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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.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

PART 2: MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE RAGE POEMS (A REVIEW)


SOME RAGE POEMS FROM SALUD’S ONLINE ANTHOLOGY
A rage expressed in dripping sarcasm, impunity, and, indeed, disdain (seen from the viewpoint of the assassins,) is Marne L. Kilates' almost immediate contribution to Salud’s call.

It is an apostrophic diatribe fit for Manila’s Plaza Miranda (the Philippine version of Times Square or London’s Trafalgar Square or even Hyde Park) to stir the people into frenzy. It recalls a literary tradition fraught in the zarzuela where poetry is most effective because it is declaimed as rousing elocutions.

One is reminded of attempts staged by Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera to harangue Quiapo’s audiences at Plaza Miranda with his protest poems. The Bulatlat, an online magazine of long standing, has published some of these oral poems of Dr. Lumbera, a Philippine National Artist.

Kilates’ poem recalls the lacerating edge of Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s recitations at the Kremlin Square where, alone, he could drive thousands of people to anger or tears, and to bear arms, with his lyrical descriptions of Gulag’s inhumanity to his peasant brethren.

(Long moribund in the Philippine literary landscape, oral poetry, nevertheless, struggles to exist at this writing. Young writers have not gone past the howls of Ginsberg or the lazy orthographies of e.e.cummings; now, they think rap is au courant; indolence and ignorance of poetics and aesthetic benchmarks make them unreadable. Poetry in English is almost dead or dying in the Philippines.)

Again, with an unexpected twist, it is truly a “soundless scream” to wake up a fence-sitting people from helpless stupor.

MARNE L. KILATES

Out of the shadows, evil speaks...

You don’t count. None of you
Count in the scheme of things.
Not your small bodies or small lives,
Not your whining, despicable
Poverty groveling before our power,
Not your sniveling needfulness
That clutches at the hem of our skirts
And soils the varnish of our floors,
Not your sweaty intrusions that offend
Even our pets, not your unending
Requirements for small change.

No, you don’t count. The scheme
Of things is something you cannot
Understand: Things of magnitude
And consequence are a puzzle to you,
The workings of power you can never
Equate with your pitiful scrambling
For the next meal, the overdue rent,
The unpaid tuition, the humiliation,
The shame, the want. You can only
Understand fear and the weight
Of our power upon your servitude,

The fear of being trampled upon,
Crushed underfoot, buried
In the dirt that you love so much,
In the sod that you mistake for your
Dignity, in the miserable patch
That is your only concept of property.
You can only understand the immediacy
Of death glinting in our loud and
Rumbling machines, our guns
That you thought we wouldn’t use
But did because… You don’t count.
Get out of the way. Disappear. Die.

(Translated to Filipino, this Kilates poem should inflame an audience to take up arms. Verily, the impunity shown the victims is graphic here.)

Philippine Graphic Weekly editor, Inday Espina-Varona’s poem will be recalled again and again by cafe insurgents. Will armchair revolutionaries see the rage behind this Hamletian soliloquy? Will anyone “peek behind the backhoe” and cry: “Havoc! Let slip the dogs of war.”

It is finely crafted poems like Varona’s which will stand the test of time and impatience. Her fear and trembling is occasionally the intelligentsia’s reaction; but beware the dark thoughts that spring from these minds --- theirs is a retaliation that gurgles from the heart and centuries of pent-up anger and unmollified rage.

INDAY ESPINA-VARONA

We wash down fears in brew amid neon’s glare
and now clamp teeth on trembling lips
as fingers press black knobs that pace
the rush of images of flesh and bones and teeth
and hair framed by clumps of earth

Craft flies, deserts us, absconds
in this moment of illogic when the mind
shirks from its normal quest for answers,
dreading the cackle of bloodlust
that awaits the intrepid
that dare peek behind the backhoe.

Luisa Igloria’s ghazal on the Maguindanao Massacre was one of the earliest responses to Salud’s solicitation.

It is the most “soundless scream” of those I have chosen to limn this rage which Mr. Salud would want to preserve not only for the duration of this massacre’s prosecution but for all the literary ages.

An aesthetic exercise, it screams with the fearsome muttering of those body parts, if they could but bear witness to the carnage.

We'll grieve the most for the smallest parts of their mangled
bodies: the tendons of the throat, no longer able to speak of tragedy;

the little finger joints severed beneath the canopy, the wombs
and hips that broke so easily, as if it were no tragedy.

If this is not poetry, what is? If this is not grief, what is? Igloria is a poet of poets.


LUISA IGLORIA

Months after, metallic glimpse of water across low hills
and loosened earth, still shadowed with tragedy.

Salt in the air, every rooftop edged with rust--
Could they have known what portents bloomed with tragedy?

Rip of light caught on the zipper's downstroke.
Who'll sign his name on the bloody breastplate, authoring this tragedy?

Grass strewn with leaves, with limbs. Even birds now skirt
the field. A backhoe, impaled on the outlines of tragedy.

We'll grieve the most for the smallest parts of their mangled
bodies: the tendons of the throat, no longer able to speak of tragedy;

the little finger joints severed beneath the canopy, the wombs
and hips that broke so easily, as if it were no tragedy.

Of the poems sent to Mr. Salud, this Barrett poem (apparently a take off from a corrupted version of the villanelle) intrigues me. It sounds cavalier but it is not; it objectifies the namelessness and insignificance of these lives cut down in a show of unearned power and might. Like Kilates, Kay Ulanday Barrett is angriest when she says: “Do not confuse numbers for bodies,” One dead body is one too many.


These are the hapless who are willing to fight for a spot in this soil, but “like fish scale, they are transparent", seemingly without a tinge of gravitas. The filthy unknown.


Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
A country is a swollen stalk of rage (un)refrained
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?


Will they merit love from outraged brethren from the seats of power? Nah. “Love is contraband sent in envelopes.” Corrupt politicians will buy their votes, but “bellies hold breath at a starving neck/ A country is a swollen stalk of rage.”


KAY ULANDAY BARRETT

Your name is transparent
like fish scale, a stretch of
guiltless highway full of traffic.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?

Like fish scale, a stretch of
hues: bloodlike, oceanic, rifle metal to a temple
how do you pronounce your name & not flinch?
Do not confuse numbers for bodies.

Hues: bloodlike, oceanic, rifle metal to a temple
Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
Do not confuse numbers for bodies
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.

Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
A country is a swollen stalk of rage (un)refrained
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?



But they are not nameless, nor are they lumpen unwashed. They, too, have names and dreams. And most cogently, screams.


The effort at objectifying a scream of rage required this “alphabet” poem. The three stanzas culled from the initial letters of SCREAM in each line concretize the anguish and the soundless rage over dead dreams, and even young love.


Why be lugubrious when violent anger is apropos?


This is precisely the persuasion of this review: Rage is most pronounced when it is a gurgling in the blood, spewing in one’s breath, in one’s seething recognition of wasted opportunities --- the truncation of youth in such a stupid stupid stupid mishap in the name of a spurious democratic gesture.


Luisa Igloria’s blog Lizard Meanders got me into this poetical collaboration. I do not regret my sending one. It is, however, an effort to inform the exercise with the requirements of poetry lest it becomes a collection of drooling blather signifying nothing; worse, amounting to Mila Aguilar’s fear of “shouting ourselves hoarse, producing nothing.”


ALBERT B. CASUGA


She lost her rubber slippers in the mud when
Crackling mayhem scuttled their march to town
Ripping through their roaring revelry riding
East of the searing sun: Ibagsak si Ampatuan!
Alive and raucous in their raspy throats, the raw
Mantra of venceremos quickly turned to wailing:

“She was on her way to the village school,
Carrying a new pair of shoes from her mother,
Rosa, who is an OFW in the States! Pobresita,
Eleanor, she needed clean shoes for the prom;
And, O, she laughed about our ragtag band
Marching to a funeral tune, its sole anthem beat.”

She will not find Simeon where she has gone,
Cut down, head cracked, and curled like a limp
Rag doll that could have been whipped away
Even from the tightest hold of a pining swain
Anxious and waiting in the now unlit schoolyard
Marking their first embrace in a lost last dance.




(PART 3: MAGUINDANAO RAGE POEMS: COMING FULL CIRCLE)

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