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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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


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How these books got buried in some dusty, musty, cobwebbed corner of the shelves now helter-skelter in my study is a testimonial to a Spring Cleaning to end all cleanings. Is this a prelude to a garage sale? Dios mio, no! Over my burnt body! But could it be one of those frenzied search-and-discover efforts to find which books have been borrowed and not returned?

I have been thinking of donating them to that seminary in the northern Philippines, but the shipping costs (via Filipino door-to-door carriers) are ridiculously horrendous. One just can’t be spendthrift and altruistically generous at the same time.

Prospective donees will just have to wait for my demise (while the books are hopefully still contemporary -– but I trust that these ones will be rare collections as I grow any older. Investment savvy says these books will be manna from a philanthropic heaven to an impoverished reader who can no longer abide the larcenous prices and taxes on books. The lifetime of “taste and erudition” invested in selecting these books are the value-added ad valorem.)

But here it is: the book I could not find. 100 Essential Modern Poems (selected and introduced by former Poetry Magazine editor Joseph Parisi) -- a perfect companion to the Great Books of the Western World and The Story of Civilization by Hutchins and Durant respectively. A poetry match for Bounty Books’ 501 Must-Read Books (since it was not brave enough to include must-read poetry books!)

Parisi envisioned this selection to be a “starting point…a concise detailed introduction to modern poetry for out-of-school adults, a comprehensible collection of modern classics that would offer, to use a fine old word, a vade mecum: a go-with guide to the territory and continuing companion, a book to take along on the initial outings and to keep handy afterward.”

These “essential” modern poems “that emerged as the most valuable fulfill certain basic criteria – the three Ms, if you will – superbly well. First, of course, they are modern, in the broadest sense. Second, they are meaningful, they have significant things to say—provocative and profound ideas, wise and frequently witty observations—about the human condition. Finally, they are memorable: what the poets say is expressed in extraordinarily well-chosen words, in striking images and arresting metaphors, turns of the phrase that stick—language one not keeps in mind but takes to heart, and might want to learn (as the idiom has it) by heart.”

Why “essential”? Parisi argued: “…these one hundred poems may be justly called essential in that they deal with the most fundamental issues everyone eventually faces. They express in unforgettable ways the deepest experiences that make us human: love, friendship, family bonds (and frictions), longing and loss, dreams and disappointments, anxiety, suffering, joy, faith, the search for meaning, and our relation to nature.”

While all the poets included here display excellent craftsmanship, these poems were not primarily selected for their exemplary techniques, or their emphasis on methodology, but on their meaning. Ultimately, that is what the reader hankers for; otherwise, if they remain “difficult and impenetrable”, why waste precious life time on them?

These then are the poets and the 100 essential poems that any reader should read to fulfill this distinction of “having read poetry” for pleasure and comfort:

(See scanned figures above. Click on figure and zoom in to check on poets and their poems).


7 x 10 World Poetry Choices by Seven Filipino Poets (edited by Alfred A. Yuson) lists down the poems that have “influenced” the craft, voices, and poetic vision of these poets. It would be an interesting study to compare the list of Parisi and those of these Southeast Asian poets who have been decidedly “mentored” by the classic poets listed in 100 Essential Poems.

Gemino H. Abad, Cirilo F. Bautista, Marjorie Evasco, Luisa Igloria, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Ricardo M. De Ungria, and Alfred A. Yuson are some of the most competent practising poets in that island Republic. By their own admission, they were “influenced” by quite a number of those poets considered “modern and essential” by Joseph Parisi, former editor of the prestigious Poetry Magazine, considered by poets all over the world as the magazine to be published in before one considers himself finally “arrived.”

Gemino H. Abad and Cirilo F. Bautista have been reported as these year’s top nominees for the Philippines National artist Award.

(See scanned pages above. Click on figure and zoom in to check on poets and the poems that have “influenced them.”)

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