Friday, November 23, 2012

original atonement

The sincerest of apologies
takes the form of genius.
Or distance void of caustic
depths. This has been the doctrine
I have committed to: Every strike
of error is certain, spot on,
and denies excuses one must fear
becoming the child who grew up deaf
because no one listened to him,
listened to the truth he believes.
Yet man is forever in service
to inconsistencies. For each day
there is so much to relearn,
to untangle what is once wrought
with conviction. The colorblind,
for one, can tell that this orange
has never been that orange until later.
Always, there will be that something
or someone that brings grief in poetry.
But let the dark define the splendor
of things. Everyone must be hard
to love. Otherwise, an orange
from the market is all we need.

Monday, November 19, 2012

spoliarium and the 31st national book awards

I just met Juan Luna. His famous work that is, the Spoliarium. And it is spelled as such, not the often-used “Spolarium.” Many years ago, the nearest I could get into seeing it were on television, history books, art magazines, and the internet. I’ve been based in Manila for three years and haven’t gaped at it in person until last November 17. It’s like—as how a friend’s friend put it—being in Paris and not seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Really embarrassing for any art enthusiast.

The 4.22 meters x 7.675 meters oil painting, housed in the National Museum of the Philippines, was Luna’s piece to the Madrid Art Exposition in 1884 which actually won him a gold medal. To say that it easily topped the said competition is an understatement. It depicts the aftermath of a gruesome spectacle in Rome that is a gladiatorial match. Spoliarium, according to the museum’s official site, refers to “the basement of the Roman Colosseum where the fallen and dying gladiators are dumped and devoid of their worldly possessions.”

The work is vast but the emotional force it contains is bigger, much more enormous than its canvas. Every wrinkle on every face, every wilted limb of each lifeless man constitutes to a story that transcends what it visually features: the frailty of human life, the impact of death, the everyday horror of what could happen next. Juan Luna’s Spoliarium—along with the museum’s other masterpieces by Fernando Amorsolo, Jose Joya, Cesar Legaspi, my favorites Ang Kiukok and Vicente Manansala, and many more— is proof that art remains one of man’s triumphant mementos that become richer, more profound, and more relevant in each passing time.


On the same day and in the same place, around five in the afternoon, I attended the 31st National Book Awards for the nomination of Ian Rosaless Casocot’s Beautiful Accidents in the Cirilo F. Bautista Prize for Short Fiction in English. (See full list here).

And, apparently, without prior knowledge, I could also be in the event for Under the Storm: An Anthology of Contemporary Philippine Poetry (edited by Khavn De La Cruz and Joel M. Toledo) nomination in the Manila Critics Circle Special Prize for a Book by an Independent Publisher. My longish piece “Stones” is one of the 150 poems featured in this collection.

Held in the venue’s magnificent old session hall, the whole affair felt like a night of overflowing champagne in the gilded age. Though both books lost in their respective categories, we had a sumptuous late dinner at Tao Yuan Restaurant in Malate we all felt like big winners. And in the end, our appetite was the bigger winner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

the amazingly extreme case of epic superlatives

Awesome? Epic? Great? Amazing? Super? Galing-galing? Sobra?

They all sound familiar, right? It is because they are the very same words we hear (and use) oftentimes, if not every day. And that reality is unsettling.

Why? I think our penchant for superlatives has just diminished our capability for precision, subtlety, and their unique varying gradients. Our critical mind’s supposedly surgical knives have become prehistoric stone tools.

How’s the food? Great. How’s your trip? Awesome. How’s the movie? Response these days usually falls under “epic” or “fail.” End of conversation. And please don’t get me started when it comes to books. I am a victim of my own complaint.

We’ve been there before (and still there, in fact) with “interesting” and “cute” labeled on things that range from puppies to the up-and-coming boy bands. Ambiguity abounds. In Sianne Ngai’s new book Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, as pointed out by Daily Beast reviewer Benjamin Lytal, “One of the big changes is this: we don’t use straightforward words of praise anymore.”

It seems we’ve simply embraced all the terms that sound bombastic, go beyond normal, on something bigger just to sound cool, just for the sake of it. Which is really an alarming practice.

Now imagine you’re a ballet dancer. Imagine you worked hard on stage as if it’s your last. Now, how does it feel when you ask a friend how’s your performance and you get an “It’s cool!” response? Fine? Maybe. But great? No. Definitely no. Maybe insult is what you’d be feeling. This is like appreciating the icing on the cake, never going beyond the surface.

But why do we do what we do? Why just eat the icing?

Maybe this is our communal protest against English professors who’ve made our college hell. Maybe we’ve simply adapted to the concept of “bigger is better” in our everyday language, conditioned alongside by empty blockbusters assailed by almost all forms of entertainment these days. Maybe, due to the increasing accessibility of information, we forgo the duty of finding the right ones and use what are at hand—which are usually not the best of finds. Maybe, strangely, we are running out of things to say.

This is not an inquiry on our aptitude in language or an evaluation on personal preference or judgment. This is simply raising awareness on respect to an item—may it be a television series, a short story, even a dish—and the people involved around it. Especially these people. Because when opinion is given, enrichment follows. Discussion flourishes, not songs from crickets and rolling tumbleweeds that trail after the end of an empty conversation.

You see, an empty praise is the lowest form of flattery. One might say it is flattery, no less. But it is the lowest, no less. I say just judge it. Judge everything with thought. So, what’s your say then?

Friday, November 09, 2012

how to start the day without meaning

For some time, your mornings begin at two every
Afternoon, at the crack of a second when everyone
Else has yawned, slowly edging back to cycles.

It is never complicated, you say, not like ecru
For bathroom tiles, emerald for eyes green
And hazelled. Still, each waking is different,

You say, wherein one night sympathy and alibi
Are two separate things, and in another will
And blindness are all but the same. I could not

Oppose to this, to what makes things swell, swish
Leap, and be meaningful. There is convenience
In knowing by increments, the way a leitmotiv

Bloom to its proud, final sparkle. It will take time.
Though our beds speak of stillness now, the sky bluer
At this hour by your window you say, there is only

Too much this world can bear for solitude. Because
As shadows tire of waiting and as clocks hum on,
Together, with brightest of meanings, that day will end.