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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.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The 70s. Before the "First Quarterstorm". (It was de rigueur to describe the times of protest and urban rebellion thus. Students in my Literature classes would rather be burning tires in the streets of Ermita, Manila (a district of mixed upper income mestizo residents and slum dwellers in the inner city).

In order to attract them back into these patently "irrelevant, waste-of-time, counter-revolutionary, pretentious, bourgeois courses," one had to find a manner of introducing a more effective tool to bewail the poverty and abject condition of the Filipino proletarian. One shouldn't simply join the hoi polloi, the unwashed massmen, (paid to run riot by agent provocateurs against the Martial Law Government) in crying havoc:

Ibagsak ang diktador tuta!

(Down with the puppet dictator! -- a popular battlecry against the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos who, in the eyes of the protesters, was being propped up by the American Imperialist government. It was a two-in-one thing. The more whipping boys, the better.). Sounds familiar even with the present Arroyo government, and governments before that, including that of Corazon Aquino, who flat-lined land reform in her time (Oh yes, she belongs to a family of landowners, modern caciques, who own Hacienda Luisita, where soildiers were ordered to shoot unionist farmers -- sakadas, cane harvesters -- demonstrating for better wages.)

Instead of cranky, meaningless slogans, why not use the universal tool of poetry to wage a protracted battle. You know, a la Mao Tse Tung. Remember the Counter Revolution?

If an appeal using the tragi-comic copy-catting of the Chinese revolution would not work, what will? Did Chairman Mao not use poetry? The French Revolution had Les Miserable as a rallying cry for a great revolution, remember? The Filipino can imitate the best of them -- Hollywood be praised!

To get them to internalize the energies of the "revolution", why not write "socially-committed" poetry? Just like the 30s when Salvador P. Lopez (in his Literature and Society) advocated for a "particularly proletarian" commitment as a facet of the national aspiration and experience of a clamour for the broadening of the democratic base to include the proletarian, the massmen, the great unwashed.

Lopez said: "Since the truly sensitive writer is inevitably a child of his time, it follows that his work must reflect with more or less accuracy the conditions of society in which he lives. And since those conditions...are largely the result of social and economic factors, the validity of the concept of proletarian literature is at least equal to that of social classes."

Besides, art is more influential as art rather than as propaganda because it (art) "grows upon the reader's mind" as a by-product of the artistic process. When it does, it ordinarily influences readers more than the direct and raucous sloganeering, because audiences recognize the dramatized premisses for reactions that they might still wish to transmute into social action (upheaval). In brief, dramatized social situations are more moving than slogans.

Some of them came back to class. Some ran to the hills and took up arms as the National People's Army. Some of them wrote songs of liberation. Some haikus. I experimented with the hokko. Zen was not in fashion yet among the radicalised straw patriots. It would have made a difference, I would say.

But I rationalized my U-turn from elitist formalist poetry to the literateur engage of the hour by conceding that I was still involved in literary pursuit by "subscribing" to S.P. Lopez's and chairman Mao's literary theories.

I know I struck gold. I did not get embarrassed by them years later.

Poor Poems

“What does it mean to be poor, abuelo?”
-- A good question.

Balut Dump, Tondo

Dawn is pale on these waifs’ faces,
Sun rays striking their thin backs.
The colour of refuse here is bright:
Worms sepia, cans gooey, faeces black.
A country will rise from excreta.

At Retiro St., Thinking about Joining the Movement

Rain coming through this window is warm
Slithering from hot tin gutters;
Bullet-hot roofs sizzle in the rain,
Bloated foetuses float in city waters.
“The baby’s wet! Plug the roof hole, Lakay!”*
(*Ilocano for Husband.)

At Vinzons Hall with Tera Atbp.

Windows close storms out of houses here.
Lust within dribbling gumlike on sheets
Hallowed by suffrage and vote.
Harsh rain breaks molave branches,
Window panes, other things. A storm looms.

From His Letter to Vi: Mene, Phares

“…the child’s body is covered with flies,
sores oozing with pus. The next man shoos him
from the queue: Lintik ka, aaah! Hahawaan mo**
pa yata ako, aaah! Mabaho ka pa sa bigas. “iz d’yan!.”

The flies are jolted off their feast.
(**Damn you! You will infect me, too, huh?
You stink like this rice! Get the hell out of here!)

At Senator Tanada’s Office Toilet

Ears stop listening involuntarily
When one begins relieving
The devil-may-care-wot in toilets
Built for senators who smile and smile…
In Tondo’s outhouses, I’d be praying.

Rebel Shot – News the Morning After

“Your plate will be there, Lakay,
where it will always be,
your side of the dulang,***
your slippers beneath the bed
where, waiting, our child asleep, I shall be.”

(***Low table used by squatting on the mud floor)


"People's Revolution", they called the Movement, thereafter. A failed revolution, Filipinos are decrying now. Same corrupt politicians. Same poverty. The Smoky Mountain garbage heap is still there, billowing smoke and emitting Manila's trademark stench.

Dead fetuses still float on Pasig river with the flotsam that will always be there in this fetid canal of a river; the slums grow bigger as they spread throughout the sprawling cities peopled by the migrant rural folk hoping to eke a living there; the rebel movement has taken the lives of some of best and brightest of the idealist students of that time (Poet Eman Lacaba died in combat, poet/cleric Jason Montana has come down from the hills but remains a fervent rebel for God's poor children, but a lot of the boys have grown old and some have died in the bivouacs of Arayat, Paete, Zambales, Samar, the Mountain Provinces...

Looking over my shoulder while I typed out a title for the poems, my well-fed grandson (at 11, five-foot-five, and a gordito at 150 pounds) asked:

What does it mean to be poor, abuelo?

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