IS NEW writing necessarily only by the young? Are old writers capable of new writing? Does new writing involve a sacrifice of quality and style just for the sake of looking new?

With the theme, “New Writing in the Philippines,” the Philippine PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) Annual Conference at Bulwagang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining of the Cultural Center of the Philippines last December 5 focused on recent developments in literature.

Rody Vera of Writers’ Bloc, an organization of playwrights, noted the public’s receptiveness to fresh ideas in theater during the panel on “Accent on Young Writers.”

“There is a demand for something new and something that is not required,” he said.

But historian and playwright Jose Victor Torres said there was a seeming decline in the quality of works by new writers due to media and technology.

Citing the drama entries in the 25th Ustetika Annual Student Awards for Literature, Torres said the entries had no sense of stagecraft and resembled television and movie scripts.

“It is not wrong to have technology, but let it not absorb your life or imagination, because then you’ll have a problem,” he said.

Abdon Balde Jr., recipient of the 2009 Philippines Southeast Asian Write Award, said technology can aid young writers, especially those writing in their own dialects, citing the case of Singaporean writers.

“Publishers do not want to bite the material because of marketing [problems], so the young writers in Singapore use information technology in publishing their works,” he said.

But for poet and critic Gemino Abad, panelist on “Issues on New Writing,” new writing is non-existent in the country. He said writers only make topics fresh with their style, “infinite imagination,” and mastery of language.

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“Every writer only finds his own path through language and—over time—his own subject,” he said.

In the panel on creative nonfiction, 2001 National Book Award recipient Erlinda Panlilio said “fear of consequences” stops one from telling the truth, a fact that she came across while writing her mother’s biography.

“The fear of offending is all too real that it hampers with our writing,” she added.

Danny Reyes and Benilda Santos, professors at Ateneo de Manila University, talked about the role of new writing in providing a fresh perspective. Reyes discussed the role of new writing in “expanding, dislodging, discarding, raising and diversifying” the literary canon, while Santos qualified “texts that present new ways of thinking” as new writing.

Senior Tagalog fictionist Efren Abueg joined University of the Philippines-Los Baños professor Dennis Aguinaldo, poets Jose Neil Garcia, Kristian Cordero and Lourd Ernest de Veyra for “Accent on Young Writers.”

Other panelists were Ateneo and UST Graduate School professor Oscar Campomanes, and writers Vlad Gonzales and Teng Mangansakan for creative nonfiction; and writers Charlson Ong, Edgar Samar and Susie Tan for “Issues on New Writing.”

Current problems bogging the literary arts cited during the conference included readership and the lack of literary pages in newspapers.

The Philippine PEN likewise passed a resolution condemning the Maguindanao massacre and expressing concern over the imposition of martial law there and “the threat it poses to freedom of expression and other human rights.”

“The Philippine PEN,” the resolution states, “denounces the culture of violence and impunity that has been engendered by government’s rapprochement with warlords and their armies in Mindanao and elsewhere, and its lackluster efforts to prosecute those behind the killing and violence committed against journalists and victims of human rights abuses in the past several years.”

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The Philippine PEN also passed a resolution opposing the digitalization of books not in the public domain by Google.

The keynote address was delivered by poet Ricardo de Ungria. National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, current chair of the Philippine PEN, delivered this year’s Jose Rizal Lecture.

Established in 1957 by National Artist and UST alumnus Francisco Sionil Jose, the Philippine PEN is one of the 145 centers in 104 countries of the International PEN, which upholds and protects writer’s freedoms.

During the closing, Lumbera, also a UST alumnus, thanked the congress’ patrons, which included the Varsitarian.

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