1972 was a very good year. I got my Aesthetics of Literature published; Still Points (Selected Poems) made it on time for a national literary contest; The Philippines Herald gave me permission to collect and reprint my art criticism which the defunct daily featured in its columns (albeit unfortunately prorogued by the declaration of martial law and the closure of the paper); the university journals (University of Santo Tomas Graduate School Journal, De La Salle's Dialogue and Sophia (Philsophy Journal) regularly published my literary criticism, essays on the philosophy of art and literary theory, and even some "socially-committed poetry"; F. Sionil Jose's Solidarity published my Tao poems; The Sunday Times, and The Philippines Free Press published most of my "formalist" poems; and I finally got a richly deserved respite from academic work as a senior writing fellow at the Dumaguete Writers' Workshop at the Silliman University where I met Philippine National Artist Edith L. Tiempo.
Village Poems is a group of selected poems which I suspect critics would "mark" as modernistic formalist. The volatile political climate at that time fostered a healthy re-appearance of socially-conscious poetry. The other camp was made up of the so-called "formalist elitists" (or vice versa) who continued to write art-for-art's sake literature with firmly-held blinders.
The Village Poems illustrate how I was straddling two literary traditions "while the country burned". In 1984, Dr. Isagani Cruz in his Beyond Futility: The Filipino as Critic analised my work and said: "Casuga's...postition may be broadly characterized as modernistic formalism."
Are they elitist? Formalistic? What I am certain about, though, is that they demonstrate "the combined articulated structure made up of the medium shaping up the content and vice versa."
(quoted from The Aesthetics of Literature)
The village idiot regales us with gossip.
The village idiot regales us with gossip.
Brassiere pell-mell on a divan
is the night’s story book laid down
to wait for the surprise of a morning
hastened into noon by dainty patter
of feet paying homage and spouting
half-spoken protestations to the
lady on the night’s soiled sheet
she muttering their names,
they caressing the shape of sounds
that supplants the shape of limbs
that last night pressed her navel
now bare as diadem.
She has come home.
The morning is her following day.
But in her agile belly dance I see you,
logic of my thirst, weed-like large
upon the dew, forever alive and handsome,
forever dying with the city as its jewel ransom.
Still prances the gilded female as feline,
and it is Monday’s dawn upon the froth of wine.
Need for doors grips
Clots into his bile,
His bowels still as tips
Of fire, still as style.
Form wants out like
Phlegm through ears,
His shadow, lifelike,
Draws circles of fear.
Women on Windows
Window gazers huddle
in the conspiracy of the hour
when they close their windows
announcing their descent
into the streets, seducing
old men onto potency,
cracking wicked grins
on their children’s faces.
Windows are there
because houses need them
as much as old men need
to look at their own street faces
recoil at sight of refracted
smiles that are grimaces.
Mr. Teague of Siquijor
Teague’s sandbox at Lo-oc beach spills
over to the slopes of Siquijor –
a kind of walking out on infancy
or bright courage, the carcass marching
nude to humour a carrion God
astride Siquijor’s dark mountain loins.
“O, when will the lad get out of his sandbox
to walk towards the mountain slopes?”
By the way, Teague’s body was fished out
of Lo-oc the other day, near Siquijor.
The Village Priest
We have here in our possession as saints
of minor calibres the terror of unfulfilled
canonisation. Before he donned the scowl
of angelhood, might he have known
the fructified wastefulness of decaying
wood perishing into a smell of sodden
timber and dry pond rock? He must have
known them well, the oldness of surprises
there: carousels of images in this human Styx.
--- ALBERT B. CASUGA
The writer as elitist considers all reality as his realm of celebration. His estimate of the human condition is nobody's business but his. The reader's caveat is simply to read the poet's work and "not miss the many splendored thing."
If elitist is defined thus, then I might affirm that I have never abandoned that position. My troth has always been to create the poem that will breathe on its own and struggle to live or die on its own.