“Anong silbi ng makata?” (Is the poet useful to society?) This question was posed to a panel of poets in a literary session during the recent 61st Philippine PEN (Poets, Essayists & Novelists) Congress, held at the Silangan Hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Marne Kilates, a poet-translator, picked up the gauntlet. “May silbi ba? (Is he of any use),” he quipped. In a more serious vein, he observed: “The first obligation of the poet is to write well, to write good poetry (“mahusay na tula”). And if you want change you join an organization, you protest.”
For Ramil Gulle, the battleground is out there online, specifically Facebook (FB): “Pantikan.net has a ranking of close to 1.8 million—1,758,146—which is surprising. [National Artist for Literature] F. Sionil José has 2,500 followers, which is high for a writer. Malakas si Manong Frankie sa FB (José is influential in Facebook). So if you don’t have an FB get one, or get someone to do it for you. If you want to write for the nation, the nation is out there, in FB.”
Raymundo Pandan Jr., a poet-lawyer, lambasted the Duterte regime’s stand on the West Philippine Sea and extrajudicial killings, and said “a writer’s imagination must somehow find its way into the state’s imagination. We must go for the eternal verities; only then will our work survive.”
Junley Lazaga of Ilocandia spoke on the nuances and “configurations” of language, specifically Ilocano and Tagalog (Filipino). He read Ilocano poems in translation, dealing with internal migration, problems of the people in the countryside, and the search for livelihood.
That literary session was titled “Writing the Nation in Poetry.” Chair was Joselito de los Reyes. The next session, “Writing the Nation in Fiction,” was chaired by Eros Atalia. Speakers were Isidoro Cruz, Noelle de Jesus, Charmaine Lasar and Jose Rey Munsayac.
Cruz read the most hair-raising (literally) paper. He first spoke of the 1981 tragedy of the Manila Film Center at the CCP Complex, where construction workers were buried underneath because First Lady Imelda Marcos wanted the Manila International Film Festival to push through, at all costs. Then he tied it up with a Western Visayas literary workshop attended by the region’s leading poets and fictionists.
The invisible owners of the building were disturbed by the noise of the young participants. Knocks on the door with no one there. Screaming and moaning. Leoncio Deriado said he saw Peque Gallaga, another Western Visayan, but was told he was seeing things or something to that effect, because the director was not there.
To sum up, Cruz said: “The Marcoses are back, the ghost of martial law is coming back. The Film Center refuses to die. The ghosts refuse to move on, they are on our side!”
Chairmaine Lasar spoke on the most followed reading and writing platform for the youth online, Wattpad, where 400 million stories are shared. The young writers are making a killing, although they are unaware of their rights as copywright owners. The quality of the stories need to be improved: “These could be stepping stones to studying creative writing, say, in University of Santo Tomas or Polytechnic University of the Philippines, so they can continue the work of our respected writers today.” –CONTRIBUTED