Thursday, January 19, 2012

the lost verve in reading

It is gone, I think. That fiery wanting to finish whatever you’ve got to do just to pull that one book from the shelf, a box, the bed, inside a drawer, and crack it open to get immersed in its milieu, its characters’ psyches, or simply its wondrous wrought imagination. In my elementary days, there is the Harry Potter series by Jo Rowling. In high school, there are Jonathan Stroud’s The Bartimaeus Trilogy and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In college, there are Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi.

Typically an enumeration of commercial literature in their respective times, but this is indeed the handful of books that have caught me in a hook like pleasurable traps of the mind. After the education years, I find myself speculating are the books available today repellent to my taste? Or has my taste gotten so much low and ancient it repels the books available today? Or have I just lost the interest in reading? I fear for all three, of course. Partiality, at times, must be feared.

Yes, there are the short story collections Feast and Famine by Rosario Cruz Lucero and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. There is Emma Donoghue’s Room. Maybe even Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado, for its ambitious take on steering as far away as possible from the tropes of what represents a work of Philippine literature. The premise of each calls for vigilant curiosity, and I have gladly taken the demands of the text. There are hits and misses but nevertheless they are all interesting.

But none of these has offered me that pull, that incessant voice in the head, that gravity synonymous of what a crazed lover possesses for his object of affection. I have tackled them on and off, stretch each for days on end, unlike those that I have read in my school years where the pages fly by.

Recently, I have expected to reawaken this sensation with the massively publicized doorstopper that is Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. His short stories are fascinating, and many I know religiously adore his previous novels. But like many expectations, it is but a spark from a little matchstick. The interest comes and then in it goes, instantly. The tome now sits next to a pile of other scorned books.

Aside from the three speculations that are mentioned earlier, I come up with other factors, or should I say, excuses: Is it time? Anxiety? Diminishing attention span? Distraction? Exhaustion? With television, cinema, internet, smartphone, and a slew of other technological advancements, have I been culturally desensitized, becoming callous, mechanical?

The hypothesis is a bitter pill: It could be everything.

I guess I simply miss the symbiotic devotion that comes with the activity: I have to read, the book has to be read. All is well. With no clear answers to the questions that have bombarded me as early as six this morning, I might as well pick up another book and see where it takes me.

And I hope it would be a joyful ride.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

familiar things

Reading The Dumaguete We Know (edited by Merlie Alunan) is a practice on skillfully harnessing the reins on nostalgia. Those who have lived in this capital city of Negros Oriental (I had for four years), or those who are held captive by its secret magnetism upon first glance, would find a lot of truths interspersed in every page. Things familiar are magnified and things that are not strangely become identifiable. It is like stumbling upon your journal of some distant year in the attic. In short, recollections here—whether encapsulated through essay, heightened through poetry or dramatized through fiction—are as piercing as paper cut. Small, maybe even microscopic, but you’d know it left a mark. And it could either be blissful or tragic.

Note: It has taken me weeks, literally, to get hold of this. And then I realize, sometimes, it is worth asking the customer service of a bookstore. This anthology is apparently concealed among the large coffeetable glossies in the Travel section, not in the Philippine Literature shelves.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

how to put everything at stake

I used to think our names were our anthem,
the way you called me like most evenings
and silenced the chorus of cicadas.
Yours was just as beautiful as bird song.
But this time that is not the case, our calls
barely audible over the whistling kettle.
When I turn the water tap on, I could only wish
the gush is your murmur of mint behind my ear.

Today, what I promise about hanging
the pictures and cleaning up the rooms,
one for us and two for the pledge of our bond,
I could not carry on, my shoulders heavy.
The walls are making themselves known,
the floors suddenly copious and too open.
I would explain when you arrive home,
after dinner, but then you’d ask, “Play?”

Always, I could remember shuffling the deck
and dealing each night, the cards grazing
against the grain of the wooden table.
I could remember you shaking your head,
a heart in your hand instead of diamonds,
as I say, “Believe me, I got no tricks in my sleeve.”
But like a roof bleached by too much sun,
your face shows something is not right.

I could remember pushing my chair back,
leaving you with your cup of coffee.
I know you smoke a stick or two later,
just outside the room next to ours, empty.
Maybe we are just as good as our deck of cards,
its kings, queens, and jacks static and fading,
our many dry fingers desperate to yank
whatever they keep in their tight, medieval lips.

Monday, January 09, 2012

philippine speculative fiction 7 lineup

There’s an incentive to stubbornness after all. The number that is attached next to the anthology’s title is a clue to the number of attempts trying to get into it. All right, enough of background checking.

Here’s the table of contents of the seventh edition of Philippine Speculative Fiction, to be launched soon:

All That We May See by Kenneth Yu
All the Best of Dark and Bright by Isabel Yap
Bastard Sword by Nikki Alfar
Chasers by Chris Mariano
East of the Sun by Dean Francis Alfar
Faith in Fiction by James Constantino Bautista
Mother of Monsters by Philip Corpuz
Never Land by Mo Francisco
Oblation by Paolo Chikiamco
Pet by Kristine Ong Muslim
Sarsarita Time by Melissa Sipin
The Call of the Chained God by Dariel Quiogue
The Changes by Benito Vergara
The Commute to Paradiso by Charles Tan
The Day Nostalgia Swept Over a Town by F. Jordan Carnice
The Dragon's Orb by Vincent Michael Simbulan
The Likeness of God by Crystal Koo
The Little Things the Datu Did by Andrew Drilon
The Love Spell by Julian dela Cerna
The Nature of Apocalypse by Joseph Anthony Montecillo
The Scrap Collectors by Arlynn Despi
username: tanglaw by Eliza Victoria
What the Body Remembers by Tin Lao
What You See by Ian Rosales Casocot

[ click here for more interesting info ]

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

perhaps a little happier than 2011

How I’d like to sum up the previous year in one picture.

My recollection of things is much clearer in the head, flamboyant and stirring, but when expounded in words the memory sometimes suddenly loses its charm. Perhaps eloquence is not my forte. And yet the recent past that is 2011 demands articulation. That year is beautiful for me, the months wildly prancing that one could easily wonder where they have gone.

So I will try my best.

Yes, 2011 has left us reeling with uncertainty. With the variety of disorder that have swept our landscape—ecological, political, emotional—is there a reason to cheer? Is there really something to look forward to? Immediate response would dictate us to do otherwise, but there are always other things. One of them could be hope.

I, on the other hand, have resorted to distraction. Not that I have ran out of my daily dose of optimism. It is just that distraction proves to work better for me, nudging an idle mind to do something.

And some things I did manage. Especially on my attempt to improve as a practicing writer. Whereas two years ago fiction has entirely invaded my attention, this time poetry seems to be on the
ruling side. There are one or two short stories coming out in this and that publication, but it is the allure of verses that keeps spinning my gears in the past twelve months. And I am not complaining.

The other year has brought me to a lot of places, too, new ones and revisited. It starts with the
hiking and camping trip at Nagsasa Cove, Zambales in March, followed by head-turning tours at Bacolod, Ilo-ilo, and Guimaras in April. There are the much-needed escapes to Bohol in August and October (and, of course, December). There is the getaway to Boracay and the nearby island of Tiguatian in November. I also remain true to my word of visiting my second home that is Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, twice, in May and in August. Each month bears a certain weight of contrasting emotions.

The first one commemorates the 50th anniversary of the longest-running writers workshop in Asia, the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. It is a gathering of a tightly-knit family with like minds. I have met a couple of brilliant people, and I hope they would remain as close as I have previously mingled with them this 2012. It is just as remarkable as the grand event that one of the two founders of the workshop, National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo, is still present to witness the reunion. As always, she shares a gem of a wisdom on the last night. She never fails to impress.

That is why by August 2011, the news of her having passed away has suddenly pulled a plug in many of us. Something has just dropped. Whether it is some strange work of fate, I have come to attend the state funeral of Mom Edith—as what many in the workshop call her—at the Silliman Church, with my original intention to only visit Dumaguete for the university’s week-long founders celebration. Yes, it is strange to revel and to respect the departed at the same time.

And things will come to pass. In my head, what will matter most is that we will not forget. So we move on. I write more. And I am glad I did. Distraction.

Up to this point, the actuality of seeing my name in a book (and yes, in magazines and newspapers, too) always leaves me euphoric. It is a year of firsts for me. I have a poem anthologized in a landmark book consisting of writers I have only read and studied, more so deified in my biased preferences. And before the year ends, I finally have a short story included in an anthology that I have, for years, been cracking at to get in since its inception.

Blessings keep on rolling. Until that storm arrive. I have known some people who are affected by the devastations of typhoon Sendong and the others before that. As I board onto the plane last month to return to Bohol, my home province that is luckily out of danger, there is this black hole that is relentless.
What if it happened to us? What if another one comes? What if?

The indecisiveness of feelings is at it again, and this could be the worst state of being during Christmastime. That is why it is a good thing you have those people you could latch on. There is your family and there is your circle of closest buddies. These are those who know what ticks you off and what makes you smile. What more could I ask for?

Well, of course, there are a lot to ask for. Like many gatherings, it is almost usually incomplete, and I wish for the opposite. At home for noche buena and media noche, we are missing three siblings, who are currently all outside the country. For someone who is used to big family revelries, the absence is pretty obvious.

On the other side of the family spectrum, a couple of my high school classmates are suddenly getting this yuletide strain. I, myself, am not spared by the bug. One by one, day by day, he and she are getting sick that plans for huge outings and the usual excursions are either delayed, minimized, or squished to a little party of four or five. This is not what I have expected for a holiday break.

And yet, me looking back now, the sullen parts of this reality are really just that: challenging but compliant, abrupt but brief, harsh but adaptable. One just has to face the facts. For the new year, this is an effective exercise on happiness and contentment.

With that, we will have no problems recollecting memories of a future present. No matter how heartbreaking, no matter how mesmerizing. To each and everyone, have a bountiful and beautiful year ahead. Let us make 2012 work.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

call for submission of manuscripts to the 51st silliman university national writers workshop

The Silliman University National Writers Workshop is now accepting applications for the 51st National Writers Workshop to be held April 30 to May 18, 2012 in the Silliman University Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village.

This Writers Workshop is offering fifteen fellowships to promising writers who want to have a chance to hone their craft and refine their style. Fellows will be provided housing, a modest stipend, and a subsidy to partially defray costs of their transportation.

To be considered, applicants should submit manuscripts in English on or before 10 February 2012. All manuscripts should comply with the instructions stated below. (Failure to do so will automatically eliminate their entries):

• Manuscripts should be submitted in hard copy on short-size bond paper, using Times New Roman or Calibri in 12 pt. font type.

• Applicants for Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction fellowships should submit three to five entries. Applicants for Poetry fellowships should submit seven to ten poems.

• Applicants for Drama fellowship should submit at least a One-Act Play. For plays beyond the one-act length, a scene accompanied by a synopsis of the entire work should be included.

• Each fiction, non-fiction, or drama manuscript should not be more than 50 pages, double spaced. We encourage you to stay well below the 50 pages, since a submission half that length is more than sufficient as a critical gauge.

• Manuscripts should be accompanied by at least one letter of recommendation from a literature professor or an established writer.

Along with the manuscripts and the recommendation letter, the following requirements should also be included: resume, a notarized certification that the works are original, and two 2X2 ID pictures.

Send all applications or requests for information to Department of English and Literature, attention Dr. Evelyn F. Mascuñana, Chair, Silliman University, 6200 Dumaguete City. For inquiries, email us at or call us at 035-422-6002 loc. 350.

[ lifted from Ian ]