Saturday, May 17, 2008
One Hundred Love Poems
by Ralph Semino Galán
The many forms and formulations of Pinoy love and loving are collated as lyrical utterances in One Hundred Love Poems [Quezon City: UP Press, 2004, 128 pages] edited by Gémino H. Abad and Alfred A. Yuson. Subtitled Philippine Love Poetry Since 1905, the collection contains 100 poems by 100 poets arranged in chronological order according to the poet's birth year. The composition or publication date of each poem is also provided in what could only have involved a laborious archival work on the part of the editors.
Some of the "classic" Filipino love poems in English are included in the anthology, like Angela C. Manalang-Gloria's "Soledad," Jose Garcia Villa's "I Can No More Hear Love's," Trinidad L. Tarrosa-Subido's "You Shall Be Free," Francisco Arcellana's "The Other Woman," and Carlos A. Angeles's "Landscape II," among others.
But the limitation of representing one poet with one poem becomes apparent when an informed reader searches for favorite pieces memorized by heart. Absent in the collection are Manalang-Gloria's "To the Man I Married," Edith L. Tiempo's "Bonsai" and Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta's "A Kind of Burning," to mention a few. (Like Manalang-Gloria, Tiempo and Dimalanta are represented by other poems: "Mystical Union" and "The Time Factor," respectively.)
In his introduction to the book, Abad, premier poet and foremost philologist of the Philippines, declares that the poems in the compilation encompass the three manifestations of love: Eros, Amor and Agape. It is not my duty as a critic to perform the tedious task of sorting out the poems according to their particular passionate or compassionate affiliation. The best I can do is point out to prospective buyers of the book the most fulfilling poems, in terms of both form and content, which in the exemplary pieces are perfectly interlaced that it is difficult to trace where one ends and the other begins, like a finely-woven tapestry of sights and insights, words and worlds.
Among the poems written by the more senior writers, the following deserve a second reading: Bienvenido Santos' "In Fair Exchange," NVM Gonzalez's "A Need for Love," Nick Joaquin's "The Innocence of Solomon," Tita Lacambra V. Ayala's "Echo," Myrna Peña-Reyes' "Ruth Was Not Penelope," Cirilo F. Bautista's "Song," Cesar Ruiz Aquino "Kalisud à la Rizal," Merlie M. Alunan "We Kept a Jarful of Keys," Marra PL. Lanot's "You Tell Me," Alfred A Yuson's "The Fate of Rain," Elsa Martinez Coscolluela's "Adam's Rib," Jaime An Lim's "Breathing without Accompaniment" and Anthony L. Tan's "Letter to Ling."
The more remarkable pieces written by the younger writers (poets born in the 1950s onwards) include Ricardo M. de Ungria's "Shrimp Moves," Marjorie M. Evasco's "Elemental," Jose Y. Dalisay's "To June, On Her First Winter," Ma. Fatima V. Lim-Wilson's "Crossing Dreams," Luisa Igloria's "Rings," Isabelita Orlina Reyes' "The in between," Danton Remoto's "Rain," Antonio L. Jocson's "Utsu Mountain at Okabe," DM Reyes' "Affection," R. Zamora Linmark's "The Muse This Time," J. Neil C. Garcia's "Malinche," Ruel S. De Vera's "Moonlight Sonata," Lourd Ernest H. de Veyra's "hi-density," Conchitina R. Cruz's "Bedtime," Carlomar Arcangel Daoana's "Negros Museum, June 13," and Angelo Suarez's "Flood."
But my personal favorite of the entire compendium is Eric T. Gamalinda's "Las Ruinas del Corazon," a narrative poem chronicling Queen Juana the Mad's "adamant desire" for her dead husband, Philip the Handsome: "She wanted to possess him entirely, and since not even death/ may oppose the queen, she found a way to merge death and life// by eating a piece of him, slowly, lovingly, until he was entirely/ in her being. She cut a finger and chewed the fragrant skin,// then sliced a thick portion of his once ruddy checks. Then she ate/ an ear, the side of a thigh, the solid muscles of his chest,//."
This intense, cannibalistic mode of loving is reminiscent of "an ancient Zoroastrian legend of the first parents of the human race" mentioned in Joseph Campbell's illuminating book titled Myths to Live By. The profound affection of these progenitors for their offsprings has brought them to this bizarre incident: "and there were born to them two children, whom they loved so tenderly and irresistibly that they ate them up. The mother ate one; the father ate the other; and God, to protect the human race, then reduced the force of man's capacity for love by some ninety-nine per cent."
As a subject matter love is inexhaustible, despite the countless poems and verses written about it. For this four-letter word is universal and personal, bitter and sweet, sacred and profane, painful and pleasurable, elusive and allusive, both. In his introduction to The Penguin Book of Love Poetry, Jon Stallworthy observes that "there are almost as many definitions of love as there are poets, because most poets, like most other men and women, have something to say on the subject… Like any other actors in the human comedy, they speak most piercingly when they speak most personally, and because they speak personally their statements are as various as their fingerprints." These poems, therefore, are testaments to the diversity of love as versified by some of the best Filipino poets writing from English.
Every hopeless romantic and lover of good literature out there should buy a copy of the book, for it is reasonably priced, since it "is part of the UP Jubilee Student Edition designed to bring the best of Philippine literature within the reach of students and the general public." But this volume of verses is far from being cheap in terms of production design. In fact, it has a very professional, university press look. Special citation should be given to the elegant rose-red cover design of Migs Villanueva, an accomplished writer herself.