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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010



A case of "reverse" Ekphrasis, these lines from some poems I have already written created the image of "chairs" which is the given poetic gestalt. As a writing exercise, a "picture discovery" could objecify what may have been merely an abstract concept. In Chinese ideography, the single image is a conglomerate of all characters (ideographs) that might have "drawn" (pictured) the idea.

This happenstance of an aposteriori picture validates the "imaging" energies of words and the universe of meaning they bring into the poetic line in particular and to the poem in general. Is it a "creative" drill? While it may not be as creative as proceeding with composition from the "given line" (idea, concept, theme, or experience as the germinating kernel of the creation)  in the stimulating ideograph (picture, painting, drawing, articulated image), it could be a springboard for other mnemonic associations which could shape themselves into other poetic expressions or corollary images.

In the case of "Chairs," the woman on the chair --- who appears with what seems to this beholder a "lonely" repose --- would have been the "picture" conjured by all the words in the three excerpts, if it were vice versa. Picture first. Then reactions: words, images, structures, tropes, etcetera) But the picture came after the words, therefore, it was not the ekphrasis stimulus.

It could be a posterior "epiphany" or the issue of a "surprise (poetic) pregnancy" in the words of poet Jose Garcia Villa. It is the cart before the horse, as it were.

Now go figure what this is all about.

September 30, 2010 Re-view

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


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 ---
--- “Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here”,
From A Theory of Echoes (Selected Poems)

Blow a kiss to your window-waving
Girl, say au revoir for now, and pray
That as they grow, won’t stop loving,
And they do grow and go away,
And you’d be left sitting on a chair
Wondering why they have flown
Like swallows, and hope would care
To come back and perch at sundown.

The stool stood sentry to a darkened room where
she said she would wait if it took forever and it did.
The stool will outlast the stonewalls, rotting doors,
loosened bricks, dust, and bramble. It will be there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The stars
and the ricefields
and the mountains
were in silent prayer
as they listened to
Ave Marias.
 --- Jason Montana, September 27, 2010

Jason Montana reacted yesterday to the previous blog "Unfinished Poem" and confirmed the existence of these places of worship in caves at the sierras and cordilleras in the Northern Philippines. He said:

"Thank God there are chapels and grottos everywhere in the sierras and cordilleras. Jason and company passed by many and entered several where people welcomed them and invited them to prayer. Once there was a Mass in Hapao, Ifugao,* and it was safe to be there. The squad was no stranger to the worshippers. Where there was no chapel, people would meet in a particular house for a prayer meeting. One time, the squad joined an evening Wednesday Marian devotion.

The stars and the rice fields and the mountains were in silent prayer as they listened to Ave Marias."

*One of the Philippines' mountain provinces, and still a sanctuary of nationalist rebel cadres.

This blog invites  poets inclined to write their "ekphrasis" poems based on photo artist Bobby Wong's "A Place of Worship" (inset -- Please click on image to see a larger version).
Please send them to or as soon as the muse allows. (See the previous post "Unfinished Poem" for this blog's primer.)
Disparate reactions should create a "gestalt" or even a "surprise pregnancy" as the late Filipino-American poet Jose Garcia Villa refers to his ars poetica.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


A Place of Worship, a Photo by Bobby Wong


(For Jason Montana)

What temples rise from the deluge of shades,/ what language of grandeur echo in these ancient retreats?/ Or what language of absence befuddles before this death/ that crumples something to nothing?/ Why is there something rather than nothing?
--- From Autumn's Question

Cold and rough hewn pews align the red clay floor
where rifles had lain inert and at stock most dawns
when bloodcurdling screams of combat gave way
to hard-earned slumber and  crackle of campfire
in tempo with the rhythm of breath heard where life
might still have lingered among the beds carved
from crevices where crag flowers have bloomed
before nightmares came with the fall of sparrows:
this night’s sleep would be tomorrow’s horror.

But daybreak brought instead a temple’s prayer:
Upon this cave, our people will build their church.

Mississauga, September 25, 2010

*Somewhere in the Sierras of Cagayan Valley, Penablanca, Cagayan, Northern Philippines

(Please click on photo to see an enlarged version.) 
Writer's Notebook:
Why an "unfinished poem"? There is a "cathedral" of images left unlimned in the caverns of this place of worship. Borrowing from the practice of "ekphrasis", this composition links the image to "echoes" beyond the picture. These may proceed from the picture's history or from the poet's extension of the images that could exude from the image that vibrates with layers of mnenomic associations.
This blog invites poets to finish the poem's narrative with related images to create a "harder" gestalt, a poetic plenitude, as it were. Feel free to send in collateral tropes or other poems "induced" from the pregnant picture.
A blog  (Poet's Picturebox) maintained by Filipino poet Marnie Kilates solicits this type of poetry from pictures. While it is an inverse version of poems that create pictures from words, "ekphrasis" is an old technique of using an existing visual image as the ligne donne (given line) or springboard of poetic creation. It has always been a resourceful tool for poets, particularly Oriental.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


A Giller Faux Pas?


In what looked like a snub of  Canadian Man Booker Prize winners  --- the prestigious U.K.-based Booker prize (Emma Donoghue, this year's finalist with her novel Room) and the Asian Booker winner (Philippine-born writer Montrealer Miguel Syjuco, Ilustrado, 2009) --- Canada's $50,000 Scotiabank Giller excluded the rave reviewed entries from its longlist.

Giller appears to be proving consistent to its penchant of overlooking Man Booker Prize winners. In 2002, Yann Martel's Life of Pi was ignored. Martel did not make this year's list either with his best selling Beatrice and Virgil.

Message? Don't win the Man Booker before you get considered for the Scotia Giller. Or it could be its way of saying, if you've won one prize, let's get others some ducats, too. You know, starving artist's amelioration. Who says the best work of art necessarily wins? Good social conscience, bad art appreciation.

Donoghue, Syjuco, and Martel have received impressive reviews from Canadian, American, and European book critics and literary periodicals as introducing ground-breaking narrative techniques. (This is an understatement!).

In Canada. The Globe and Mail wrote about Ilustrado: "It would be a shock were Ilustrado not nominated for top literary prizes in Canada and around the world." In the U.S., The Washington Post called it "wildly entertaining...absolutely assured in its tone, literary sophistication and satirical humour. U.K.'s Guardian described it "a dazzling and virtuosic adventure reading. . . its author ...may succeed with the Nobel committee." But there are book critics and then there are book critics.

One down. There's Roger's Writer's Trust and the Governor General's Award to come. There are prizes and then there are prizes. Except for the money, do they really mean anything to the author as artist?

(As promised earlier, I will write subsequent reviews of all three Canadian Man Booker winners and perhaps highlight the Giller faux pas.)

Toronto Star's publishing reporter Vit Wagner filed a story  on the fate of the Man Bookers. Oh, and the others.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010



Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing?
--- The question of the ages.

Someone, something, put one over the graffiti Pollocks today:
there’s paint all over the cobbled boulevard, a chiaroscuro
of foliage, a mayhem of hue cutting through dreary treetops,
an assault on the bleakness of a clean well-lighted street,
a rampage of glee gone berserk on a roiled canvas of forest
awash with windswept strokes running riot along walls
of maples and birches and whimpering willows, a cul de sac’s
Sistine vault, Klee’s templegarten, Monet’s pond, aieee.

This fullness of surprise is still our constant wonderment:
what does this arboreal splendour, this arbour’s magic,
change sylvan verdance for? Why the circus of colours
before autumn’s chill crinkles leaves to brittle brown, black,
or even nothing? What temples rise from the deluge of shades,
what language of grandeur echoes in these ancient retreats?
Or what language of absence befuddles before this death
that crumples something to nothing? This fall, we ask again:
Why is there something rather than nothing?

Something, someone, did one over the city’s graffiti lads today:
someone has painted the rainbow on small palms of leaves.

Mississauga, September 21, 2010

Writer's Notebook:
(Click on Image to zoom on text)

Nobel Laureate and Physicist Stephen Hawking, an emeritus professor visiting Canada's University of Waterloo, came out recently with an obiter dictum that God was not necessary to create the universe. The Pope, speaking to a group of religious leaders in England during his state visit, stepped into the debate and conceded that the human and natural sciences "provide us with an invaluable understanding of aspects of our existence...but the disciplines cannot satisfy the fundamental question about why we exist...nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question 'Why is there something rather than nothing.' "

The question became the ligne donee of the poem "Autumn's Question" which this writer wrote to welcome the fall with. All the colours of autumn become the central image of the poem that revels in the graffitti-like riot of hues. Is this nature's graffitti? Who is going around painting the arbours with the colours of the rainbow? Why the bravura before the leaves fall and die?
Why is there something rather than nothing? And why must there be nothing before something?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


In the Weekend Post section of the National Post, book critic Mark Medley listed Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado as a contender for literary honours in Canada:

"This year's literary-awards season begins in earnest on Monday (September 20), when the longlist for the Sociatabank Giller Prize, as it is now known, is revealed. This will be followed closely by the announcement of the finalists for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the shortlist for the Govenror General's Literary Award. These Big Three fiction prizes will all be awarded in November. . . .

"These days, at book launches and publishing parties, when talk turns (as it inevitably does) to which novels should be nominated for the major prizes, these are the books I mention (in order of their illustrations at right):"

(Please click on the images to zoom in on the text)

Syjuco was born in Manila, the Philippines, grew up in Vancouver, and now lives in Montreal where he works for the Montreal Gazette.

(This blog's earlier post on his impressive debut novel traces the interest in Syjuco's work where his Ilustrado is considered a phenomenon in the literary world,  having won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Award and the Philippines Palanca Award  (2009) while it was still in an unpublished manuscript form.)

Medley quotes Syjuco as observing, (the writer himself holding two literary passports, reflecting his joint citizenship), "I think that really just speaks to the plurality and the inclusiveness of Canadian culture. The cultural life does reflect the art, and vice versa."

Come Monday, a longlist or shortlist for Syjuco, is achievement enough. Garnering any of the Big Three  prizes would indeed by a literary phenomenon. And he is a strong contender.

Bon chance, Miguelito! We are proud of you. See you in November.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010



(For Mikey)

Mikey* bested his cousins in the game of balancing on the lily pads (mock pontoons) while crossing the pool without falling into the water before he gets to the last pontoon. This ancient mariner, bedazzled by his grandchildren’s confidence and derring-do, failed to even get past the first pontoon despite their egging him on: Come on, ‘lolo! You can do it! Just do it! --- Writer's Notebook on a Family Break

He leap-frogged lithely
with tentative grace
from one drifting lily pad
to the other, an uncertain smile
creased on his elfin face:
quite like relishing
the exquisite danger
of leaping from one life
moment to another
shorn of anxiety or fear
a fall could end it all.**

Would the pontoons hold
while he teeters on them
grasping for absent branches?

His final leap was also
this old heart’s leap of faith
that this lad’s leap-frogging
will end in a crash of pool
where ripples are his balm
and sinking is his baptism
of fire in a game called living
where bridges crumble
with the tottering pontoons.

Mississauga, September 15, 2010

*Michael Albert Casuga, sixth grandchild, at the water park in Niagara’s Great Wolf Lodge.

La Familia

** From the Writer's Notebook

For archival purposes, I am including in this postscript the original version of the first part of the above poem. While it had metrical and prosodic integrity, it was hard put objectifying the teeter-tottering leap-frogging of the persona in the poem's narrative. One convenient way of ideographically capturing the movement of the objective correlative is to use short, irregular lines that followed quick breath patterns akin to the persona's while jumping from one pontoon to the other. The poet's function is to choose the best image that could help objectify the gestalt that best registers the central image of the poem, its main structure.

I leave the student of the poem's tools to judge which version is more effective in achieving the artistic purpose of the poem.

He leap-frogged lithely, with tentative grace
from one drifting lily pad to the other,
an uncertain smile creased on his elfin face:
quite like relishing the exquisite danger
of leaping from one life moment to another
shorn of anxiety or fear a fall could end it all.

A Game of Pontoons: A Re-view
September 16, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Prizes for Contributors to Poetry


2010 Prizes for Contributors to Poetry Announced

Nine prizes awarded to poets, critics, and essayists featured in the magazine over the past year

CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine are proud to announce the winners of nine awards for contributions to Poetry over the past year. The prizes are awarded for poems and prose published during the past 12 months, from October 2009 to September 2010.

THE LEVINSON PRIZE, presented annually since 1914 through the generosity of the late Salmon O. Levinson and his family, for the sum of $500, is awarded to Ron Silliman for his poem in the June 2010 issue. Silliman is the author, co-author, and/or editor of 38 books, including The Alphabet (University of Alabama Press, 2008) and The Age of Huts (compleat) (University of California Press, 2007). He previously appeared in Poetry in January 1969.

THE BESS HOKIN PRIZE, established in 1948 through the generosity of our late friend and guarantor, Mrs. David Hokin, for the sum of $1000, is awarded to Valzhyna Mort for her poems in the December 2009 issue. Born in Minsk, Belarus, Mort’s American debut was Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). She is currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore.

THE FREDERICK BOCK PRIZE, founded in 1981 by friends in memory of the former associate editor of Poetry, for the sum of $500, is awarded to Paul Hoover for his poems in the June 2010 issue. Hoover’s most recent publications are Sonnet 56 (Les Figues Press, 2009); Beyond the Court Gate: Selected Poems of Nguyen Trai (Counterpath Press, 2010), edited and translated with Nguyen Do; and Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin (Omnidawn Publishing, 2008), winner of the PEN-USA Translation Award, edited and translated with Maxine Chernoff.

THE J. HOWARD AND BARBARA M.J. WOOD PRIZE, endowed since 1994, in the sum of $5000, is awarded to Dorothea Grossman for her poems in the March 2010 issue. Grossman’s 2003 CD, Call And Response (pfMentum) features the poet in live performance with improvising trombonist Michael Vlatkovich.

THE JOHN FREDERICK NIMS MEMORIAL PRIZE FOR TRANSLATION, established in 1999 by Bonnie Larkin Nims, trustees of the Poetry Foundation, and friends of the late poet, translator, and editor, in the amount of $500, is awarded to Laura Leichum for her translations of Gisela Kraft in the March 2010 issue. Leichum is a poet and translator living in Washington, DC. She recently completed her MFA in creative writing at the University of Maryland.

THE FRIENDS OF LITERATURE PRIZE, established in 2002 by the Friends of Literature, in the amount of $500, is awarded to Spencer Reece for his poems in the February and April 2010 issues. Reece is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal church. This past summer he worked as a seminarian in the orphanage of Our Little Roses in Honduras. His poem “The Clerk’s Tale” is currently being made into a short film by the actor James Franco.

THE EDITORS PRIZE FOR FEATURE ARTICLE, established in 2005, in the amount of $1000, is awarded to Durs Grünbein for his essay in the February 2010 issue (translated by Michael Hofmann). Grünbein is the author of six volumes of poetry and a collection of essays.

THE EDITORS PRIZE FOR REVIEWING, established in 2004, in the amount of $1000, is awarded to Abigail Deutsch for her reviews in the May and September 2010 issues. Deutsch is a former Poetry Foundation writing fellow. Her criticism appears in the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, n+1, Bookforum, and other publications.

THE EDITORS PRIZE FOR BEST LETTER, established in 2009, in the amount of $250, is awarded to Daniel Brett Clendening for his letter in the April 2010 issue.

The prizes are organized and administered by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, publisher of Poetry magazine.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Just walked around the corner. That will give you a chance to wade through all these verbiage.

The corner took a long time to negotiate. Have put on more years and clothes and scenic meandering for the time being. Don't worry, I will be baaaack! (Pardon the pun.)