Friday, June 20, 2008
Honeymooning with Words
Honeymooning with Words
by Ralph Semino Galán
Love is a favorite subject among Filipino poets, regardless of gender. For despite the influx of modern and postmodern ideologies, the pervasive influence of the Romantic spirit is still prevalent in Philippine literature, especially in poetry. It therefore comes as no surprise that even a gay-identified writer like Danton Remoto has composed extensively verses expressing the intricacies of love and lust, desire and devotion, passion and compassion.
In his third book of poetry aptly titled Pulotgata: The Love Poems (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc, 2004, 88 pages), Remoto delves the depths of the human heart through lyrics in English and Filipino that sing of the anxiety and the excitement, the agony and the ecstasy which accompany the act of love.
The joy of loving and the consummation of desire are celebrated in the verses "Tonight I Will Live in Your Skin," inspired by Pablo Neruda's penultimate love poem in Veinte poemas de amor y una cancíon desesperada, "Water," "Fire and Ice," "Autumn," "Room," "Black Silk Pajamas," "Song of the Flute," "Destination," "Dawn," "The Seat of Love," "The Ring" and "Sky," among others.
On the other hand, the pain of parting and the power of memory to redeem those special moments, which otherwise would be lost to oblivion, are articulated in the following pieces: "Childhood," "Burning Season," "Chairs," "Snowstorm," "Departure," "Rain," "Stairway," "In Tagaytay," "Winter," "All the Clichés," "At Bellarmine" and "Song of Rumi."
The poems in Filipino, whether of the first or second persuasion, are more precise and direct, penetrating the heart of the matter with the sharpest of inquiries and insights: "ano kayang bitag/ ang itinatago ng buhay/ para sa akin?//" ["Pagdidilim 1."], "ibig maging buhangin/ upang masarayan// kahit minsan man lamang/ ng kanyang talampakan.// ["Baler, na Bayan Niya"], Pag-ibig ay tinig na tila sagwan/ humahati sa dagat ng kawalan./, ["Hindi Kinang ng Buwan"], "tinipong hininga ng mga mangingibig! ---/ at sandaling inisip/ ang karahasan ng pag-asa" ["Kabalyero"], "Ikaw,// na iniwan akong nag-iisa,/ walang kaibigan// o kasama,/ kundi mga wikang dayuhan// at paiba-iba.//" ["Wika"].
There is a seeming simplicity in Remoto's poetry in his choice of words and images. He does not employ verbal fireworks for effect and efficacy. Nor does he rely on arcane and orphic tropes that obfuscate the reader into believing that something profound is being revealed. Instead, he uses carefully selected metaphors and similes to convey his thoughts and feelings.
For Imagism has a very strong influence on Remoto's versifying, via Amygism (after Amy Lowell, who published the three-volume anthology Some Imagist Poets) and the Bagay poetry espoused by Rolando Tinio and company. A close reading of the poems will reveal that they conform to most of the guiding principles of Imagism/Amygism, "that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous," and that "concentration is of the very essence of poetry."
The image-making of Remoto is best described as elemental, evoking connections between the male body and the natural world, between powerful emotions and stark details of flora and fauna. Here are some prime examples: "My breath will begin by flowering/ in the caves of your ears.//" ["Tonight I Will Live in Your Skin"], "I will be the Falls of Dochart hurtling itself/ down the hills of Breadalbane,/ the rocks rumbling with my cascading force.// ["Water"], "Water slides down/ the leaves/ like tongue on skin" ["Rain"], "Swans skimmed the skin/ of your surface./" ["Winter"], "summer's thunder/ lighting up the sky/ oh heat thick/ as desire/" ["The Way We Live"], "My fingers brushing against/ the ferns in the mountain/ of your hair.//" ["Destination"], "your lips brushing// like a butterfly's wing/ against my lips./ ["Dawn"].
Among the poems in Filipino are the following: "Duhat na hinog ang mga mata ng gabi." ["Gabi"], "tila mga ibong hapo/ na humahapon sa pugad/ ng iyong puso.//" ["Kaarawan"], "Sa aming likuran,/ ang mga sanga/ ay nagiging kandila./ May talab/ ang kanilang lagablab.//" ["Ang Tawag"], "Matang may kubling// lungkot,/ mga salitang maigsi,/ manipis pa/ sa hugis-suklay na buwan.// ["Simula"], At ang iyong mga daliri'y/ naglalakbay, pumapasok,/ nawawala/ sa mga ulan ng aking buhok.// ["Pulotgata"].
There is also a sense of immediacy to Remoto's love lyrics, for almost all of the poems are written in the present or present perfect tense. Hence, the presence of the persona, the controlling consciousness, permeates the scene of each poem, the objective situation, even the spaces in between.
Another interesting feature of Remoto's poetry is its capacity to transcend traditional gender barriers, despite its homosexual underpinnings. Except for a few homoerotic pieces which some conservative readers might find rather offensive, most of the other poems are written in good taste, with the right amount of tenderness and tenacity of spirit.
Although a good number of the 57 poems in Pulotgata are reprinted from his two previous collections Skin Voices Faces and Black Silk Pajamas, the book is still worth buying, especially for die-hard romantics, since Remoto's love poems still remain fresh and clear and genuine, despite the passages of the years. For new readers, the book is a good introduction to the work of a highly accessible poet who writes proficiently both in English and Filipino.