Tag Archives: Jim Pascual Agustin

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!


Wikang Buwaya

Wikang Buwaya
tugon sa “Gahasa sa Gahasa” ni Rebecca T. Añonuevo

Sa ilalim ng tulay, nakakubling kapiling
ang mga lumot na madulas na umiindayog
sa lilim, may tahimik na naghihintay.

Tila tuod na nabuwal ng ulol na bagyo
mula sa Timog, hindi siya matinag
sa lublob na kinalalagyan. Hanggang

isang araw may mamataang nilalang
na maaaring mapagbuntunan ng naisaloob
na karahasan. Tatalas ang mga mata, iigkas

ang maiikli ngunit matipunong mga biyas
at lalantad sa isang iglap ang kinang-sa-laway
na mga pangil. Sagpang, papilipit na patuwad-

balibag-hataw-pagpapalag sa tubig
na mag-aalimbukay sa lumot at putik.
Hindi pakakawalan ang duguang katawan

kahit pa man magsigawan ang mga gimbal
na saksi. Walang silbi ang ipinukol nilang mga buhay
na bato. May sariling wika ang mga buwaya.

-o-


So NaDuterte

Today, in my country of birth, the current president appears before the lawmakers of the land, and before the entire nation. This is the same president who vowed to defend and protect the citizens of the country and adhere to the constitution. This is the same president who, soon as he took to power, violated the most basic rights of the poor and defenseless.
Today he speaks as if he were the hero of the land. Each of us, in our own minds, try to be the hero we dream of. Duterte’s greatest hero, as he has declared and proven by his actions many times over, is the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who silenced critics by sending them to prison, if not to the grave.
Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, in a mere three years, has gone way beyond what Marcos himself managed to do.
I wrote the following poem last year as a first draft. The second draft did away with all that is so blatant in the piece and, in a way, turned out to be a better poem. But it didn’t retain the anger and condemnation I wanted to convey. That poem is due to appear in a South African journal, the New Coin.
Today, as I cannot join any of the protest rallies in my country of birth, I decided to share this poem here, and perhaps on my Facebook author account.

We Cannot Allow the Dead to be Silenced

The man who curses shall be cursed
to live forever in the stories we shall tell
our children. They will not fear him
or his twisted reincarnations.

Our children shall not be shaken
by his threats. His attack dogs
with teeth of bullets cannot make us
turn away and flee.

Though the dead may be left
unclaimed in morgues
or dumped on the side of the road,
their faces bound with packaging tape,

they will never be silenced.
The veins on their exposed necks
and stiffened arms will turn to roots.
And we who fight to remember

the cruelty inflicted upon those
we can no longer hold shall bear
bitter fruit to be shoved
down the tyrant’s throat.

-o-

The title of this post may look odd to those who are not familiar with the play on words Filipinos like to employ by borrowing from another language. A rough translation would be – aside from SONA (State of the Nation Address) – “Done in by Duterte.”


https://www.rappler.com/nation/updates-duterte-state-of-the-nation-address-july-2019

https://www.rappler.com/move-ph/235870-groups-hit-duterte-admin-performance-ahead-sona-2019




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.


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.

Luck or choice?

Image by Mindseed from Wikemedia

This blue planet turns on its axis and our skin learns to expect a change of season. Where I am, the chill in the morning air cannot be ignored. Yet there are still a few warm days in between, like the day I was working outside when I was forced to stop by a swimming pool.

I noticed three bees hovering, perhaps coming for a drink. One of them settled on one side, carefully clinging to the verticla fiberglass surface. The two kept hovering over the water for a while. One flew too close to the water, maybe hoping to get just a sip as it skimmed, and fell right in. I watched it flail about helplessly, its wings unable to lift the rest of its body. Before I could do anything, the second bee came swooping down and dragged the drowning one all the way to the side of the pool where it managed to pull itself right out and fly. In a few seconds it came back and hovered for almost a minute near its savior, which had now crawled carefully on the fiberglass wall for a drink. It then landed on the bricks that edged the pool before crawling to join the other two.

I told one of my kids about what I had witnessed.

After a bit of silence, she said “Animals are kinder to each other than people.”

-o-

In the past few days, South Africa has grown even more volatile. Reports continue to come in about foreign nationals being chased away or killed by mobs. The ANC Youth League caused damage at a launch in a book shop and threatened to burn a revealing book about a politician they admired. Saner minds prevailed among their leaders who instructed them not to drag back to darkness the country’s hard-won democracy. Yet burning tires and road blockades in various communities around the country are becoming more widespread as election day draws nearer. It is difficult to decide where to turn, which political party to trust. The past is not a just a ghost, it is a physical presence.

Who will use you? Who will get used? Later, who will remember what was promised?

In the Philippines, on the other hand, the news is much worse. The killings continue and justice is nowhere in sight. The violence following the incessant, hateful pronouncements by Duterte has spread further. Aside from the urban poor, indigenous people and farmers have become victims of orchestrated state oppression. Duterte’s supporters want to enshrine this madness. With election day approaching fast, they get more busy putting up lewd shows alongside song and dance numbers to trick the electorate to voting for them. The political dynasties of the Duterte and Marcos clans seem to have the support of landgrabbing China. I can only hope the voting population can see through all this trickery and choose to vote for candidates who have a decent track record in defending human rights and sound national policies.

My two homes, in a whirlpool of turmoil or on the cusp of change?

-o-