I am supposed to address young people who are enamoured of poetry, or the craft thereof. This is difficult for me. I have always tried to steer clear of workshops and literary soirees. They have since become a cottage industry for enterprising academics. But when the invite was sent to me, I had to write down my thoughts as representative of the Creative Writing Center of PUP where now I lecture. Should I be gentle? I don’t want to be mistaken as a grumpy old man by young people who secretly wish to be famous or national artist in the future.
Of course, there is in our subconscious the desire to be recognized, to rise above the crowd, to be proclaimed a poet. The honour sounds majestic, but many have fallen by the wayside – they end up as advertising creatives who rake the money: they who claim to have written a poem or two; they who ended up as Ayala hotshots working up campaign slogans for the likes of Duterte, Cayetano, Marcos, Poe, Binay, et al.
Today being a poet is almost a scandalous proposition. There is state funding for the honour, pension & free burial at Libingan ng Bayani…
So how could you know if you have written a poem? Your mother would agree to the enterprise in the spirit of faith and maternal instinct.
But would you believe the accolade around you? That your aesthetics exude formal/ideological beauty?
There are books on how to write a poem, anyway.
But poetry is a savage God.
Right now, most of you are probably inclined to churn out something about the Kidapawan massacre where farmers were killed by state minions. You are probably itching to write/blog about it in the stereotypical militancy and compassion. Muster all the inexhaustible partisanship for the victims… (In the tradition of Markham’s Man with the Hoe)
But how would you write it?
From what point of view?
How would you see through the gambit
of spin masters in the Senate?
How can you not be suckered into thinking
that you must act beyond the finite of words?
Who would benefit from your choice?
The candidate who will rule with an iron fist?
The peasants who have been reorganized
to block the highway?
What is the task of the poet
who must plot out the narratives?
Can you rise above the fray
without cheap sentiments?
How will you probe the politics of your text?
Being a poet is not a breeze; words may even crack
the delicate crystal of truth…
In my time, I made so many enemies –
people who could have been friends:
There was this guy who used to be
a down-and-out activist.
He would later hook up with a plunderers
administration, become eventually its spokesman,
& finally an ambassador who wore
He’s gone now.
We could have been friends if not for my refusal
to grace a poetry reading hosted by a classy
Poetry reading is not a simple matter.
I was young then but had misgivings about my
poems: what after all would I say to
starry-eyed campus beauties?
In my ancient youth, when I entered UP,
the cultural tradition was real poets
are brooding manic depressives,
quick to slash their wrists and let the blood
drip, drip down…
It was scary, but was real.
The idea of a Ph.D. or master’s in
whatever is somewhat preposterous.
Poetry keeps you on the edge.
But today any young gun has
a Ph.D. from grants in American
university & flourishes in literary fest…
It seems too damned easy today.
There are many publishing houses
to release your secret poems…
Moreover I am told there are scars
on wrists of drug crazed poets,
wasting away in a nihilistic mode.
In an elite university, they even sent a poet
who writes in Filipino
to a university in America
which is somehow funny…
& I ask the young here –
how long would you toil
in the violet hours of
your young lives
to serve the savage God?
After all, poetry is a savage calling.