My photo
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, March 31, 2009


Isagani R. Cruz's Beyond Futility: The Filipino as Critic, (New day Publishers, 1984), classifies me a postmodernist in the literary theory that he said I offered in my Aesthetics of Literature (De La Salle University, 1972). "His book...offers a literary theory modern in conception, almost postmodern in tendency..."

"Such a view of literature thus aims at being comprehensive, encompassing in one sweep Aristotle's mimesis, Horace's dulce et utile, Kant's aesthetic realm, and Husserl's phenomenology. Casuga's entire effort in his book, in fact, is to be comprehensive. In spite of his avowed intention of presenting a formalist aesthetics, for example, he allows the use of biographical material in analysis..."

Biographical material? One must know something about the author to know what his artistic purpose is? Would that be helpful? Where did Dr. Cruz see that evidence in the book which he generously wrote about in surveying what kind of literary criticism has been developed to lend direction to Philippine literature? I have always disavowed "biographical material" as irrelevant in literary criticism; it creates "mnemonic irrelvancies." Looking back, as I admiringly re-read his seminal work on Philippine literary criticism, I realize now that he was referring to an entry in my Writer's Notebook which might help in the analysis of my rather "difficult" poem A Theory of Echoes." The following is that journal entry:

Entry: Re Andrea's Death (September 9, 1970)

My math teacher in high school died today. I don't know what to feel about this. She's old, all right -- and she must die sooner or later.

It's sad how she must go. she won't even be able to use her math, algebra, geometry, and all her equations to get herself to heaven.

But death is nothing else but an extension of life. Just as living, she had her students as simple echoes of her awesome presence. What is an echo--but an extension of sound? And language, echo of thought?

Perhaps, her death could be a good material for this mathematical idiom and imagery Cirilo is talking about.

Andrea Alviar comes to mind now as that old, church-going spinster who leaves a void in those corridors of the old Gabaldon building in La Union High school. How the corridors must reverberate with her throaty voice--axioms coming out of her lips sounding like rules of life.

She is dead now--she has fallen--like a fractured birdwing. The end of everything is the Zodiac and the Zero which is our beginning. -- From the Author's Notebook

Here is that lead poem in my A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2009) which grew out of the entry.

A Theory of Echoes

1. Axiom

Echoes shape corridors lean
Leaving them a cipher's silence
Not unlike the axiom of a day:
All things go up to fall the way
Fractured bird wings fall, violence
Met in the loins of wind.
Lean corridors shape echoes,
Silence ciphering them, leaving
A day axiomed as not what is unlike
The way the fall of things strike:
Violence on the fractured bird wing,
Winds loyned with zodiaqual zeroes.
2. Echo

-- ALBERT B. CASUGA (Sunday Times, 1-10-71)

(Many of the key images I used in the poem are also used in the journal entry. This entry is a prose description of the experience I was concretizing in the poem. The main difference would probably be the economy of expression in the poetic version of the experience.)

Can a literary theory be gleaned from this extract?

Dr. Cruz in his Beyond Futility quotes my "literary theory" and clarifies:

To Casuga, the function of literature is to "come closer to truth, the distinct awareness and understanding of things, conditions sine qua non to the perfection of man's essence." Such an ultimate epistemological-metaphysical end is served by the specific purpose of a work of literature, namely, "to objectify and subjectify (concretize and emotionalize) an otherwise abstract aesthetic experience for the purpose of soliciting or engendering aesthetic delight in the artist as well as in the appreciator."

If the author did not "reveal" his stimulus for the poem, would it still be appreciated by the reader as something that had to do with the life-and-death continuum, the echoes of thoughts in language, the way everything must fall in order rise once more with the loins of wind.
The heuristic sagacity of the literary critic is what one must normally fall back on in order to answer "tricky" questions like this. Writer's Notebooks are usually unearthed from their archives only after their demise -- I will not wait for that peremptory silence.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Rev. Fr. Miguel Bernad, S.J., literary critic, and an academic of long standing at the Philippine Ateneo de Manila University and Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, died at 91 last March 15 in Cagayan de Oro City.

In 1961, Fr. Bernad published his literary "organon" Bamboo and Greenwood Tree. Words he said then still ring true today:

"We must treat Filipino litrature as it is: with humility, but also with respect. We must not call it great, for it is not; we must not treat it patronizingly, for it deserves respectful is an inchoate literature, but within a modest compass, it has its masterpieces."

As a critic, he spelled out his dictum when he used preponderantly his theological approach to measure the achievement of prose writers like Manuel Arguilla, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Nick Joaquin, and Gregorio Brillantes. Consistent in his moral-philosophical approach in literary criticism, he broadened his criticism with insights into man's literature as work for the "greater glory of God." In Philippine literary circles, his was a "brave approach" -- religion being almost non-existent in the island Republic's extant literary themes.

Born in Ozamiz City, in Mindanao, Fr. Bernad taught English literature, was a columnist at the Philippine Star, and was the first editor of the Ateneo's prestigious quarterly journal Philippine Studies, and Xavier's scholarly journal "Kinaadnan." An indefatigable man of letters, he said he considered his priesthood, however, as his one great achievement.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Not just literature

30 March 2009

Not just literature
Although this blog concerns itself mostly with literary matters, it is not just about literature. The issue of multilingual literature merely mirrors the bigger multilingual and multicultural issues of nations and the world. The rise of English as a dominant international language has caused the death of several languages. In the Philippines, for example, the continued use of English for all government, legal, and business transactions has been shown to be directly related to the deepening poverty, hunger, and helplessness of almost 80% of the population (only 20% more or less are functionally literate in English). The Philippines used to have many more than a hundred indigenous languages; it is now down to about a hundred. The use by a poet of only one language has similar disastrous consequences. By giving readers only a highly limited view of reality, the monolingual poet fails to catch the complexities of real life, thus oversimplifying our view of the world. Since literature is our best (some say our only) way to see the world as it really is, the monolingual poet sins against humanity. It is the responsibility of every real poet to have at least two languages - the mother tongue and a language as different as possible from the mother tongue. Poetry, needless to say, is a third language.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:16 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...
When literature as art is referred to as a humanistic discipline, its role as a definer of reality, knowledge, and truth is presumed pre-eminent.

Since literature's main equipment is language, it is easy enough to see that the more languages a writer has, the better equipped he is as a definer of reality, knowledge , and truth.

Shall we require all writers then to command as many languages as possible to fulfill this function? That would be an onerous responsibility, but it could be done. In the interest of competence, why not, indeed, have as many ways of expressing reality as its richness demands?

Will a multi-faceted view of reality engender a broader and farther "reach beyond the human's grasp"? It appears to do that.

Dr. Cruz's minimum requirement is for a writer to be "at least bicultural". It might be difficult for a second-language writer to claim that he has a competent grasp of linguistic and cultural nuances of his literary material without having been acculturised in the first language. This has particular reference to a Filipino writing in English -- if he has not been exposed to native speakers and culture, will his use of the English sound system be authentic?

My appreciation of the sound system of English developed through my having taught Speech and Public Speaking at the Benidictine's San Beda College in Manila. My grasp of the linguistic nuances was, of course, validated when I came to live, write, and teach in North America. In fact, I considered myself a better-equipped user of the English language vis-a-vis even academic colleagues who had English as their first language.

I learned from writers like Gerald Sanders in his "A Poetry Primer" that certain sounds in English suggest meanings which may (or even can) stand on their own. The different sounds in English offer a wide range of significance which, when recognised by the sensitive writer, would enhance the tonal quality--the melody--of his poetry. Sounds, no doubt, should make sense in the poem. Of course, non-native speakers--unless they have mastered the language--may find it difficult to assign these phonemes with the significance they want. Consequently, therefore, this may delimit his view and expression of a "reality" he must define through his work.

Thus, even Fitzgerald's popular translation of "Rubaiyat" from the native Persian, suffered serious flaws, as Dr. Cruz found out in his Iranian sojourn. Verily, "the moving finger writes...and having writ, moves on...Neither piety nor wit can cancel half a line."

There is no way I could have enhanced the fervency of my recitation of the Khayyam lines that were useful for my "landing dates" in those profligate university days:

"A book of verses underneath the bough,
A loaf of bread, a jug wine,
And thou beside me sitting in the wilderness
O wilderness where Paradise enow."...

"Ah Love, could you and I with Him conspire
To make this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits and then
Remold it nearer to our heart's desire?"**

(Quoted from now weakened memory, I might have missed some lines or words.)

What did I miss in the native Persian? It would certainly have been an advantage literary-wise.

Multilingual literary men as cosmopolitan artists would certainly breed "writers without boundaries". If poets were "legislators of the world", can a truly unified world be far behind? -- ALBERT B. CASUGA
30 March, 2009 10:01

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Songs for My Children

Youth Sprouts from Sudden Fear
in the Bright Grip of the City

All the piper has is a bag of music and a pack of metaphors.
-- In a Sparrow’s Time, 1990

1. The Firstborn

These broken smiles, these cracked laughter –
(O dear tender dear gentle dear child)
You have become my little mermaid,
Restless in your lair; and I, the Sire’s shadow staid
On a broken, creaking chair, growing stems,
Rotting grass, shooting blossoms dying on an ear.

Youth sprouts from sudden fear
in the bright grip of the City.

2. A Shock of Memory

Paper boats neatly crumpled into a shock of memory
form the eddies where we drown a death wish among
debris scattered for effect upon a mound of games
left awry when the rain came.
Glee undone, wry laughter muffling quiet cry,
we pray:

We shall not play boat today, child, the rain is harsh,
The night falling tucks away the gentle wind and dog stars.
We shall cup the melting sky in our hands,
We shall, behind the dogwood, let Him slip us by.

3. A Mischief of Cigars

You were a break of laughter
firmly cut on Father’s chin before your birth.
Your life was a smile in the mischief of cigars.
You have been born before in a shock of memory
when all Mother could remember were nights
Father was the agile dancer dancing dense
the deep dark duty that you were.

O, my son.

4. Dialogue

“Time died here, love, among the hyacinths.
I had this way of picking it up, feline-like purring,
By the nape – your Mother crying a little –
I buried Time between the dogrose and the lilies."

O, Father. Time overtakes us, and
We cower in our darkened rooms.

5. A Game of Fireflies

It is only death dies in a cavort of children:
the game is old – catching fireflies in the woods.
When fire dies in the hollow of their palms,
the woods fall dark, the games expire;
but the children haunt the woods
because fireflies will be back. Time shapes up
the day’s good game when fire is caught.

Tonight, child, we change the game:
Catch the fire and burn the Woods,
Yield the fireflies for the night’s good game.
When nighttime shrouds the dry woods, hija,
lead me on where the game is good,
where Apu Ang-ngin appoints the Fire seconds
to the Duel with children playing the Children’s Hour.
Children play. Tra-la. Fire and Woods. Tra-la.

6. Unbridled in Spring

Dandelions grow unbridled in spring,
Because they would not at any other time;
But you will shoot unbridled on the wing
To clip the wind at any other time.

It is the curse of sitting tall, my daughter,
Pursues you, like I must in turn pursue;
The pursuit is not unlike some laughter
Welled from frolic and peal of ingénue

Caught in the fervid grasp of her lover,
Spilled on the shimmering mantle of bloom;
Dandelions grow unbridled as cover
For hillocks echoing some such uncertain gloom.

Laughter is as good only as the song
When not arrested in its rhyme;
You are a laughter as good as song,
My Dandelion, in spring or wintertime.


These poems got published separately in magazines I sent them to.

Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy, then editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, (ca. 1970s) thought my poem A Theory of Echoes -- which she published that week Benjamin Afuang (a university classmate and a quondam poet) introduced me to her -- had "distinctive style and technique". Do I have more poems in the closet?

I sent her the first four poems (except for the fifth and sixth , which I wrote much later in Canada; I collected them as Songs... in In a Sparrow's Time, my 1990 collection of poems), and she published them in a special broadsheet in the Sunday supplement. (Poems normally got printed only in the right column of the inside back cover.) Afuang told me later that Ms. Goloy felt she "discovered" me. (Literary coteries are mutual admiration societies -- indeed, they become societies of dead poets in later incarnations.)

My children know which poems were written for them. I hope they keep a copy of these songs, because that's probably all I could leave them: "...a bag of music and a pack of metaphors."

Poets find their offspring cynosures of poetic attention because they are their "intimations of immortality"; e.g., T. S. Eliot's Marina, Cirilo Bautista's Maria, Dylan Thomas in If I Were Tickled By the Rub of Love, and in my The Gibbet (in Narra Poems), written for my son, Beau, and Bautista's Ria.

These are love poems. I wish I could write volumes of them. Through the years, however, I found them difficult to write -- After almost five decades, I realize I have written only one love poem for my wife (Reed Laughter, in Narra Poems and Others, 1968).

If I ever come up with a "bucket list", I would dearly want to write them more love poems.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Studies For Poetry

A poem must be magical as a seagull.
-- Jose Garcia Villa, Selected Poems and New

1. Reasons for Imagery

Stars must be capable of violence,
Frogs eloquence, earthworms grace;
And Chaucer’s cock or Peter’s gaoler,
Endless crowing into bright space.

Search here ends where fire begins
To consume the log which must be
Unconsumed; the logs are ember;
But in the ken, the log is reality.

Reality as reality is not even sound,
But a thing for mutes to talk about.

2. The Balance of Thought and Emotion

Agility on the tightrope
Is becoming to the dancer;
No put-on teetering robs
The act of its exquisite danger.

What happens then to clothes
Stripped off the limbs slowly,
While dancer on air unloads
Daily fears and common pity?

Circus fares keep shorn rags
Like widows their memento mori.

3. The Creative Process

Trust trembling cups, Alejo, fashion
answers to questions asked of black coffee:
Why is the cup a cup not a reason
for us to forget this morning’s ennui?
If coffee must be itself and must be black,
why do I take it and ask how the cup,
empty as it is, can take the lack
of mass where form and coffee overlap?
It is the cup as master of the form
resolves the problem of St. Augustine.
It is the cup as mystic on the table
shapes the pain that stops whatever we are in.

Poets Jose Garcia Villa, Achibald Macleish, had their Ars Poetica. So should I.
Macleish's "A poem should not mean / But be." is faithful to the New Critic's concept of the poem as an art work that stands on its on. It also perishes on its own.
Villa says: "A poem must be magical as a seagull." How so? Listen to the sounds of "magical" and "seagull". Do they recall the gongs of the Shinto shrine that one must strike before entering the temple? Visualize the glide of the seagull. Poems should be made of these.
Existing as ontological creations, poems thrive on these: oxymorons, conceits, ironies, the magical chemistry of form achieving content and content birthing a form.
"Reality as reality is not even sound,/ But a thing for mutes to talk about."
Indeed, "Search here ends whre fire begins/ To consume the log which must be/ Unconsumed; the logs are ember;/ But in the ken, the log is reality."
What is a poem? It is the "cup as mystic on the table". It is the shorn rags of lovers kept by "widows like their memento mori."
"It is the cup as master of the form/ resolves the problem of St. Augustine." Can the entire sea be contained in a teacup? The entire universe of possibilities, indeed.

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Linguistic relativism 2: RETRIEVING A PARADISE LOST

27 March 2009
Linguistic relativism 2

One reason it is difficult for critics to judge monolingual against multilingual works is that the critics themselves have to be multilingual or at least bilingual. A Western critic faced with the challenge of determining which of Oedipus Rex or Hamlet is a better play has to be able to read both Greek (even if learned only in school) and English (not our contemporary one, but that of Shakespeare). There are, of course, such critics, especially those that took classics in Oxford or similar universities. Reading Oedipus Rex in another language (which is what most critics do) will fail to catch some if not many of the crucial literary qualities of the work (the rhymes, the length of the syllables, the homophones, and so on, what structuralists would call the signifiers). That is, even if English speakers do not always acknowledge it, also the case with Shakespeare (I once heard a British actor read Shakespeare the way Shakespeare would have recited the lines, and no one in the English-speaking audience understood a word!). With macaronic poetry, a reader can at least catch the sounds and glimpse the rhyme scheme, but a literary critic has to go beyond merely glimpses. The literary critic has to be able to explain the relationship of sound to sense, and that is very hard (but not impossible, as in the case of Filipino critics that read English or in the case of many European critics that grew up with languages other than their own). Just like the multilingual writer, the multilingual critic has a distinct advantage over monolingual critics.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:45 AM


Is the advocacy behind multilingual literature an attempt to skirt the issue of a global language?

If we can't succeed in adopting or creating a dominant language for social and cultural development, might it not be politically easier to interlace languages to unify the human's worldview?

Esperanto did not prosper. French and Spanish were sine qua nons only in their Imperial heydays. Latin died with the dying of the Imperial Church. English as a dominant global medium of communication might still find its current efficacy marred by the economic downturn in most of the Western countries where English is used?

Would a multilingual literature not be creating a neo-Babel? It appears quixotic at this point to practise multilingualism.

The whole gamut of literary theory and linguistics would have to be turned upside- down, inside-out, to re-invent this wheel.

Multilingual lexicons, semantics, sound systems, syntax, ad infinitum would have to be codified. How much time does man have before he re-invents a new Dark Ages -- since the globalisation of culture will have to depend on a super-power to redirect geopolitics that will foster a political will to adopt one, unified, hegemonised culture and civilisation (unigovernments, universities, blended-multi-cultural-diversities etc.)?

How many world wars should be waged to slay the ogres of nationalism, territorial terrorism, and economic protectionism in order to humour our multilingual writers and critics?

Is this all a pipe dream? But the dream of retrieving a Paradise Lost from the cacophony of chattering-babbling-unlistening massmen remains to be that -- a dream devoutly to be wished. --ALBERT B.CASUGA

28 March, 2009 04:55

Thursday, March 26, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Linguistic relativism 1: Eliot and Haiku

26 March 2009
Linguistic relativism 1

Multilingual literary criticism can most probably contribute to the current debate about linguistic relativism, popularly but inaccurately known as the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. If it is true in some way that language determines the way we see the world, then a writer using only one language, more precisely his/her own mother tongue, necessarily is able to mirror only a limited aspect of the real world (assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is indeed a real world, something some philosophers contest). If we want poetry to mirror (I am using the traditional word, which is a general synonym of the classic "imitate") reality, then poetry that mirrors only a small part of reality should surely be inferior to poetry that mirrors a greater part of reality. In theory, therefore, assuming that some version of Whorf-Sapir is correct, a multilingual or at least bilingual poet must enjoy an advantage over a monolingual poet, in that the multi-lingual or bilingual poet sees more of the world than the linguistically-challenged one does. One way to test this is to read a poem containing more than one language and to see how it compares with a monolingual poem. Of course, sampling will always be debatable, but if we take two poems considered classic or excellent by most critics and compare them, we might be on to something.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:58 AM


Linguistic relativism -- as opposed to linguistic determinism -- hypothesizes that language "influences" the writer's world view, while the latter "determines" his cognition, conceptualization, and his entire system of "knowing."

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that multilingual literature presents more worldviews (as languages are expressions of these world views), it does not necessarily follow that it is superior to a monolingual view.

It is altogether possible that the multilingual view could be a series of "false" perceptions. Therefore, if language is the handmaiden of phenomenology, then language/s based on a false or erroneous worldview would be inferior as an equipment of epistemology (i.e., derivation of knowledge). Hence, an inferior rendition of "reality."

The "being" of a poem would be warped if based on erroneous worldview. (This premiss exposed Dadaism and Surrealism as "suspect" movements in the arts.)

A "small reality" (shorn of other languages media), like those "mirrored" in Zen poetry (found in the Japanese Haiku), might have more puissant poetic energy than even a multilingual poem like Eliot's "The Wasteland." That "small reality" could, after all be a synecdoche (that reaches a universal truth via the specific reality used in the poet's metaphors or imagery).

How does Eliot's "Gerontion" compare to Basho's haiku on the onset of autumn (the fall being a correlative of ageing and a decline of verve):


"I, an old man,
a dull head among empty spaces."


even the birds
and clouds look old."

A multilingual poet would quite naturally have an advantage over a monolingual craftsman in terms of poetic and linguistic tools. But their poetry must needs be evaluated by the literary critic in terms of their "literariness".

Here's another Basho haiku for good measure:

Year's end,
all corners
of this floating world, swept.

How does this compare with Eliot's "The Wasteland" (a multilingual poem) which veritably speaks of the same "end":

"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain."

A small reality is bigger than one thinks. Listen to this Kikaku (1661-1707) haiku:

of the yam --
raindrop's world.

The critic finds a place in this scene. He adjudicates which poetry speaks more powerfully to the ken. (That's why Comparative Literature remains as an elective course in Litt.B programs.)

26 March, 2009 21:34

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


De Osteo

Sancho Bacalzo’s bone San Antonios have holes in the head.
--Delia Coronel, ICM

Pallor on the bone of Bacalzo
Becomes an afternoon heat like this –
The frenzy in the ashen marrow,
The prayer in the hour’s tease:

Ah, Sancho, femur-born Sancho,
Calyx of a star or tendon of fish –
Do you look at me as I do you
With half an ache or half a wish?

The dark in the hollow of a bone
Traces the shape of undone circles;
O, you die in the marrow of tone,
Wake into the fright of rituals.

San Antonio de Osteo, moan
Of a carcass or carrion of miracles,
I alone must clean your bone,
I know the softness of follicles.


"Whazizz all about, hombre? Nagsusulat ka pa ba?" The late Philipines Free Press literary editor Nick Joaquin roared when I submitted this poem for publication in the 70s.

"Something I wrote at the Silliman Writer's Workshop."

"Do you also write there?" he asked impatiently.

No writing normally takes place in this two-week workshop in Dumaguete City, southern Philippines. Between the seminars and the binges after dark, what writing can take place? Writhing, maybe.

To the second question ("Are you still writing?"), one would fearfully respond: "Yes, I try."

"Gimme...cheque sa susunod na lingo." (...Get the cheque next week.) He knew one needed the pittance. He would not shell any coin out for the starving writers. He had respect for their gumption. He would buy one a bottle of San Miguel pale pilsen at Los Indios Bravos, though.

But back to the poem. I wrote this during the workshop after a visit with Sister Delia Coronel at her Cebu City lair. Showing us some rarities at her convent's museum, she pointed to some sculpted images of saints, among them those of San Antonio (St. Anthony, patron saint for lost souls). They were made out of bones. Human bones. Animal bones. Did not ask what type of bones out of reverence for the spritely, giggly nun, a "distant aunt", I was reminded by her.

They were sculpted by one Sancho Balcalzo. Felt creepy, so I stopped listening. Never found out who Sancho was.

My recollection in tranquility showed a diminutive woman in a well-starched habit, caressing the bone San Antonios as she gave us the lecture on those rare santos.

See where poems come from? See how they shape up? This one had a macabre kind of humour, and a strange, inhibited, erotic turn. For the celibate, like a hole in the head.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Narra Poems and Others

Houses Are Better Off
Without Porches Here

For Edith Tiempo, Teacher, National Artist

I, an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.
-- T.S. Eliot, Gerontion

I guess it is "a distance-given right to know”
as Edith Tiempo described it once in a poem. How is she?
“Edith now lives on a ridge about half an hour
from the city…the house is long, low, and airy –
a single bedroom, a kitchen, and a huge space in the center
for parties and conferences. The wall overlooking the sea is all glass…”-- E-mail from Lakambini Sitoy

Nara, 2002: The Winterset
Houses are better off without porches here.
On some porch, wherever aching bodies find them,
one is compelled to sit back in sudden beauty
and judge the scuttle of feet as tired or un-tired
depending on how faces wear them, tear them.
Look at humanity trapped on some dead end!

Halfway, between this river stone and many rocks after,
Nara shall have gone from our echoes-call.
We have wandered into a sunken mangrove and wonder:
Is it as silent there? Are there crabs there?
What quiet mood is pinching bloodless our spleens?
This is another pool – navel upon the earth.
Always, always,we cannot be grown men here.

Ah, to be old and a mariner come upon that restful cove,
where the final weapon is a chair not love;
to be old, cher ami, is a gallant slouching on that chair –
some porch of the heart grown insensitive to care.
To have lived and known how long a pipe lasts
through the wasteful dreariness of tremendous dusks
is to have bled with the maligned house lizards
falling one by quivering one. (Must I lay down my cards?)

Come sit by me, and watch humanity rot by.
Come chatter with me about some decent lie.

Ah, Nara must be the reverie of a changing season;
we never knew quite well how far we had traveled
before we ceased to chant our rising songs:

O we have blanched at the rustle of dried leaves
O we have quaked at the fullness of a street’s silence
O we have hushed at the coyness of echoing eves
O we have known the crag flower’s quintessence!

It is no longer Nara beyond this echo-call.
Where am I? Where are we?
If the morning never becomes an afternoon,
will it always be a waking into a moment of
disfigured song, a dawn of perpetual clocking?

I have earned my anger.
Because I have earned my madness to be left in peace,
I leave all humanity to you, Poet perched on the ridge.
Tell them the dreams we frightfully often miss
when children romp in the green little hills.
Tell them the love in every father’s grey eyes
long after sons and lovers have stiffened dead,
wreck of bills, from dusty wine, taut vice,
gnarled women’s thighs.

I have earned my loneliness.
(Have you?)

I have not knelt nor extinguished my brain.
(Would you?)

I have positioned my chair where, when I tap my fingers,
I also disturb the universe.

Poet on the Ridge, hermana Maestra, pray for me,
as I would you, that the dusk catches us still swearing
by the rhyme, perishing on the rhyme, convulsing
on the sudden quiver that comes on a stealth
when rhyme and rhythm become the sound of the sea,
the pulsing river, cupping you in time for that
peremptory dive off your perch into that devouring sea,
betting life, love, and limb, surfacing again
to challenge Him with your nakedness,
(because you were always gentle and pure),
basking under Lo-oc’s sky, waves laving now brittle
haunches and God your sole voyeur.


Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here is a "reincarnation" of several poems. It's first version appeared in the literary pages of The Varsitarian, the student magazine of the University of Santo Tomas (formerly Royal and Pontifical University of Saint Thomas). Then literary editor, Arnold Azurin, caught me loitering in the corridors of that venerable Dominican institution where I was taking up some graduate courses. He said he "needed a poem" in the V, do I have one ready? I fished out a manuscript of a poem I had "dedicated" to Cirilo F. Bautista, who was then teaching at the Baguio City (a mountain resort city carved out of the mountains in the North) University of St. Louis (run the Belgian CICMs). I was intrigued by his new book of poems, The Cave and Other Poems where he called himself a "Citizen of Darkness". In the poem's epigraph, I wrote: "To CFB--A Citizen of Darkness".

Azurin, sensing a "scoop" featuring an alumnus poet published frequently in the metropolitan magazines and one in the process of preparing a first collection of poems, ran off with this first incarnation -- and dedicated to boot to a Palanca-awardee who was then being considered one of the bright stars of the 60s Philippine literary world. Cirilo. Who beat me to a first collection.

Azurin, a fellow Ilocano from the Ilocos Region in the northern Philippines, had the long poem published in the Varsitarian's Literary Section that month in 1964. I read the poem in a Comparative Education class of Josephne Bass Serrano and promptly put the graduate class to sleep. Why listen to the poetic mannerisms of T.S. Eliot when you could read the poet/banker in one of the two copies of his Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot. But, of course, they were always out (the lit instructor had one copy out and other is missing). I suspect Dr. Serrano meant to rest a tad more than offer me my 15 seconds of fame.

When the Benedictine's San Beda College published Narra Poems and Others in 1968, Houses... was the penultimate poem in the 46-page volume. It sounded and looked like one of those T.S. Eliot (a university literary God) poems, I found it embarrassing . I rewrote the Varsitarian version but could not shake the Eliot marks. Curious bibliophiles interested in these grotequeries could write a paper on these progressive changes like tracing the growth of a cancerous cell.
(In his Habit of Shores, Gemino H. Abad made it part of his scholarship to include footnotes tracing the origin or shift of lines from one published poem to another ostensibly to show that my poetry transforms as often as I re-write them or recycle them into other forms depending on how often I would submit them for publication to as many media as are ignorant of the poems' progeny.)

Flash forward to my exile in Canada: I came out with In a Sparrow's Time in 1990, included re-written versions of poems from Narra Poems and Still Points (1972), and Houses Are Better Off without Porches Here reappeared as a leaner, cleaner poem on the last two pages of the 50-page "selection" of my poems from magazines, journals, books, and anthologies. It was calculated as a "mop up" operation -- shear the poems off of their "influences". It is time to stand by one's voice.

In 1998, I rewrote Houses to integrate sections of Waking Away from Narra, one of the core poems of Narra Quartet published earlier in Narra Poems. The "reincarnated, recycled, now reused" poem still with the same title was my entry in that year's Mississauga Library Systems Writing Contests. I won the poetry prize, and read the version to an audience who probably did not expect a Japanese/Chinese/Korean-looking Filipino read it dramatically in the English accent that the poem lent itself to. My teaching public speaking and speech came in handy. My Richard Burton impression of an "old man among windy spaces" reciting and singing some of the lines, surprised even my children who still cringe when they hear me speak better ("mas-English") than that BBC talking-head who emits sounds from a mouth-seemingly full of marbles. But I tell them, the poem does not lend itself to dramatic reading in Filipino English. What's surprising for an Asian to speak like the English? Or why can't Canadians speak like their ancestors, the English? (I guess they don't want to embarrass the Quebeckers who speak French like they hated it.)

My only regret is that I could not read it as well as Dylan Thomas would have with his deep baritone. But because it is supposed to be a poem of an "old man", the cadences of T. S. Eliot reading his poems could have been apropos. Resolving to "cure" myself of that addiction, I read the poem as soulfully, as gleefully earnest in my quivering voice-of-dotage.

In 2001, I won the poetry prize one more time, read the winning poem in Canadian English. I was not a hit.

(Speaking of poetry reading, I thought Filipino poet Krip Yuson, and the late Rolando Tinio read their English poems dramatically. I recall reading a Jose Garcia Villa love poem once at Letran
College -- the one with the commas after every word . Before long my audience was snickering, because I knew I was imparting what Doveglion wanted to auditorily impress his audience with -- the sounds of love-making were thus, and the cadences were as quick as the commas piling one upon the other. Blushing college boys and girls. Naughty Villa.)

I included Houses once again in my 2009 A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems published by the UST Publishing House. Feeling like a cosmetic surgeon, I reshaped the poem to integrate a sixth section addressed to the Poet on the Ridge. A slightly-retouched version was published earlier by Lakambini Sitoy former literary editor of the Sunday Times Magazine when Edith Tiempo won the National Artist Award.

The saga of Houses may still not end with this version that I said I was happy with. The process of creation presupposses the poet's anxiety to create a poem that could stand on its own. Poems "that have finally achieved a plenitude that I would no longer fuss about," I quote myself in A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems' Acknowledgement page.

Just as the process of "Creation" continues unabated in this universe, the process of writing and recycling a poem is a manner of restating the creator's prerogative. God is not done with us yet.
In fact, between poet and the Creator, "god is our sole voyeur."

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Critics follow writers

24 March 2009
Critics follow writers

That critics follow writers is fairly obvious from the history of criticism. Plato and Aristotle came after Sophocles and company. Cleanth Brooks and the New Critics came after T.S. Eliot and company. Even the Hungarian Marxist critics wrote only about previous works. The Australian postcolonial critics came after the Nigerian novelists and company. It is, of course, a tautology to say that a critic has to have a literary text to criticize, which means that the writer must necessarily come before the critic. In the few cases when critics (such as the early Russian Marxists) tried to tell writers what to write and how to write, the results have been either disastrous or insignificant. No one in China, not even the diehard Maoists, would now consider the works of the Cultural Revolution as superior in quality to those written before or after. No one in Russia even mentions the works done during the Stalinist period. In the Philippines, only the anti-Spanish (and anti-Spanish teachers) works of the late 19th century remain in the literary canon; those that presumably followed the Spanish critics of the time have been so forgotten that they are not even mentioned in footnotes.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 5:22 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Thank God for the writers. Without them, where would the critics be?

This is the reason for my advocating that a critic should be an artist (poet, playwright, fictionist, painter, etc.) first.

When the late Filipino poet Alejandrino G. Hufana fraternally consented to write an "Introduction" to my first collection of poems, "Narra Poems and Others" (1968), he wrote a rather lengthy analysis of the poetic well-springs of my poems. The archetypal approach he used was flattering. The mythology of a "poet's country is the inroad the poet permits his readers into his imagination," he said of my Narra, the landmark. But he pared his critic's razor and remained an artist, revelling at the "country," he likewise recognized.

Like most first collections, this one had structural problems, I realize that now, using a poet/critic's hindsight.

Hufana said, "It is the like structural problem that attracts and strains investigation of a work of imagination; the study is very often rewarding...for which there have been various constructs of criticism raised, and also obtruding critical jargons. We need not bother Casuga's present collection with all the encumbrances of study now. It may be that we are looking too overtly at the poems , when all we should do is to be reminded by Francis Thompson, the poet quoted by Casuga and with whom he has cetain affinities outside of the more applied qualities of T. S. Eliot; Thompson it was indeed who said: " 'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,/ That miss the many splendored thing."

Hufana, as poet, did not give free rein to his critical eye. I suspect he wanted the younger writer to thrive and mature. No use for rapiers yet. Let him live, he must have benevolently muttered. He was an artist before he was a critic.

Lesson learned: The critic follows the writer. The rapiers will be there for some gory use later -- IF the writer does not live up to his sacred troth. -- ALBERT B. CASUGA

24 March, 2009 07:28

Sunday, March 22, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Practice vs. theory

23 March 2009
Practice vs. theory

That writers are producing literary texts in languages other than their own is obvious. The practice of multilingual literature has been going on for centuries. What has not been going on, except in bits and pieces here and there, is the theory of multilingual literature. The situation is similar to the disjunction between the theory and the practice of translation. In translation theory, translators should translate from a foreign language (source language) into their mother tongue (target language), but translators continue to translate into languages other than their own. Translators are also supposed to translate from the original language, but translators do excellent translations based on translations (source language to first target language to second target language). Btw, this is not the same thing as the old story that physics proves that bumblebees cannot fly; that is an urban legend (read the amusing essay by physicist Ken Zetie entitled "The strange case of the bumble-bee that flew"). The inability of literary critics to come to terms with multilingual literature is not an urban legend: it's a challenge to critics to wake up to a globalized literary culture.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:08 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

A globalised literary culture has always existed in terms of the universal themes of the "human condition." When the particular material of any artist is a synecdochal correlative of the universal, wherever, whoever, whatever he is, he has "globalised" his cultural ambit.

The problem is not the critic waking up to a "globalised literary culture", but it appears to be the still "uncreated literary language" to express that culture to a globalised audience.

I would worry about globalisation -- it could be a pipe dream. The economic counterpart is already wreaking havoc. A global language then? Whoever rises strongest in world economy, culture, production of war machines, etcetera, will have that option to "globalise". Why is that necessary for literature? Will world wars leave any nation of readers reading the global literature in a global language?

Will the absence of a global culture create another Dark Ages? As a critic, I still need my sleep. As an artist, I hope I retain the courage to create even with a smaller audience.--ALBERT B. CASUGA

23 March, 2009 10:38

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Writers vs. critics

22 March 2009
Writers vs. critics

“Why does the literature of so multilingual a world give so imperfect a portrait of that world’s linguistic complexity?” asks Lawrence Rosenwald in “American Anglophone Literature and Multilingual America” (in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, edited by Werner Sollors, 1998, p. 327). The question applies not only to the United States (with its glaring denial that not all Americans write or even speak English), but to the rest of the world, which has become mostly multilingual or at least bilingual. In the area of literature, writers around the world have increasingly become multilingual, not only with macaronic texts, but with many mainly monolingual texts with other-language passages. It is in the area of literary criticism that intellectuals have lagged behind; literary critics still read poems as though they were written by linguistically-challenged poets. Why is this so? We can perhaps glean an answer from postcolonial theory: it is intellectuals that have always tried to maintain the status quo (we call that hegemony or ideology) by marginalizing or suppressing minority languages, texts, things, ideas, and persons. Another way of putting it is this: artists always try to go against the grain, critics always try to keep the artists in check. As a playwright and critic, I am as schizophrenic or hyphenated as can be: as a playwright, I hate it when a critic says I do not follow the Aristotelian structure or that my plays lack plot, conflict, character, etc., but as a critic, I love putting down playwrights that do not worry about Aristotelian structure and that ignore plot, conflict, character, etc. There is a moral lesson there somewhere, but I haven't learned it yet.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 8:55 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Has multilingual literature, blended poetry, (e.g., those written by Cassar and Monte) succeeded in "codifying" a valid literary theory that would allow an evaluation built around a nurturing literary criticism?

While still in an "experimental" stage, multilingual literature must "earn" a currency that would make its reading and/or study worth precious lifetime on. Until it does, no relevant literary criticism could be built around it. No critic would take it seriously.

A "pastiche" of poetic lines however subsumed they are in archetypal material, (like those of Monte) might simply be ignored as a horseplay of linguistic (not necessarily literary) equipment.

In the previous comment where I illustrated "blended" poetry (in that I composed an interlacing of lyrics that derive their energies from extant and familiar literature that have since become part of the mythology and archetypal landscape of the blended cultures), I would dread calling the created "verse" poetry.

That is why it is crucial to answer the question: When does something that "appears" poetic become poetry? A literary theorist worth his calling fosters "frontier" expression. The literary critic stands on guard against dilettantism. The charlatan must still sneak through the critic's sentry.

Even in the artistic world, we cannot yet afford anarchy. Tolerate "creative" brinkmanship, maybe. Advant-garde-ism? Why not?

It might even be unfair to suspect "that intellectuals have always tried to maintain the staus quo". Quite the contrary, as in the case of T.S. Eliot where he hewed his poetry close to the "new" phenomenology and epistemological constructs of authors like F. H. Bradley (See "The Wasteland."). Hence, the "symbolist" flavour (a la Baudelaire)seen in Eliot's earlier poems.

Mao Tse Tung wrote literature that effectively changed the entire Chinese orthography as well as the writing system (that streamed it toward the "modern" left-to-right as opposed to calligraphic right-to-left-top-to-bottom system, and created "people's literature" that served the intellectual's and people's revolutionary aspirations. Look at China now. Does its literature still belong to the Mandarinate?

This, too, is a situation where the critic must first be an artist, or even vice versa. It would guarantee the best -- if not the most workable -- condition of both worlds. Instead of suffering from an artistic "estoppel", the writer still has his "reasonable" creative framework, and the critic still subscribes to a valid valuative norm in order to move on and do their art.

A critic who is first a creative artist cannot and must not practise artistic despotism. If anything, the best literary critics ought to be the best writers, and the best writers are usually their best critics anyway.

No adversarial relation here. One cannot give what one does not have. As a poet and critic myself, when I do write my criticism, I do not function well "looking from the outside" because I am more comfortable burning flotsam and jetsam inside a house whose "wreckage" I am obligated to clean up. I know what I need to clean up. Either way.-- ALBERT B. CASUGA

23 March, 2009 10:06

Friday, March 20, 2009


For the Grandson Who Did
Not Choose to Stay

(In memory of Julian Ashley)

How I wish you had given me the chance to teach
you how to fish. But you left without saying goodbye.

Or it could have been the way lilies go –
we cannot tell them from filth flowing
with the flower towed to die in an open sea
itself immolating; we would not even know
(ever) why its heart gobbles up what in the
beginning it gave.

It is the Sea eats limb so life (so love)
may not to its eternal wanting finish
what it late started must soon deny:
a clown’s journey through a circle’s shadow,
the circle rending rapture where, threatening,
the Shadow begins what beginnings
should have done: to fill the empty cups,
the gaping tables, with lilies of the marsh
and vases of the Sun.

But the circle and the shadow uniting
are miracles come from the Sea
its womb (and lilies) devouring.

Returning to the Root

(For my grandchildren Diana Patricia, Daniel Anthony, Matthew Francis, Taylor Lauren, Megan Sarah, Michael Albert, Sydney Alexis, and Chloé Dominique, Louis Martin)

This returning to the root is called quietness.
-- Lao Tzu

There is a manner of returning to the root
that explains the virtue of a hole,
its quietness the petering circle:
The canon of the cipher indicts us all.

And you, rocking yourself to an eddy,
drown the death wish: O that grief
on sons’ faces could tell you all.
“Will courage be visited upon my children?”

It is this cut that whittles the tree down,
not of consumption but of fright
that bereaving is one’s splintering
of children’s bones. Death is our betrayal.

They are sons gaping as grandfathers die
shapes the gloom of the breaking circle.
They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry
must never return to find sons become spittle.


These poems were recycled from earlier versions. Some of the words were changed (like changing diapers of infants one dotes on), but I leave the researcher to find out what they were or how they looked like when published shortly after I had written them. (I don't wait long before I get the magazines to print them -- no drawers for me. One day of waiting on the desk would be about right. Just enough time to buy the stamp.) They paid good money for poems then. Years later, having sobered up, I tinker with them, re-write them, nurse them.

In my recently published A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, where these poems were included as part of the selection, I wrote this acknowledgement preamble:

"These poems are finished poems. That means I am done tinkering with them, rewriting them, mothering them (sounds more apropos), or looking after them. They have finally achieved a plenitude that I would no longer fuss about, confident that they could be on their own. I also think about them as living beings preparing to move out of the house, but not out of my life. I like these poems now."

I told my publisher that the poems in the collection will no longer "embarrass" me, even if labelled drek later by cantankerous, self-congratulating critics. One cannot give what one does not have, anyway. Operatio sequitur esse. Ex opere operatio.

Besides, these happen to be prize-winning poems, too. Some other folks liked them enough to award them cash and kind. (By the way, I always surrendered the cash to my wife to whom all the books I have ever written were dedicated. Honest; not a jug of beer from the pennies. I digress.)

These couple I publish here today are poems about death and dying, about one's attempt to say one's goodbyes to loved ones, and let them go. It is a valiant effort -- they never leave because you treasure them, the tears come back over remembrances because one cherishes them.

For the Grandson Who Did Not Choose to Stay was my valedictory to Julian Ashley, my first grandchild, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (four months) more than two wintry decades ago. The day before he died, I was tickling him, and he laughed like laughter was this earth's staple. At the emergency ward, when I wrapped him in my arms, bidding him love and never, never goodbye, even the doctors and the nurses wept.

The poem, by the way, was earlier written for a university classmate and a journalist friend from United Press International days (now an expat Australian novelist) who just lost his wife in childbirth. I hope Lily, god bless her soul, would forgive me for recycling the poem published to mark her demise (in the old Philippine Sunday Times Magazine) to mark yet another death so that that lad's death will mean he will live forever.

In my Canadian exile, I re-wrote the poem, submitted it to a poetry writing contest, and it won me my second poetry first prize in the region's Library System Writing Contests. (I am sure two lovely souls for whom the poem was writen and re-written had the final say.)

Returning to the Root was my "valediction forbidding mourning" addressed to my late father, Francisco Flores Casuga, 1921-1975. The last time I saw him alive, he must have been annoyed to see me crying beside his hospital bed, drunk and blubbering. I was in Manila when he died three weeks later, some 300 miles away from the northern Philippine town of San Fernando, La Union. Hence, my last two lines: "They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry/ must never return to find sons become spittle." With that to punish my lachrymose misdemeanor, I know he forgave my presumptive "advanced" grief. O, my father.

When poet/literary editor Jose F. Lacaba published the poem in The Asia-Philippines Leader, it had already won the grand prize of the national Philippine Parnaso Poetry contest where I received a handsomely sculpted bronze trophy executed by Edwin Castrillo, now a world-renowed Filipino sculptor. The cash prize, coveted by the contestants, was grand at that time. I surrendered it to my wife. After all, she paid for my father's burial. The trophy? I hope my mother kept it when I left for Canada in a hurry.

The nine grandchildren for whom I re-wrote the "recycled" version published here, must remember the admonition of that fourth stanza's last line: "Will courage be visited upon my children?" When it's my turn to "return to the root", that should be my epitaph.

In so many ways, I try to be brave.

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Umberto Eco

21 March 2009
Umberto Eco

One of the dangers of macaronic texts (and even of monolingual works in second languages) is that of not really understanding the words in the non-mother tongues. After all, as all writers know, dictionaries do not really contain all the meanings of a word; at most, dictionaries point you towards the strictly literal meaning, but do not give you the reverberations, the music, the feel, the shape, the taste of a word (which is what poets look for). Umberto Eco, in his Il nome della rosa (1980), translated into English as The Name of the Rose (1983), satirizes the lunatic fringe of multilingual writing, with the character of Salvatore, who "spoke not one, but all languages, none correctly, taking words sometimes from one and sometimes from another." As the old logicians used to say, however, abusus rei usum non tollit [the abuse of something does not mean that we should not use it]. Of course, there are multilingual texts that don't quite make literary standards, but if language is really central to the craft of writing, then surely the use of more than one language has to be an asset rather than a drawback. Everything else being equal (and admittedly they never are), a work using more than one language should be considered superior to a work using only one.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 3:36 AM


T.S. Eliot has proven Dr. Cruz's point that more languages make poetry "richer" -- in fact, it will assume broader dimensions. This presupposes, however, that the "other language" lines are part of the poetic materials needed to create the "integrity" of the poem. The other languages, quite functionally, become part of the integrated "gestalt" that the whole poem or fiction is.

When is the use of more than one language an asset? When the other languages contribute to the "hardening" of the central imagery in the poem, as in Eliot's "Wasteland". When characters in a piece of fiction speak their native language (to authenticate characters as well as enhance the creation of verisimilitude in order to achieve "suspension of disbelief"). These are instances where multi-language in a literary work could be assets.

Of course, there is always the caveat of creating dysfunctional (even malfunctioning) images in poems and unnecessary dilettantism in the fiction's characterization.

"Reductio ad absurdum" could best describe a mish-mash of language-interlacing that does not achieve the writer's artistic purpose. The misuse of multilingual lines reduces the composition into an absurdity literature is best without. A lot of "literary" work are abstruse already even without the other languages. James Joyce in his "Finnegan's Wake" comes to mind. It could become goobledygook.

(See for a more of the above.)--ALBERT B. CASUGA

21 March, 2009 07:01

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The Canon of the Way and of Virtue

Beauty is an omen.
--Tao Teh Ching

Of Mao Ch’iang and Li Chi, most attractive women,
flutter of bird wings, dash of deer, fright of fish
and flush of fear, the counsel of Chuang Tzu is said:
“Beauty is an omen.”

So we saunter where crackle of pine cones touches
softly what remains of our feet or is left of our ears;
almost at the end of our walk, we find the ripple
upon the pond meaningless to us now.
O Mao Ch’iang, soon enough even our eyes
will lose the sky. Nothing, nothing stirs.

Nothing is the way for everything –
the loft upon the Hunan hill, the dark city down there,
the quietness visited upon us, Li Chi, all land
that spawns the life of dying and death –
everything walks the pilgrim journey to nothing.
Nothing is everything here.

-- Albert B. Casuga, 1971
This was one of the I Ching poems that got me to the Dumaguete Writers Workshop at Silliman University in the 70s. F. Sionil Jose published the poem in his Solidaridad Magazine a week after I wrote it. Edith Tiempo, DWW director, asked me to present the poem at the workshop. I read it to a hushed audience of young writers -- the only noisy ones were poets U.P.'s Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez, Silliman's Cesar Ruiz Aquino, and the late Franklin Osorio. By the time I got to the last stanza, the trio, then nursing their hangovers, fell silent.

Reactions? The director asked.


A young, goateed man who was wearing the most rumpled clothes I have ever seen, muttered: "Beautiful." I learned later that his name was Conrad De Quiros, a Humanities student from Ateneo de Manila, now a Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist.

More silence. The director looked at me with a full, all-knowing smile only an Edith Tiempo can telegraph. With a lingering sigh, she asked for the next poem. (I treasured that "sigh" throughout the workshop, then wrote the only poem written during the workshop, De Osteo, where one of the lines recall that insignia of a sigh: " ...I know the softness of follicles." (Will publish that next time.)

What? No analysis? No style and technique criticism? No evaluation that would pegged it as a poem that will live through the ages?


At the Lo-oc beach at sundown that day, the late Mig Enriquez, one of the Critic Panelists for the workshop, caressed my back in his ever teasing, taunting, mischievous touch, and said:
"Silence is the only safe behaviour before greatness. Otherwise, it would be a certain gauge for ignorance. Either way, silence is truly golden." Enriquez jumped into the cold sea in his brithday clothes.

Where are they now, voices from the past? Sionil Jose and Edith Tiempo have become National Artists of the Philippines. Palanca awardee and Philippines Free Press enfant terrible Sanchez went on to work for the US Post Office after driving a cab in Chicago or New York and teaching in Laguna much earlier. Aquino still teaches at Silliman, I am told, armed with some poetry collections. Does he still make funny noises with his tongue and teeth? Osorio freaked out at the workshop after a bout with tuba (an orange-colored unfermented cane wine) and said he was King of the Gays, and has since died as a devout Muslim.

I wrote a poem for Tiempo which was published by Lakambini Bitoy when she was literary editor of the Sunday Times Magazine -- Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here, which is (in its recycled version) included in my 2009-released A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems by UST Publishing House. The Village Poet, written with Osorio as cause celebre in mind, is also in the same book. And Rad de Quiros? He has written good books on Philipine culture and politics, but he seems to have become the most capable, un-indicted, shit-disturber among Filipino journalists who has definitely lost the word "beautiful" in his angry vocabulary. Pity.

"Beauty is an omen," would have been a better estimate of the poem's value. But I will settle for Silence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Cassar on Guido Monte -- WHAT IS POETIC IN POETRY

19 March 2009
Cassar on Guido Monte

On 11 July 2008, Antoine Cassar posted this comment on the blog of Orlando de Rudder, who had talked about the multilingual writer Guido Monte: "Merci mille fois de cet extrait sur Guido Monte. Je vois qu'il travaille sur un projet similaire à le mien. J'aimerais savoir si ses poèmes sont essentiellement des centons ou bien s'il contiennent des vers écrits par lui-même." [Rough English translation: Thank you a thousand times for this post about Guido Monte. I see him working on a project similar to mine. I wonder if his poems are made up only of quotes from other writers or if they contain verses originally written by him.]

Monte writes "found poems" (poems consisting of or based on lines taken from previously existing texts, whether literary or not). The lines are in many languages. I understand that he is not even fluent in some of these languages.

Yes, the community of writers that write literary texts in more than one language is slowly but surely growing. There is hope!
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:12 AM

Albert B. Casuga said...

Poetry and linguistic blending posits as its main premiss the existence of certain "universal and cosmic vibrations" in lines of poetry that exists in a universe of thought -- an endlessly "percolating" vortex or matrix from which poets like Monte could "grasp" or "fish" for lines that he could blend together in order to "create" (compose is more like it)a separate poem that could stand on its own. While thought energies may suffuse currents upon currents of eddying "thought" atoms, it is a suspect idea to say that the lines of blended poetry come from the cosmos of eddying thoughts or thought patterns. Besides, most of the lines Monte would have used might already have seen print in books (from the Bible to myriad foreign text, extant or extinct) and the like and could, therefore, be "lifted" (or in today's legal circles "plagiarized") rather than "fished out" to become part of a creative expression in coalesced languages presenting itself as a "mosaic" of languages.

Is the main premiss of archetypal poetic energies or even lines valid? Monte assumes they do exist. Would his "cut and paste" poetry pass the litmus test of plagiarism? In fact, would it even approach the semblance of poetry?

If poetry is the objectification/ subjectification of an aesthetic experience in terms of verse media and linguistic devices (figures of language, of thought, and speech for instance), how would "borrowed, blended, embedded" poetry lines forming a "pastiche" of thoughts (at worst charivari) qualify as poetry?

What is poetic in poetry?

"Visual" and "concrete poetry" (not unlike Chinese and Japanese ideography) may be "blended" in the same manner as a "splish and splash" painter might. But is it poetry? Or is it a charlatan's sloth that dictates the quilt-like interlacing of poetry lines from all sources imaginable?

How will the following "blend" create a poem, indeed?

Adios, Patria Adorada, region del sol querida!
No duduaempay laeng ti peg-ges ni ayat,
Sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi,
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing!
Perla del mar de Oriente'
Nuestro perdido Eden!
Nalawag nga unayen ti ulpit mo ken ranggas!
Beautiful land of love, O land of light,
In thine embrace, 'tis rapture to die!
Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo!

(A blend of extant lyric from Jose Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios", an Ilocano zarzuela love song "No Duduaempay", a line from the American national anthem "Star Spangled Banner" a line from 1800 Tagalog poet Francisco Balagtas's "Florante at Laura", that culminates with the last lines of the Philippine National anthem written in English and Tagalog.)

"Blended" Translation (mine):

Farewell, beloved country, beloved land of the sun,
(Spanish, Rizal)
If you still doubt my love's fervour for you, (Ilocano)
Inside and outside of this hapless country --
My country, O sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing!
(American anthem)
Pearl of the Orient seas, our lost Eden! --
(Rizal, Spanish)
If you still doubt my love for thee,
your cruelty and anger are to me clear!
Beautiful land of love, O land of light,
In thine embrace 'tis rapture to die!
(Filipino anthem)
I will gladly die for you!
(Filipino anthem's last line)

Did the "blend" ring true to the artistic purpose of lyrics that sing of one's undying love of one's country?

Will this exercise enhance the now impoverished lay of the poetic land? Or have the charlatans taken over, so theses could be written about "literary experiments" in grant-hungry Humanities Departments? --ALBERT B. CASUGA

19 March, 2009 11:00

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Rhyming in five languages

18 March 2009

Rhyming in five languages

I have to hand it to poets such as Antoine Cassar (the Maltese who studied in England, Italy, and Spain), who writes mużajki (mosaic poems) such as the following:

C’est la vie

Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb,
de cuatro a dos a tres, del río a la mar,
play the fool, suffer school, żunżana ddur iddur,
engage-toi, perds ta foi, le regole imparar,

kul u sum, aħra u bul, chase the moon, meet your doom,
walk on ice, roll your dice, col destino danzar,
métro, boulot, dodo, titla’ x-xemx, terġa’ tqum,
decir siempre mañana y nunca mañanar,

try to fly, touch the sky, hit the stone, break a bone,
sell your soul for a loan to call those bricks your home,
fall in love, rise above, fall apart, stitch your heart,

che sarà? ça ira! plus rien de nous sera,
minn sodda għal sodda niġru tiġrija kontra l-baħħ,
sakemm tinbela’ ruħna mill-ġuf mudlam ta’ l-art.

To be able to rhyme (not to mention, maintain the sonnet form) in five languages is quite a feat. Of course, one might argue that this is really just literature with the small l (say that with eyebrows firmly raised!), but where is the critic that can honestly say that s/he understands the five languages enough to make an informed critical judgement?

In The Chimaera (2008), where the poem appears, Cassar himself says that "the poems aspire beyond the immediate demands of recognition and consumption and look more to transcend the slavery imposed ipso facto by the regime of 'a single language' on the free spirit of the poet." Now that globalization in economics has come, can multilingual poetry be far behind?
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:33 AM


Cassar is in the right direction when he aspires to bring music and meaningful sounds to poetry.

In C'est la vie, the effort to construct rhyme in the mosaic might make it sound like doggerel. Listening to his reading of the sonnet, one concedes the staccato rhythm is a correlative to the central image of a humdrum life lived day-in-day-out. The grunt-like monotone objectifies the life lived on a one-way ticket to doom or boredom.

Is there some future to this valiant effort to unshackle the poetic spirit from the confines of a single language? Of what use is there to express a gestalt of an idea, mood, attitude, or aesthetic experience in so many coalescing language sounds? Will that not cause the impairment of what otherwise would be a "single effect" in expressing an experiential gestalt (as poetry must).

While Cassar should be "recognized" for his rhyming "yeomanship", he would be constrained to work with languages that have similar sound systems. This does not necessarily admit that the rhyming sounds would all contribute to the "earning" of the context/content of the poetic experience or insight.

I predict he will run into unnecessary problems of searching for linguistic devices that in the end will not serve his poetic purpose.

Doggerel might be useful for advertisement jingles, though -- IF globalisation in marketing is not truncated by this sad economic downturn. --ALBERT B. CASUGA

18 March, 2009 06:54


Still Points
Poems from the House of Tao

This returning to the root is called quietness. –Lao Tzu

1. The Root

Waking up is excuse for one's return.
It is for these that leaving home
is an endless returning --
not for lost illusions
nor petty indecisions
do we return
nor for hurts our second coming,
but for grass untrod,
footsteps' echoes unheard,
where they have since then become
hollow laughter caught in domes
of running cups turned down
to celebrate our own absurd gestures
of trying to accept the virtue of dying
known to us only
because it is a manner
of returning to the root
and quietness our own
undiscovered country's

2. Wu Wei

A circle’s cipher shapes the sound of dreams;
it is the sound supplants what fury blood has built.
The House of Tao Te Ching makes shadows
of us all:
of our cracked voices a whimper
of regret,
of our guilt a pact
of weary visions
or indecisions to empty
our running cup
of schemes -- variations
on a theme streamed through a gloom
of circle’s ciphers.

There is no Design but the petering pattern
of wilt
on petals
or gore
on genitals.

Shadows in holes are circles.
The circle is a hole.
All things are vain given time
to mute the pain of dreams.
Time is allied with the Worm
sundering the form of murk and silt.

3. A Circle’s Cipher

“Man on the Moon!”--BBC

Dread is all there is to look for:
all fears found all found fearful
the undiscovered country touched
for moments of eternity not there
pour between fingers,
time watching time colour
blind’s grey Journeyman’s carousel
among the stars.

Between the egg and the sky or whatever space
is allowed between them, heaves the Tension.
Surely, between whatever binds everything to nothing
and the trace of distinction between life and dying
is nothing’s extension.
And still the end of this space is his beginning
to know where ends he whose touch is the question.

-- Albert B. Casuga
If the zero point is the point of no return but whence springs death and life and the entire circle, is it also the still point to which all energies must return? Is it the center?
If the center is also the beginning and the end, is it also the "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns"?
In Little Gidding, T. S. Eliot wrote: "We will never cease from our exploration/ we will go on exploring/ until we come back to our beginning/ and know it only for the first time."
If the end of exploration is also its beginning, there cannot be movement where movement moves. Therefore, nothing is really everything. From nothing came everything. In Hemingway's words: "Nada y nada, y pues nada." Is this the neo-nihilism that has become the inconvenient truth?
What did you say? Nothing.
In Silence we trust.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Zero Point: Am Here

Am here where nothing is everything,
where the stillpoint of our exploration
is exploring beginnings
turned into navel gazing.

Where am I?

Am here where mornings crack
into a shiver of twilights breaking
into days and nights, songs and echoes –
whimpers of regret and frenzied halloing
achieved after couplings of living and dying,
of starting and ending, of suns and shadows.

Am in a circle at last
where the hole defines life’s next of kin.

I have come.

Am here where I am going.

Is anybody home?

--- A. B. Casuga

In his "Life and Death: The Burden of Proof", Deepak Chopra defines zero point: "At the moment of death the ingredients of your old body and old identity disappear... You do not acquire a new soul, because the soul doesn't have content. It's not "you" but the center around which "you" coalesces, time after time. It's your zero point."

What happens if the "center" does not hold? Will life and death still come from the same fibre? Will dying still be needed to extend the energy of living? Nothing is everything here.

"...The zero point provides the starting point from which everything in the universe springs. Since matter and energy are constantly emerging and then vanishing back into the void, the zero point serves as the switching station between existence and nothingness." Chopra invokes the principles of physics to locate this point as he postulates that life and death are from the same stream. He quotes Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: "Folding back in on myself, I create again and again."

One does not die, therefore. One continues the journey. The homo viator cannot come home again.

If he must come home, is there anybody there to come home to?

It is questions like this that authors like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) exploit. Some of his fellow atheists have purchased ads in trams and transits to coyly admonish: "There probably is no God; go out an enjoy yourself tonight!" The critical word is "probably". They sound unsure about their certainty.

Because we have yet no certain way of knowing, we will maintain silence in our beds.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


" Between Two Worlds, a first novel by CESAR LEYCO AGUILA is a saga spanning four centuries and revolving around a family, the Monteros, whose roots are of the Old World, but whose successive generations are drawn into a maelstrom of anarchy, suffering, and death which usually follows colonization."

A Philippine-born Australian novelist, journalist, poet, Cesar Aguila is at work on his second novel, God's Other Children. His collected short fiction The Big River and Other Stories is due for publication by the UST Publishing House as part of the 400 books that the venerable Philippine Catholic University is publishing to commemorate its 400th anniversary in that country in 2011.

Aguila worked with the United Press International (Manila), the Philippines Free Press, the HK-based Asian News Service, the Asian newspaper, The Philippines Herald (defunct), and studied at the International Institute for Journalism in Berlin, and at the Asian Institute of Management. He was Literary Editor of the The Varsitarian, official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas in the 60s. His fiction was also included in Salu-Salo, a collection of Australian-Filipino writing in Australia. Published widely in Philippine magazines, Aguila's fiction explore his keen understanding and brave acceptance of the tensions of a clash of cultures endemic among colonized people.

His Between Two Worlds, well-received in the Australian literary scene, is "A timely, exciting first novel that explores the clash of cultures which began centuries ago and continues to this day. Not to be missed." Author Peter Fields (Heading for Cape Horn)said of book.

"It reminded me of Michael Ondaatje's often lyrical prose, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical realism. A rare and richly-rewarding experience," Talking to Tess author Peter Howard describes Aguila's work. Ondaatje is one of Canada's best novelists and is multi-awarded. His English Patient is a Booker Prize winner. Nobel Laureate Marquez has had his Love in the Time of Cholera made into a film.

Aguila is a member of the historical Hakluyt Society, London. He lives in Sydney, Australia.