Category Archives: Mga Tula / Poetry

My Middle Name is My Mother’s Surname. No, Her Father’s!

sol plaatje iii in my hands low res

I finally have in my hands my contributor’s copy of The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Volume III! Took some time due to the mysterious appearance of a black hole, but what matters is that it has arrived intact ahead of the Cape Town launch in early December.

silent wing low res

I feel lucky to be in this anthology despite sending my three poems in at the last minute. The poems, “Silent Wing,” “Human Patience,” and “Exit Music for the Disappeared,” are part of a nine-poem cycle called Endings are Beginnings which is the last section of my manuscript in progress, Sky for Silent Wings. I just wish my middle name – which is really my mother’s surname… no, wait, her father’s surname! – had not been left out altogether… well, not entirely. I see it in the biographical notes!

human patience and exit music for the disappeared low res

I’m not complaining, not at all. Just a niggle, really. :)

Thank you to Liesl Jobson and all the judges. Maybe next year I’ll be even luckier. Hahaha! Keep dreaming, Jim Pascual Agustin!


My country of birth is still reeling from the devastation of Haiyan/Yolanda. There is no forgetting how this tragedy has ruined so many lives. And yet human kindness and generosity shine through despite the petty politics of various parties (media, politicians, and individuals armed with keyboards). I am thankful for those who continue to help in countless ways the survivors, and all those who see beyond this catastrophe, those who seek new ways of lessening the blows of climate change. The human family can come together, I believe. This I say in a world where often there seems so little to believe in, to hope for. Yet we continue to surprise one another. We are never alone.


Paper, Water, Air, Alien Hands

My mother taught me how to make paper boats. Newspaper was not the best material to use, for water moves fast on its skin, further darkening the printed words. But newspaper was what I was allowed to fold and tear. What is a boat if it never runs on water? A round basin of water is no more than a cage. So making paper boats meant waiting for rain. Or setting your fragile boat on rushing open drains – water that spurted from neighborhood pipes, dragging bits of rice, fish bone, sometimes other stuff that I’d rather not mention. I was young and only what flowed mattered.

I never thought I’d be writing one day. My hands look like they were meant to do something else, hold a scythe or a hammer, tear down old buildings or mix cement. I have the hands of someone who might till the land. Yet I don’t. I write as if it was something like air for me. If I don’t write I know I am slowly dying – the kind that starts from inside, and no one else can see or sense until all limbs hang without a single beating vein.

jim with sbw smile 2

Now this. After more than a full month in various dark places (sorting boxes, airplane cargo bays, conveyor belts running through metal tunnels, etc) and being handled by strangers who may never hear of me or read a single word I write, the only copy in Africa (yes! the only one! for now!) of my new poetry book in English (the language of one of my former colonial masters) Sound Before Water felt young and weary when I finally held it in my hands yesterday. That sentence was intentionally long and tedious to reflect the journey. Or just to test the patience of the reader. :)

stella and other friendly ghosts low res

A very good friend, the poet Emmanuel Q. Velasco, sent Sound Before Water by post along with a copy of Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo’s book of essays, Stella and Other Friendly Ghosts and the various documents from the National Book Awards last year. I was thankful that my collection in Filipino was a finalist, but was also sad at the same time that the English collection was not even nominated.

My new book joins Alien to Any Skin and Baha-bahagdang Karupukan in their search for readers who might find my words on paper worth keeping. One more paper child is due to meet the world soon. We always hope for the best for our children.

close up of sbw and alien

Here is the Goodreads LINK to Sound Before Water.

My Poems Greet Readers First!

The slightly delayed release of New Coin’s first issue for 2013 finally arrived in my postbox the other day and I was ecstatic to see my poems featured so prominently. :)  No, it wasn’t just because my surname starts with “A” – I had that thought for a moment, too, upon opening the journal.

New Coin June 2013 cover

Here is a link about the current editor and what he says of the issue: Vonani Bila.

New Coin june 2013 contents page

Subscribe to NEW COIN. Why? Because you get to read amazing poetry from South Africa! I’ve been informed that my work has also been accepted for the December 2013 issue… (Jim does a silly dance). This means I have better chances of winning the DALRO Award again hahahaha – yeah, keep wishing, Jim!

New Coin DALRO PRIZE judge's report

Here’s one of my poems in the June 2013 issue… one of four poems.

New Coin june 2013 HOOKS AND FEATHERS

Subscribe and you get to read all four and a whole lot of other great poetry from South Africa! More great news to come in the next few days/weeks, so please keep visiting this little blog. Better yet, make me happy and consider purchasing my books from UST PUBLISHING HOUSE:

Sound Before Water

Alien to Any Skin

Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (shortlisted for the National Book Award)

and forthcoming … Kalmot ng Pusa sa Tagiliran

… end of self-promotion. Please move toward the EXIT in an orderly fashion. :P

Now I can Share This News: The DALRO New Coin Prize

village potter close up

This news came as a welcome surprise after many years of writing and trying to put my work out there. Despite having published five books of poetry, and a sixth on its way to the printers hopefully before the end of October 2013, I have never really won a major award in my country of birth for this art. The closest one was when my book of poetry in Filipino, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan, was shortlisted for the National Book Award.

Last month I received an email informing me that I had won some prize I’d never even heard of, for a poem that, until then, I didn’t know had been accepted for publication back in 2012. I remember sending a few poems to New Coin late in 2011, but since I never heard from the editor, let alone saw a copy of the issue, I had simply forgotten about it. That poem, “Village Potter’s Wife,” found a home in my collection Alien to Any Skin.

Bjork’s song “All is Full of Love” insists on keeping a sense of hope that someone worth sharing what you have to offer will one day come around. Maybe you’re just not looking in the right direction.

The big news then, which came days before another milestone for me (that’s another story for another post), can now be shared.

DALRO New Coin prize winners announced

The winners of the DALRO New Coin Prize, awarded for the best poems that appeared in the literary journal New Coin, have been announced. Genna Gardini took first prize with her poem “The Pot”, while Jim Pascual Agustin’s “Village Potter’s Wife” came second and Megan Tennant’s “On a June day that I spent on the beach with two children” was awarded third prize.




Colleen Higgs was the judge and had this to say:

“Village Potter’s Wife” is a short, striking poem, full of painful contrasts. At the heart of the poem is the joyful creation of pots, measured against death, destruction, grinding poverty. The poet manages to say a great deal about the life of this woman in three quick brush strokes, and to evoke deep sorrow and loss in this reader.


Official Announcement of the release of SOUND BEFORE WATER

“Sound Before Water” (Poetry)
by Jim Pascual Agustin
UST Publishing House, 2013
P 250.00 (send order inquiries to

* * *From the back cover:
“Sound Before Water’ is a carefully thought-out collection, with Jim Pascual Agustin clustering the poems around five poetic markers that suggest different ways into the labyrinth of memory, while keeping their bearings in the phenomenal world of things and names. As part of the literature of the Filipino Diaspora, this collection gives valuable insights on the chosen South African milieu of the poet, as well as his global perspective. Faithful to his craft for more than 25 years now, Agustin shows the gift of his lyric imagination, which roots us in each poem’s rhythms and resonances.”- Marjorie Evasco
“There’s a rhythm to these poems that didn’t take long–took only a few poems, that is–to get to me. Not so much the rhythm of the words and the lines as it is of feelings and ideas and the images that are their correlatives.”

- Cesar Ruiz Aquino
“Reading Jim Pascual Agustin’s English poems is like treading on ground littered with watusi firecrackers. Every piece is cramful of surprises, the rhythmically fragmented lines crackling at every step, without knowing why they are there, we stumble on, and every step of the way we are startled by the exploding light, and we are blinded by the many moments of marvel that the poet has laid out for his readers. The collection invites us to exclaim, My God, Mr. Agustin, where did you learn to poeticize this way? Overnight, in my book, you have mounted the stage of Filipino poetry in English, and on it you stand tall as an artist.”

- Bienvenido Lumbera


sound before water final cover from ust facebook page

Syrian Dawn

blue before dawn’s breath
stillness past sleep, past waking
man plays god again




Here is a LINK to a previous post where I offer a free set of poems for anyone interested.

Thinking out loud, wishing softly: an open letter

In the past few weeks, I have no idea how or why, I gained a number of new followers to this little blog. Some look like legitimate poetry lovers, others probably liked a single post they found at random and decided to follow what I write anyway. Whatever each reader’s reasons may be, I would like to say THANK YOU. I hope to one day hear from you.

A bit of looking back, looking forward now.

My first book of poetry, Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil Publishing, 1992), came out two years after I graduated from university. The book was one of the first in that publisher’s series of titles which appeared with, literally, back-to-back authors. Each poet had his/her own front cover. You had to flip the book to read the other. Romulo Baquiran, Jr’s Filipino poetry appeared with mine.

Two years later came Salimbayan (Publikasyong Sipat, 1994) a poetry book which I shared with two good friends, Argee Guevarra and Neal Imperial.

After a long gap, two books came out at the same time in 2011 (I had already been living in South Africa since October 1994). University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, with Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo at the helm, launched Alien to Any Skin and Baha-bahagdang Karupukan. As far as I know, no other Filipino poet has published two poetry books in two languages (not just translations of the same set of poems) at the same time. It was a great year.

This year, if all goes as planned, that is bound to be repeated with the publication of Sound Before Water (by end of August or early September) and Kalmot ng Pusa sa Tagiliran (September or October). I believe I have found my ideal publisher in UST Publishing House. The care they showed to both author and book has impressed me to such an extent that I find it unimaginable not giving them first look at future manuscripts.

There are plans to eventually put these titles out on digital format. I am hoping to convince them somehow that it will be worth their while to do that sooner rather than later. I want to ask them to take a leap with my poetry books – to begin with, the two titles in English (Alien to Any Skin and Sound Before Water) – and make them accessible to possible readers (buyers!) outside of the Philippines.

This is me hoping against hope that a small wish will be heard by the few followers of this blog. But one can’t just expect kindness and support out of thin air, one has to offer something. Here goes.

I’m busy putting together two new poetry manuscripts in English. One of them (tentatively called Sky for Silent Wings) has a section called “Endings are Beginnings” which contains a nine-poem cycle I am very proud of. I will send you the whole section if you send me a request in the form of a comment to this post. Your message should have your email address – which I promise not to make public – to which I shall send the file. If, after reading the poems, you think my poetry deserves to reach a wider audience, then please return to this post and show your support.

There is no obligation for you to buy my books – in print or future digital format. Although doing so would obviously make my publisher happy to continue supporting my work.

Is this too much to ask? :) I wish to thank you in advance.


endings are beginnings cover page

And for those who may want to see some of my poems which appeared in ALIEN TO ANY SKIN, a number of them are featured in The Houseboat.


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