Hello, busy days: family reunions (my balikbayan cousins and relatives from Cebu are here), work, and weekend jaunts with friends. But I say to myself (or is the right verb convince?): Not to worry, there’s still time to read! I’ve been dividing my QT among Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, and Anais Nin’s Little Birds. It ain’t easy babe, but luckily, reading short story collection-novel-short story collection combo works for me.
Good thing I also managed to finish Sir Krip Yuson’s The Word On Paradise Essays 1991-2000 On Writers And Writing last Saturday. I read it in one sitting. I made sure I’d wake up really early that day and allot the entire morning for this gem of a collection.
You don’t casually throw words like gem of a collection, but know that I’m a fan of Philippine literature, and this book, containing 75 pieces on Philippine contemporary lit, is my own idea of a goldmine. Sir Krip provides us a sneak peek into what goes on when all the renowned Pinoy fictionists and poets get together for beer and karaoke. He tells us more about his comrade, Nick Joaquin. He narrates the highlights of the Palanca awards nights, a couple of book launches, poetry readings, Writers’ Weekend, a starry event in Philippine lit—NVM, Nick Joaquin, Franz Arcellana and F Sionil Jose together in a resort in Pangasinan! There are also book reviews and tributes thrown in. And this I love: his stories about his yearly visits to Dumaguete for the workshop.
From “Dumaguete Diary,” a recollection of the 1991 National Writers Workshop:
We dissect a poem or story: content and form, meaning and shape. Invariably there is weak or ungainly language that has to be pointed out. Lapses in grammar, even. Cliches, failures of realization, ineffective tone, damaged diction, paucity of imagery, shallowness or absence of insight, surfeit of trite abstractions, generalizations, overstating, defective structure. At worst, a hopeless concept.
We try to be gentle. At least this present company tries to be gentle. No one among us believes that a panelist in a writers’ workshop has to be harsh and cruel, or be devastatingly witty at the expense of a young person’s ego, or play that game of pataasan ng ihi among ourselves and be utterly dismissive.
Edith sees the young writer in his/her best light. Words of wisdom and passion flow generously from her mouth. Merlie expounds on all possible interpretations of content, no matter how rough or raw the work. I trend to focus on technique, nitpick line by line when something’s worth salvaging, without forgetting to appeal for their understanding that this is how I see it, they can take it or leave it, the commentary and suggestions. And Cesar orates eloquently on parallels and evocations, quoting from unknown 17th-century poets to ram his point of magic home.
From “The Mother of All Workshops” (On the 2000 National Writers Workshop)
It never fails to amaze me, for one, that I can still scribble down quotable quotes bandied about from the vantage point of the paneling table. To wit, from Mom Edith: “Poetry should be written metaphorically. It should be couched in metaphor. Poetry suggests, evokes. Get a core situation, get a core image; then provide a metaphorical frame.”
Even the academic-sounding phraseology turns into keepsakes of another summer in Dumaguete.
From Edith (Tiempo): “A poetic reverberation in the images… the objective correlative of the mind in the art of the recollection… the evocation of depth in Robert Frost’s ‘Bereft’… the play of sensitivities… the inert inspired!”
From Ophie (Dimalanta): “We should be responsible denotatively… Mark the tension between the metaphorical line and the discursive line… the line donnee, the topic sentence… the privileged addressee…”
From Jimmy (Abad): “Line by line, the effect on the reader is mystification… the Holy Writ is an archaism… from denotation to denotation, make a leap!”
From Sawi (Aquino): “No central moment… the fallacy of the expressive form… As Nietzche said, ‘We still cannot discard the idea of God because we believe in grammar’…”
(Note that the selected passages pertain to the craft. Twas a deliberate decision. Hahaha.)
Like Sir Krip’s other writings, The Word On Paradise pulsates with life, his signature energetic prose lending literature its needed oomph. What makes the collection even more special are the classic photos in the gallery, one of them the old-school pic of the first batch of Silliman University National Writers Workshop fellows back in 1962!
I fully agree with what Sir Krip says in the book’s intro: “This book can be held up as a testimonial word of encouragement for all those who can only wish the best for Philippine literature. To those who may wish to join in the exercise of its continuing enhancement, welcome to a sort of paradise.” Mabuhay ka, Sir. I’m crossing my fingers for a 2001-2010 collection.