LOVE WOMAN TRIUMPHANT
by Ralph Semino Galán
Like her four previous collections, Love Woman (Manila: UST Press, 1998, 107 pages) is replete with exquisitely-felt, expertly-crafted poems, thus, affirming once again her status as one of the best Filipino poets writing in English past or present regardless of gender. Her fifth book of poems, which derives its "metaphorical center" from Doris Lessing's novel Love Again, is divided into four parts. "Love Woman," the first section, contains 19 poems on a variety of themes seen from the perspective(s) of a woman's constantly compassionate heart and ever expansive mind: love in its various shapes and shades, the social malaise of poverty, abortion, the Ozone Disco disaster, ars poetica, music, and the sheer exuberance of amorous experience.
In "A Matter of Choice," a poem divided into two parts, she tackles with great sense and sensitivity the controversial issue of abortion. Dimalanta’s poetic perception is never myopic as she convincingly presents both sides of the proverbial coin with her characteristic flair for verbal dexterity (notice the wordplay: "all the ugly/uns of this world… my too young/ un of my luckless undelivering womb.) ---
This is pure bereavement./ A cipher with its host/ of the
never-should-have-beens,/ here where life begins and
ends/ in a spate of blood, spite, unfaith,/ unhope, unlove
and all the ugly/ uns of this world, so where,/ where is
there life?/ What has been withdrawn, disjected?/
Nothing but the ugly uns/ you have been spared, my too
young/ un of my luckless undelivering womb.//
("A Gift of Unlife")
Confined within a mayfly’s lifespan no matter/ you will
live forever, oh, yes.../ yes... yes... it is good,/ this air,
this sun, this rhythm/ of grass counterpointing/ your
every breath, His Finger/ tracing diverse designs, like
you,/ Pure Song, lifework, schemed/ for in a world rife
with salvaged/ graces, wombed in a cell,/ as cosmic and
expansive/ as your young beginning dreams.//
She employs the same ambivalent angle of vision in "A Mountain's Passing," a paean/lament, eulogy/elegy on the closure of the gigantic garbage dump site better known to the layman as Smokey Mountain:
…soon he would be/ standing, looking up, not knowing/
after this mountain's rite of passing,/whether to hymn
In “What Poetry Does Not Say,” she reiterates her belief that the subject matter of poetry is best expressed paradoxically by the most careful of non-expression:
For poetry never says;/ it unsays. To say/ is to confine,
contain,/ to unsay explore the/ vaguely all-hovering./
Presence of the unseen,/ deliberately left out...
Poetry or the meaning/fulness of poetry, therefore, for her is something elusive, evasive and equivocal, like love. It is quite similar to poet-critic Gémino H. Abad's definition of insight as "illumination of a thought that no idea expresses, a radiance of feeling that no thought catches."
But in "Perhaps a Few Poets" she is also cognizant of the fact that poets in this day and age are an obsolete breed, a somber choir of "ineffectual angel(s)." At best, they are mere "apologist(s) and rhapsodist(s)/ for ancient and dying faiths," for poets cannot solve through metaphors the more practical problems of the real world.
The last three poems of the first section, along with "Waiting Game," "Slidings," "It is in Her Eyes" and "Romancing the Lake," are investigations on “the precious rhetorics of love.” “Love Woman 1,” a poem dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, interprets in another light the surrounding circumstances of the car crash that nipped in the bud the life of England’s Rose:
this final private fling,/ this binge of anonymity,/ this silken
intimacy,/ white heat of pain’s intensest peaking/ caught
raw shorn of royal trappings,/ one instant dredging/ of the
body’s last reserves/ from those hurt places of the past/ in
one last heightened rewind,/ in a tight desperate grip of
present,/ the heart’s leap/ out of its crook/ into blazing,
"Love Woman 2" is a nameless, abstracted, almost archetypal female who avers that "love is elision/ perpetually sliding into new/ faces, new syntax, nothing/if not something else." And for this "lovely freak of nature," time and space are her only adversaries, as she offers herself to the growing sphere of her affection, "her far-flung provenance."
"Love, Lie Still…" is a painfully delicious and delicate piece about the "necessary fictions" of true love. The persona-lover and the beloved-other are in bed, physical or metaphysical it does not matter, where "bland breasts/ inevitably resting upon mindless/ hands… just there, serenely/ dreaming, so naturally together.//" But dreams are bound to end like all forms of romantic love, so how maintain the illusion/collusion to keep the flames alive?
The solution provided by the poem is deceivingly simple "to lie still," but the phrase is loaded with a good number of possible semiotic readings. The two most plausible are: to be immobile and let the wave of disillusionment pass, or to keep on churning falsehoods to retain a semblance of truth. Love as illumined by these three poems does not seem to exist without its concomitant deprivations, through "various subterfuges, "imaginary space(s)" and "lost possibilities."
On the other hand, "Turkish Resonances," the second part of the collection, recounts a weeklong sojourn she has taken with a group of fellow Thomasians in Asia Minor. Introduced by a journal entry, the nine travel poems are like impressionistic snapshots and philosophical postcards of the various places and spaces she has visited in Istanbul, Ephesus, Delphi, and Athens, the shimmering gem in the crown of Hellenic Civilization.
"Along the Bosphorus" recreates the experience of being ferried across the throat-shaped body of water that unites the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, the same strait that separates Europe from Asia:
This ferry furrowing through the/ Bosphorus straddling
between/ heart and mind pulling us/ from one continent
to another/ in a pulsating wavelike dancing/ in a matter
"The Parthenon Seen and Shot from Hotel Aphrodite" transforms a fiasco into a poetic contemplation of the subject-object dichotomy. The persona and a you (whose identity is not revealed in the text) took snapshots of each other with the famous Greek edifice serving as the background. The resulting photographs were dismal, to say the least, but the poet’s inner vision redeems them from the trash can of the real world and transmutes them into the metaphorical realm of poetry:
Not quite worthless shots, really./ See there?/ Excavate
deeper/ into the stony sites/ of the receiving mind...//
The Parthenon and you,/ I and the Parthenon,/ Subject-
Object,/ One repressed the other/ played up alternately
both,// Contemplator and text,/ Singer and Song,/
Separate and One.//
Reminiscent of William Butler Yeat's often-quoted poem, "Flying to Byzantium" is a contemporary, if not postmodern, rendition of the quest for the transcendental. But unlike Yeats whose search for eternity is through art and artifice, Dimalanta pursues “sites/ for ruined dreams to sit on/ long after golden birds/ on golden boughs/ have run out of songs.” Her poetic persona therefore is more world-weary, aware as she is that nothing really remains of human monuments but ruins and memories.
Dimalanta's transit poems are never purely descriptive, for her journeys are both inward and outward oriented. She seldom catalogues scenes and scenarios for their own sake. More often than not, she examines her travel experiences from a philosophical or aesthetic vantage point. As a result of her constant confabulations, landscapes become inscapes, not only mere routes of escape, and random sights and sounds become the sources of specific poetic insights: “from mythology to the/ mundaneness of moods…” [“Delphic Capers], “Enchantment is in retrospect.” [“Along the Arcadian Way”], “And to fathom this mystery/ we have ourselves to be/ unfathomable…” [“Meryam Ana at Ephesus”].
In keeping with the spirit of the Philippine Centennial, the third section, subtitled “Our Voices, Our Zones,” verbalizes in a series of character sketches and dramatic monologues the patriotic feelings and ruminations of six women associated with the Revolution of 1896: Teodora Alonso, the mother of Jose Rizal; Josephine Bracken, Pepe’s girlfriend who became his wife two hours before his execution; Patrocinio Gamboa y Villareal, a Jaro heroine; Tandang Sora, the famous katipunera; Gregoria de Jesus, Andres Bonifacio’s wife and “comrade-at-arms;” and Teresa Magbanua Ferraris, another female fighter from the Visayas.
The six poems are quite interesting as socio-political commentaries, for they provide us with possible portraits of these women warriors, heroines whose contribution to the Revolution have often been ignored or effaced by the patriarchal chroniclers of history. Taken in this context, the six poems can be considered as alternative versions of certain historical events, a herstory of the Revolution, écriture féminine counteracting phallogocentric writing. Hear their heroic female voices rise above the totalizing din of male discourse:
Coming home, it seems she really/ has not left home at all./
Home is in the heart’s lush country... and her own/ gentle
hovering and insinuating/ female voice in subtle shades
rising/ as passions in the dark and spreading/ in the
nascent light of faith like/ white confettis in the night.//
("Tandang Sora: Confettis at Pugad Lawin")
Certainly soon, God would will/ to have this woman voice/
take a leap into the elements,/coming out naked in its
wounding/ under a shower of blazing meteors,/ to claim
despite the onus/ of her sex and the curse of her time,/
what godfully is hers alone.//
("Gregoria de Jesus: Beloved Comrade-at-arms")
Nay Isa fought not only with a skill/ akin to or even
excelling man's/ but also with the grit and heat/ and heart
of one woman's being/ ignited in a body text of rage/
and leonine grace and feriocity.//
("Teresa Magbanua Ferraris: Not for Nothing, Brothers")
Reprinted from Flowing On, her third collection of poems, "Other Voices, Other Zones," the fourth and last section, articulates in a sequence of dramatic monologues the sentiments of four heroines from distant lands. Winnie Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Laila Abou Saif, and Sisulu are polyester women, whose participation in politics, sexual or otherwise, do not diminish the silkiness of their sensibilities. Listen, for the instance, to the voice of Benazir Bhutto:
shahid, i bear your vision/ in my womb like a foetus/ i
shall deliver and send forth/ into the thickest nights,/
wide into the farthest/ reaches of the country’s core...
Or the more feminist utterance of Laila Abou Saif:
sisters of all colors/ and calling, under this skin/ flows
the same blood with/ one intensity and power,/
sputtering forth the same/ sparks, in anger, in need...
Dimalanta’s fifth volume of poetry focuses on love in all its multifarious guises and disguises: romantic love, erotic love, love for the poor and the disenfranchised, love for her dearly departed writer-friends Bienvenido Santos and Edilberto Tiempo, the love of words and the wonderful worlds they create, the love of music, Wanderlust, the love of country, and womanly love for her “gentle,/ loving, long chafing brood.” Love Woman recognizes the fact that in the final analysis, everything essential, whether ephemeral or eternal, is a manifestation of the four-letter word, the Tetragrammaton that defies definition and the constraining cage of language.
Dimalanta’s poetic voice is sui generis; no other poet, nor poetess for that matter, composes poetry the way she does. Thus, her liguistic stamp, being both distinct and distinctive, and the difficult themes she has chosen to tackle make her fifth collection of poems a singular contribution to contemporary Philippine Poetry in English. For in this her latest offering, she has transcended the traditional paradigm of feminine/feminist by becoming what Josephine Acosta Pasricha calls "the true female... reconciling the maternal cyclical structures with the linear time of history and contemporary politics, thus, understanding herstory (sic) and the future of man/womankind."