Monthly Archives: October 2011

A line posted in a discussion board some time ago

I write what interests me. What bothers me. What won’t let go even if I try to shake it off.


Four Filipino poems of mine which I translated to English have been published in the most recent issue of Modern Poetry in Translation: The Dialect of the Tribe (Issue 3 Number 16). One of the poems, “Galing Ingglatera” / “From England,” appears in Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (UST Publishing House 2011). Two poems are from previous books. “Aso sa Tabi” / “Pet” is from Beneath an Angry Star (Anvil 1992) and “Siglo” / “Century” from Salimbayan (Publikasyong Sipat 1994) while the last one, “Ngayong Gabi” / “This Evening” has never seen print.

I am looking forward to receiving my copy of this amazing anthology in the post. Perhaps I’ve found a new audience for my work? 🙂

Here is a snippet from the issue’s editorial:

A language must evolve or die, all its speakers may contribute to its life. And every speaking voice of a language is unique, every person’s speech is an ideolect, every poet’s language is as distinguishable as his or her DNA. Translating a poem, you mix your own voice with the poet’s. Thus doubly flighted, poems pass over the frontiers like seeds.

Strangling the Whistleblower

From a Guardian Online article:


WikiLeaks could be driven out of existence by the new year if it is unable to challenge a financial blockade by banks and credit card companies including Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, the website’s founder Julian Assange has said.

Announcing a “temporary suspension” of the whistleblowing website’s publishing activities, Assange said the site had been deprived of 95% of its revenue by the “dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic” blockade, and now needed to direct its energy purely into “aggressive fundraising” to fight for the organisation’s survival.

“This financial blockade is an existential threat to WikiLeaks. If the blockade is not borne down by the end of the year the organisation cannot continue its work,” Assange told a news conference in central London.

The announcement is the most open acknowledgement of the site’s perilous financial situation since a clutch of financial operators blocked donations in the days after its publication of leaked US embassy cables in November last year.


The gang of financial institutions – Paypal, Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America, Western Union and Post Finance – that have refused to take donations for Wikileaks since November last year must be laughing in their golden cages.



Departure 1

I posted the following on my facebook account. Then I thought, hey, I should really put this on my blog. haha.  So here.


I just remembered. I boarded a Singapore Airlines plane on 22 October 1994 – the day after a powerful storm struck Manila. I walked around Ateneo and saw massive acacia trees with their roots pointing skyward, branches and leaves on all the roads. I was trying to say goodbye to whoever I might come across, but not many. Mostly maintenance workers. I said goodbye to Mang Jaime, the caretaker of Colayco Hall. I told him I was leaving for South Africa. He said “Aren’t there black people there?” 🙂


That was my first international flight. I was given shrimp. I remember nearly throwing up as our plane went through one of the last whipping arms of the typhoon that had struck Manila. Lucky me. My ass was being kicked on my way out.

The plane let us off at Singapore Airport. I was terrified to be so alone, and the possibility of missing the connecting flight to Johannesburg and Cape Town. So I went off in search of the next terminal and sat there for four hours. There were half a dozen other Filipinos milling around the spot. It was also their first flight out of the country, to work for at least two years on a contract. I wished them well. They were all headed for Johannesburg.

A Fragile World – Philippine Daily Inquirer review of BAHA-BAHAGDANG KARUPUKAN

A Fragile World, a review of Jim Pascual Agustin’s Baha-bahagdang Karupukan
by Gary Devilles, 26 September 2011 Philippine Daily Inquirer

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believes that true existence is achieved only by reckoning with one’s intensity of feelings and in Jim Pascual Agustin’s latest collection of poetry in Filipino, Baha-bahagdang Karupukan, not only do we encounter such forceful emotions, but we see an intimation of this sustained struggle to transcend oneself, where the infinite merges with the finite and the universe is incarnated within.

The poem “Kristal na Holen” which serves as the book’s prologue demonstrates how such transcendence is achieved by comprehending one’s limited sense experience and through which one is able to grasp, albeit partly, this otherworldly moment. In the poem we see our world refracted from the prism of the play marbles and despite the violence of smashing the marble on the floor we are summoned to listen to a reverberation which can only be a pulse or heartbeat and yet as archaic as man’s existence in this world. The poem ends with these haunting lines:

May ningning. At ngayon may mga
nakatingin. Ginagagap ang anino ng anino,
alingawngaw ng alingawngaw. May awit daw.  

There’s a glittering. And now there are
people looking. Trying to grasp the shadow of a shadow,
echo of an echo. Apparently, a song.

The marble is not just a plaything after all, it is the world as seen from a child’s point of view and in this poem our fragmented world becomes suffused with songs and possibilities, experiences are intensified as colors break in thousand hues. Agustin uses the child’s innocence motifs in most of his works not just to be romantic but to elucidate on how we stand in relation to the cosmos, on how we are somehow ironically childlike, quite helpless and still struggling to find some answers.

In “Bagyo,” we find similar theme of naiveté, the children’s victimization, and the attempt to transcend the moment into a perspective. We find the force of nature sparing no one and the children in school, not knowing what is going on, become helpless against the storm ruining their classroom. The final image of an ajar door clinched the precise sentiment and becomes the objective correlative of the tremble and fear we feel in the poem:

ng putik ang mga eskinita
papalapit sa aming
pintuang napanganga

rushing mud
takes over side streets
slithers and hisses
closer to our
gaping door

Agustin as an impassioned poet able to conjure these passionate everyday scenes, is quite adept in handling images and he is also successful in “Kapiling ang Gagambang Agiw,” where the world of the child is likened to the world of spiders. As the children play hide and seek, the spider tries to conceal itself by its meticulous weaving of web and in the end what is seemingly an innocent play or game becomes an artifice, an intricate design, and the art of discovery and the mystery of revelation.

Other than transcending the world of the child, Agustin invokes a transcendence of space. In “Hawla sa Magdamag” we see the persona imprisoned temporarily by his dreams and yet the boundary between the waking world and the unconscious is reedy and whatever dream images are summoned can only come from dread reality:

maalimpungatan ako
sa kaluskos ng kumakaripas na ipis
at pukpukan ng mga sapaterong kapitbahay
…Matigas ang unan
manipis ang kumot,
hindi mapinid ang bintana
…manipis na dingding

the sounds of a cockroah
scuttling away
and the hammering
of shoemakers next door
rouse me from slumber
…the pillow is stiff,
the blanket thin,
the window is stuck open
…the wall flimsy

Agustin as a poet of space articulates the alienation of being in another country. In “Kalawakang Binabagtas” we see how the persona, distraught by separation with his loved one, is lost by the different time zones of countries and yet it is precisely this difference in time and space that the persona attempts to reconcile by recognizing not just hours, but memorable years that have spanned between him and the loved ones he left behind. Agustin has always a sense of scale and what is seemingly small and insignificant takes on a magnitude and the overwhelming scene is dwarfed into a perspective. In “Balita” we see how Agustin crafted “nationness” or the persona’s sense of nationhood within five lines of news report and use these very lines to invoke the overpowering image of devastation that happened in his country. Irony is quite strong in Agustin’s poems and in “Dayuhan,” we see a more assertive persona who claims his private space as his birthright, believing that nature knows no race or country:

At maglalakad ako sa dalampasigan
dadamhin ang sagpang
ng init at lamig.
Sapagkat walang hindi niyayakap
ang araw, ang dagat.

And I shall walk to the shore
feel the stinging
heat and freezing water.
Because the sun and the sea
never hold back their embrace.

And sometimes even myopia or bigotry is something that persona admits happen in all places even in his own homeland as hinted by the poem “Sa Tuwing May Sisitsit sa Akin.” Agustin’s Baha-bahagdang Karupukan is a testament on how our everyday lives prevent us from seeing our true selves, where we experience ourselves as commodities, replaceable and dispensable. However, Agustin’s poetry always alludes to certain possibilities as we encounter pain and suffering, orientating us towards the future. Our world may be fragile and there would be levels of fragility, but in Jim Pascual Agustin’s collection of poetry, underneath or in between these levels of fragility is a space of the real and authentic.

Fueling Cars with Orangutan Blood

That title should capture some attention. So click the image to get the rest of the story

Type as You Think

An old teacher of mine used to say that one bestselling author was not a writer, she’s a typewriter. Well, that bestselling author probably didn’t even have to type her own novels, she dictated them to some underling or three who then had to deal with the mess and turn it into something readable. Of course my teacher was simply jealous of all the money this author was rolling in, boa and all. For he was just an underpaid lecturer. He was writing poetry that was sensitive and well crafted, in other words something that won’t sell like hotcakes, in a country that was still finding its footing after decades of dictatorship.

Next to me as I type this is one of my treasured books, John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. I found it at a charity shop, selling at a ridiculous price — cheaper than a bottle of coke. This book makes me long for home, for people I grew up with, for those who made it clear that words do matter. Somehow.

I sit in my messy room, books and odd bits all thrown together, and hear guinea fowl calls in the dark. Funny creatures, these guinea fowl. During the day they run around chasing each other just for the fun of it, apparently, with no real direction (except “random”), only flying when they get a huge fright from something. But they must get a good kick… haha… those black, skinny legs. More fun than most other creatures, though their brains are no bigger than my baby finger.

Type as you think. Or no thinking at all. This is what happens. haha.