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, June 30, 2009


The Nightmare


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.

After the white rocks, after the riverbend,
Nara becomes the dreaded dream.
We have put off many plans of soulful revisiting ---
We will go on re-stepping beyond the white stones,
Each step becoming the startled rising
Into a darkened city farther downstream
Where we once resolved never to die in.

Do we wake up then afraid of Nara?
But rising here is the nightmare come so soon,
Treason in the daytime, maelstrom at night:

The nightmare was of cackling frogs
And serpents rending skulls and cerebrae
Of kitemakers who sing while termite logs
Burn and children, chanting the Dies Irae,
Mush brainmatter, pulling out allegory
Like unwanted white hair, stuffing black grass
Where brain was, casting tired similes
Into dirty tin cans where earthworm wastage was:

River swells drown us where, surfacing,
We wake up knowing our days have become
Termite nights and decaying metaphors.

June 2009, Summer

Thursday, June 25, 2009



"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.

From Songs for My Children

Wednesday, June 24, 2009



Tanqui’s supreme conceit is its dread
Of withering grass in the month of the frogs
When rain, like fingers in the night, tread
The lesions gangrened on a hillock’s carrion,
Carcass of a season mourned
As the briefest of them all.

“The rain is on the hill, the dry pond
Is red with clay, the gods are back!
And so must I --- shadow of a past long gone ---
Weeping, running through these deserted streets,
Crouching now in mud pools of childhood fun
When songs were chanted as songs for the dance.
A dance for the grass! My limbs for the grass!
I must dance for Tanqui’s singed grass!”

He dances hard, his body clean and gleaming,
But Tanqui’s rain is on the ashen hill.
Neither his dancing nor his lusty screaming
Will stop this dreaded withering.
Tanqui’s conceit is stranger still
When songs are sung not for her lads and lasses
But for this stranger who, dying, has come back
To dance for black grass, dance naked
For Tanqui’s withered pantheon grass.

June 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009



(For Francisco F. Casuga+)

There is a scampering of grace in the dry woods
and a pulse upon some soliloquy:
it is the rain come as a smooth and forbidding lace
upon the cup of the dead and dying weather.

It is past the season of the grub.

The flirt of the monsoon upon the arid lap of Nara
is caked on the thick napes of children
dancing naked in the mire of the fields,
gaping to catch the fingers of the rain,
slithering like parched serpents guzzling raindrops
cupped in the hollow of gnarled father’s palms.

There will be no songs, for the ritual is not of birth
but of death as summer dies in Nara
and with it every titter bursting from a child’s mouth.

The rain becomes a bloody plot.

June 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009


The last time I saw my father alive, I was drunk. He snapped at me from his sick bed to stop my snivelling – I was unnecessarily disturbing the other hospice patients. It was past visiting time, anyway.

Before leaving him with my tail between my wobbly legs and pain-numbing inebriation, I ridiculously intoned: Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas must have sneered from his grave. Were they still around in their matriarchal imperiousness in 1975, both maternal and paternal grandmothers would have lashed: Basta ya las barbaridades! Sin verguenza, Borracho! Donde esta su respeto para su enfermado Papa?

I have never been able to live down this embarrassing moment with a father who was by nature reserved. Not prone to show emotion, it would take him a bottle or two of Cerveza to open up. That also meant, he could be ragingly mad or be quietly sad.

The one time I saw him truly angry was when he slapped me one for making the entire family panic by not getting home until three in the morning --- (I had to finish the page dummies of the school paper and clean up all the stories for the monthly La Union Tab, our high school newspaper of which I was the chief editor. I wanted to win the top prize for best edited public school paper at that year’s National Secondary Schools Press Conference, after all, the TAB was the pioneer school paper in the islands.) –-- without leaving word that I would be at the La Union High School’s student paper office late into the night.

He roused our school principal, his uncle the vice-principal, the police sergeant neighbour, Mr. Calima, from hard-earned slumber; made expensive long-distance phone calls to relatives in Baguio City, in the northern Philippines, hoping I had gone there with my favourite teen-age cousin for the weekend; even disturbed the much-needed sleep of my school paper adviser, Miss Cleofe Bacungan, father’s high school classmate, their class valedictorian. “Where is my son?”

From a distance, I could espy his furious gait. There he was, my father, at three o’clock in the morning – right in front of the mayor’s house, his cousin, and about to rouse the mayor, too, to invoke Tio Antonio Ferraren’s assistance.

“Dad, Dad, what are you doing here?” I called out.

He turned around (after remonstrating with the mayor’s sentries to gain entry), and with jaws taut and eyes in an angry slit, snapped: “Punieta! Where were you all this time?” and I felt the sharp sting on my nape. The mayor came down in time to save my skin. He held my Dad’s second whack, and said: “Easy, Primo. That’s my scholar. (He promised to lend Father some hefty dollars for my fare to the United States as an American Field Service Scholar.) “Take them home,” he ordered the house guard.

When we got home, I had another harangue from a furious but relieved mother. “Where did you go? Why did you not send word? You, you…” Father held me on both shoulders and simply said: “Go to the bed. Explain tomorrow.”

For a while, I considered running away from home (Why not? Wasn’t I a typical teener?). I was too tired to even cry, and was afraid, if I did, I would get the old man hopping mad that I am not taking all this (my great undoing) like a man (which I pretended to be, anyway.)

“What did you do to him?” I heard my mother ask him. I heard him sigh one of those deep, prolonged ones he would take after controlling himself from throwing a punch at someone who has just peeved him. Silence. (Yes, I saw him hit an uncouth young man yelling profanities at a weeping waitress, one time that I was asked by mother to fetch him from his favourite watering hole. The police took the half groggy rogue to sleep off his gin-induced inebriation to the municipal jail, and apologized to my father for the disturbance!)

I asked my uncle, his younger brother, how he could do that with one punch, and he told me Father was provincial meet amateur flyweight champion boxer when he was in high school. He was quick because he was also a shortstop in the high school baseball team that won that year’s championship because he caught a fly ball that could have edged them out, but caught it with his nose and glove, blood and all, and that’s the story behind his “less-than aquiline nosebridge” looking more Japanese than his Spanish-mestizo-looking siblings who had more patrician nosebridges!

When he was sad, he was lachrymose.

That time he was called to an urgent emergency meeting with our school principal, he learned that I might not graduate valedictorian of our class, because I led a fight outside of the campus to beat the daylights out of the banker’s son who was the student chief of police in our Junior Government, where I was Senior class Governor. The late Santiago de la Cruz and his assistant, Andres Oreiro, thought I was the gang-leader of that out-of-school mayhem. What would the banker say?

My father asked for an investigation. It turned out, I was too late in joining the melee against this much-hated boy police chief (he would push boys and girls alike to create straight lines during Monday convocations), and was nowhere near the fight. My teachers rallied behind me, and my school paper adviser staked her position to vouch for my being a more “responsible student” than that. The Pre-Military Training teacher said, he would resign if I was disqualified as “valedictorian.” My woodworking teacher told my dad over beer that even if I could make only a crude semblance of a hanger and bric-a-brac for my woodworking projects, he will come to bat for me. And plotted to get drunk and disturb the graduation ceremonies, if I did not graduate valedictorian.

Enter my grand-uncle Abuelo Jose “Pepe” Apilado Casuga, then the provincial auditor, and he asked if the harsh punishment for say “a first offence, if offence it was – you will have to prove that” – is warranted. “My grandson has proven his worth to this high school,” he told the well-meaning principal.

Did he not win interscholastic medals for your school by getting the gold medal for Best High School Newspaper at the press conference? Did he not on his own win medals for his writing the best editorial and doing the best copyediting? What about winning first prize in the oratorical contest during the provincial speech contests? The American Field Scholarship grant, a first for this high school? Would a fistfight, typical of boys—and boys will be boys—negate all this? I ask for your enlightened consideration, Mr. Principal, as your respectful provincial auditor.

In later years, I would hear my Lolo Pepe recount the incident, and he would shake his head. “Budget time for high schools occur every year. I would see them there whether they like it or not pleading for their budgets from the scarce provincial coffers.”

When he came home from the meeting, my father told my mother that I might not graduate valedictorian because of the fight. I saw them enter their room, and I heard my father’s muffled sobs (my mother said much much later after his demise on December 5, 1975, he sobbed into their pillow, and she saw him punch his pillow in frustration. No remonstrations from him that evening.)

I graduated valedictorian eventually. When father and my mother came up the stage to pin the gold medal on me, I asked them not to cry. He stroked my face with half-closed knuckles, and mother pinched me in my arm. There was a prolonged ovation. I looked at my “gang mates” – those who fessed up to their role in the fight. They, too, were graduating. My school paper adviser who delivered that grad day opening remarks as adviser of the senior class of 1958-59, stood silently to my father’s right, winked at him, and hugged me. She whispered: Be a good boy, or I’ll come after you, and your father.

What did she mean by that? I asked my father later that night. He smiled and said, she was the classmate who shamed us boys into stopping a fight at the old library building. She said to shut up and study for the final examinations, or she’ll start pinching our ears. We were all gentlemen, then, son. We obeyed our brightest classmate. Look at how she saved your honours, too!

Miss Bacungan left for Manila the following year to become Director of the Philippine Science School. LUHS’s loss, the nation’s gain. When father died, she sent me a long letter of condolence and a copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, all the way from California’s Stanford University where she would finish her Science Doctorate.

My father asked me to explain the following day after the “incident”, what I was up to by coming home in the wee hours of the morning, creating a disturbance in the entire town which will not be forgotten soon. I said, I was sorry, it will not happen again.

The mayor lent father the money to pay for my fare to the US to join the AFS program to take up a final high school year at the New York Free Academy. But my grandmother died that March, and the money went into her burial expenses instead. My father said, I should look at it as a year saved to go to university where my girlfriend was also going, and what kind of a scholarship is that anyway where they would not have to foot your travel fare? After all, they were interested in getting a Filipino live in an American home to learn more about their former colonials? My gain, AFS' loss?

Lolo Toning, the former mayor, never asked for father to pay the loan back. I got to thank him profusely years later when President Marcos’ Executive Secretary Jacobo Clave and I, as members of the President’s Civil Service teams travelling the entire breadth and length of the country, went to San Fernando, La Union, to campaign for the leader's 12-year Development Program.

The former mayor asked me if it was true that the President was going to replace him under the martial law dispensation – and that he was going to be replaced by a certain Albert B. Casuga.

I said, there were petitions from the market vendors sent to the President asking for my appointment vice Mayor Antonio T. Ferraren. Apparently, the instigators were other relatives who were not happy that the mayor has not paid attention to them like he did relatives of his wife (who was then cornering the tobacco business in La Union).

I have no ambitions toward that end, abuelo, I said. I kissed his hand in the old and traditional sign of respect and trust, and turned to walk to the stage to deliver my speech. The electric current suddenly conked out – and my speech and the Executive Secretary’s were called thereafter as the best speeches that were never delivered.

As a practising writer and professor at two leading Catholic universities established by the Benedictines and Christian Brothers many many years later, I finally wrote a final valediction forbidding mourning for my father:

Returning to the Root

“Will courage Redeem stupidity?”
-- Nick Joaquin

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 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.

That year, after his death, the poem was adjudged the Grand Prize Winner of the first Philippine national Parnasso Poetry Writing Contest. A handsome trophy sculpted by noted Philippine sculptor Edwin Castrillo and a princely sum of a thousand pesos made me happy. Father must have returned the favour. But he was no longer around to applaud. I would not even have minded a slap on the nape.

On this Father’s Day, June 21, 2009, many summer solstices later, I remember Father.
When he died after his 40 days stay at the hospice, his last words to my mother were “I am sorry. Forgive me.” They could have been my own farewell words, had I hastened home to San Fernando to kiss his hand and bid him goodbye. He did not wait for me, could not. He knew I must have been involved again in another “earthshaking” project like that school paper; only this time he knew I was working for the Ilocano’s pride: President Ferdinand Marcos at the Malacanang Palace. He liked that. The community would ask about me. He would simply smile.

Yes, Father. I remember you again today, like I always do, every day of this ageing life:

“They who knew the frenzy of the bloodcry,
Must never return to find sons become spittle

If you return in some flight of the spirit, like I always feel you do, in dreams or remembrances, mark only, dear father, that I have not become spittle.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


On Top of Smokey Mountain

Dawn is pale on these waifs’ faces,
Sun rays striking their thin backs.
The colour of refuse here is bright:
Worms sepia, cans gooey, faeces black.
A country will rise from excreta.


Rain coming through this window is warm
Slithering from hot tin gutters;
Bullet-hot roofs sizzle in the rain,
Bloated foetuses float in city waters.
“The baby’s wet! Plug the roof hole, Lakay.!”

People Power

It is the hunger on brown wrinkles
lined in the irony of parched lips
parted in smile that convulses
the clot of flames violent in the blood
of these gnoméd comrades now
crouched in the muck of this burning river.
The anger was good while it lasted.

From Poor Poems, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The Philippine Republic continues to be in turmoil. The present leadership, buttressed by a politicized Armed Forces cabal, has apparently lost its mandate: all sectors of Philippine society have all but given up on this leadership.

Déjà vu? Except for the absence of the EDSA People’s Power protest marches, (they appear to have lost their efficacy) observers are intrigued by a replay of practically the same conditions before the declaration of Martial Law in the 70s by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

In fact, nothing seems to have changed for the better since that fateful Declaration of Martial Law. Ironically, the media visage of that episode---the former Press Secretary of Mr. Marcos, the youngest cabinet member in Philippine history, and former senator of the island republic Francisco S. Tatad---has presciently described this condition in 2002 when he came out with his A Nation On Fire, an in-the-thick-of things book on the unmaking of deposed President Joseph Estrada (who ironically was the most popularly elected leader since the inception of the republic) and the “remaking of democracy in the Philippines.”

In the final chapter of his book (Book IV Remaking the Nation, Chapter 21, What Is to Be Done?), Mr. Tatad said:

“All our institutions, values, and norms are in disarray. They must be rebuilt, and the nation with them. The Philippines has lost its standing not only in the world but even in the eyes of its own people. It must be relaunched both at home and in the community of nations. This is the only way to rise again.” (pp. 594 etseq)

Practically all expatriate newspapers and forums of the Filipino diaspora all over the globe have had a stab at analysing what ails the East Asian nation of about 90 million people, now considered the economic basket case in the Asian region (where it used to be second only to Japan in economic productivity in the 60s to the 70s). All are diatribes with scarcely any insight into the factual conditions obtaining in the Philippines. There is hardly an effort to propose viable solutions, assuming that lingering patriotism of even the most desperate exile is mustered.

In Canada alone, where more than a hundred Filipino tabloids are published by the disparate Filipino communities from coast to coast, there is no abatement in the criticism of Philippine leadership and the dire conditions plaguing that country. It reaches shrill proportions but nary a solution is proffered. Every editor is a pundit, however ignorant he is. (Recalls the villification campaign against Mr. Marcos before he declared martial law! Deja vu, indeed.)

In his book, Mr. Tatad does not hold his punches. While he criticises leaders, institutions, and even the people, he – in the eyes of this observer – is among the very few who have bothered coming up with “What is to be done.”

Although articulated in 2002, these solutions remain au courant seven years after.

What is to be done in remaking democracy in the Philippines? (When he announced the declaration of martial law as the Press Secretary of President Marcos in the 70s, one suspects that Mr. Tatad could not have predicted [one might now found it ironic] that he is now among the most prominent citizens in the Philippines who have come out fighting for the “remaking of democracy” in the Philippines, once the sterling prototype of American democracy in the East.)

“What is to be done?” He asks. Former senator Francisco S. Tatad proposes the following:

“These are hard times. We need hard facts for hard times. Here are some of the more unpleasant ones.

1. The problem begins with us, not with others. We must learn to admit our own mistakes and stop blaming everyone else.

2. We have become a corrupt society. The society is corrupt not because the government is corrupt. It is rather the government is corrupt because the society is corrupt. The war on corruption will not be waged or won by the corrupt going after the corrupt. Those who fight corruption must first have clean hands.

3. There are no quick fixes, no overnight solutions. We must plan long-term. Like Rizal’s Tasio, we must be willing to plant the tree under whose shade we shall not sit. But whatever we can do, we must do now.

4. Education is the key. But if we are to establish a truly responsive theory and system of education, we must first know who we are and what we want to becomes.

5. The media—notably television—have become as powerful as government. They threaten to co-opt government. With no constitutional accountability whatsoever, they can be used to foment or support anarchy and disorder. They must reform or be reformed.

6. Politics has become the nation’s biggest business. This is a serious disorder, a major cause of underdevelopment.

7. Our presidential system has not worked. We must replace it now. We must reform the Constitution.

8. The Church has an indispensable and irreplaceable role to play in society. It must be preserved and protected from intervention by the State and from any kind of misuse by those who would use it for worldly ends.

9. Injustice, not poverty, is the gravest social evil. We have too many laws, but not enough justice. Too many justices, but not enough just men. We have become a lawless people.

10. We are poor not because we have not been killing unborn children, but because we have, among other things, failed to train our people well, tap into relevant technology, make use of idle capital. The poor hold so much idle capital. We must release it into the economy now.

11. After years of neglect, we have succeeded in making the country look like one big “Smokey Mountain.” Squalor, which should never be synonymous with poverty, has become a national symbol. We must clean up and recast our physical environment as part of a genuine and thoroughgoing reform.

12. We have no sense of the common good. It is “every man for himself.” The only thing that matters is that we get what we want, no matter at whose expense. This situation cannot go on.” (End of quote.)

Mr. Tatad explains each of the above in pithy and clear terms in his final chapter. Every well-meaning Filipino might profit from his insights -- realities that are not unlike those cited by an idealistic Jose Rizal who mercilessly criticised the foibles of his beloved countrymen at home or abroad because he loved them.

A big book by any measure (658 pages), its thickness is matched only by the vastness of the author’s grasp of his country’s ills. It is a pity not all Filipinos could buy the copy.

Quite some time ago, I published an untitled short story of Mr. Tatad in the Journal of Arts and Sciences that I edited in the Liberal Arts College of the University of Santo Tomas. I appended a title which he thought might not be apropos—“The Country”. It was a fictional limning of an artist, suffering from abject poverty and disillusionment. It was a moment of prescience for this writer – some five decades, thereafter, Mr. Tatad would publish a book on a nation on fire – his country: The Country.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009



Paper boats neatly crumpled into a shock of memory
form the eddies where we drown a death wish
among debris scattered 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.

From Songs for My Children
A Theory of Echoes and Oter Poems, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009


The Tension

Between the sky and the shadow 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.

-- From A Circle's Cipher, Still Points
A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


In his June 10, 2009, LOL Literature in Other Languages blog entry, Dr. Isagani Cruz continues to discuss Literary Competence by quoting Jonathan Culler as “questioning the foundations of a literary competence that surreptitiously promotes” the "dubious primacy” of the second language over the first in the literary appreciation of multilingual authors. He cites the late Jose Garcia Villa’s poetry as an example of this.

Culler and Jose Garcia Villa

Here is a summary of Culler's idea of literary competence:

"Jonathan Culler, in his Structuralist Poetics, moves away from the idea of the underlying competence of literary works, and considers instead the literary competence of readers. Culler argues that this literary competence, regarded as a kind of grammar of literature, is acquired in education institutions. In his later work, On Deconstruction, he develops the idea further, drawing on diverse critical responses to institutions, and questioning the foundations of a literary competence that surreptitiously promotes the doctrines and values of specific traditions."

What is being "surreptitiously promoted" by the usual way of reading works by multilingual authors as though they were monolingual is the dubious primacy of the second language. For example, by reading Jose Garcia Villa's poems as though the poet spoke English from childhood, we fall into the silly trap that my American graduate school teacher in Survey of American Literature fell into when he pronounced Villa as a "minor American poet." He (and most other readers) failed to see that the line "Then musical as a sea-gull" in Villa's famous "Lyric 17" makes full sense only when we realize that Villa is writing in Tagalog, using English words.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 7:26 AM

Albert B. Casuga Comments:

Is the second language (English) of Jose Garcia Villa a case of a “surreptitiously promoted dubious primacy”?

Trying to find out whether his Lyric 17 exhibits any “literary evidence” of its first being “imagined/thought-of/conceived” in Tagalog before it was written in English, I tried to translate Villa’s “Ars Poetica” in Tagalog using the closest possible literary equivalent of his American-English oxymorons and conceits. For instance,

First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.

(Translation mine)

Unang-una, maengkanto* ang isang tula,
At kasing parang musika ng ibong magdaragat.
Dapat ito’y isang kumikilos na kaningningan,
At hawak ang lihim ng pamumulaklak ng ibon

*Could also be “maengkantado”.

Assuming the translation hews close to Villa’s “vision”, I found it difficult to imagine that the English lines were first conceived in Tagalog.

The rhyme scheme is calculated to be “musical” (as in the bell-like sounds of “musical” and “sea-gull” and the ring of “moving, flowering.” That just could not be done in Tagalog since there is no sound equivalent of the words “magical”(maengkanto), “sea-gull” (ibong magdaragat), “moving” (kumikilos), “flowering” (pamumulaklak).

Had it been conceived by the poet in his first language -- (assumed as Tagalog by Dr. Cruz; Villa did speak Tagalog, but he preponderantly conversed in American; there were occasional pleasantries in Spanish when I had the experience of conversing with him at a 70’s International Writers Conference held in Manila) – the intention of the rhyme scheme in Lyric 17 would not be achieved in Tagalog.

Neither would Tagalog succeed in using the oxymoronic conceits “musical as a sea-gull”, “brightness moving”, “bird’s flowering” – close reading would need these to objectify the poem’s being magical – the monotonous “ek-ek-ek” of the sea-gull becomes “musical”; the poem’s brightness could either literally be a kaleidoscopic sparkle or an “enchanting, moving brightness” perceivable only in the ken, conceivable only in the mind; and the mystery of “bird’s flowering” could be the magical flight of the go-soon avis off the encumbering nest, or it could also be Villa’s erotic version of the magic of tumescence, the magic of the sensual/sexual arousal.

Assuming that these are not mnemonic irrelevancies in “interpretation”, the Tagalog mother-language plainly cannot come up with the literarily acceptable use of the conceits and oxymorons, as well as the sounds making sense as “objective correlatives” of the poem being magical.

Then again, this textual hermeneutics may simply be over-reaching. Maybe Villa did not even consider this. But that is beside the point. The achieved form and content of Lyric 17 must be the sole bases for analysis. It is helpful to know that Villa was a formalist, and that he wrote erotic poetry.

Culler, of course, is au courant in postulating literary competence as a reader’s equipment for an educated appreciation of a work of literary art.

While literary critics must, indeed, possess “literary and linguistic competence” in judging multi-lingual work (second language work as influenced by first language/mother tongue), there remains the risk of “missing the many-splendoured thing” (in the second-language poem) in assuming that the second language is inferior to the mother language in literary expression, therefore one must dig into the mother language quarry for the “poetic mother lode”.

The “language of the blood” may altogether be wanting in expressing a cosmopolitan world view that may be better limned in a “mastered” second language – preferably the “lingua franca” of the artist at the time of creation. – ALBERT B. CASUGA


First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.
It must be slender as a bell,
And it must hold fire as well.
It must have the wisdom of bows
And it must kneel like a rose.
It must be able to hear
The luminance of dove and deer.
It must be able to hide
What it seeks, like a bride.
And over all I would like to hover
God, smiling from the poem's cover.

-Jose Garcia Villa

Monday, June 8, 2009


In his June 9, 2009 LOL Literature in Other Languages blog, Dr. Isagani R. Cruz goes back to a discussion of Literary Competence which is critical in writing and criticising literature:

Literary competence

Let us focus for a moment on the notion of "literary competence," a phrase made famous by Jonathan Culler, although the idea that more educated readers understand literature better than less educated readers (or that literary education is necessary if one is to read literature properly) has been around since the beginning of formal education.

Not very much attention has been given to the place of multilinguistic competence within literary competence. Culler and others, of course, have always talked about language (for example, you need to know the grammar of a language before you can understand a poem in that language), but they have, as far as I know, not talked about knowing the mother tongue of the author if the work is not in the mother tongue. I suggest that it is necessary for critics (as well as for more discriminating readers) to have linguistic competence in the mother tongue of a bilingual or multilingual author in order to fully or properly read a text written in a second or foreign language. That linguistic competence need not be of a very high level (the critic does not need to speak the language, but merely to read it or at least read a dictionary or similar reference work in that language); it should be enough to see how the mother tongue influences (interferes, supports, counterpoints, etc.) the language of the text.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 7:17 AM

Albert B. Casuga Comments:

It is one thing for a reader to understand the mother tongue of a second language writer in order to appreciate the work, and quite another for a critic to have “literary competence” in the mother tongue of the same writer.

To the extent that the mother language of a second language writer influences the literary tools, nuances, vision, world view, figures of thought, language, and speech of the second language, it would be useful for the critic to pass judgment on the writer’s peculiar use of these tools (as influenced by the mother language) to objectify a thematic experience he is aspiring to pass on to the reader as an aesthetic experience well worth sharing.

The reader will certainly profit from an “understanding” of the writer’s mother tongue particularly in his use of ethnic material which could become endemic in a second language work. The depth of a reader’s and critic’s appreciation of a second language work (as influenced by the author’s mother tongue) will quite functionally be more significant if the ethnic material from the mother tongue is not only contextually relevant but also structurally necessary in achieving the author’s purpose of “sharing” his vision of an aesthetic experience.

James Joyce’s The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly will certainly sound with greater aural sense if the reader understood the essential humour (if not irony) behind a lot of Irish colloquy; viz:

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And curled up Like Lord Olofa Crumple
By the butt of the Magazine Wall,
(Chorus) Of the Magazine Wall,
Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of his Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy!
(Chorus) To the jail of Mountjoy!
Jail him and joy.

Would the reader and the critic see more behind the use of “Lord Olofa Crumple”? “Butt of the Magazine Wall”? “Old parsnip?’ (instead of old carrot head)? “Green street”? “Penal jail of Mountjoy!” Aside from the obvious aural images, would they not enhance the humour behind the cavalier “Jail him and joy”?

Literary competence is both reader’s and critic’s competence.

Multilingual competence is certainly a bonus for the critic whose primary equipment, after all, is literary competence prior to critical competence.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009



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


Dusk catches us still swearing by the rhyme,
perishing on the rhyme, convulsing now
on the sudden quiver that comes on a stealth
when rhyme and rhythm become the sound of the sea.

Monday, June 1, 2009


When Bailey Pinto, 11, of Brantford, Ontario, released his helium balloon into the balmy late-spring air with a letter addressed to “God in Heaven and asking whether miracles happen”, he did what typical believers often do: shoot his prayer like “an arrow into the air” that would probably fall “to earth one knows not where”.

What is heaven like? He asked. Was it perhaps a mute plea from a child who has suddenly found himself without a mother, and cared for by a single father, a reservist soldier who would soon be assigned to active duty in Afghanistan? What if he dies in combat? What if he would not come back this time as he did from Kosovo and Bosnia during his 14-year tour of duty with the forces? What awaits him in heaven? (Obviously, the other place is not an option.)

Do miracles really happen? This auburn-haired lad would want to know. Could this have been an unstated prayer for the father to be out of harm’s way, especially at this time when some 100 Canadian soldiers have come back in body bags?

Or was it a cri d’couer of a child who, at the cusp of teen-age, is confused about missing a mother’s hugs and emulating a father’s “steady-as-it-goes” grit-your-teeth stance? Will a miracle be sent their way, he and sister, Alexis, 8, if he addressed his erstwhile pen-pal balloon to God instead?

They have been “tying letters for a couple of years to balloons for a couple of years. Usually, it’s just pen pal stuff, asking people to reply,” The Toronto Star reported in its page 2 feature last May 31.

A well-intentioned, good-hearted lawyer, Gary Batasar and his wife, picked up the fallen balloon with the missive to God on their driveway in far-off Brampton, Ontario, and the barrister (who ironically is a well-known criminal lawyer who does not shy from defending killers and drug dealers, according to the Star) wrote Bailey back and told the Notre Dame Catholic School correspondent that heaven “was a wonderful place filled with love, life, and laughter, where children play, families reunite and adults love each other regardless of religion, ethnic origin, class or colour.”

Bless their souls, the couple sent Bailey’s entire class under teacher Andy O’Brien T-shirts emblazoned with the image of a child holding a pink balloon, looking up into the air, and the words, “Dear God. What is it like in Heaven?”

As a retired Catholic School Trustee, my first impulse was to write the school board of Dufferin-Peel, and celebrate the “occurrence” as an example of how to call attention to the faith-based principles of Catholic education (which has been in a non-sequitur way under siege lately because of news about some trustees fraudulently and excessively spending taxpayers’ money at the Toronto Catholic District School Board of Trustees who have been replaced by the Ministry of Education-designated supervisor).

On second thought, I demurred. I realized that holding up the flotation of balloons in search of God as an exemplar of “good practise of the Faith” could be misunderstood as light-headed voodoo religious magic, if not downright misdirection of religious fervour.

Where is God? is a legitimate theological question, but perpetuating the concept of a God-in-the-sky, a sulking God, angered by man’s inhumanity to man (the wars in the name of God-Allah-Yahweh have not abated since the Dark Ages, thanks to fundamentalism and terroristic jihads ) is duplicating the errors that may have led atheistic authors like Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) to question the basic foundations of believers’ faith in the existence of God. It is disturbing that they have since then acquired supporters themselves, and popularized secularism, agnostic humanism, and religious relativism.

In my earlier blog entry, “Bailey’s Balloon” (May 31), I wrote a poem as a “reply” to the letter sent via the balloon. “He has never left your side/ When you let it go to look for where his miracles abide” --- is probably as prudent and as eschatologically acceptable as I could manage without reverting to the Pollyanna-assurance which we are wont to use in our short-cut catechism--- Heaven is where everything is happy, because God is there.

How so? God must have abandoned this Earth because man has been so unhappy through the world wars (I & II), the 9/11 tragedy at New York’s Zero Point which has bred more unhappiness in the borders between Canada, USA, and Mexico; the wars in the Middle East, the genocides in Rwanda, global recession, drug cartel murders, obscene corruption in Governments from the staid British Parliament to the insouciant, irrepressible House of Representatives in the Philippine Republic, and other banana republics ad nauseam? These make us miserably unhappy.

It is not too early nor too late to counsel our youth that God is not in some distant heaven that lads and lasses must float those supplicant balloons. St. Augustine said all one had to do was look closely into one’s heart, and there God is. For was man not made in his image? Man is in God as God is in Man.

But the burden of proof, according to Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell, is on the believer to demonstrate the existence of God. One does this through St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, with the most cogent arguments in philosophy and theology. Or the believer can point out to godliness in his environment and his social milieu, a posteriori.

Last May 31, the Sunday of the Pentecost, the Catholic Faithful were reminded about the gifts of the Holy Spirit – Faith, Love, Wisdom, Gentleness, Hope, Kindness. Justice. Wherever and whenever man sees these gifts shine as a light through the gloom that a lot of humanity has gone through, there he would find God.

I followed a couple of senior citizens, on my morning constitutional today, and I marvelled at how silently they walked hand-in-hand toward a Tim Horton’s shop for their early-morning coffee and doughnut. The smile on their faces was infectious. It must be love; it must be caring. I could not help but engage them in a brief banter:

“Had I brought my camera with me, I would have loved taking a picture of you folks walking hand-in-hand, firmly holding each other,” I remarked.

The gentle man, easily an octogenarian judging from his white hair and wizened wrinkles to his ambling gait, responded:

“I have to hold on to her, you know. Don’t want to fall. Don’t want her to run from me,” he winked, and of course, the frail lady grasped his hand, held on for dear life to his waist, and smiled meekly.
“Don’t want her to run after handsome men like you.” He continued then giggled.

“Good humour, too”, I murmured to myself. God’s laughter is still here among humans.

Don Marmur, rabbi emeritus at Toronto Holy Blossom Temple, wrote in his June 1 Star column:

“Too many people are caught up in speculation about the nature of God instead of seeking to follow the teachings. The temptation to think theologically can obscure the responsibility to act ethically.

“Once we stop confusing speculation with action, we may be better able to live by the teachings of God. Living by the Ten Commandments, for instance, can make us practise religion whether or not we fathom its source. In the words of the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, ethics comes before metaphysics.”

Even Christopher Hitchens, somehow validates the rabbi’s polemics when he said in a May 30 interview with the Cathy Kelly of the Star.

“I’m often asked…where my morals come from --- assuming I had any --- if not from the divine. I always reply that I think that’s an insulting question --- as if I wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong without supernatural permission.”

The Baileys of the world need not release search-for-God balloons. Even in the direst of poverty and privation, God is there. Someone is bound to work for the poor’s amelioration – politician or volunteer. It does not matter. What matters is that social justice will preserve their dignity as persons made in the likeness of God.

Is man truly made in the likeness of God? While I can prove this metaphysically and theologically, I would not bother lest I miss the “many splendored thing.”

I love; therefore, I am alive. If God is Love; therefore, God is alive. Is God Love? That to me is the lesson of all Holy Scripts. From the Quran to the Torah, to the Christian Bible.

Among the despairing, God is there. In Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, it is not man who pursues Him – He pursues even the hopeless.”

“Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly.”

God is not done with us yet.