THE POETRY of National Artist for Literature Cirilo Bautista was celebrated during a testimonial dinner held in his honor at the Grand Ballroom of the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P Building last Sept. 30.

Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, director of the Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS), said in her opening remarks that the works of artists such as Bautista were valuable contributions to Filipino heritage.

“The [National Artist Award], and the benefits that accompany it, clearly do not measure up to the value of the contributions [of the awardee] to the national heritage,” Hidalgo said. “But as things are today, it is the highest honor the country can give to its artists that it claims as its own,” she added.

The event was held in honor of Bautista’s decades of contribution to the Philippine literary scene. Bautista was conferred the National Artist Award for Literature on June 20, 2014.

Poets Ramil Digal Gulle, Alice Sun-Cua, Lourd Ernest de Veyra, Marjorie Evasco, Marne Kilates and Gemino Abad paid tribute to Bautista by reading his famous pieces such as “Patalim,” “Addressed to Himself” and “Rizal at La Trinidad.”

In an interview, the former senior associate of the CCWLS and literary editor of the Varsitarian talked about the sense of wonder poetry had evoked in his life.

“There is the grand deception that you’re doing something important, and that alone is enough, because the grandness is captivating,” Bautista said. “Once transferred from one person to another, it is also an inspiration to all. [B]awat basa mo ng isang tula ay isang paraan ng bagong pagtingin sa daigdig,” he said.

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The Thomasian poet has often referred to his lifelong writing profession as “the monkey on his back.”

“I don’t think there is an end. The monkey doesn’t want to get off my back. The art becomes the life. You cannot get out of it,” he said.

Bautista said receiving the National Artist award last year was a “confirmation” of his literary labors.

“The reward for me is the joy that I have done something for my country. Confirmation that at last, after 74 years, you realize that you can write,” he said.

Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., Sacred Theology dean and former UST rector, commended Bautista’s body of work in a special message during the awarding of a plaque of recognition from the University.

“In his early works, the works of Dr. Bautista appeared like birds in mid-flight, fugitives in search for a place to rest, but in his later works, he gave us the impression that when poets grow old, they start to hold on to something rather than run or fly forever,” de la Rosa said.

In his message, Bautista called on aspiring writers to know the importance of practicing one’s craft through a good balance between reading and writing.

“Read not just what you can. Read everything. Read and write. Those two go together,” he said. “It’s not simply reading per se, but reading with great imagination, reading with great understanding of what human nature is.”

With an illustrious career spanning more than half a century, Bautista has published several books of fiction, criticism and poetry collections. His first Tagalog novel, “Galaw ng Asoge,” was published by UST Publishing House. Bautista’s works have also appeared in various anthologies and periodicals in the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Bautista has won prestigious awards such as the Carlos Palanca Hall of Fame, Makata ng Taon given by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and the Gawad Antonio Villegas and Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan given by the City of Manila.

Bautista finished his literature degree in UST in 1963, graduating magna cum laude. In 1968, he obtained his master’s degree in literature from St. Louis University of Baguio. He finished his doctorate at De La Salle University in 1990. Bautista attended the prestigious international writing program of the University of Iowa from 1968 to 1969. Z.G. Duque II and A.M.T. Uyao with reports from C.A.P. Sta. Cruz


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