the rhythm
Of muted life, a sentence
As purging as real grief,
And as forbearing, and life-giving.


They say this is the last to go,
This inward craze, this needling
Ache that starts below, and just
As soon mounts to breast to soul
In a ghostly spiritual surge;
This passion that fires the frame
In mighty thrusts of faith.
Residual spasms and spurts
Have not yet dissipated even
After the last throes, recalling body
As passional, pastoral site
In that sanctifying time out of time,
That one blessed space at once
Uplifted and emancipated.

The last to go they say,
These stirrings in the blood,
Going, going full force
And peaking into theFinal come.

God how she hates funerals
Except her own, that is,
For how exquisitely life’s
Raging now attenuate
Into a warmer crave
That holds a universe.
The body shaken
Into prayer before it
Resurrects ecstatic
Into a longed for
Perfect calm.

Passional is the title poem of Dr. Dimalanta’s sixth poetry collection. Her juxtaposition of a funeral wake and rather “erotic” description of the energy that “is last to go” is striking. Death throes as passion throes are supreme conceits of life, love, and dying. Part II of the poem is certainly one of the best descriptions of how the final death is truly the death of passion, the rigour mortis of the final separation between body and spirit, the final release of a “final come.” The perfect calm and the supreme emancipation of passional release and death release – the poetic juxtaposition is startling and truly poetic.


whenever my voice flings arrows
your way at a fiery pace,
read, discover, there is that
something in me
that dies to go gentle.
for when i viciously tangle
with you trying to throw
you off course, inside, i am raring
to cover you, take you, become
all of me fire and water,
flowing, all soft and fluid.
when i try to lord it over, empowered,
it is because inside i am already
slave grovelling, ready to heed your bidding,
crawling waves lapping you up
sea shore hillocks sky
all the way up all drool and drivel,
and when i insolently seek out
pulpits to mount my gospel truths,
i am really one humped question mark
thrashing about for your steadying hand,
and when i try to light you up whole,
there is in fact a part of your flame hence
i would want extinguished
to die rekindled in me alone.
and when i am wind taking roots
in your solid ground, i am roots as well
ready to take flight upon your wings.
when i prance about proud in times square,
i am a child carousing in the greener fringes
of the heart's final roosting.
read this idiolect,
read well, decode, detect,
and love me when i seem to hate.

Read Me as a love poem thrives on the tension built around a love/hate syndrome which becomes the vigorous thrusting, grovelling, thrashing, flowing, crawling, drooling that culminates in the “heart’s final roosting.” This love poem is a superior to Jose Garcia Villa’s Poem 40 (Centipede Poem) as an erotic exercise.


Stalking hunger takes on varied
Shades and voices; worst is that
Of a child’s whimper in the dark,
An imprisoned cry, voiceless,
Struggling for release, for the open;
Three meals a day, a warming touch,
Sunspace, one’s personal corner
In the most chilling night.

Here they are, all twelve,
Deprivations in all shapes,
Gathered in His bosom,
His Presence, core of light,
As fragile limbs draw strength
And faith from that reaching out,
One magnificent Host in one
Glorious feasting, on a table
Specially laid out for children
And all, in their direst need,
Hungry in more than body,
For more than food, and soon,
Hunger takes on the glow
Of a glorious brightening…
Sunwarm, vibrant against
A backdrop of sheerest dark,
Beyond the deepest blues
And the somber browns
Beyond that hovering gloom,
A grand feasting here, on a table
Laid out for all… each child
A part in us, us children all,
Partaking now of life of love,
Around his radiant presence,
A bounteous feasting
Of faith and ever abiding hope.

The Last Supper does not usually get celebrated in poetry; not even Gerard Manley Hopkins tried. But here is a sublime but altogether real “feasting” for the children “gathered in His bosom”. Here is the Host of the supper that is “laid our for all…each child a part in us, us children all, partaking now of life and love…a bounteous feasting of faith and ever abiding hope.” The Last Supper is, indeed, to this Catholic poet, the First and Everlasting supper: a Eucharist of hope where delicately the poet uses the word “eucharist” without using it.


Ophelia A. Dimalanta was my creative writing professor in my graduate studies at the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila. In one of those classes, she took the podium, read Montage (to perhaps establish her credentials?), and I thought I would write my first submission based on this “performance.” It was written for O. A. Dimalanta:


(For O.A. Dimalanta)

Eros finds us eunuched and gaping
At hedony begging for Pentecost
Shower the bellydance with fire –
Fire it is makes metaphors frantic
For bedfellows who, stripping bare
The bone of speech, fulfill hollow
Fantasies where moans deliver silences
Deep as the frog’s arrested croak.
“Forgive my bright conceits, Ophelia.”
Conceits are cockfight’s lances
One’s instant mercies, if you may,
Delights rupturing voice-boxes -–
So, bleeding may yet intone unsaid
Music in threnodies clotted
On cockers’ fingers, ganglia garbling
The crow violated on the rooster’s throat.

I don’t remember now what on earth I was trying to say, but the creative writing teacher thought, “there was hardly a dull line.” She was being kind.

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