A LITTLE inspiration is all it takes to become a good writer.

But for Filipino-American poet Fidelito Cortes, it takes a good writer to make even the most insignificant thing, event or detail his source of inspiration. A creative artist even in his choice of subject, Cortes draws inspiration for his poetry from the most prosaic occasions like going to the mall, sweeping the floor, walking to the bus stop, or taking photos.

In his lecture, “Everyday Life: Quotidian Poetics,” Cortes discusses his use of quotidian poetry where “small and everyday ordinary things serve as occasions for poems.” His talk is the third of the lecture series of Filipino-American writers sponsored by the Faculty of Arts and Letters, UST CCWS and the Varsitarian last Aug. 10 at the Center for Creative Writing and Studies conference room.

Cortes emphasized the importance of ordinary things in defining the realities of life and follows the tradition of English poets Edward Thomas and Philip Larkin.

“I believe that these (seemingly insignificant) things shelter us from the big inevitable realities–age, disease and death,” Cortes, a four-time Palanca award for poetry winner, said. “Small things ground us in the pleasurable tangibility of what is here and now and help us to do things that keep us alive and human such as breathing and persisting, reading and writing.”

Cortes also won a National Book Award in 1989 for his poetry collection, Waiting for the Exterminator. He was a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University and is currently based in California with his wife and fellow writer, Nerissa Balce, the guest speaker during the second part of the lecture series.

Huling hirit

Cortes’ “little secret” in writing poems is his relaxed, commonsensical and moderate style that does not insist on exact end rhymes and strict meter. An example is his “Sweeping,” which will be included in his new poetry collection to be released next year: “’Is it my wrist action,’ I asked her, ‘Or simply/ a genetic failing of the masculine wrist?/ Is this a gender problem?’/ Effortlessly, she picks up the broom/ and one flick of the wrist/ the room was clean.”

There is a certain quietude and calmness in the way he writes his poems, which is opposed to his other loud interests–farcical fiction, bright-colored paintings, and science-fiction movies.

“I guess I am drawn to quiet poetry because this is the kind of poetry I tend to write, leaning toward minor epiphanies that are only notable in their diffidence and their insistence not to be taken too seriously,” Cortes said.

He said that these poems can result in dull and uninterested writing, but he continues to think big on small things “with outstanding grace and breathtaking beauty that one feels as if he was punched by Manny Pacquiao.”

It takes zest in life to make sense of realities often neglected as worthless or trivial. A touch of Cortes’ poems turns lightweight material to heavy, simple things to special, and trite writing to red-letter work. He proves that, indeed, anything in life can spur meaning and genius. Myla Jasmine U. Bantog and Leonard James D. Postrado


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