THE RE-TELLING of old stories is a delightful, staple practice of writers. But to some, it is an obsession, a mission.

For those who enjoy the lush, full-bodied sensuality of J. Neil C. Garcia’s poetry, Myths and Metaphors (UST Publishing House, 2002) lets one into the poet’s fondness of re-telling legends through the intricate art of poetry.

All at once confessional, academic and flamboyant, the volume brings together Garcia’s recent essays that are built on the kinship of narrative and poetic forms of observation, the breach between imagination and memory, and the inseparability of art and life.

Garcia provides clear insights into the world of poetry. Like a good academician, he supports his theories with the best of Philippine poetry. And while some poets might simply talk about a fellow poet’s verses to illustrate theories, Garcia does not stray into alien territory as he talks about the art of writing poems—his poems.

He incorporates elements of his personal life as seen in “In Memoriam,” a speech he delivered during his father’s necrological service, where he narrates his father’s continued love for food even in his deathbed. He then launched into the memory of his father’s transition from a military colonel to a “wonderful cook in his retirement” in an effort to live life to its fullest. Garcia’s paternal love has made him realize that immortality can indeed be achieved through the resurrection of memories.

Garcia is also quick on the draw when it comes to ice breakers as he dishes out amusing anecdotes from being a creative writing instructor in a university. In “Teaching the Writing of Autobiographical Narratives,” he muses on the fine line that divides Literature and Psychiatry in reference to disturbing autobiographical works.

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But more than the glory of immortality and the skillful reviving of memory, Garcia also celebrates the joy of being alive. This is evident in “The Best Philippine Poetry of 2000,” a glimpse into the compilation of the 2000 Likhaan Book of Poetry and Fiction (UP Press) where he lauds the Filipino poet’s celebration of mortality “as the world seems poised on the brink of annihilation” by taking part in life’s trivialities and spinning those moments into poetry.

There is much to be desired in Garcia’s power of narrative. The writing style is laid-back, flavorful and easy to grasp without being shallow. It cannot be denied, though, that the volume is somewhat self-indulgent, even tinged with vanity. Garcia admits this in his foreword where he pours out the sadness of “one’s solitude as a poet,” the “lulls” of which he tries to survive by elaborating on his own work through essays.

However, by writing a confessional book of essays on his work, Garcia also strips himself of mystery.

Myths also lacks a straightforward attitude and is redundant in certain parts. Halfway through the volume, it isn’t uncommon to flip back through the pages just to check if the bookmark was wedged in the wrong place. One also develops a weird aftertaste and a love-hate impression.

Although Garcia speaks like a true-blue guru in most parts, he abuses his poetic license in some areas. “A Cambridge Journal,” the poet’s memoirs on his fellowship in an annual British writing convention, leaves the reader confused in what to make out of academic utterances lodged between ramblings.

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To say that it lacks journalistic technique would be partly unfair since the purpose of creative writing is to free the written word from the rigueur of technicalities. What it lacks perhaps is tightness. Someone immersed in literary journalism and periodicals would probably not find the patience to devour this book piece by piece.

However, Myths and Metaphors makes a good reference for academic purposes, as well as a meditative material, and allows the escape from the hodgepodge of everyday existence. Czeriza Shennille S. Valencia


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