Poetry will occupy center stage on October 24, with the launch of the new book, Companionable Voices: Five Filipino Poets, at the Upper Lounge of the Malayan Plaza at Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
The book contains a selection of poems by five contemporary Filipino poets from the 1960s who have been largely silent the last three decades and are collectively dubbed A Lost Generation. These are Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Recah A. Trinidad, Erwin E. Castillo, Wilfredo Pascua Sanchez and Juan Jose Jolico Cuadra, recently deceased.
This 148-page commemorative volume is out under the imprint of Quincunx Publishing (email@example.com), a new enterprise aimed at showcasing “nonmainstream Philippine poetry, fiction, commentary and criticism.”
“Jolico is the reason we put this book together, at the urging of Erwin initially,” said the publisher Willie Sanchez, when interviewed at his home in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. “Of the five poets represented, only Aquino has published poetry on a regular basis, having come out with his fourth poetry collection Caesuras: 155 New Poems in April of this year. The rest, except on rare occasions, have tended to keep the dangerous practice pretty much to themselves. At least until now.”
There are a total of 76 poems in the book, commencing with a long untitled poem by Cuadra, written in 1998 and being published for the first time by permission of his estate courtesy of Auggusta de Almeidda, who has said that the tribute paid in this book by his “lifetime confreres of high caliber…marks the crown of his achievements.”
Cuadra. who died of complications of M.S. at age 74, has become known as an outcast, largely through his belligerent personality as well as for penetratingly lucid critiques exemplified in his art columns and varied prose commentaries. The poet Jose Garcia Villa was his original mentor, and it can be said that the cult of Villa ended with Cuadra who was its last credible hold-out.
Aquino is represented with 29 poems, all fairly new or recently revised, mostly love-poems. His poems are brilliant, quirky and informed with a level of wit that has gained him a steady following in the academia. In his much-revised signature poem, “Eyoter” he stands poetry on its head (to paraphrase one of his staunchest critics) in a punning spree that allows Donne’s dictum ‘No man is an island’ to become upside-down transformed into the joycean prescript ‘Everyman is an eyoter.’ Aquino earned his Ph.D. from Silliman University , with a doctoral thesis focusing on the underpinnings of myth in modern literature, including Philippine poetry.
Recah Trinidad, also known as a sports journalist and a protégé of Nick Joaquin, is represented with 17 poems, including three adapted from his recent novella Tales from my Lost River. His poems are notable for their severity of style and gritty adherence to the household gods. He is author of the first book-length work on Pacquiao, Pacific Storm, which gathers together his expert, including first-hand, accounts of the boxer’s art.
Erwin Castillo represents the crème de la creme, and his poetry in this book is further proof that his was a great talent that was ripened from the start, full of genuine maturity and continuously visionary wit. His poems, “Lord Iolikos at Lakeside” and “Bajai-Manuc” concentrate such astonishing power as we haven’t seen from his pen since “The Watch of La Diane,” published in 1971, considered his best story, much like “Snows of Kilimanjaro” is Hemingway’s. Castillo is a martial arts expert and professional shooting competitor.
Sanchez caps the book with a dozen poems, which he says is “60% new, largely unpublished.” He currently lives abroad and is the only one among the five poets to have emerged from the brain drain, “with an enormous axe to grind.” His poem “Eman Spelled Backwards” aptly rounds up the collection, brilliantly complementing Jolico’s classic rantings as well as the priapic wackiness of Sawi’s “Eyoter.”
A reading of the poems will highlight the 10/24 book launch to be followed by similar others throughout the year, both in Manila and adjacent venues as well as abroad. As an added bonus, this handsomely printed collection is enlivened by the artwork of Sonny Yniquez who is a friend to all five poets. In the publisher’s words, “he shows a vitality of line worthy of a poet’s.”
Definitely they’re not done for; in fact they are likely and increasingly to be valued as the true daydreamers of their generation.