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THE PHILIPPINE Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists), in cooperation with Manila Times, launched ?The Literary Life,? edited by Elmer A. Ordoñez, on July 31, at Solidaridad Bookshop in Ermita, Manila.
This anthology comprises a selection of short stories, poems and essays published in Sunday Times Magazine from 2006 to 2007.
In his introduction to the collection, Ordoñez writes: ?We have a legacy of distinguished writing in English and a vibrant community of Filipino writers who are looked up to as contributors to the forging of a national conscience.?
?The Literary Life? is thus a profession of literary faith, the evidence of things unseen. It is faith in the Filipino writers? sense of the past, their calling to memory the lost and lingering threads our forebears have spun in the wind. It is faith in the enduring power of the Word, that when the Word speaks, there is light. It is faith in our own tradition of literature, which has been tried by the fires of time and times, and found to be more precious than perishable gold.
This coffer of remembrances and experiences offers candid and diverse views of humanity, in spite of the unevenness of the creative works in terms of content, style and length. A number of stories, despite their brevity, affect us, like the salt-scented embrace of the sea, or the chill of a twilight rain.
National Artist F. Sionil José?s ?Gangrene? is a beautifully moving story about a brief reunion between a father and his son in an army hospital in Sierra Madre. The father is a brain surgeon of the Philippine Army, while the son is affiliated with the insurgents. The boy lies dying in the hospital room after he has been captured and tortured.
The story?s strength rests in the simplicity and reticence of José?s language, reminiscent of Hemingway?s style. In saying little, the story touches deeply, and the readers imagine what is not said.
When the father mentions their old dog Bat has been ?dognapped? and perhaps been someone?s fare, the son replies: ?It was still meat... There were weeks we did not have meat at all. And when I was hungry, I dreamed of Mama?s paella and her special Sunday chicken curry...?
With astonishment, we feel a sudden lump in our throat. And this is just the beginning.
?Lights? by Rodolfo del Rosario Victoria follows the rounds of a player in a Vegas casino, where people lose all that they have and more. The protagonist is a Filipino migrant in the land of milk and honey, who attempts to support himself through college.
When he says to himself, ?But I want more. Goddamnit, I want more,? we know this piteous cry echoes those of the multitudes of Filipinos scattered to the four winds of the earth.
Quite a few stories dwell on the coming-of-age theme, including Maro Santaromana?s ?Mang Itoy,? Nasser Sharief?s ?A Suitable Boy in Dansalan,? and ?Dada? by Anthony Morli (aka Morli Dharam).
?Dada? is a fascinating portrait of a boy?s fearful efforts to stand up to his uncle, who has assumed the provider?s role in the family. Particular descriptions on the practices of the Indian minority community in the Philippines reinforce the theme and enrich the narrative.
Ordoñez?s ?End of an Era? recreates Manila before and during the onset of the Pacific War, through the eyes of a boy and his family.
It vividly revives and captures the spirit of a soon-to-be-forgotten epoch by its wealth of details, from street names (Echague, Azcarraga, Dewey) to music (?Hands Across the Sea,? ?Somewhere over the Rainbow,? ?Swanee River,? ?Roll out the Barrel?), from war weapons (Garands rifles, ac-ac guns) to such things as Lyric Theater, Shirley Temple, Andrew Sisters, Camilo Osias, Sunken Gardens, Flying Fortresses, air raids, open city. This story seems to be a prelude to a greater narrative of history and memory.
The other stories in the anthology are equally remarkable in evoking the intensities of the human heart and soul: Rony Diaz?s hilarious ?How I Found My Calling,? Jun Terra?s mind-stimulating ?Mishima Is Dead,? Lilia Ramos-de Leon?s disturbing ?Tattered Fragments of a Nightmare,? Susie Tan?s sensitively rendered ?The Gift.?
In the poetry section, Lina Sagaral Reyes? ?Tree Without Leaves? is a poignant play of leaf and leaving. Its musicality is a marvel to the expectant ear. Listen: ?How your leaving unleafed me. / Wide wide lakes of leaves, / The crackle of breaking / Underfoot.? Listen more: ?Know: as winds churn / The leaf-lakes below, / I stand / Rooting with the power / You knew / And named Nameless.?
Consider also these images and imaginings gathered from hither and thither: ?woman shorn / bald as the sun? (Tita Lacambra-Ayala); two lovers who are ?forked fire... in one embrace? (Virginia Moreno); an act of stroking the ?fighting cock? and ?a wild misalliance of feathers? (Alejandrino Hufana); a twin memory of ?sand and sea? (Andres Cristobal Cruz); or a maiden in ?a hot summer day? (Raul Ingles).
Aren?t these, as the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges has pointed out, ?things that are poetic by merely implying a destiny??
?The Literary Life? uncovers more gems from its strongbox, with short stories and tales from Pacifico Aprieto, Layloo Lagoon-Lily, Adrian Cristobal, Epifanio San Juan Jr., Albina Pecson-Fernandez, Dennis Aguinaldo, Azucena Grajo-Uranza, Mark Gerard Rivera; poems from Hilario Francia, Paolo Manalo, Gode Calleja, Santaromana, Mila Aguilar, National Artist José Garcia Villa, Gelacio Guillermo, Edel Garcellano; and essays from Moreno, Ramos-de Leon, Jesus Q. Cruz, Teresita Erestain, Grajo-Uranza, John Edwin Cowen, Aida Rivera Ford, Josephine Joan Edades, Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, Ordoñez, National Artist NVM Gonzalez, Ernesto Epistola, Tomas Talledo. Ah, an exceptional array of 40 wordwrights of Philippine traditions!
?The Literary Life,? stemming from its modest beginning in the literary supplement of Sunday Times Magazine, is a mustard seed that has grown into a tall tree in the garden. And the birds of the air came?and continue to come, weaving nests of wonder in its branches.
?The Literary Life? is available at Solidaridad Bookshop (tel. 5255038).