Tag Archives: How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems

Recognition or Oblivion

Recognition or Oblivion

I wish to congratulate my good friend, Joel H. Vega, whose book, Drift, was awarded the Philippine National Book Award for Poetry in English for 2019. My own book, How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems, was the co-finalist.

In previous years two other books of mine were recognized as finalists by the National Book Development Board: Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (poetry in Filipino) and Sanga sa Basang Lupa at iba pang kuwento (short stories in Filipino).

There are many books published every year in the Philippines. I’m grateful that the NBDB has seen my work worthy of being noticed multiple times.

I think it is an interesting exercise, these awards. They aim to spread literacy and book appreciation. They could be seen as stepping stones to bigger things. More book deals for the author, maybe an increase in sales.

But in a way, these awards could be misleading. They could also act as a type of gatekeeping. Will those books that never got noticed by the gatekeepers be “forgotten” or will the readers who admire such books make certain they are not left out, that they are actually read and appreciated.

Who chooses – who are these gatekeepers – and what is the process of their selection? More so, if funds spent on these awards are public funds, surely the public – perhaps as represented by librarians in schools and universities – should have some say?

I am posing these questions after having read how the National Book Awards in the US is conducted. https://www.nationalbook.org/national-book-awards/how-works/

At the same time, I am not totally ignorant of the absence of libraries in public places in the Philippines. The biggest libraries are in exclusive universities – for the children of the elite – and in some properly functioning public universities. There is no actual nationwide library system. Public education has made sure of a highly literate, though impoverished, population. This literacy has been useful in getting employment locally through call centers in the cities and through many positions of service outside the country.

I grew up speaking Filipino. English is not my mother tongue. My mother and father grew up speaking Ilocano and Tagalog/Filipino, and perhaps one other local language. English came to me through public school and Sesame Street. Books came much later, years after I consumed local comic books from a stand in a wet market on the walk back home of a good few kilometers.

In my youth, I had no experience of what it’s like reading books that weren’t required at school. The so-called library at the public school I went to had stuffed animals instead of real books.

I would like to be surprised by being told that the situation is much different now compared to decades ago, that there is now a public library at every barangay.

The first library I entered and was able to use was in a Jesuit-run high school. I was lucky enough to receive a financial scholarship through the singular efforts and kindness of an Irish American, the late Fr. James O’Brien. He also shared his love of learning to hundreds of young, less privileged students like me. He taught us English through stories and poetry, while making clear that it was to be used so we could stand up for ourselves among those who considered the local languages inferior. He spoke excellent Filipino and Bicolano.

That library – and later the university library and the British Council library in Manila – became a kind of refuge for me. They felt more holy than all the churches and chapels that dotted the country.

So where to start with spreading a wider appreciation of books in the Philippines? I’m not saying ditch these awards. They are one way, though perhaps quite flawed, of leading possible readers to discover an author or a book.

In order to truly expand the appreciation of books, there would have to be a healthy reading public. You cannot force people to read, but you should provide them with libraries where they can experience for themselves the joys of reading.

The National Book Development Board, with the help of the Department of Education, should work towards building a national public library network. These libraries could be initially stocked with the literary output of Filipino authors published by established publishers as well as by smaller independent publishers, even brave authors who self-publish work that might not seem “easily marketable” by a publishing house. They should fill these libraries with books in as many Philippine languages as possible. Translations of international work to the local languages should be encouraged and funded. After that, instead of spending public funds, they should welcome donations of international titles.

What then of the existing structures for these awards? I’m an outsider, to be honest. Always have been. Perhaps I’m a little sore that my work has only been partly recognized again by the gatekeepers.

A few years back I released a poetry book – Alien to Any Skin (UST Publishing House, 2011) – alongside the shortlisted Baha-bahagdang Karupukan. I was deeply disappointed that Alien to Any Skin was not even shortlisted, though thankful that the other book was. It was a very special paper child, Alien, if I may say so. There, I’ve said it now.

How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems is an altogether different book, but no less special. It is a book that demands a readership and recognition now, not just because of the poetry, but also because of the pertinent issues it challenges the reader to face: bullying, violence, and, more particularly, the deadly consequences of the fake war on drugs by the Duterte regime. It also contains poems that have little to do with such issues, and more about a search for a common humanity.

These days the Philippines is ground zero for social media misinformation. The basic literacy that Filipinos received through the public school system is what has made them vulnerable to the lies that the current regime uses to block legitimate criticism.

I hope that my book won’t be left in the halls of oblivion. I want it to one day be read, sooner rather than later, by more critical thinking readers.

How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems is widely available in both independent and chain book stores in the Philippines or through the Facebook page or website of San Anselmo Publications. A Kindle edition is also available on Amazon.


Outsider Looking In

My latest paper child got the attention of some readers who turned out to be part of an institution that’s meant to give recognition to published books in the Philippines.

It’s a bonus. Anything else after being read is a bonus, if it means a chance to be read by even more readers.

I’ll keep my thoughts to myself for now about award giving bodies. Previous books of mine got citations but didn’t win in this same one. Let’s see how things turn out this time.

For now, thank you to my publisher, the brave San Anselmo Publications, for trusting in my work. Thank you to those who have read or bought (or both! even better) How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems. Congratulations to long-time friend, fellow finalist Joel H. Vega!


Duterte’s Rape

bullet for duterte

That’s the title of a new poem that might be included in later editions of HOW TO MAKE A SALAGUBANG HELICOPTER & OTHER POEMS.

For the mean time you can read it on the Facebook page of my amazing publisher, San Anselmo Publications.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PAGE.

Photo of bullet from Wikimedia.


25 May 2019 event! Links to a few reviews of How to Make a Salagubang Helicopter & other poems

Too many real world troubles have once again kept me from writing here and even in my very own notebook. It’s been a rough time, right from the beginning of the year, but I keep hoping things will begin to get better. A bit cryptic, I know, and I do apologize.

I’m due to read at the Cape Town Central Library on 25 May 2019, Saturday, 215pm to be followed by an open mic. Hoping to see new faces and maybe even connect with the Filipino community that apparently exists in this city. I’ve only bumped into a handful of Filipinos since moving here nearly 25 years ago. Maybe it’s just me. haha.

Here’s one of the posters for the event (thanks to Gay Domingo!).

In a previous post I mentioned a forthcoming review of the new book. Since then several have actually been published. The review by Joel Pablo Salud appeared in Philippines Graphic in print, but generously made available online HERE.

Krip Yuson of the Philippine Star also reviewed the book HERE.

I now have a Facebook author profile page, to add to my Goodreads.com page. Reluctant to do all this self-promo, but I have to.


Off the Wall Poetry 29 April 2019

It has been a most trying start to my year. As my latest poetry book was being released by my amazing new publisher (SAN ANSELMO PUBLICATIONS! Thank you!!!) – with online videos, print, radio campaign and soon across schools in the Philippines – a personal tragedy befell us here in Cape Town. And so I have to keep quietly apologizing to my newborn paper child, asking it (her/him?) to be a bit more patient.

One door opened (or should I say I looked for it in the dark and found the fine line of light between the gaps?). Then suddenly I have a date to share my new book with an audience.

If you are in Cape Town or have friends here who might be interested, please let them know. My paper child and I will warmly welcome everyone. The venue is a cottage and snacks will be on offer, but guests are encouraged to bring their own drinks. Copies of the new book will be on sale. And I will try not to make you feel like you’ve wasted your evening.

I will be reading from HOW TO MAKE A SALAGUBANG HELICOPTER & OTHER POEMS along with new poems and work by other poets.


Jim Pascual Agustin reads from HOW TO MAKE A SALAGUBANG HELICOPTER & OTHER POEMS on 29 April 2019 for OFF THE WALL POETRY.

matangmanok is 10 years today and my new paper child is almost out!

I was notified by WordPress that I’ve had this blog for 10 years. So it has been that long since I felt I needed to express my outrage at the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. Then the blog evolved into something more personal, but never less political.

Today I’d like to share a link of the press release which appeared back in the Philippines for my first digital child that will soon be a paper child as well.

HERE’S THE LINK TO THE ARTICLE