Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Poet (1934 – 2010+)
A HOMECOMING DREAM
...I regret to inform you that our dear Ophie Dimalanta passed away shortly before dinnertime in her Navotas home due to hypertension-related illness....she got out of the house, returned promptly because she was not feeling well. She died in her sleep. --- Nov. 4, 2010 E-mail from Wendell Capili, poet and University of the Philippines professor:
To die, to sleep; / To sleep? Perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,/ For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, /Must give us pause.
--- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare
The dreams must include a salon of jesters
Belting throaty ululations announcing her coming
To the party of outpouring angst and crippling blocks.
Are you all poets here? Yarn spinners maybe? Ah,
Sparrows wounded in flight bogged down by fear
Of rejection slips and rancid rancorous reviews!
She will touch them ever so lightly, giggling a little,
Having been there, flying, dying, having done that,
All figures waylaid on her poems’ wake bleeding.
Why write at all when raucously rabid living
Is raunchy enough for the sad and unfulfilled
Who find themselves eunuched by etudes and song?
The salon erupts into muffled moans and laughter,
Crowning its homecoming poet and doyenne,
Proclaiming life and love will trump poetry this time.
Are you all poets here? What rhymes tie you down
When verse and breath and beat must go on flowing,
Or perish with them entangled in death and dying?
A gaping satyr perched on a rock, waits and wails:
Monarch of dreams, lover of lust and life, Ophelia,
You have come home where poems have no dominion.
--- ALBERT B. CASUGA
Mississauga, Nov. 4, 2010
Last April 27, 2009, I posted an entry on Philippine poet Ophelia Dimalanta. I protested her not having been appointed Philippine National Artist, that country's highest artistic award. She deserved it more than most of the awardees in literature. In my exile, despite a lifetime of writing, I was not qualified to nominate her. But, of course, she did not need it. She is an important Philippine poet who would have lent respectability to the now politically-diminished award.
I am reposting this entry to acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. Dimalanta. When I was barely a struggling poet and academic, she introduced me to the literary realm with a preface to my first collection of poems, Narra Poems and Others, published by San Beda College Publiations in 1968.
In 2009, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House (Manila, Philippines) published another collection, A Theory of Echoes (A Selection of Poems). By nurturing this book through the intracies of publication, Dr. Dimalanta got this collection off the press, and accepted the author's copies on my behalf at its launching in February 2009. Unable to attend, I asked her to accept the books, while I stewed in exile in Canada.
April 27, 2009
OPHELIA A. DIMALANTA: POET AS 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
Into a longed for
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:
HOW A POET EXPLAINED HER POETRY
WHILE EUNUCHS SAT DOWN GAPING
(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.
Dimalanta has several works anthologized in local and foreign journals; has published three books : Anthology of Philippine Contemporary Literature, Readings from Contemporary English and American Literature, and The Philippine Poetic; and a collection of poems, Montage, which won the Iowa State University best poetry award(1969), and first prize in the Palanca Memorial awards for literature(1974).
She was a founding member of the Manila Critics Circle and an honorary fellow of the Philippine Literary Arts Council. In 1999, she founded the UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies and presently serves as its dynamic director.
Cirilo F. Bautista hailed her as "not only our foremost woman poet but also one of the best poets writing now, regardless of gender."
Her poems show the evident influence of T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Her later poetry draws from a wider range of influences, among them Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Denise Levertov.
Dimalanta believes that "The older you become and the more mature your art becomes, the more you realize that you have your own identity."
Mrs. Dimalanta also wrote books and critical reviews, handled literature and creative writing classes at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School, Faculty of Arts and Letters, and De La Salle College . She also aquired a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Santo Tomas.
In 2002, UST published Dimalanta's verse drama, "Lorenzo Ruiz, Escribano: A Play in Two Acts", with a Filipino translation by Florentino H. Hornedo and Michael M. Coroza. It was premiered on 22-24 February 1994 at UST in a production directed by Isagani R. Cruz. Dimalanta lived with her family in Navotas City.
* Poet and Critic Best Poem Award from Iowa State University (1968)
* Palanca Awards for Poetry (1974, 1983)
* Fernando Maria Guerrero Award (1976)
* Focus Literary Award for Fiction (1977, 1981)
* Cultural Center of the Philippines Literature Grant for Criticism (1983)
* the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from the Writers' Union of the Philippines (1990)
* South-East Asia (SEA) Writer's Award from King Bhumibol of Thailand (1999)
Paalam, Ophie. Hanggang sa muli nating pagkikita. (In our native Ilocano: Lagip ken ayat iti ipabalun ko kenka, kabsat ko nga man-naniw. Agaluad-ka. Agkitatanto manen, sadin-no man iti papanam.)