Poetry

Bridgeable Shores, Selected Poems (1969-2001)
Luis Cabalquinto
Galatea Speaks, New York, 2001

REPRESENTING more than three decades of creativity, Bridgeable Shores is one of the finest poetry books ever published by a Fil-Am author. The book attempts to recreate the poetic terrains of Luis Cabalquinto’s hometown and newfoundland as he struggles to bridge their differences with memory and words.

What I found inviting in the collection is Cabal-quinto’s sharp and lucid language, the ease with which he delivers his themes that will later on swell into musical epiphanies. Listen: “some deep part of you would be yearning for her/ to come and share this pain, the stinging ache of your joy” (Some Night).

Another admirable talent of the author is his graceful abandon. He doesn’t fear to be comical or irreverent even. From eating lechon to nearly being hit by a tourist bus to body search, the author handles these themes with sensitivity and exactness.

The poet simply proves that nothing is too trivial to be written about; everything is poetry. Cabalquinto is a poet who makes us see.

Love Gathers All: The Philippine-Singapore Anthology of Love Poetry edited by Ramon Sunico, Alfred Yuson, Aaron Lee, and Alvin Pang

Anvil Publishing and Ethos Books, Manila and Singapore, 2002

Love Gathers All: The Philippine-Singapore Anthology of Love Poetry is a ground-breaking anthology in the sense that it gathers over a hundred poets from two countries to speak about the most extraordinary human experience: love.

The range of the collection is not merely specific to the love between two people but extends to other forms of love we likewise easily recognize: love for parents and other family relations, love for a cause, love for God.

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Splendid night of ballet

Of course, it wouldn’t leave the love as manifested by sweethearts: poppy love, platonic love, romantic love, erotic love, and spiritual love. The book also speaks of unrequited love, love denied, burning desire, and consummated union.

We can also glimpse from this collection how different—and similar—Filipino and Singaporean sensibilities are in poetry. Their passion and carefulness for language is very evident, albeit with different music and tone when it comes to delivery.

Love Gathers All is the Asian bible of love poetry. There is nothing like it, singing, crooning, and celebrating life’s ultimate gem.

Non-Fiction

Image to Meaning, Essay on Philippine Art
Alice Guillermo
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2001

Alice Guillermo, hands down, is the best art critic in the country today. A proof of this is her recent collection of essays on art, Image to Meaning.

Image to Meaning is a compendium of essays on Filipino artworks she has written for different publications including the authoritative, Asian Art News and World Sculpture. It maps out a general terrain of art-making in the country and how it relates to art history in general.

Guillermo is far from the typical academician when it comes to her writing. Her essays are well-imagined and constructed and one can immediately sense that there is authentic judgement each time she reads and interprets a particular painting.

As a scholar practicing semiotic criticism, she is holistic in her approach, not merely touching on the form and style of the artworks but also their historic and socio-political significance.

This book is advisable for anyone who wants to learn more about art and art criticism in the Philippine setting.

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Accountancy grabs second Pautakan crown

Deep Play
Diane Ackerman
Vintage Books, 2000

From the best selling author of “A Natural History of the Senses” comes another wonderful book, Deep Play.

Deep Play argues that play which Diane Ackerman describes as “a refuge from ordinary life, a sanctuary of the mind, where one is exempt from life’s customs, methods, and decrees” is important and then it progresses to teach how man can approach life with a re-invigorated sense of wonder with it.

I have long admired Ackerman’s works. It is the contents as much as the delivery: poetic, intense, phosphorescent. In a sense, the reading of her text is already a form of experience, a much-anticipated joy.

How can one you resist her language as when describing a host of penguin, she says: “All alone at the rim of the known world, they stood like brightly uniformed sentinels and stared out to sea. What did they watch for across the windswept white deserts and galloping tar-blue waves? What signposts did they remember that would guide them home after a long oceanic wandering?”

She sees the world through the eyes of a child, loves it through the imagination of a poet, and speaks of it through the tongue of a scholar.

Fiction

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
Denis Johnson
Perennial, 2001

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man revolves around Leonard English, a young man recovering from a suicide attempt. To heal himself, he moves to Cape Cod resort of Provincetown—the place where gay people live—to work at odd jobs.

There, he falls in love with a beautiful young woman—who turns out to be a lesbian. His desire, and anguish, intensifies with the growing winter as the whole novel approaches the crisis of its conclusion.

Resuscitation of a Hanged Man is a difficult read. One must be attuned with the way Denis Johnson bends and twists the plot to reflect the psychological and emotional complexities the protagonist is undergoing. Johnson is harsh on his rendering of detail, examining human persuasions and failures with telescope-intensity, to achieve what is called “apocalyptic coloring.”

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Coming home

But the sheer artistry of the novel is what saves it in the end, and perfectly so, as it reverberates after the reader has long put it down.

Asa, as I Knew Him
Susana Kaysen
Vintage Contemporaries, 2000 (reprinted)

Susana Kaysen is best remembered for her widely acclaimed memoir, Girl, Interrupted, which was eventually turned into a movie. But her novel, Asa, as I Knew Him proves to be as equally poignant.

Asa, as I Knew Him is told by the protagonist Dinah Sachs who had an illicit love affair with Asa Thayer who also served as his boss in the magazine company where she worked. Now separated from her, she creates a narrative of Asa, from all the threads she knows about him—his parents and upbringing, his friends, and the Yankee community where he lived. She particularly evokes the incident that she thinks probably affected him the most, the death of Asa’s friend who jumped off from a bridge.

Kaysen made Dinah speak in the true voice of a spurned lover, a hopeless romantic, a betrayed mistress. One can sense the pain in her recollections, the heartbreak that shapes her every word.

Kaysen’s language is uncompromising and brave, like how she poetically ends the novel: “For the rest, it is only hope, the whole world balanced on a straw. But on that straw we stake our lives and heedless, we go on.”

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