In recent years much of my explorations in literature has been confined primarily to prose. Novels, short stories, essays, polemics, philosophy, literary criticism, political economy, etc. I have come to neglect poetry.
This was not always the case.
I used to be enamored by poems. I remember leafing through Pablo Neruda (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) and an anthology from the Martial Law era (Kamao: Panitikan ng Protesta).
I even wrote not a few myself. But on hindsight, most of the poems I penned are mostly hackneyed outlets of puerile sentimentalism bereft of literary quality.
A crucial distinction marking poetry from other literary forms is its direct physicality in that it is not only meant to be read in silence but also said aloud. So we pay attention not only to the images and stories the words show and tell but also the actual sound the verses make.
In the past, my engagement with poetry merely revolved around the superficial stringing of words without any consideration of this crucial factor. Reading some of my old poems gives me a feeling of shame. Poetry, after all, while written stems directly from the oral tradition.
Yet these literary experiments were, nevertheless, expressive of my temperament at the time of their writing. I console myself with the thought that even the young Karl Marx had his own fair share of early poems that he would later on become very critical of (A bad comparison, of course, as I am no Marx).
The featuring of radical poets in recent films that I recently saw (Avtar Singh Pash in Sanjay Kak’s Red Ant Dream) or is planning to watch (Sison in the Dalena sisters’ The Guerrilla is a Poet and Eman Lacaba in Tikoy Aguiluz’s Eman) also played a role in this fascination with the verse.
In lieu of this rediscovery, I decided to overhaul my old reading plan and dedicate the last quarter of the year to reading poetry in the main. The following are some of the collections of poems that are with me and which will naturally be my starting point this October:
- Joi Barrios’ Ang Pagiging Babae ay Pamumuhay sa Panahon ng Digma,
- STR: Mga Tula ng Digmang Bayan sa Pilipinas (Poetry of People’s War in the Philippines),
- Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu (in English translation),
- Jose Ma. Sison’s Prison and Beyond: Selected Poems 1958-1983.
I will also read the poems by Chairman Mao, Axel Pinpin, Gelacio Guillermo, Amado Hernandez, Nazim Hikmet, Ho Chi Minh, Cesar Vallejo, and Mayamor, the Panay-based revolutionary artist, that I have with me.
The poems that I have been able to get my hands on for reading are mostly from the protest and revolutionary literary traditions, poems that seek to represent the plight of the working class and oppressed people as well as their aspirations and struggles to build a world without exploitation and oppression.
I have yet to secure the definitive poems of Roque Dalton in English translation and Jose Corazon De Jesus’ social realist poetry. Can anyone email copies or point me to where these can be found? Bertolt Brecht and Avtar Singh Pash’s poems are also of interest to me. Other recommendations are appreciated.
Of course, the books I’ve began reading already (Anna Karenina, Love and Capital, Philippine Cultural Disasters, From Marx to Mao Tse Tung) I will still continue to read. Also, next time I’ll try reading plays too (an even more neglected area in my literary explorations).