ONE WAY of learning to understand a text is through “enter it through the body,” said poet Merlina Bobis during the third annual international literary festival dubbed “Read Lit District,” play on words of “red light district,” from Nov. 14 to 16.

Faculty of Arts and Letters alumna Bobis, who is a senior lecturer on creative writing at the University of Wollongong in Australia, presented her paper “Body Knowing: Using Literature to Address Students’ Sexual Awareness” which centered on the pedagogy of literature. Through this, she said that the teacher should be a storyteller and a performer at the same time.

Bobis said she embodies music, dance, and theatre in teaching her students.

“Teaching is a performance. You enter the text through their bodies,” she added.

Bobis also underlined that the mode of teaching literature in college should be a lot different than the high school way of teaching it.

“Unlike in some high schools where most students study literature by depending on plain reading and narration, teaching in college should be the take-off point to start appreciating a story in its entirety,” she said. “In this way, students are taught not to depend on the author’s narration but instead, they can comprehend the story through the close analysis of the details and images.”

For people who don’t read literature, they might find it quite a bore. According to Bobis, this has always been the real challenge for teachers. She said that one way of keeping up with them is by bringing the story “home” to their bodies, making the story more relevant to their own experiences.

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For Bobis, what a story or a poem does to her heart and sensibility, what a story imagines for society, and what it dreams for humanity, are enough to be considered as the marks of the glory of Philippine literature.

“The little exultation or the pinprick in the individual human heart, or the tingle of pleasure in the spine from reading a well-written and moving story is glory enough for this reader,” Bobis said.

Globalization

Even before the globalization took place, Filipino writers have been already exposed to foreign influences, said J. Neil Garcia, a renowned poet and director of the University of the Philippines Press.

Garcia added that language preference of Filipino writers plays a crucial role for the development of contemporary Philippine literature.

“English in our literature remains, and ironic language remains an ironic language—ironic because, historically, it shouldn’t even have been an option to begin with; and ironic because, the everyday reality of most Filipinos isn’t monolingual at all,” Garcia said.

Bobis, however, said that despite the fact that the international literary industry is still dominated by the literature produced by first world countries like those of Great Britain and The Americas, she still believes that Philippine literature is still as glorious and as rich as ever.

“We just have to keep working on getting our literature out there, read, heard, experienced, and appreciated,” she told the Varsitarian.

UST graduate Jose Wendell Capili, who is the moderator of the panel, shared what late Thomasian poet Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta used to tell him when he was still a student.

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“Teaching and writing is like kite-flying. You should know when to let it go and when to hold it back,” Capili quoted Dimalanta.

Read Lit District was graced by foreign writers like British poet David McKirdy, Australian novelist Ken Spillman, and American fictionists Tim Tomlinson and Juliet Grames. Other panelists include Filipino writers Efren Abueg, Abdon Balde, Marne Kilates, Alred Yuson, Isagani Cruz, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, and Christina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies

The event was a convention organized by the National Book Development Board in a bid to reawaken the sensibilities of aspiring Filipino writers and little by little, and to re-position the Philippines in the international map of literature.

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