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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Albert B. Casuga's photo.

It could have been a first embrace foregone in a lost dance. She even wore a new pair of shoes from her OFW mother.


She lost her rubber slippers in the mud when
Crackling mayhem scuttled their march to town
Ripping through their roaring revelry riding
East of the searing sun: 'Ibagsak si Ampatuan!'

Alive and raucous in their raspy throats, the raw
Mantra of venceremos quickly turned to wailing:

“She was on her way to the village school,
Carrying a new pair of shoes from her mother,
Rosa, who is an OFW in the States! Pobresita,
Eleanor, she needed clean shoes for the prom;
And, O, she laughed about our ragtag band
Marching to a funeral tune, its sole anthem beat.”

She will not find Simeon where she has gone,
Cut down, head cracked, and curled like a limp
Rag doll that could have been whipped away
Even from the tightest hold of a pining swain
Anxious and waiting in the now unlit schoolyard
Marking a first embrace foregone in a lost dance.


* This poem is in collaborative response to the invitation to express rage over the Maguindanao Massacre, that took place in the Southern Philippines in November 2009. It is part of a collection of over a hundred poems collected online under the working title An Anthology of Rage.





The Maguindanao Massacre: An Anthology of Rage


It’s past April Fool’s. Someone in the old country is asking poets from all over the cyber world to write a “rage poem” condemning the November 2009 carnage in Maguindanao, a Muslim-dominated province in the Southern Philippines. Why poems instead of armed retaliation? A tad late, isn’t it? Jihad in the name of Allah perhaps?
That’s not funny, you know. (There, Megan --- one of my granddaughters growing up jaded in Canada --- I’ve used your favourite expression of “rage”, minus the throaty voice!)
When Philippine writer Joel Pablo Salud campaigned through his Facebook last April for “Rage” poems to protest what at that time looked like a government intervention to absolve two of the Ampatuan relatives alleged to have planned the extremely prejudiced elimination of Esmael Mangundadatu as an opposing candidate challenging incumbent Southern Philippines Maguindanao provincial Governor Ampatuan, patriarch of the accused dynasty alleged to be responsible for what is now tagged “Maguindanao Massacre”, it was past April’s Fool day, and it appeared to this writer to be a quixotic albeit heroic attempt to keep the monstrously heinous massacre in the public eye.


A Backgrounder
(The May 2009 elections, by the way, saw Mangundadatu beat the accused political Godfather Ampatuan, who is now in custody in the Philippine capital city of Manila. His wife, Genalyn, was one of the victims of the political mayhem. Press reports earlier identified her as one of those waylaid on their way to town to register the candidacy of her husband. She was also reported to have been shot in her genitals, some companions were raped, a pregnant woman shot in the belly, and youthful members of her entourage decapitated.

Her candidate husband was not with the mowed down group that included at least 30 media functionaries. She was there to make sure her husband’s candidacy was registered. Journalists marched with her to witness what was admittedly a historic challenge to the long-entrenched Ampatuan warlord.

She was the brave one.

As a proper homage to a peremptory oblation, Governor-elect Esmael should --- against all odds or estimates --- become the best provincial executive he could muster. His wife’s sacrifice is worth no less. But to him, paraphrasing Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, “woe to the hands that shed her costly blood./ Over her wounds do I now prophesy/ which like dumb mouths do opt their ruby lips/ domestic fury shall be so in use/ that mothers shall behold their infants quartered in the hands of war.”

He is, after all, only human. Pagkat siya’y tao lamang! The quintessential expression of rage against this patent impunity is Revenge --- good old Talion Law: An eye for an eye! Come to think of it, Shariah, the Islam Law derived from the Qur’an is even harsher than the lex talionis. It advocates immediate, equalizing, justice. None of this oft-postponed, deferred, prolonged investigation, prosecution, trial, and jury determination. Jihad is Allah’s justice.

How long will Ampatuan’s case ripen in the courts of “law”? How many owners of grave-digging backhoe’s need to be determined in Maguindanao? Will witnesses also be eliminated with “extreme prejudice” as the case lolls along in the majestic chambers of learned barristers and the law’s magistrates?

Peace, brotherhood, and prosperity are selfless alternatives and they should properly honour Genalyn’s sacrifice. Her people in Maguindanao have long suffered the grip of feudal warlords who thrive in monstrous mansions while taxpayers lived in shantytowns built atop garbage dumps.

Giving way to murderous and vengeful rage is a base but human reaction, but Esmael, not unlike a Prometheus-bound or the biblical Job, must rise above it all, weep his heart out, but be god-like now, providing the public-service providence his wife’s murder must be enshrined with.

The people must prevail.

Even now, one of the poem-writers, Angela Gutierrez Dy has “chided” Esmael for “hiding behind his wife’s skirt” when she wrote in her Rage contribution: “before you left, your husband Esmael/ received terrible threats. so he sent/ his family’s women, even pregnant,/ in his stead to the election office, to prevent/ his own death. you went, and yet/ none have called him selfish to presume/ the long-ruling clan would not murder/ so many women and journalists./ when they stopped your convoy, Genalyn,/ did you know what was to come?”
But this, too, is rage.)


Filipinos have short memories, or Filipinos have huge forgiving hearts. Or it could have been an inspired attempt of Mr. Salud to respond to the earliest protest poem denouncing the Maguindanao slayings: Mila D. Aguilar’s “Answering Denise Levertov” (November 24, 2009).

“We are the walking dead/ Straddling the centuries/ Without remorse/ Shouting ourselves hoarse: Producing nothing.” Aguilar describes the massacre with pained resignation that nothing will finally come out of condemning the disembowelling of 57 citizens (including some 31 local media people).

Salud, through his Facebook plea, got over a 100 contributors to his Rage project in a month’s time. More sound and fury?

I responded with a poem spelling out a “silent scream”; I considered Salud’s effort a valiant recapturing of the function of poetry in galvanizing the emotions of revolutions.

Are rage (angry) poems effective equipment for expressing what would otherwise be a call to arms or street combats?

“Makibaka, huwag matakot!” (Fight! Struggle! Do not be daunted nor cowed! Do not be afraid!) became the battlecry of the Filipinos decrying the imposition of Martial Law in the 70s. They waded through street battles; the urgent rhythm of the mantra in their bellies.

Remember the alliteration behind Egalite! Liberte! Fraternite! while the storming of the Bastille rocked French society? Victor Hugo’s depiction of the French Revolution came to us in contemporary times as some of the most incendiary lyrics that served to forge bonds among the peasants and the agents provocateurs.

The Philippine Revolutions against the Spanish, American, and Japanese colonizers caught the smouldering fervour of the Filipino’s war of independence in the lyrics of that now immortal anthem Ang Bayan Ko. The same battlecry rallied Filipinos behind the People’s Power march to topple the martial law government in the 80s. People sing it in every protest gathering against all and sundry.
Ibon’g mang may layang lumipad,/ Kulung mo ay umiiyak!/ Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag/ Ang di magnasang makaalpas?(Translation: Even a bird that flies free,/ Would fly its captive coup!/ Would not a truly beautiful country/ Not dream and hanker to be free!)

Poetry and poetic cadence have always been handmaidens of protest movements.

However, they could only go so far. It is the residual effect of emotions stirred by these poems that linger, and they become the underpinning of sustained battlecries, the wellsprings of revolutionary thought.

While not all of those protest poets perished in the frenzy of combat, we remember them: People’s Republic of China sprung out of Mao Tse Tung’s Long March, and the poems of his Red Book; Jose Maria Sison, a Filipino poet and revolutionary, lives in exile unbound and unbent in the Netherlands; Epifanio San Juan still throws poetic brickbats against the Establishment for the peasants even in his exile in the bountiful United States, having suffered academic alienation from his country and colleagues; Jason Montana was up the in hills during the battles against the minions of corruption and martial law; Mila D. Aguilar endured incarceration only to find her continuing the fight today in the Philippine’s premier academic grove, the University of the Philippines.

Filipino poet par excellence Emmanuel Lacaba is still a desaparecido (or may have died in combat as this writer and certainly all his proud and grieving friends celebrated his demise in the mountain fastness of Mounts Arayat, Bukidnon, Mayon or Makiling --- romance-laden bastions of the myriad revolutions that have fragmented the Philippines even beyond its 7100 islands.

Some poets in Mr. Salud’s aborning anthology advocate the segueing of the guerrilla warfare sustained still onto its death throes by the outlawed National People’s Army.

Those poems that will certainly remain with men and women who will stand by human dignity and unfettered freedom will breed the Maos, Sisons, San Juans, Lacabas, Montanas and Aguilars in struggles yet to come.

I chose some of them here, and mark my words.


Before the rage poems started pouring in, Mila D. Aguilar wrote the fist “soundless scream” bemoaning the Maguindanao Massacre.
It is this soundless scream of rage which remains in the mind’s tympanum. It is this rage --- full of pain, and towering unsatiated anger, seen somewhat in Greek Tragedy and contemporary films like On the Waterfront, or actor Al Pacino, as the Godfather, performing a “soundless scream” over the murder of his daughter on the steps of the Scala. How dare anyone kill the patron’s progeny?

The silent scream is still the best and most graphic expression of rage. It is that which almost always remains with the most telling effect long after the flash of anger or miracle of forgiveness.


by Mila D. Aguilar

Here, Denise, they don't
Chop off heads by the day
They just waylay you
On some lonely byway
Or highway
As the case may be
Whether you're alone
Or with
A convoy of journalists
Meant to protect your
Filing of candidacy.
One, two, fifty killed
Numbers don't matter
It's the principle that counts:
The principle of power
Over people
Of family
Over fold.
We know
No other life
We are the walking dead
Straddling the centuries
Without remorse
Shouting ourselves hoarse:
Producing nothing.

(From studentsofenglish Blog - November 24, 2009 )





A rage expressed in dripping sarcasm, impunity, and, indeed, disdain (seen from the viewpoint of the assassins,) is Marne L. Kilates' almost immediate contribution to Salud’s call.

It is an apostrophic diatribe fit for Manila’s Plaza Miranda (the Philippine version of Times Square or London’s Trafalgar Square or even Hyde Park) to stir the people into frenzy. It recalls a literary tradition fraught in the zarzuela where poetry is most effective because it is declaimed as rousing elocutions.

One is reminded of attempts staged by Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera to harangue Quiapo’s audiences at Plaza Miranda with his protest poems. The Bulatlat, an online magazine of long standing, has published some of these oral poems of Dr. Lumbera, a Philippine National Artist.

Kilates’ poem recalls the lacerating edge of Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s recitations at the Kremlin Square where, alone, he could drive thousands of people to anger or tears, and to bear arms, with his lyrical descriptions of Gulag’s inhumanity to his peasant brethren.
(Long moribund in the Philippine literary landscape, oral poetry, nevertheless, struggles to exist at this writing. Young writers have not gone past the howls of Ginsberg or the lazy orthographies of e.e.cummings; now, they think rap is au courant; indolence and ignorance of poetics and aesthetic benchmarks make them unreadable. Poetry in English is almost dead or dying in the Philippines.)
Again, with an unexpected twist, it is truly a “soundless scream” to wake up a fence-sitting people from helpless stupor.

Out of the shadows, evil speaks...
You don’t count. None of you
Count in the scheme of things.
Not your small bodies or small lives,
Not your whining, despicable
Poverty groveling before our power,
Not your sniveling needfulness
That clutches at the hem of our skirts
And soils the varnish of our floors,
Not your sweaty intrusions that offend
Even our pets, not your unending
Requirements for small change.

No, you don’t count. The scheme
Of things is something you cannot
Understand: Things of magnitude
And consequence are a puzzle to you,
The workings of power you can never
Equate with your pitiful scrambling
For the next meal, the overdue rent,
The unpaid tuition, the humiliation,
The shame, the want. You can only
Understand fear and the weight
Of our power upon your servitude,

The fear of being trampled upon,
Crushed underfoot, buried
In the dirt that you love so much,
In the sod that you mistake for your
Dignity, in the miserable patch
That is your only concept of property.
You can only understand the immediacy
Of death glinting in our loud and
Rumbling machines, our guns
That you thought we wouldn’t use
But did because… You don’t count.
Get out of the way. Disappear. Die.

(Translated to Filipino, this Kilates poem should inflame an audience to take up arms. Verily, the impunity shown the victims is graphic here.)

Philippine Graphic Weekly editor, Inday Espina-Varona’s poem will be recalled again and again by cafe insurgents. Will armchair revolutionaries see the rage behind this Hamletian soliloquy? Will anyone “peek behind the backhoe” and cry: “Havoc! Let slip the dogs of war.”

It is finely crafted poems like Varona’s which will stand the test of time and impatience. Her fear and trembling is occasionally the intelligentsia’s reaction; but beware the dark thoughts that spring from these minds --- theirs is a retaliation that gurgles from the heart and centuries of pent-up anger and unmollified rage.


We wash down fears in brew amid neon’s glare
and now clamp teeth on trembling lips
as fingers press black knobs that pace
the rush of images of flesh and bones and teeth
and hair framed by clumps of earth

Craft flies, deserts us, absconds
in this moment of illogic when the mind
shirks from its normal quest for answers,
dreading the cackle of bloodlust
that awaits the intrepid
that dare peek behind the backhoe.

Luisa Igloria’s ghazal on the Maguindanao Massacre was one of the earliest responses to Salud’s solicitation.

It is the most “soundless scream” of those I have chosen to limn this rage which Mr. Salud would want to preserve not only for the duration of this massacre’s prosecution but for all the literary ages.

An aesthetic exercise, it screams with the fearsome muttering of those body parts, if they could but bear witness to the carnage.

We'll grieve the most for the smallest parts of their mangled
bodies: the tendons of the throat, no longer able to speak of tragedy;

the little finger joints severed beneath the canopy, the wombs
and hips that broke so easily, as if it were no tragedy.

If this is not poetry, what is? If this is not grief, what is? Igloria is a poet of poets.


Months after, metallic glimpse of water across low hills
and loosened earth, still shadowed with tragedy.

Salt in the air, every rooftop edged with rust--
Could they have known what portents bloomed with tragedy?

Rip of light caught on the zipper's downstroke.
Who'll sign his name on the bloody breastplate, authoring this tragedy?

Grass strewn with leaves, with limbs. Even birds now skirt
the field. A backhoe, impaled on the outlines of tragedy.

We'll grieve the most for the smallest parts of their mangled
bodies: the tendons of the throat, no longer able to speak of tragedy;

the little finger joints severed beneath the canopy, the wombs
and hips that broke so easily, as if it were no tragedy.

Of the poems sent to Mr. Salud, this Barrett poem (apparently a take off from a corrupted version of the villanelle) intrigues me. It sounds cavalier but it is not; it objectifies the namelessness and insignificance of these lives cut down in a show of unearned power and might. Like Kilates, Kay Ulanday Barrett is angriest when she says: “Do not confuse numbers for bodies,” One dead body is one too many.

These are the hapless who are willing to fight for a spot in this soil, but “like fish scale, they are transparent", seemingly without a tinge of gravitas. The filthy unknown.

Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
A country is a swollen stalk of rage (un)refrained
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?

Will they merit love from outraged brethren from the seats of power? Nah. “Love is contraband sent in envelopes.” Corrupt politicians will buy their votes, but “bellies hold breath at a starving neck/ A country is a swollen stalk of rage.”


Your name is transparent
like fish scale, a stretch of
guiltless highway full of traffic.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?

Like fish scale, a stretch of
hues: bloodlike, oceanic, rifle metal to a temple
how do you pronounce your name & not flinch?
Do not confuse numbers for bodies.

Hues: bloodlike, oceanic, rifle metal to a temple
Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
Do not confuse numbers for bodies
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.

Bellies hold breath at a starving neck
A country is a swollen stalk of rage (un)refrained
Never mind, love is contraband sent in envelopes.
How do you pronounce your name & not flinch?

But they are not nameless, nor are they lumpen unwashed. They, too, have names and dreams. And most cogently, screams.

The effort at objectifying a scream of rage required this “alphabet” poem. The three stanzas culled from the initial letters of SCREAM in each line concretize the anguish and the soundless rage over dead dreams, and even young love.

Why be lugubrious when violent anger is apropos?

This is precisely the persuasion of this review: Rage is most pronounced when it is a gurgling in the blood, spewing in one’s breath, in one’s seething recognition of wasted opportunities --- the truncation of youth in such a stupid stupid stupid mishap in the name of a spurious democratic gesture.

Luisa Igloria’s blog Lizard Meanders got me into this poetical collaboration. I do not regret my sending one. It is, however, an effort to inform the exercise with the requirements of poetry lest it becomes a collection of drooling blather signifying nothing; worse, amounting to Mila Aguilar’s fear of “shouting ourselves hoarse, producing nothing.”


She lost her rubber slippers in the mud when
Crackling mayhem scuttled their march to town
Ripping through their roaring revelry riding
East of the searing sun: Ibagsak si Ampatuan!
Alive and raucous in their raspy throats, the raw
Mantra of venceremos quickly turned to wailing:

“She was on her way to the village school,
Carrying a new pair of shoes from her mother,
Rosa, who is an OFW in the States! Pobresita,
Eleanor, she needed clean shoes for the prom;
And, O, she laughed about our ragtag band
Marching to a funeral tune, its sole anthem beat.”

She will not find Simeon where she has gone,
Cut down, head cracked, and curled like a limp
Rag doll that could have been whipped away
Even from the tightest hold of a pining swain
Anxious and waiting in the now unlit schoolyard
Marking their first embrace in a lost last dance.




Why did the Maguindanao Massacre happen? What sort of madness triggered this injurious blight? Man’s inhumanity to man?
Aquino’s playful poem goes to the root of this monstrosity. It is a way of life. It is being consistent to the colonizer’s (Spanish, American, or Japanese) estimate of the Muslims in “far Zamboanga.”

These were the “brown monkeys” who were never conquered. They preserved their way of life. They hoarded their prerogatives to use the land as they found it.
Murder to achieve their objectives? Sure, why not? They will not be denied this birthright. Even if they would not know what to do with it thereafter.

and we will express, always, "give us all
we want, no demand unprovided", though
we have no clue what we'll do thereafter.

Now, this is the rage that is somehow controlled by a making a jester out of the axeman. The murderer is the clown at the party. But rage it still is. Beware the smile of the afflicted, after the grief has subsided. This has always bred the Juramentado: the Mindanao Moro’s version of the suicide bomber or the terrorist manqué. But they aim to kill as many as they could to get to the good side of Allah. Allahu Akhbar!


i was a rain forest mystic, monkey-like,
moving through madness like a typhoon.
i turned my enemies into sloppy, wet cutlets.

i disgraced the spanish majesty with
sticks, rocks, stolen bullets. i defied
god's chosen, believing i'd get away with it.

it took many cannon shells to prove me wrong.
off to the white elysium, a humble student:
it was easy to forget the musty stench of burned villages. . .

* * *

this is how insects are unmade.
while scars remind us the past was real,
they can often be ignored.

and we will express, always, "give us all
we want, no demand unprovided", though
we have no clue what we'll do thereafter.

While Kilates’ poem used the assassin as persona, Alma Anonas-Carpio’s dirge comes out of the laments of the dead. They are the carrion who now bear witness to their wicked fortune.
The rage comes full circle then. If the dead could speak from their graves, they would ask how soon they would be forgotten. Anonas-Carpio, in this unwieldy apostrophe, pours out luridly pricking verbiage that is nevertheless tempered by her focus on the central image --- the protesting dead, the soundlessly raging dead.

Coming full circle to Mila D. Aguilar’s earlier trepidation, Anonas-Carpio is likewise worried by all these protestations. All sound and fury signifying nothing?
Our bodies will rot,/ Our lives may be/ Blown away on cruel winds./ But we will not be forgotten./ We will not let you forget./ They will not let you forget./Not now, Not ever.
So save your condemnations/ For those who can use them. / Condemnations count for nothing/ In a nation that does nothing but condemn.

From this vantage point, I would surmise that Anonas-Carpio would rather have a palpably meaningful retribution like: Shut the f…up! Shape up! You who weep with gnashing teeth. Rise up. Or die trying. Para sa ating Inang Bayan!


We stare into the sky,
Our eyes clouded and unseeing.
The sky is clear and blue as the ocean
Of justice upon which our paper boat heaves
And tosses, restless and sinking,
The newsprint running like tears
Into water, like widows' mascara
As they sit before our caskets.
Our mouths are frozen open,
Our blood-cry for justice
Will continue to rend the heavens,
Carried by thousands of living voices.
The bloody handprint of impunity
Will not be washed away
Until all the oppressed
Stand and speak,
Demand and win.


Now come the condemnations
When we lie bloodied and mutilated,
Staining the crabgrass red
With a rage of silence.

Our eyes stare into the bluest sky
With no one to shut them against the flies
That gather and feast upon our flesh.
We lie here, awaiting
The shock of discovery,

Battered and broken,
Defiled and muddied,
Buried alive, decapitated,
Raped, shot, slashed
And finally silent.

Now come the condemnations
Filling the holes where laws
Should have been firm as mortar
Holding together our dreams,
Keeping us alive, holding off
The hail of bullets and hate.

Our mouths are open,
Yet our words are gone
Who will speak for us?
A thousand more tongues.

Our hands lie shattered,
Belying the peaceful grass beneath.
Who will write our stories?
A million hands reaching across the earth.

There are many things
That can be kept silent,
But not things such as this.

We have kin, brethren by blood,
Brethren by choice.
They will give voice
To our dirge, our plaint,
Our blood-cry for justice.

There is nothing that will
Draw a pall of silence over
The murder of hope.

The grass here will grow green again,
The earth's red will not be of blood
As years pass. New candidates will
Still seek office, new journalists
Will still tell their stories.

Our bodies will rot,
Our lives may be
Blown away on cruel winds.
But we will not be forgotten.
We will not let you forget.
They will not let you forget.
Not now, Not ever.

So save your condemnations
For those who can use them.
Condemnations count for nothing
In a nation that does nothing but condemn.

In light of the cacophonic mix of all this raging, Philippine poetry’s eminence grise, Gemino H. Abad adds his voice:


(for Garous Abdolmalekian)

A man falls in the street
will you
at once without hesitation rush
to help
will you
only look to see what may be wrong
consider what help what remedy
will you

(For my sons)

Brotherhood, love ---
in life the most precious ...
but in that statement's corral,
the words seem embarrassed,
so bare,
as if stripped and found hollow,
without pith,
and yet, if they were lived,
in the deed the words would shine
and light up their inmost shrine.

While the rage remains unspoken, Abad moves beyond the backhoed common graves. Our best revenge is brotherhood. Love is still the sublimest rage there is.
Beyond the bloodcry of anger lies hope. Hope is still the handmaiden of love. Love conquers all. Ask the Man nailed on that Tree.

Jimmy Abad, the most senior of the poets, sounds most mellow in his rage submission. We, nevertheless, recognize our caveat: Beware the smile on an angry visage.


The Maguindanao Massacre rage poems recreate the energies of poetry as a tool that elicits the cleansing of human hubris which poetry has always been tasked with. It was a source of catharsis in Aristotle’s time, and so have our Balagtasan, Zarzuela, Dan-daniw, Dal-lit, and various other regional poetical jousts --- Joel Pablo Salud through his Anthology of Rage has, willy-nilly, revisited them.

Mabuhay ka, Makatang Salud!

Mississauga, May 2010

Tuesday, May 27, 2014




After last night’s rain, the snow fits each dip and hummock more tightly, like a garment shrunk in the wash. The creaking of doves’ wings.---Morning Porch, Dave Bonta, 1-19-11


Washlines strung on gnarled lean-to posts
Hide hovels with garments shrunk in the wash:
Dhaka’s label shirts for Hilfiger’s shelves
Are ready for the children’s harvest—after
Last night’s rain, dust and mites and muck
Should have been rinsed off to get them
Ready for the cackling cutters in slum yards
Who would bundle “made in China” shirts
While cracking whips on narrow backs
Or wraith-like limbs wherever lashes find them.

After last night’s rain, the snow fits each
Dip and hummock more tightly, as would mud
In gaping mouths of children buried in slides
Of Brazilian earth, or tapered coastlines
Washed into rampaging rivers reclaiming
Riparian rights over garbage landfills
In Sri Lanka, Benguet, Samar, Pakistan,
Australia’s Queensland, Chile, Copenhagen,
Manila, New York, name them, they are
In today’s AP, Reuters, CNN, Ankara disaster
News. Nostradamus, Nostradamus.

The creaking of doves’ wings after last
Night’s rain is hibernation sound heard
Round the world. At season’s turn, whirrs
Of flapping wings might yet bring an avian
Rainfall—of dead and dying birds plummeting
To earth not unlike smirking kamikaze pilots
Immolating themselves for the Rising Sun;
The cracking of wings after last night’s
Rain might yet be the mystery of the perishing
Sandpiper burrowing into tar pits or
Mallards choking on Gulf Oil cum BP cocktail, or
Kookaburras muzzled on the old gum tree.

Ah, rain and snow and creaking dove wings:
After last night’s rain, they are a bloody plot.


Monday, May 26, 2014


A suite of "bottom-trousers-rolled" poems of old men among windy spaces. When the day with no starting over comes, where shall I begin? With a tumbler of the best brandy in town, I shall do as Father did: drink the "" under the table. 


The day does what it always does:/ goes away... /We need time to keep starting over. --- From “Counting Chicken” by Hannah Stephenson, The Storialist, 09-28-11
That day will come when another
will not, and there is no starting over.
Where will I find myself? How will I
strike it out of my calendar? Why?

Swinging on my hammock. Waiting.
No one arranged my empty schedule.
I would have to be grand and civil
then to uninvited guests? No choice.

I did not have to be born. No choice,
some hired help pulled me to an exit.
From darkness, I found light, and I
wailed till I could have turned blue:

“No, there must be some mistake!”
My scream was not that articulate.
All attendants at my beginning said:
“He breathes. He cries. He is alive.”

When that random day comes, I
will be generous with my Domecq.
Shall we have brandy, then, Monsieur?
How might I help you with your burden?

Ever the gentle host honed in niceties
now long gone from a trashy world,
I invite the closer of the deal to a toast:
“Long live days with no starting over.”

Why do I fret then about that little day,
while I sing my little Marie a lullaby?
She puckers her infant lips for a suckle
I could not provide, but settles for a cuddle.

Tremulously, I start singing the lullaby
over. "Abuelo will be here hugging you
safe and warm though hell freezes over."
It is a covenant that has no starting over.



Sunday, May 25, 2014



with these small steps will change her

wee world; a vast expanse awaits her:
there are fields of raw beauty and  joy
where flowers seek her to gather them.
But there will be other meadows she
must not cross: her dainty restless feet
will find mud, all the muck and mire
of a spoiled world, some dark places
I pray she will never ever take without
this old man building her clean bridges
she could run through to find her home,

a bright and happy heart, and  all that
have been wished for her by all those
who love her, who cherish her quiet,
shining promise, a silence she has yet
to break, her gait a jig she has yet to dance.

---Albert B. Casuga

Saturday, May 24, 2014



This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper. ---From “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot


After after, is there anything or anyone left
to sing the hammock songs? After after,
will you still be there waiting, a warm blanket
in your hands, to throw the flannel on my lap,
lest I drool myself to a sundown slumber
and promptly forget it gets cold in the winter?
Aiee, amor mio, despues de nuestros amores,*
when love is gone, after all the countless days,
where shall we find that place called after?
If it is lost, too, might there be some other?


By sundown, they will be gone, like long shadows
on my porch walls. All the fierce singing done,
what remains is the quiet murmur of the bourn.
Its stream will not return, nor will the swallows.

But while they flitted from tree tops to broken
perches, did they not cry out their bravest songs?
These are our elm trees, these are our willows,
we pieced our homes here together, we roosted.

At the bluffs, we find the edge of the woods muted
now. Soon, even the cackling gulls will dive a final
swoon, catch the last crayfish lost on boulders left
bare by ebbing tide that must also leave its shore.

It is troths like these that will not last, nothing
endures. The silence can only become a whimper.





Friday, May 23, 2014



What has constantly been at the end of art appreciation, in all stages of education it seems, is its highest level --- evaluation. Whatever method or approach is used in art appreciation, however valid or invalid, the effort always ends with the appreciator making an estimate of how valuable his experience in appreciation is.

While some do not arrive at a meaningful evaluation because they have no inkling about how it is done or on what it is based, quite a number arrive at one without necessarily knowing whether or not their judgment is valid or not. Still some believe they have made a judgment but are unable to explain to themselves why such a conclusion was rendered; somehow, this ignorance leaves them with a meaningless experience which obviously they have no need of. Most of them, therefore, take the path of least resistance and condemn the whole business as irrelevant to the more important business of staying alive.

And yet, evaluation is and has always been the most significant and most essential activity of the student in higher education. When he asks himself: “Of what use is this to me?”, he is actually exercising a patently human prerogative of choosing the experience that he stands in good need of. Come to think of it, the question is in fact life’s staple problem.

Small wonder then that the most abused question in a literary appreciation class is the harried teacher’s blanket study help” “What is the moral lesson of the poem/short story/novel/drama/essay, class?”

The teacher usually rounds up the day’s discussion by asking his students to probe deep into their “souls” and think of the lesson in terms of their lives. For this evaluation --- the rendering of a judgment on the worth or the value of an experience of a reality which has just been recognized, analyzed, and criticized. Valuation must be based on the students’ system of values --- something they should have as a by-product of their being alive and their being, by nature, discriminating, and rational beings.

Yet, in countless cases, what normally starts as a promising and rewarding activity ends up as a disappointing exercise in futility because teachers and students alike may have left tentative judgments to languish in the limbo of indeterminacy --- truncated experiences that more often than not degenerate into rank idiocy.

Is there anything lost, however, as a result of this abortion? The whole lot.

The appreciator who fails to evaluate his experience may have merely gone through a most vexing mechanical process of analyzing a meaning he cannot feel happy or mad about, and of criticizing an artistic dexterity whose product he cannot locate in the hierarchy of human values. So there is a meaningful experience. So there is beauty, nay sagacity, of style and technique. Of what use would awareness of these be if he would not know and feel the value of the experience after all.

In his “A Critic’s Job of a Work”, R. P. Blackmur asserts that doctrinal approaches to appreciation (which analysis and technical criticism are) should be taken only for what they are: “as guides and props, as aids to navigation.”

“What does matter is the experience, the life represented and the value discovered, and both dramatized or enacted under the banner of doctrine. All banners are wrongheaded, but they make rallying points, free the impulse to cry out, and give meaning to the cry itself simply by making it seem appropriate.” (1)

By the same token,, analysis and criticism should be taken as guides for the evaluation of the experience objectified in the art work. In the formalistic approach --- evaluation is an empirically-based appreciation of literature --- analysis and criticism would in fact be the empirical bases upon which valid judgment must be moored.

As Blackmur points out, the doctrinal approach of such scientific methods must free the impulse to “cry out”. It is analysis which defines the meaning (the impulse) that must be evaluated. Criticism investigates whether or not this meaning is factual; i.e., it is observable and verifiable in the text confronting the appreciator. Evaluation based on an illusion (or delusions as they invariably become in the hands of the imprudent) or a mnemonic irrelevancy is at best wishful thinking --- it would not serve the humanistic purpose assigned to art which is to present modes of “knowing” so that the appreciator’s awareness of things may be extended beyond the limitations of his realities.

Ultimately, of course, the significance of anything being appreciated must depend on the values it reflects, and on how keenly the appreciator realizes them.

Evaluation, therefore, is most cogent when anchored on the facts of the work of art. This, unfortunately, is what many teachers and students forget in their rush to assign all types of significance on the piece of art depending on what mode or bias they see the art’s value through.

The moral, psychological, sociological, philosophical, archetypal values are insisted upon in spite of the facts; in spite of the sheer impossibility of finding all the values argued for in the literature’s structural reality.

“Any rational approach is valid to literature and may be properly called critical which fastens at any point upon the work itself. The utility of a given approach depends partly upon the strength of the mind making it and partly upon the recognition of the limits appropriate to it. Limits may be of scope, degree, or relevance, and may be either plainly laid out by the critic himself, or may be determined by his readers. . . No critic is required to limit himself to a single approach, nor is he likely to be able to do so; facts cannot be exhibited without comment, and comment involves the generality of the mind. . . What produces the evil of stultification and the malice of controversy is the confused approach, when the limits are not seen because they tend to cancel each other out, and the driving power becomes emotional.” (2)
What are the rational approaches to evaluation?

Assuming that all such approaches recognize the independent reality in literature “as an object of contemplation and of feeling, like the reality of a picture or a cathedral, not a route of speculation,” these may be classified into: the universal, the formal, and the personal approaches.


1 R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of a Work”, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, Wilbur Scott (ed). Pg. 318. Collier-MacMillan, N.Y. , 1962.

2 Ibid. Pg. 322

Next: Part 2: Universal Approaches to Evaluation of Literature


Part 2: Evaluation of Literature: Universal Approaches

A. Universal Approaches
are those based on the commonplaces of human valuation. They find their roots in experiences that have their ultimate appeal in the essential attributes of man; i.e., his rational faculties --- intellect and will. Those are also based on values considered by human convention as the sine qua non of whatever must be considered valuable.

As residues of universal human experience, these values become common attributes in art. They actually result from the various syntheses that appreciators make when they arrive at realizations concerning qualities common to genres of art. Although these syntheses may differ from Art Period to Art Period, they may invariably meet at a residual common ground where they become applicable as common denominators to works done in different stages of artistic development.

For instance, Classical Art (as expounded by Aristotle in his Poetics) has posited that for art to be valuable, it must first have a reasonably significant content (magnitude of content according to Aristotle); (1) i.e., that it must offer intellectual, moral, and social significance so that it might be consistent to the formative function of art --- to help complete the nature of man. (See Bates in previous entry, supra). Certainly, this criterion would be applicable to all forms of literary expression (poetry, drama, novel, short story, and essay), regardless of whether they were written during the Elizabethan era or during the contemporary period.

These values have, thereupon, become the “objective standards” of valuation; although, of course, they still have to depend on how much of these are seen in the work by the prejudiced beholder and on what manner of interpretation the appreciator would give to them, thus making these values “subjective” to a certain extent. They derive objectivity, however, from their institutionalization as doctrines in certain Art Periods that have seen fit to foist them as yardsticks of what would be considered worthwhile. Modern times and the subsequent periods have not found reasonable or debatable grounds to reject the imposition of such values in the appreciator’s critical system. They remain as criteria, therefore, by reason of universal acceptability.

Among these universal values according to Andrew Long are: artistry, intellectual value, emotional value, moral or spiritual value (which includes social, political, and ethical), permanence, and universality. (2)

1. Artistry. The art work is in its plainest sense an expression of some experience in a form which emphasizes the beautiful in the selected materials that have been articulated in a certain style and technique. Articulation should result in the creation of a clear, harmonious, and integrated objective art form.

2. Intellectual Value. Every artist, it must be assumed, is stimulated by his conception of a fundamental truth when he creates his work of art. It is this truth which he objectifies so that it may reach his audience in a familiar form. When such a truth explains or clarifies an aspect of the human condition such that this leads the appreciator to a thoughtful realization of its import and impact on his outlook as a human being, the work of art is said to reflect an intellectual value. In other words, it becomes a source for the appreciator who is expected to arrive at a synthesis of what he realizes from the apprehension and comprehension of the work of art confronting him.

3. Emotional Value. Since the aesthetic attitude is ultimately satisfied by what the appreciator can feel, the work of art must be capable of exciting an emotional response. It is this emotional reaction which normally makes the work of art impressive to the beholder. When it evokes sympathetic feelings in the reader, the work of art ordinarily succeeds in instilling pleasure in the appreciator who is after all predisposed to find his enjoyment in art appreciation. A short story, for instance, could evoke strong emotional responses in the appreciator through its vivid characterization of the personae assigned to carry out the plot. The reader is likely to identify himself with those he could recognize as encouraging predicaments similar to his (reader’s).

Spurious methods of evocation like deliberate mawkishness and saccharine sentimentality would not serve the purpose of emotionalizing the story. They would only succeed in making the story ludicrous and unconvincing; whereas, restraint and sincerity in the dramatization of emotion-packed actions would most likely solicit the beholder’s emotional response.

Trivial emotions are by their very nature fleeting, therefore, effervescent. They do not as a rule excite meaningful reaction from the appreciators. Emotion must, therefore, arise from the dramatic coagulation of a situation or contextual material in the work of art, and it must have a bearing on those emotions normally considered significant by the reader; viz., compassion, love, hatred, anger, envy, lust, greed, filial concern, emotions arising from the instincts of self-preservation, self-reproduction, and the like. These are emotions (either concupiscible or irascible) that ordinarily make men move.

4. Moral or Spiritual Value. Critics like Babbitt, Eliot, and the earlier Tolstoi have measured significant literature in terms of how it would explain life and how to cope with it in the light of human limitations. In fact, the moral approach in literature is the oldest mode of appreciation. Aristotle discourses on this in his Poetics when he points out that “no man can be a good poet, unless he is a good man,” and that poetry was used by the Greek teachers to correct a pupil’s morals.

The ethical value of literature rests on its explanation or depiction of the good and moral life --- that man’s behaviour in coping with life’s appurtenances is consistent to his rational nature; i.e., he is equipped with a free will to decide on the most reasonable manner of living with himself and his neighbours. He may decide to be good or bad; but for the depiction of that situation to be ethically worthwhile, he must be truthful and faithful to the complete nature of man --- that while he is capable of goodness, he, too, can be bad. But if the dissolute and the corrupt must be depicted at all, they must be shown as afflictions which need reformation according to natural law that governs man and his actuations.

The sociological/political value is reflected in situations which describe man and his relationship with his fellow human beings. Depiction of social orders that may be meaningful to the appreciator because he subscribes to their conditions and promises, are indices for the appreciator who is after social truths in art.

T. S. Eliot justifies the use of ethical and theological norms as modes of evaluation: “Literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint. In so far as in any age there is common agreement on ethical and theological matters, so far can literary criticism be substantive. In ages like our own, in which there is no such common agreement, it is the more necessary for Christian readers to scrutinize their reading, especially the works of imagination, with explicit ethical and theological standards. The greatness of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards; though we must remember that whether it is literature or not can be determined only by literary standards.” (3)

5. Permanence. Great literature has been known to be timeless. They have defied the imperatives of Time (that things grow old and become passé) so that they continue to be readable even in contemporary times. For instance, Shakespeare’s dramas have become classics perhaps because they celebrate the elemental verities about man and his lifestyle. True, the settings may be in another time and in another place far removed from where the reader may be, but the characters and the plots are as constant as human nature.

Shakespeare dealt with human problems which are intimately linked with man’s constant preoccupation --- the business of staying alive, the snares of human passion, the aberrations of instincts gone haywire, the lot, which have really not changed much since that time until the present. They are still the same problems plaguing man. Great literature, when read, comes up alive in any clime, at any time, in any place. In all occasions, they do not fail to regale man with their relevance.

6. Universality. Some of the best compositions in other languages come to us in translations. Although we realize that a lot is taken away from their enjoyment because they do not reach us with the original flavour and vigour of the language in which they were first written, we still marvel at the power with which they jolt us.

They may be about other people, other voices, but they do not cease to be meaningful. It is quite easy to realize that they have become the property of mankind because they depict man as a universal being, afflicted by the same pains wherever he may be; only the accidents differ --- the substance is man. Such epics as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, the “Song of Roland” and others have become part of the universal fabric of literary treasures --- they have even surfaced in other forms, but with the same substance, in other countries other than their land of origin.

It is this value which often stands out when critics, using the totemic or archetypal approach, unearth universal patterns of man, as well as traces of the Jungian “universal unconscious (which shows) that civilized man preserves though unconsciously those pre-historical areas of knowledge which he articulated obliquely in myth.” (4)

It is also this value which explains why legends and myths retain their attractiveness even when the superstition around them have already withered in the vine.

In brief, these values answer the query in valuation: Is the work of art universally valuable? (Is it good literature? Painting? Sculpture? Theatre? Film? )

All of these values refer to the content of the work of art. Evaluation of the medium and its use are the main emphases of the more particular value system in Formal Evaluation.


1 Aristotle, Poetics VII.4, pg. 31. Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, S.H. Butcher (trans), Dover Publications, Inc. 1951.

2 Serrano and Avena. Introduction to Literary Types, pg. 5 etseq, UST Press, Manila, 1965.

3 T. S. Eliot, “Religion and Literature”, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, pg. 43, w. Scott (ed).

4 Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, Pg. 248

.Next: Part 3: Evaluation of Literature --- Formal Values and Values from the Personal Approach


Part 3: Evaluation of Literature --- Formal Values and Values from the Personal Approach


Formal values are those qualities which distinguish the artistic form (in this case, the literary form --- poem, short story, novel, drama, and essay) as excellent within its class or specie. These are addressed to the question of whether or not the artistic form (in its particular genre) is good or conceded as excellent in its category. Is it a good poem? Is it good fiction?

Quite a sizable portion of this phase of evaluation may already have been accomplished in Criticism. But there are certain qualities that are peculiar to each art form which cannot be universalized because they vary according to rules of composition and to the system of formal values derived by the critic from his extensive reading of literature in a certain literary form.

For instance, the appreciator-critic may consider as a formal value of lyric poetry the emotional and personal nature of its images and figures. Since this value may have pleased him while reading personal lyrics, he invariably posits this as a quality that makes good lyrics. In the course of reading other lyric poems, he would try to find out if the value he has discovered in his extensive reading is reflected. If it is not, he would most likely think less of the poem he is appreciating. It must be emphasized that the formal values vary according to different stages of literary history, and also according to the nature of the literary form.

Since the appreciator determines the formal values, he must himself be well-versed in a literary theory which provides the basis for his criteria.


This level of evaluation is considered the most significant because it is the appreciator’s critical system which is now put to use... His critical system, it must be understood, is not an arbitrary bagful of doctrine. After all, it is based on empirical premises --- analysis, criticism, universal and formal evaluation; it is based, therefore, on the facts of the art.

Art and its value become doubly meaningful to the appreciator when he is able to relate it to his life and its conduct. What is the value of the work of art as far as his lifestyle is concerned? Will he be affected by it? How?

Understandably, in spite of the fact that personal evaluation has already been based on “facts” analyzed beforehand, the subjective responses of the appreciator will be given premium. His prejudices and biases will be given full reign, but they will be prevented from going berserk by the qualifications made by the facts of the objective art form. His evaluation must be verifiable and provable in terms of these facts; in literature, in terms of the textual material.

Previous discussion has shown that the formalistic (or technical) approach necessarily precedes all these other approaches because they find their bases in the facts established by technical-empirical criticism. In the absence of these foundations, it would be foolhardy to venture into diverse critical regions while risking unintelligibility and baseless loquaciousness.

Indeed, as R. P. Blackmur admits: “The advantage of the technical approach is I think double. It readily admits other approaches and is anxious to be complemented by them. Furthermore, in a sense, it is able to incorporate the technical aspect which always exists, or what is secured by other approaches. . . The second advantage of the technical approach is a consequence of the4 first; it treats of nothing in literature except in its capacity of reduction to literary fact, which is where it resembles scholarship, only passing beyond it in that its facts are usually further into the heart of the literature than the facts of most scholarship.” (1)

Biases of appreciators may be classified under any of the following approaches:

Moral approach, Sociological, Psychological, Philosophical, Archetypal or Totemic.

Wilbur Scott in Five Approaches of Literary Criticism, does not include the philosophical approach, but includes instead the formalistic approach, which we did not list down because it is considered to be the objective approach and is not subject to the biases and prejudices of the appreciator.

When the appreciator finds a piece of literature or art valuable because he found in it a “criticism of life”, and it gave him an insight into the manner in which man as a free being copes with his present circumstances, he is using the Moral approach.

If the value of the work of art lies in the appreciator’s interest in the creative process that went into the making of the work; if the critic analyzes the “interior life” of the author through his work of art; and if the critic finds pleasure in the dramatization of psychical states in the characters of fiction, then, the appreciator is approaching the work from the angle of psychology. I.A. Richards uses this approach together with the formalistic mode. Somehow, he is able to criticize the work after being able to establish the intention of the author as reflected in his work of art.

If the appreciator finds the work valuable because he would appreciate the social milieu in which the work was produced as well as how well the author has depicted and responded to his milieu, he is studying the work from a sociological standpoint.

Scott says: “Sociological criticism (evaluation) starts with the conviction that art’s relations to society are vitally important, and that the investigation of these relationships may organize and deepen one’s aesthetic response to a work of art. Art is not created in a vacuum; it is the work not simply of a person, but of an author fixed in time and space, answering to a community of which he is an important, because articulate, part. (2)

The attitudes and practices of the times in which the work was produced may be appreciated from the work. In many cases, literary historians approach works by f. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis in this manner so they could gain an insight into the social forces that obtained during the time they wrote their works --- the impact of socio-political forces may be seen in the Lewis novels as well as the impact of the depression years in the works of Fitzgerald. The present crop of committed literature being written in the Philippines at this writing may also be approached sociologically, so that their full significance may be appreciated.

When what is valuable to the appreciator is the reflection of a philosophical system in a work of art, he may approach it philosophically. For instance, existential thought may be appreciated in its dramatized form in the novels of Albert Camus, especially in “The Stranger”, or in the play of Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit”. Some philosophers use literature to develop their philosophical thoughts; some use it as a springboard of speculation.

Anthropologists may want o go through a work of art to find out whether it demonstrates “some basic cultural pattern of great meaning and appeal to humanity.” Literary historians may find great value in the language of the work most especially when it is embellished with the secret codes of the mythical material. If the value of the work is conceded to be in the use of literary traditions and linguistic devices that find their roots in earlier languages, then the appreciator may be approaching the work archetypically.

Whatever approach is used by the appreciator, provided it is ultimately focused on elucidating the meaning and significance of the poem, short story, novel, drama, or essay; and provided it is based on textual facts, that approach is valid. Certainly, it should convince him that the work is truly valuable. After all, the approach is his bias.


1 R.P. Blackmur, “A Critic’s Job of a Work,” Five Approaches of Literary Critcism, Pg. 341.

2 Wilbur Scott, Five Approaches of Literary Criticism,” Pg. 123

This concludes the series on Evaluation of Literature. The three levels of Literary Appreciation --- Analysis, Criticism (Style and Technique), and Evaluation that have been serialized in this blog are part of the author's collected lectures on Literary Theory at the De La Salle University in the Philippines. They were subsequently published as part of a book ,The Aesthetics of Literature , pubished by the De La Salle Textbook Committee under the Asia Foundation Grant (Philippines, 1972). Essential revisions have been made by the author in these blog entries as part of preparations to republish the book in its revised edition.

(c) All rights reserved under current International Copyright by Albert B. Casuga, Canada., 2009.

(c) Copyright by Author, Under Current International Copyright Laws, 2014. Canada.