Saturday, May 12, 2012

Books for breakfast

May Nagsabi sa Akin, by Rofel Brion (This volume has poems (tula) and prose (tuluyan), but I talk only about the tula, not the tuluyan)

Interim Goddess of Love, by Mina V. Esguerra

It's been awhile since I returned to Rofel Brion's poetry, which I studied and wrote papers on, when I was in college. (I also studied under him.)  It is so very, very quiet, but it is poetry, a distinctive voice. I remember David Orr talking about Kay Ryan being so un-obviously ambitious in her shucking off all the obvious signifiers of ambition and greatness. Is Brion the same? I don't think so--no, perhaps not that kind of ambition here. Instead: A great love for place, and (for many of the poems are love poems, are actually prayers) love for God. Not that the author makes it his business to tell you this. Most of the poems merely describe some very secular scene, some everyday event. But you get the sense that it is actually talking about something completely other. No insight easily given here--one must read the collection to understand what's really at work here. I remember coming to this realization very early on in my study of Brion's work--which has always (at least to me) seemed like a relaxed Pinoy approximation of the koan (though the "relaxed" bit here is an effect, and I suspect the writing of it is more turbulent? difficult? than it seems).

If not ambition, what drives Brion's poetry? It seems, this: The desire to describe? capture? stay faithful? to the reality of quiet, wholeness, grace that is always not-the-self; what is almost lost, lost, and then what remains: trace, nostalgia, the husk of experience, of a moment past. Very interesting how the poems that are so earnest in their pursuit of quiet/grace/God are also so very sensual (unsettling, actually, in an interesting way). I also get the sense that the persona trying to describe/capture/stay faithful to the quiet/wholeness/grace of daily life in San Pablo is actually not so quiet, and is, in fact, may angas. Which, again, is an interesting though subtle tension running through the collection. And I like it that it is a bunny (kuneho) that acts as a sort of metonym for the persona, hopping its way around the poem. Not quite the cute and cuddly cartoon character we see in media, but a quiet, though untame creature. At one point, in the middle of the collection, it explicitly becomes the persona, but in a later poem, it is, once again, its own creature: It licks the persona's heel, and leaves him with a poem; that is, the moment-after that I keep re-reading over and over, trying to recover the prior moment already and forever irretrievably lost.

Some notes on the book, and the book launch (which I missed) here.


I enjoyed Mina V. Esguerra's Interim Goddess of Love, so much so that I can't wait for its sequel (it has a cliffhanger ending). How to describe the book? It's chick lit crossed with Pinoy mythology, in a college setting, the characters with mores that won't bother my more um, conservative (older) Asian friends who live in, um, Canada (you know who you are). Which is another way of saying, maybe the book will come off too "young" (no sex scenes here) for YA readers in the West, but there definitely is a market for this book here. The writing is young and fresh with a lot of style too. There was too little resolved in this first book, I think (this, I understand, is the first in a series), and so I am quite anxious to get to the next book. I'm completely invested.

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