Sunday, July 17, 2016

Influences

Art by Sean Eidder

A trip to the bookstore during my high school years entailed a good stretch of time hunching over a shelf at the poetry section. Not because I enjoyed reading poems but because I didn’t know how to.

My long-standing love affair with poetry began as how love affairs often do: visually and with a dose of ignorance. That the lines didn’t reach the other end of the margin made me think of the poet as a rebel, defying the rules of writing we were taught to venerate. More so when I saw text arranged in unusual ways, whether syntactically or spatially on the page.

“Why cut a phrase in specific places?” I would ask myself. “How are these decisions made?” When William Carlos Williams declared, “so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow,” why had he not plainly put it in a straight line but instead delivered it as such: “so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow”? And, while at it, where were the punctuation marks and what the hell were these things that were so dependent upon a red — not blue or white or green — wheelbarrow?

There was something about this strange order and sparseness that made me want to dive deeper both into the words and into the spaces between and around them. The poem, though it may not fill up the paper, can make it weigh more than any novel out there. A few English composition and World Literature classes later, I had a glimpse of the poem’s inner workings and, armed with new knowledge plus my friends’ and professors’ recommended titles, the trip to the bookstores (and the library, of course) became occasions to look forward to.

Somewhere, somehow, another curious but confused reader may not know where to start. I’d be the first to say I’m no expert to make a definitive guide, but here are verses from the poems that unlocked in me a passion for the craft when I first read them (and they’re best read out loud). Ezra Pound famously says literature is “news that stays news.” Each time I recall these poems (as I do now), the same sensations run through me: the shock of recognition, the rush of current in my body, and the tinge of envy right after (Wish I wrote that—).

1.

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.

— “Like This” by Rumi (Book: The Essential Rumi)

2.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

— “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop (Book: The Complete Poems 1927-1979)

3.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

— “Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (Book: Collected Poems)

4.

Kung ibig mo akong kilalanin,
Sisirin mo ako hanggang buto,
Liparin mo ako hanggang utak,
Umilanglang ka hanggang kaluluwa—
Hubad ako room mula ulo hanggang paa.

— “Kung Ibig Mo Akong Makilala” by Elynia S. Mabanglo (Book: Mesa Para sa Isa)

5.

Akala ko, para nang piyanong
Nasusian ang iyong kalooban
At naihagis ang susi kung saan,
Hindi na matitipa ng sino at alinman
Ang mga tekladong tuklap, naninilaw.

— “Akala Ko” by Rolando S. Tinio (Book: A Trick of Mirrors)

6.

Six planets in her horoscope
augur well for this, her tryst:
in her hand, a glass of vin de table
(a steal at the local supermart),
her head befuddled by hope
and love, preferably a la carte.

— “Ms. Lulu Syntax at the Sexual Oyster Cafe” by Eric Gamalinda (Book: Lyrics from a Dead Language)

7.

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.

— “Vers de Société” by Philip Larkin (Book: High Windows)

8.

So much of the city
is our bodies. Places in us
old light still slants through to.
Places that no longer exist but are full of feeling,
like phantom limbs.
Even the city carries ruins in its heart.
Longs to be touched in places
only it remembers.

— “Phantom Limbs” by Anne Michaels (Book: The Weight of Oranges / Miner’s Pond)

9.

[…] He
“gives his opinion and then rests on it”;
he renders service when there is
no reward, and is too reclusive for
some things to seem to touch
him, not because he
has no feeling but because he has so much.

— “The Student” by Marianne Moore (Book: Complete Poems)

10.

we’re anything brighter than even the sun
(we’re everything greater
than books
might mean)
we’re everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
leap
alive we’re alive)
we’re wonderful one times one

— “if everything happens that can’t be done” by E.E. Cummings (Book: One Times One)

11.

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms—
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.
He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

— “The love that dares to speak its name” by James Kirkup (Published in Gay News in 1976)

12.

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

— “Some trees” by John Ashbery (Book: Some Trees)

13.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

— “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens (Book: The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens)

—Originally published on GIST

Saturday, July 9, 2016

I love your work so, so much

After years of underlining bits of text I deem too beautiful to forget from whatever reading material I get my hands on, this particular year proves the utility of the practice.

The internet and the nature of my job increase the likelihood of me interacting with people whose works I admire. Visual artists, musicians, writers. Just last week, I probably had the biggest small exchange of my life.

I posted Alice Fulton's 'What I like' on my Twitter, and she thanked me — and even said my name [EXCLAMATION POINT]



So I had to say something in return, it was my chance to, not out of the blue, tell her what I've always wanted to tell her, how brilliant I think she is, but of course in a very dignified manner. And, but, all I came up with was:



Since then this passage about what we truly mean when we say we love an artwork, that we think it's beautiful, was floating in my head. I knew I've highlighted that in one of those theory books and I knew it was either Ann Lauterbach or another female writer (Anais Nin, maybe; or Jeanette Winterson; hardly Sontag, coz I remember the prose being very lyrical and, um, kind). So I picked up 'The night sky' and saw that it was mildly annotated.

But there it was. What a pleasure to know exactly what you're looking for and then finding it, and then finding out you're getting more than what you expected. Rereading the lines plus the entire argument behind it lent me a new clarity.

A young poet friend remarks, "The divine part of humanity is its capacity to see the interconnectedness between all things. To be that interconnectedness." If this is so, then the Divinity we wish to resemble is testing us in subtle new ways, asking us to worship at the Temple of Information, whose Disembodied Oracular Source (who is speaking?) is lost in a thousand transcripts flying through the stratosphere, like pixilated ghosts, each with its particle of fact. To see connections in this, to find in it the syntax of the heart, to invent compelling stories and stunning images: to impose on this astounding influx form?

Form, after all, is chosen limits.

Limit, as a formal characteristic, is the expression of choice in the service of the possible.

The possible is the indeterminate futurity of meaning.

Form posits the optimum conditions for meaning to occur.

. . . .

When limits, or choices, are displayed in the service of the possiblity of meaning, in the making of art objects, we call the result beautiful. That is, we stand before a painting by Vermeer, or we read a poem by Paul Celan, or we listen to Shostakovich's Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues for piano, and we say this is beautiful. But what we are really announcing is our pleasure and gratitude in the fact of the choices the artist has made [emphasis mine]. We recognize something in how one stroke of the brush brushes up against another stroke of the brush; how one note moves toward and away from the next in an astounding sequence; how one word attaches itself to another and to another and to another until something that has to do with all the words separately—the history of their meaning—gathers into a nexus which allows us, which invites us, to experience something like the meaning of meaning.

. . . .

Art is not entertainment, and it is not decor. It is one of the rude fallacies of our time to want to reduce all art forms, and in particular literary arts, to their most facile and elemental role, and so deny their potential to awaken, provoke, and elicit our glee at being agents in the construction of meaning.

So the next time I meet one of my creative heroes, I'll show my appreciation by slapping them with Ann Lauterbach's 'The night sky'. Kidding. Will tell them, Thank you for making these creative decisions.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Keep creating

There is a scene in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood where divorcée Olivia tells her college-bound son Mason that it is the worst day of her life. Asked why, she replies, “You know what I’m realizing? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones — getting married, having kids, getting divorced… getting my masters degree, finally getting the job I wanted, sending Samantha off to college, sending you off to college. You know what’s next? It’s my fucking funeral! Just go and leave my picture!” Confused, Mason tells her she’s jumping way ahead, to which she answers back with resignation: “I just thought there would be more.”

This scene hits a chord and resonates with me until now, for it highlights my suspicions about success — our definitions of it (an accumulation of goals being one) and if it, as we seem to believe, enables happiness. Because I’ve been there and heard the same confession from others: getting what you want and still feel lacking.

What I do know is when people recall their happy stories and assert their identity, they rarely speak of “getting” but rather of “doing.” At least this job reveals to me as much. Interviewing artists, writers, and musicians — picking their brains about their craft — affirms the pleasures of creation (an occasion to be truly in-the-moment). It’s the one constant source of joy for them.

—Full story on GIST.PH

Sunday, July 3, 2016

'You're a man'

And of all the capitulations in his life, this was the one that seemed most like a victory. Never before had elation welled more powerfully inside him; never had beauty grown more purely out of truth; never in taking his wife had he tirumphed more completely over time and space. The past could dissolve at his will and so could the future; so could the walls of this house and the whole imprisioning wasteland beyond it, towns and trees. He had taken command of the universe because he was a man, and because the marvelous creature who opened and moved for him, tender and strong, was a woman.

—Richard Yates. Revolutionary Road. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2008.

I like stories where I can relate with all the characters. I am both Frank and April. I am even Maureen.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gateway theater

I.

On the car ride home, right after watching a stage production of Green Day’s American Idiot, I thought of cats — the musical: on the one hand lambasted for its nonsense, if non-existent plot and sheer silliness (cats dancing and singing and fighting for a place in The Heavyside what?); and on the other hand loved by many, including me, for the playful poetry set to catchy tunes that can put today’s Top 40 to shame. American Idiot is quite the same: it’s less of a musical; more of a musical event.

Where the two shows dissociate is in tone, setting, intention, and everything else. The former is built in a fantastical world where you’re invited to have fun, while the latter is anchored in real life, in the now, and asks that you take it seriously.

Right off the bat it makes a statement. News reels and advertising clips flash on TV screens. The cast open their mouths and express aversion: “Don’t wanna be an American idiot.” Then we’re acquainted with lead characters Johnny, Will, and Tunny, who seem to be in their late 20s and are frustrated with the state of the nation, as well as their own lives, that they opt to leave for another city. Because maybe things will be better from thereon.


The first 15 minutes of American Idiot set up an expectation for a riveting story, as if telling the audience, Listen, we will discuss important matters — the personal, the political, love and war — it will be visceral. When Johnny and Tunny (Will has to stay behind after learning his girlfriend is pregnant) take the bus ride to The City, we hop along. But once they alight, their stories proceed in unclear directions, and we’re lost.

This gap in narration — or perhaps finding out in the end that it’s a simplistic narrative we’re following after all — weakens the emotional parts of the performances. Storytelling-wise, the characters haven’t gone through enough to earn their anger. It’s up to the actors, the creative team, and Green Day’s music to elicit sympathy from the audience.

II.

Theater advocates in the past few years have been on a crusade to develop the theater community — to produce diverse and quality shows, establish new outfits, and most of all attract more theater-goers. 9 Works Theatrical and Globe try a different approach by bringing theater to the people. The two companies are staging American Idiot to christen the Globe Iconic Store at Bonificaio High Street in Taguig City and showcase the strengths of the venue — huge HD billboards, impeccable sound and light systems, and accessibility.

The Globe Iconic Store is right at the BHS Amphitheater, flanked by rows of stores and restaurants. As an open area, passers-by and non-ticket holders can catch the show — something that both 9 Works Theatrical and Globe encourage. Because the goal is to engage the unengaged and keep them hooked. The ambition recalls the concept of gateways in popular culture (gateway bands, book gateways): that which lured you into diving into the unknown.

Despite its shortcomings, American Idiot is the piece that can do the job for theater. Who wouldn’t stop upon hearing the impassioned drum beats of Are we the waiting? And linger because even though it’s been overplayed on the radio (and over-memed on the internet), they’d like to hear Wake me up when September ends once more. I won’t dare call it an attempt at nostalgia, for that’s a cheap trick and American Idiot is not pulling it. Instead, the show reminds everyone the genius of Green Day.

To listen to the band’s music is to ride a horse on a run: it’s fast, proud, and wild; but somehow you know you won’t fall and you’ll gladly go wherever it goes. Where it slows down and gaits, it proves that punk rock is no stranger to elegant melody — something that the stage adaptation has successfully brought out.

The different voices and arrangements reveal a whole new dimension to the Green Day songs. It must help that the cast is composed of professional actors and musicians. Wolfgang frontman Basti Artadi fit the bill as the charismatic but dangerous St. Jimmy, the alter-ego of Johnny (played by former Rivermaya frontman Jason Fernandez). Also in the mix is Chicosci lead vocalist Miggy Chavez, who plays Will and sings with clarity and pathos.

A clear standout, though, is Yanah Laurel, who — and I will be crucified for this — steals the rockstar crown from Artadi. With her voice and stage presence, she powers through the loud instruments and cacophony of lights. When she inquires, “Where have all the bastards gone?” you feel like scrambling for answers.


III.

Before the show started, Globe presented a short film communicating its foray into live entertainment. Sounds blasted, digital images swim in the billboard screens on each side of the stage, and laser lights danced in the dark (did I just describe the last EDM party you attended?). All this technology was employed in American Idiot.

The mood was festive and for a time I was convinced that I was in fact watching a concert; and that’s enough to keep someone like me arrested. Director Robbie Guevara and the actors admit that performing outdoors — exposed to the elements and a hesitant crowd — is a challenge. But they’re on a mission to win audiences and they won’t have it any other way.

If there’s one thing 9 Works Theatrical and Globe are truly pioneering in this production, it’s undermining the snobbishness associated with theater. Here, theater is just among the visitors’ many distractions, outright competing for attention. It’s funny when you think about it, but that’s the reality, and we can rest easy knowing how distractions can escalate into passions.

—Originally published on GIST.PH