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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, July 23, 2010



(Please click on the image to zoom in on the poem's text. The ideographic aspirations of the poem on the page require that the poem be shown as a "picture.")

From time to time, we come across good poetry that we are compelled to share with readers and the rest of the literary world as an exemplar of what should be written and read as "poetry" as opposed to a welter of mediocre and even thoroughly bad verse being published as "poetry" in both print and world-wide-web media.

A teacher's old habit of presenting models gauded me to write this post which, however, should primarily be read as my admiration for Luisa Igloria's poetic skills.

On the Difficulty of Discerning Shapes in the Distance earns quite convincingly its label as poetry. Its content (subject, theme) dictates its form and its ideographic format achieves its content vice versa.

A rhapsodic limning of desire, longing, nostalgic aching, and a resignation to an absence, this poem uses aptly chosen images to objectify and subjectify these furtive thoughts and immense angst for lost love that must finally find its surrogate either in indelible memories or those "Only let me keep what I may."

They are "little oases of language" that keep these go on "living, ...just as we go on living." What distinguishes this imagery from what could otherwise become maudlin is the author's use of lines like: "As we rise with first light, impelled/ by the thin pencil stroke of salt in the air,/ herbal and almost sweet, making importunate demands. What's dark/if not the catalyst of desire?" This juxtaposition of "first light" and "dark" makes palpable the transformation of familiar odours (bedroom scents suffusing rooms and sheets still) to the tugs of desire in the dark as a "particular failing, to beg intention from such fleeting randomness,/ the overexposed and seductive."
Is there anything forbidden in this arousal? The mark of the superior poet is seen in the allusion to the proverbial "camel passing through the eye of a needle " with these "wanting a glimpse/ of orange linen threaded through its halter." A glimpse of what had been pleasurable in the dark once upon so many nights now lost on the sheets yet viscerally urgent in hoarded reveries. Such restraint is uncommon. Only mature poets are capable of that. It could become verbal diarrhea in lesser lights.

The poet, a skilled dress designer and maker, impresses with her use of images from this trade: "scrim of trees" ( an alignment of trees fencing in or out a space), "eye of the needle" (a painfully narrow path for an avalanche of longing and desire), "orange linen threaded through its halter" (a prime colour, orange --- not red --- expresses not lust but a robust wanting objectified by this linen thread passing through its needle's halter. Again, a restrained but erotic image nevertheless.) . All these collateral images concretize, as it were, the "fleeting randomness" of seductive remembrances "purchased" now in palpable memories "to tether and bind at cost." Will this amour last? Pray, let it stay longer.

But "someone knocks at the a gate/amd is let into a courtyard. Little children/ come out to slide in cardboard boxes/ down the cobbled lane." This is reminiscent of the tug on the harness of the Robert Frost horse while stopping by the woods on a snowy evening --- he cannot stop forever marvelling at the "woods (being) lovely dark and deep...But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep." Reality is an interloper. The children will play their carboard games.

The exquisite pain or hurtful pleasure are in the persona's plaint: "What have I held/in my arms and loved?" It is "light" above fenced-in-houses "that strikes the first or last chords trembling the leaves." Ending in mundane wakefulness, this is the persona's "difficulty of discerning shapes in the distance." But distance, of course, gives the persona a "distance-given-right-to know" in the words of Philippine poet and National Artist Edith L. Tiempo. Either way, both dread and longing are realities. Realities will wake the somnolent up. And all fall down.

"Only let me keep what I may." Like "Once in the night, like a weather vane/ I turned to the sound of another: warm breath in my ear/ mouthing a name; rivulet folded back in water." The need will be sated. A "rivulet" will quench this thirst. But that, too, will fold back in the water. The stream will flow on forever toward a sea that engulfs a universe of longing, desire, need, pain, angst, and an unending supply of wishing.

Seen as a poem-on-the page, the meandering lines recall the ebb and flow of the sea waves. The rivulets rejoin the sea. They are part of the water again. A fleeting reverie dies, the doleful world supplants it. As an ideographic aspiration, this form has its roots in Ancient Chinese and even Zen poetry. The truncation of lines where key substantives are (console, body, sod, trees, living, we, impelled and all the way down to the final line "rivulet folded back in water" that makes the discernment of shapes in distance truly difficult) may not have been consciously intended by the poet, (she certainy has done it intuitively through her language and images) but this is the case where the content is shaping up the form, and the form shapes up a receptacle for the looming content. As in pottery. Yes, New Critics called it: "achieved content."

Luisa A. Igloria is the better poet for her use of content and form that objectify a wisp of an experience into a palpably affecting aesthetic experience. But I do not want the reader "to miss the many splendoured thing," by more hermeneutics.

Luisa A. Igloria was born in the Philippines and
received a PhD in creative writing from the University of Illinois. The author of ten poetry collections, she received the 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize for Juan Luna’s Revolver. She was chosen by Ted Kooser as the recipient of the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize and by Adrienne Rich for the 2006 National Writers Union Poetry Prize, and she was a finalist in Narrative’s First Annual Poetry Contest. Igloria directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, Virginia. (From Narrative)

Luisa A. Igloria (previously published as Maria Luisa Aguilar-CariƱo) has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, The Missouri Review, Poetry East, Smartish Pace, The Asian Pacific American Journal, and TriQuarterly.

She has received various national and international literary awards including the 2007 49th Parallel Poetry Prize (Bellingham Review, selected by Carolyne Wright); the 2007 James Hearst Poetry Prize (selected by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser for the North American Review); the 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize ( Crab Orchard Review ); the 2006 Stephen Dunn Award for Poetry; Finalist for the 2005 George Bogin Memorial Award for Poetry (Poetry Society of America, selected by Joy Harjo); the 2004 Fugue Poetry Prize(selected by Ellen Bryant Voigt); Finalist in the 2003 Larry Levis Editors Prize for Poetry from The Missouri Review; Finalist in the 2003 Dorset Prize (Tupelo Press); a 2003 partial fellowship to the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg; two Pushcart Prize nominations; and the 1998 George Kent Award for Poetry.
Originally from Baguio City, in the Northern Philippines, Luisa is also an eleven-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature (the top literary prize in the Philippines) in three genres (poetry, nonfiction, and short fiction); she has also been inducted into the Palanca Hall of Fame. She has published 10 books including Encanto (Anvil, 2004), In the Garden of the Three Islands (Moyer Bell/Asphodel, 1995), and most recently Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, fall 2005.) Trill & Mordent was a Runner-up for the 2004 Editions Prize, the recipient of the 2005 Calatagan Award from the Philippine American Writers and Artists organization, a nominee for the 9th annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards (poetry category) in 2006, and a nominee for the 2007 Global Filipino Literary Awards (poetry category). (From Panitikan, ph.)


Imprimatur: (Following is this writer's comment sent to Ms. Igloria's Blog "The Lizard Meanders" asking for permission to republish her poem (published by Narrative).

The deep ambiguity of this poem had me spinning looking for the object of "the dark catalyst of desire." A love poem, no doubt, it could be a remembrance of someone, something dead but un-dead "making importunate demands."
Then someone knocks at a gate --- "what have I held in my arms and loved?" This new one, this surrogate, strikes the chords "trembling the leaves." Will this amour last? "Only let me keep what I may." The "warm breath in my ear mouthing a name" is the "rivulet" come to sate the love thirst. But it does "fold back in water."
Luisa, what a powerful last line. What a lovely, lovely love poem.
May I publish it in my lit blog with an analysis of its poetic equipment and a critique of how it achieves its content through its truncated lines and conceits (I saw the Narrative lines.)?
As always, you write excellent poetry. Congratulations.

Mississauga, July 23, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


LITERARY BLOGGERS Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo have inaugurated a new online literary journal which could prove helpful in the gargantuan effort of breathing life to poetics and poetry. Doveglion Press will speak for itself, hence, this first post reprinted en toto.

It is also this corner's response to Barbara Jane Reyes's call for "Community Building" in literature and the arts (particularly poetry). A patently worthy "crusade", Reyes's cause lends itself easily to world wide web. This should be an auspicious beginning.

First Posts in the Doveglion Press: (

Have come, am here.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Welcome to the official website of Doveglion Press.

Doveglion Press is an independent publisher of political literature and orature. We are committed to publishing aesthetically diverse and challenging works of strong artistic merit.
Doveglion, the pen name which Jose Garcia Villa crafted from the dove, eagle, and lion, is a fantastic and hybrid creature, signifying the writer’s ability to embody multitudes, and from splintered selves, to reinvent, and to reconstruct him/herself anew.

Future projects include a semi-annual print journal, interactive blog with rotating guest writers, and an audio/video gallery.

Maiden Post
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “manifesto” is as follows:
manifesto, n.
1. a. A public declaration or proclamation, written or spoken; esp. a printed declaration, explanation, or justification of policy issued by a head of state, government, or political party or candidate, or any other individual or body of individuals of public relevance, as a school or movement in the Arts.
b. In extended use: a book or other work by a private individual supporting a cause, propounding a theory or argument, or promoting a certain lifestyle.

2. A proof, a piece of evidence. Obs.
manifesto, v.
intr. To issue a manifesto or manifestos.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the manifesto, particularly that I don’t see many. Last year, the Poetry Foundation featured a series of poetic manifestos, and really, one of the only ones I found interesting was Thomas Sayer Ellis’s “The New Perform-A-Form: A Page Vs. Stage Alliance.” I have previously written in response to Ellis’s manifesto:

I commend him for really expanding and exploring that space between page and stage and speaking to the the perception that performance is lowly and undisciplined. This in-between space I believe most of us really do inhabit; for me it is something more like a spectrum between page and stage. Within this spectrum, we don’t occupy a fixed point.

I read his manifesto and thought about all of the times an emerging artist of color has said to me that poetry and spoken word are not the same thing. It’d been infuriating me because it was so divisive; poetry belonged to the “academy,” and spoken word to the “masses.” The line drawn between the two seemed non-negotiable; I resented having to choose one over the other. Around the same time that I read this manifesto, I was in the process of writing my own essay, “Some Thoughts on Teaching Poetry to Spoken Word Artists,” which is included in the anthology, Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook (University of Iowa Press, 2010) to discuss why erasing that line is so important to me. I have made a note to myself to include Ellis’s manifesto as one of my syllabus items when teaching poetry and even Filipino American literature.

I bring this up because I am interested in how so many of us seem to share these similar or related ideas and beliefs about poetry; it’s helpful to find others who are doing the kind of work that not only affirms our own, but enables us to continue growing our bodies of work, refining our beliefs and practices and our articulation of our beliefs and practices. This is the the growing of community, which begins with committing the words to the page, and sending them into the world.

This was written by Barbara Jane Reyes. Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, at 1:29 am. Filed under Preview. Tagged manifesto, Thomas Sayers Ellis. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments here with the RSS feed. Post a comment or leave a trackback.


1. Anisa wrote:
Hey Barbara, I haven’t attended nearly enough spoken word performances, but I have come across this discussion, and people who believe spoken word and poetry are two different animals– spoken word being beneath poetry.

Recently I bought a copy of Willie Perdomo’s “Where a Nickel Costs a Dime” and was blown away by the beauty of his reading on the disk that was included. It made me think of the Kerouac recordings– some of my favorite.

I don’t see why the two should be viewed as separate.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm Permalink
2. Albert Casuga wrote:

I agree with your position that there should not be a dividing line between written and spoken poetry. Poetry (lyrical, narrative, elegiac, etc.) has always been recited and performed. It is absolutely unnecessary nor is it helpful to shear these of its oral traditions. When was the last time our Poet Laureates were called upon to recite their poems to the throngs and throngs of massmen who could be inspired to reach heights of thoughts and emotions akin to those felt in the agoras, the ampitheatres, and the temples of the ancient forums where poetry was even considered cathartic?

When was the last time we had a Yevtushenko galvanizing the surging feelings of audiences? What’s wrong with replicating the lyrics and music of the Beatles as performed poetry? Let’s get Dylan Thomases reciting in street corners or T. S. Eliots busking in the subways.

Poetry, among the literary arts, had its furthest reach when first composed and recited by poets in Ancient Greece or China. The “academy” ,unfortunately, has contributed to its stagnation as a “perfomed” art. Poetry barely lives through plays like those of Shakespeare. Should it find its ultimate demise in lazy prose ramblings disguised as poems because they have truncated lines that find no use for music, rhythm, and charged language?

Let me find time to write a contribution to firm out a Poetry Manifesto which is much needed at this point when charlatans think a pile of words (sans evocative images frequently) or a succession of rhyming or alliterative sounds make for poetic “rap”.

An Ars Poetica must, indeed, be posted on every door of every closet poet who need not be afraid that he his writing for an absent audience or an indifferent barbarian throng.

Doveglion Press is a significant addition to online blogging when printed poetry has practically died in academic literary journals. Curiously, however, some of the online poetry blogs have resorted to charging fees for considering poems during their reading periods. (Ah, the almighty dollar!)

(En passant, “Have come. Am here.”, Garcia Villa’s ontological “rap” need not remain as a cathartic poetic orgasm. It is an ars poetica.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm Permalink

3. Barbara Jane Reyes wrote:

Hey folks, thanks for your comments.

Yes, to disconnect “spoken word” and poetry is to be ahistorical. I tend to wonder if “spoken word artists” consciously take on this label to separate themselves from these long poetic traditions (of various cultures, not only English and USA-American poetry), because in that separation, there’s more perceived freedom to write without others’ expectations to bog down the artist.
From my own experience, I’ve just always been surprised how many emerging writers of color just can’t bring themselves to call themselves “poets,” when they are indeed composing and performing verse. Or when I tell them that poetry and spoken word are the same thing, they respond as if I’ve spoken a different language to them. I just don’t know where this came from, and no one can tell me.
Another thing I’m told is that “literary = academic = white,” which is problematic and inaccurate.
I do hope this isn’t because emerging “spoken word artists” don’t want to read literature.

Finally, Albert, on “have come, am here” as ars poetica! Yes!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm Permalink
2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks
1. Doveglion: Manifesto : Barbara Jane Reyes on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 1:37 am
[...] all, so I am also blogging at Doveglion Press. My first post, “Manifesto,” is here. Doveglion Press is still finding its legs. An inaugural project is in the works; I promise to say [...]
2. Intuitive Intertextuality » Blog Archive » Dovelgion - The online poetics journal of Oscar Bermeo on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm
[...] first post Manifesto is already generating some nice discussion which is exactly what we’re looking for. I hear [...]
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Monday, July 19, 2010


A THIRD GENERATION ALBANO WRITER FROM BROOKLYN EXCITES HER UNCLE. To this blogger, "if you can make it there, you will make it anywhere!" I share his joie litteraire. Poet, priest, and literary patron, Seminary Rector Rev. Francisco Albano has introduced this blog to yet another Albano writer; this time, a granddaughter of the late Don Francisco "Paco" Albano, Jr., (whose Spanish love poem ---ca. 1948--to his recently deceased wife, Sra. Crescenta Rojas Albano graced this blog recently) and a niece of my literary confrere and brother in all things spiritual (including pilsen and vino rojo, Dave?) Francisco III (Pax Vobis blog author).

I am immensely pleased to find that the succeeding generation (see my blog post on my son, Albert Beau writing poetry in an earlier life) has taken up the lost cause of literary writing in a world of pulp and insipid vampire stories.

Rev. Albano wrote me to introduce our literary successors: Dear Albert, PAX! Wanda and Louise are my young nieces who want to be literary artists. Both are Ateneo grads. Wanda has MAs in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing. She is in NY solo. Brave heart. At last I get to read her work. Excellent read, I think. Well-crafted short-short. What say you, hermano? I have yet to send her my comments. Nothing from Louise (yet). It's just three of us in the clan interested in literature.

I am sure Father Paco was responding to a reading of my post on my heir-apparent, unico hijo Albert Beau's poetry.

To his email, one of his periodic literary missives, I dashed back a note that I wanted him to on-pass to Wanda. I have, en passant, heeded the challenge of Fil-American writer and creative writing professor Barbara Jane Reyes (PAWA Inc. Blog), to "be wind beneath the wings" of emergent writers from the Philippine-American ethnic diaspora.

"Hermano. I like the story very much. It could have been a poem. The central image of the desktop computer is felicitous. A life of building, trials, caring, memories --- what better objective correlative (theme in fiction) is there? Thank God, Wanda still believes in the short story's structure --- you know, expostion, initial action, complication, denouement. It is a successful short story, and a bonus in getting to the bottom of the autobiographical material being the compleat description of their disintegrating vinculum. What can I say? It is a story that I would have wanted to write myself!"

"Roadtrips and Endings" is a story in many levels. It is the slice of life unwritten in the brief prose which struck me as the "story behind the story". Sad. Masterfully written. I empathize with the broken heart moving away in a roadtrip and the endings left on the curb of a deskstop computer that was not brought along. Left behind. Now dysfunctional. Memories still intact in its derelict hard drive. A death on the street curb, on a dreary and humid afternoon like this. Some rain should fall soon.

The reader has been warned. (Those who still subscribe to E. A. Poe's short story structure will delight us still with their stories that tell stories. You know, like grandmothers, dads and moms, still say: And they lived happily (or sadly) every after.) To my readers, I am proud to introduce Wanda, who has allowed us to reprint this story which was first published, she said almost apologetically, by a "small literary journal in good old Brooklyn."


MY HUSBAND was not someone who would ever claim to have read Tolstoy or Proust for pleasure. When his mind needed a book, he went to Asimov or Bradbury, or Gaiman and the occasional Moore. He read Wired rather than The Economist. He played World of Warcraft in his spare time. He was on Linux before he was on Windows.

He was different from the other men I had dated. He was practical. Quiet, but not with the smoldering, simmering intensity I had come to expect from silence. Staunch, but with a firmness unlaced with arrogance. Instead, he was shy in a matter of fact way, because to him it was the path of least resistance. He took everything in stride, was seldom ever flustered.

At first, I didn’t know how to handle his stoicism, his almost stubborn lack of drama. Now I recognize how similar we actually were. Together, we inhabited a space that had been cleared of the debris of previous entanglements, emptied of the chaos of past emotions.

That isn’t to say that we kept secrets, because we never did. There was no cause. Instead, we held the various pains and sufferings up to the light, displayed in stark, naked glory, each put in its place. Deprived of mystery or shadow, drama never seemed able to gain a foothold. There was too much objectivity, too much plain logic. He was just that kind of man.

I used to imagine that this clean, open-minded pragmatism was the cornerstone of our equilibrium.

I used to imagine that this equilibrium anchored me.

One afternoon, in our flat in Forest Hills, he came home with a bulging duffel bag slung over a shoulder, his delicate, long-fingered hands clutching a much battered cardboard box. He poured the contents into the carpet of our bedroom floor: cables, wires, plastic and metal and copper things.

“You’re going to build a desktop,” he told me, smiling.

We did this on occasion. I would buy him a book that I thought he might like, which he would then read, but we knew it was only to please me. He would explain the inner workings of the virus mind, and I would listen and nod my head, but it was only to make him feel like he had taught me something, that our intertwined lives served some higher purpose.

That weekend, I sat on the floor and began the trying task of assembling a computer from various spare parts culled from office storage spaces and friends’ garages. He was meticulous, and I tried to be patient. We discussed the special uses of this new thing which we were to create. What kind of sound card would we need? What kind of video? How fast did it need to be? How much memory? What programs would it need to run? What OS? The project soon took a life of its own.

We modified everything that could be modified. We adapted a hybrid cooling system that integrated special fans and water-filled tubes. We tested different motherboards. We clipped and extended wires, wrapped and twisted copper into intricate braids, scoured the discards of even more geek-friends. He tested various open-source software. Our only rule? We would not spend a penny.

It took a few days, but when it was done, I felt like I had given birth to a child. There it was, an enormous desktop carved from scraps and refuse, assembled by my own hands. We gave it pride of place in our apartment. I used it everyday until we had to move.


We decided to move to Las Vegas.

I don’t remember the intricacies of that conversation. I don’t remember the paths that may have unwound in my mind. But I do remember telling myself that if nothing else, it would be different. Interesting. Another chance to push myself out of my ever-shifting comfort zone. Another piece of the world to see.

The day we were supposed to leave New York, we stared at the computer we had once built. It had been painted a riot of purples and blues and reds – my idea, a sort of brand to claim it as my own. The behemoth had now been unplugged and disconnected, stripped of any kind of function. It lay uselessly in the greenhouse, surrounded by the other discards of our lives.

“Let’s take it with us,” I said finally.

“I guess we could try,” he replied.

We hauled monitor, keyboard, and tower out to the garage. We had created this, I kept on telling myself. Each piece had been carefully selected from the rubble. Each bob and bit and copper wire inspected, cleaned, and modified. We had picked the colors. We had installed and adapted its programs. It was a repository of unbacked-up code, of forgotten stories, of unfinished poems, of the beginnings of memory. In this thing – this lifeless heap of odds and ends, we had poured pieces of ourselves.

We lay the various parts on the sidewalk. I opened the door to his car.

The backseat was so full, I feared that moving even the tiniest thing would cause this tangible manifestation of our years together to collapse, like a house of cards. This was the puzzle of us, I thought. Books and speakers, pillows and paintings, geeky little figurines. Separate little things, piled up on top of each other haphazardly for no other reason than the fact that they had to be moved.

My life and his, unravelled to a puzzle in the back of a car.

And the desktop we built continued to lie dispassionately on the side of the street. It wouldn’t,
couldn’t ever fit. So we simply left it on the curb.


WANDA “MITA’ ALBANO, a Brooklyn, New York-based writer, is a third-generation progeny of the Albano clan of Isabela, in the Northern Philippines. A graduate of Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, she has MAs in Literature and Creative Writing. This blog has had the honour of publishing the poetry (in Spanish) of her grandfather, Don Francisco Albano, Jr., and her uncle, Rev. Francisco R. Albano, a poet and seminary rector in Isabela. She lives in New York and is working on her first novel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010



When Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado took Canada by storm, I realised that the ethnic diaspora in this country has always looked to immigrants for its literary stars: Ondaatje, Okri, Hill, Roy, Martel, Delillo, Uppal, Moritz, among others. That Syjuco enjoyed the most expansive and most generous publicity is certainly not only because of the PR blitz that his publishers were capable of, but it also had to have something to do with the "Melchizedek who comes to the scene unexplained":

The doctoral student doing desk work copyediting in an English newspaper in French Quebec, the globe-trotting bon vivant estranged from his Philippine family which has considerable wealth and real political influence (his father was a Cabinet member in the late President Corazon Aquino's government) and who are themselves considered "ilustrados" (the gentry and the ruling class) in that postcolonial Southeast Asian archipelago, the son who abandoned a lucrative economic future with a father-sanctioned economics degree from one of the most prestigious universities in his country, and one who forsook a wealthy life to seek his fortune in the unforgiving urban centers of New York, Montreal, and Toronto as a driven writer. Yes, he took on menial jobs. Yes, he suffered the estrangement of kith and kin (I remember teaching one of his older siblings, Cesare,--- or is it Augusto Jr.? --- in one of the Catholic universities in Manila). He lived in penury and privation. So what? In between desking on the graveyard shift and regaling his Edith with his prose and poems, did he not emerge with this country's grandest literary debut in the last 30 years or so?

The Globe and Mail's Charles Foran introduced Ilustrado in his pre-publication debut review (May 8, 2010) as "difficult or even unreadable." In the formal tradition and innovative thrust of Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy (1760s), James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004). "They have also nearly always been what is new and most exciting."
Foran predicted: "Ilustrado, the first novel by young Filipino writer Miguel Syjuco, may well prove a literary bridge-builder between the formally innovative and the reader-friendly." A generous estimate this, because publishers have always yearned for something between the truly literary and the sales-viable pulp. Foran believes Ilustrado "has worked out...the project for a new kind of Asian identity, one that can simultaneously sort through the messes of the colonial past while staying alert to our emerged century of almost too easy East/West flow and too many alignments of formerly solid borders."
The Globe review comes across as a high-flown, postgraduate-seminar essay with cultural, political, and academic gibberish like "In so doing, he (Syjuco) realizes that he is able to unite his globalized, deracinated sense of self with that of the earlier Salvador, a member of an older, vanished 'ilustrado' class of learned, erudite but also colonized and creatively crippled Filipinos."

The panegyric flood preceding the book launch was understandable as a sales pitch. But will it be able to withstand the cold-eyed, critical yardstick of the literary grumps, the critics who lurk in musty libraries waiting for a bright star to streak across the literary sky, and giggle at rank pretensions of the turks who come to the scene anointed sans prerequisite literary circumcision?

The Toronto Star's post publication review by Alex Good (July 11, 2010) appears to be a hard-headed look at Syjuco's novel. "Dysjunction and indeterminacy are Syjuco's aim...some parts, like the series of lame gags involving a character called Erning, don't appear to have any point at all. Others like the running commentary on contemporary Philipine politics, seem to belong to another book... The resulting loss of focus makes it hard to keep straight what Ilustrado is finally supposed to be about...This confusion is compounded by the shifts in voice and tone...For all its unevenness, there's no denying Ilustrado is a good first novel."
Good, however, feels that the novel "registers more of a lack of confidence than literary flair", as shown in the trick ending, "wherein the story swallows its own tails." The Star's post-publication review is not daunted by earlier hossanahs registered by all and sundry in the publishing and literary journal world. It engenders sobering thoughts (hope, really) that literary reviews will once again beef themselves up with relevant literary theory and aesthetics, rather than burp with literary criticism bloated with hermeneutic gobbledygook signifying nothing or rank misunderstanding also known as literary ignorance.

This post is a quick scanning of the Syjuco phenomenon. The harsher yardstick will come sooner or later. Syjuco is much too significant a writer to ignore. This writer is prepared to ignore their mutual exile and literary allegiances in the ethnic diaspora. Is Syjuco any good? Will he not perish soon enough as the proverbial firebrand? Harsh questions, but all indications are that he will thrive. And may his tribe increase.

(Please click on the image to zoom on the text.)

The Star's take with Alex Good (July, 2010)

The Globe and Mail publicity Ad sent our by Penguin, H& H.

The Globe and Mail pre-publication review by Charles Foran.

Will Syjuco's sheen last? From the fallout, he seems to have arrived, the debut novel notwithstanding.

(Included in this Walrus issue is Syjuco's "Stet", a short story about two newspaper deskers wheedling the other for a switch of schedule, in dialogues ala the saltless gab of Hemingway characters in A Clean Lighted Place and The Killers.)

Predictably, with the blazingly bright Canadian debut of Ilustrado, Syjuco has effortlessly grabbed the limelight with a Hemingway-esque fiction ("Stet") published in July/August issue of The Walrus, Canada's most prestigious magazine, indepth pre and post interpretive analysis of the Philippine elections won by Benigno C. Aquino III, the island's 15th President, in the Op-Ed sections of Canada's venerable nationaly daily, (The Globe and Mail "Counting on Aquino," May 15, and the morning after the election, "The Son also Rises: Meet the New Aquino Saviour") --- a rapidly spreading literary fallout that also reflects Canada's wide-eyed awe of an obscure copy desk editor (Montreal Gazette, Quebec's English daily) who surprised the literary world by winning the Man Asian Literary Prize with his erstwhile unpublished manuscript. Of course, after the win, the publishing world from Penguin to Strauss to Hamish Hamilton tripped over each other grabbing the debut novel for their publishing coups. At this writing, Ilustrado has remained in the bestseller list of new fiction in North America. Translations in Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabian et al cannot be far behind, the publishers having smelled the sudden flash of nuggets from a curiously well-publicized arrival in the scene. Miguel Syjuco, nevertheless, is a "Melchizedek who comes to the scene unexplained" in North America's literary diaspora, not to mention the moribund mainstream literary enclave in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver (British Columbia).
The Walrus published his story "Stet" as one of the Summer Reading treats.

Syjuco has metamorphosed into a chronicler on anything Philippine. In this case, the election of President Benigno Aquino III, son of the martyred Ninoy and the beleaguered wife, the late President Corazon Aquino.

The Globe and Mail might just spirit away Syjuco from The Montreal Gazette, even as the latter is undergoing throes of union problems and circulation difficulties.

Miguel Syjuco hopes to teach some time or the other after his doctorate, preferably at world-class McGill University. That might help with his literary aspirations. With the single novel, assuming it will continue to sell, he could have enough to fund other novels, other voices, other rooms, but literary nevertheless.

This blog promises to bare the "splendour" that is Ilustrado but with the rigorous measure of literature not pulp. Meantime, just watch Syjuco.

Or just watch this blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010



The second round of my "spring cleaning" is being done in the middle of summer. All on orders of the mother of my children and my supreme care and direction-giver. Last week, rummaging through the "dispensables, throwables, and absolutely overstaying junk in my study," my woeful travails and painfully revolting dusting of books and clippings, et alia (of agonizing about which ones to trash and which to keep longer up to my dying days, I hope) were assuaged somewhat by discovering a long-lost treasure: my son Albert Beau Casuga's first attempts at writing poetry, lovingly bound in a thin, brown-with-age, libretto.

I have been looking for these for some time now. They would make good material for this blog. Poetry written by "the apple that might not have fallen far from the tree." Although these were his first forays into writing poems, I have a feeling that he could still pick up from their energies should he see them again. Hence, this post.

(Please click on the image to zoom on the text.)

The collection was hidden between books and test papers when I found them. Albert Beau was in high school then. I took the poems with me to my office, typeset them, and pasted them together to resemble a book. He never looked for them, though. He never asked for them. I felt they have always been his way of creating that link, that vinculum caritatis, a son's unspoken reassurance that the genes have not been altered a lot. A poet's son must also be a poet. And all that genetic magic or maybe mumbo jumbo.

I thought I would publish them now, or they will forever perish in the limbo of other interests my progeny have gone into. All my five children are reasonably literate and immensely expressive of their opinions (on everything from pebbles to diverse Weltanschauung), but none of them ventured into creative writing in their adult years. Wisdom and empathy for my creative agony (rarely ecstasy) must have taught them to steer away from this pain-in-the-you-know-what artsy fartsy urgencies that would ultimately not amount to a pound of beans. Good thinkers, these kids.

But once upon a lifetime, I ached to see one of them improve on my chosen art, and write the best yet seen in the realms of poetry, the queen of the literary arts. Maybe in another life. But for the nonce, here are Albert Beau's poems. I learned much from them. Even felt pangs of guilt and missed moments of knowing him as he grew up. I hope it is not too late.

The tenth and final poem in the collection is my favourite. "The Man at the Hill", I suspect was about me, addressed to me, and I should have been more attentive to his plea: "O man who is at the hill,/ Please come down and remember me..." I recall the one time Albert Beau and I sat on a slope near his school's track and field at T.L.Kennedy High School in Central Mississauga. I must have been lost in the maze of onrushing thoughts about the magazine I was editing for the Metroland Publishing's leisure and entertainment periodical, SMILE. He sat silently, impassively, ahead of me on the mound, preoccupied with his own thoughts (he never really talked to me about them. He kept them to himself when he was sixteen. He still does at 43. I wonder if I really knew my son, then. Do I really know him now? I wonder if my own father, the late Francisco F. Casuga, ever asked that same question, too, when he wondered why I wrote what I wrote when I was in high school myself. As editor of the school paper, The La Uinon TAB, I did sneak a poem into the tabloid's literary pages (monopolized the column inches, I realise in hindsight). But I concede, without reservation, that upon re-reading my son's poems when he was 15 or 16, that he wrote better ones than I did at the same age --- I could understand his poems, I could not decipher mine.
Even at this point, I still think that I write poems which I know I understand when I have just written them, only to realise that a few years thereafter, only God or his counterpart in Hades might be patient enough to put a peg on what in blazes I am being lyrical about!
When my wife gave birth to Albert Beau (yes, we had decided to name him thus even before his debut in this planet) on April 3, 1967, I scribbled one of those poems which make me scratch my head now. The Manila Sunday Times Literary Supplement published it, and I am almost sure even those who printed it then (Editors Gloria Goloy? Ben Afuang?) are wondering what on earth I was trying to say.
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.
(From Songs for My Children)
This was written way before Clinton-Lewinsksy. And I may have had dauphine-pretensions and imperial obsessions for a Prince. A suspected ligne donnee would be: Every father feels like a King when he has sired a son. Let the critics take a jab at guessing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


A Poem



Not in this anointed urn before me are you, Mama;
Not in unchained elements of your ashes,
Once mode of your body and heart and mind.
Where is your spirit now but in freedom
Of earth and sea, sky and wind -- god-like
Nowhere and everywhere undefined, uncontained?
Where are you, Mama of stories and prayers,
Model of forms of kindness that brought
People to enlivened faith and hope and caring?
I break this silent vase with this poem of tears --
Your real presence explodes in fiery holiness,
Enfolds me with light of memories of love and home.
The taste of your milk is on my tongue,
That made us one: Madonna and Child.


Last May 24, the mother of poet and seminary rector, Rev. Francisco R. Albano, died at 89. This poem was written in July after the poet’s spiritual retreat. Having “adopted” Fr. Albano as my own brother, I, too, received news about his mother's, Tia Crescenta Rojas Albano’s demise. (He is a “tocayo” --- namesake --- rather serendipitously of my own late brother, Francisco, who died in my mother’s womb.)

I am publishing this poem (reprinted from his blog Pax Vobis) with a prayerful wish that my own mother, at 88, would consider this poet’s sentiments to be the exact, same thoughts I have, and hope that from this distance she would read them, too, while she is still with us. So "death shall have no dominion."

In a comment I affixed to the poem via Multiply, I wrote Fr Albano:

“This is a beautiful poem. La Pieta reversed. The juxtaposition of physical and metaphysical creates a tension that achieves your theme.. Bless her soul who inspires great utterance. Albert”

Saturday, July 3, 2010


(Click on image to zoom in on picture and text.)



1. Impressions Dyed in Red

Swatting flies off the sahib's table,
Slapping bloodsuckers off the soft skin
Of money changers in the Dhaka alleys,
Dumping discarded foetuses in rivers
Curdled with carcasses and dung:
All in a day’s work of a boy in Bangladesh.

Beating dread into brittle skeletal backs
Of scampering beggars, howling slumdogs
Praying for mercy while batons are rained
On loins to supplant the eked out alms
That could have bought this lad’s repast
Coming out of sweatshops drenched
With dye that reeked with bodes of dying:
All in a day’s work for the Rajah’s riot police.

Impressions swathed on mud-splattered
Garments strung in shanty town washlines
Wound tight on gnarled branches of trees
That will not grow beyond this lad’s height
When he creeps out in the night toward
The hills these armed bastards have driven
Him to, and he will come down a grown man
Of wraith-like limbs and dark sunken eyes
Burning with wrath and towering anger.

2. Looking Back in Anger

Decapitating the governor and his paramour,
He lisps: All in a day’s work for the child-slave
Who prayed for them to stop dumping batons
On his mother’s back: “Hit me! Beat me instead!”
They spared the splayed old woman grovelling
Atop a mound of scavenged used diapers
But did not think the better of him that time,
This waif, this little boy, running through
The streets begging for a little more rupiah,
A little more dried squid or corn for siblings
Around his table. The riot police jeered:
Eat shit, you little shit. Eat this rattan stick!

All in a day’s work for police and lads in Dhaka,
The proud city of Bangladesh, where label
Shirts of Tommy Hilfiger, Grenadier, Chaps,
Yves St. Laurent and Ralph Lauren are made.

July 3, 2010, Mississauga