LIFE IS TOO ABSURD NOT TO BE MOCKED:
A POET'S INTERVIEW

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, "KULOKABILDO: CONVERSATIONS WITH CEBUANO WRITERS", Edited by Hope S. Yu. The book is part two of the series. The interview was conducted by Gretchen Janice E. CaƱada (left), a member of USC-English Majors Association and currently a senior AB Linguistics and Literature student of the University of San Carlos, Cebu.

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Gretchen: When did you start writing poems?
Adonis: I seriously started writing poems when I was in college – back in 1993. I was involved in the campus publication, Today's Carolinian, where I was introduced by Radel Paredes (who was my editor at that time) to Tonton Kintanar. Tonton then, was a campus literary figure, as a young poet whose poems often glossed the back cover of Today's Carolinian. Tonton and Radel invited me to their informal weekly literary gathering which took place at Mister Donut in Mango Avenue. Over coffee, tea and donuts, we hung out until midnight to discuss and critique poems and short stories of fellow aspiring writers. To cut the story short, these people introduced me to the wonders of literature and ideas. But it was Tonton who encouraged me to write poems in Cebuano, when at that time writing poems in the native language was considered "baduy." I used to write poems in English, but Tonton, whom I considered my mentor and whose poems I greatly admire, saw my inadequacy in the language and had suggested to try my cut in Cebuano, the language where I'm most comfortable with. I remember him saying that one cannot write if the language one chooses is alien to one's heart. What he said still echoes in me until today. Since then, I continued to write in Cebuano.


What inspires you? What motivates you to write poems?
Everything inspires me. I find it amusing that the task of every poet -- or artist -- is to find beauty in every aspect of life and the world that surrounds him. He may be moved by an instant experience, by the beauty of an idea from the book that he just read, by the shape of an object that he finds connection with, or by the sheer texture of a word that evokes his thought and feeling at that moment.


How long does it take you to write a poem?
I haven't seen any pattern – a poem can be born in just a few seconds, others require days, months, even years. There is even a poem so demanding that every time I read it, I could see a word or line that needs tweaking. Out of frustration, I muttered to my poem: "Should you be written forever?"


Do you have any writing habit?
I don't have "writing habit", but I do have this "writing stages." The birth of a poem comes to me in three stages – composing, writing, and rewriting. The first stage is when I gather or construct a poem in my head – this usually happens when I am commuting or sitting in the toilet bowl, where I am provided with the opportunity to think. Most of the poems are finished before I come to the next stage – that of writing. So I don't sit and write poem, but I compose a poem first then write it. Then the third stage is rewriting, where I let my poem sleep after it's been written or revised, and go back to it with fresh eyes.


Do you produce poems when you are sad and lonely?
I have this little theory that poets can write good poems only when they are sad and lonely – but this little theory of mine is nothing new at all. Proust and Nietzsche had already written essays about the nature of creativity in relation to sadness and the feeling of being in pain. I have also noticed that those writers or artists who were persecuted (politically or personally) were the ones who achieved greatness in their craft.


When you write, do you have a target audience in mind?
I don't have a target audience in mind. But when I write, I often ask myself whether a person living in a very remote island – cutout from civilization -- would still be able to appreciate my poem. If one does, then I consider my poetry a success. I always aspire for a poem that achieves universal quality.


What do mean by "universal quality"?
By universal quality, I mean that when I write a poem, say, about a buffalo, I want the person reading my poem – who hasn't encountered a buffalo in his entire life – to see and feel what a buffalo is, in his mind. That is why I invest so much on images and metaphors rather than playing with sound. I am more of an imagist than a lyric.


What are the usual themes you write about?
I don't think "consciously" about themes when I write. As poet, I am more concerned with "how to say it" rather than "what to say about it." On writing with a theme – I will leave that task to the novelist and essayist.


Being a graphic designer, what can you say about writing and designing?
I believe that all arts are related. My work as a publication designer (or visual journalist) has to some extent influenced my poetry, and vice versa. A reader may notice that my poetry is very visual. That is because I'm trained as a visual artist. And there are certain principles of design that I apply when I write – like balance, proportion, contrast, harmony, etc. I feel uneasy if I see irregular lines in a stanza – the designer in me would instruct to prune all lines to an almost equal length. 


What keeps you busy (and inspired) right now?
Same as usual – reading. I'm currently hooked with the books of Alain de Botton. My favorite past-time is hunting for second-hand books.


In your poem "Ngano ang pamalak kay sama ra og kung fu", you juxtapose the power of poetry with kung fu. The poem reads as a natural progression into the experience of mastering the self. But that mastery also evolves into a heightened awareness. It is almost like a meditation. Can you comment on this?
Every poem I write, I always strive and seek its architectonic quality. By architectonic quality, I mean fashioning your content to its truest form – having its structure and its language shape the experience of what a poem is about. If I write a poem about water, I want readers to feel the surge of the words – to feel the texture of water. In this case, since this particular poem touches the subject of kung fu, I want it to be written like a meditation – or as a spiritual instrospection, if you will.


Apan kung gamitan na kag kusog / Ug ang ngisi sa hanting gapungasi / Sa iyang kamot, kini ang higayon / Nga molikom kas imong nakat-unan. / Dinhi ipakita kung unsaon pagpildi / Sa kaaway pinaagi sa tulo ka lihok, /Pinaagi sa tulo ka metapora, linya, / O kaha pinaagi lang sa tulo ka litok. The actual process is really irreconcilable, is it not? The pen against the sword or the force, rather. Is there a danger that in bringing language to an experience, you'll sacrifice the very quality you wanted in the first place? 
The said stanza is simply suggesting that a poet will put on a fight if he's put on a life-threatening situation. But he is cautioning the transgressor/oppressor to remember that the poet has mastered the world, that even uttering a three-syllabic word is enough to kill him.


You present us with a no-nonsense view of the circularity of our existence. I wonder if you see people as the Taoists and Buddhists do – that is, not to react with force, because one is always related to the world.
I do believe in the teaching of non-violence. But let me remind you that the poem "Nganong ang pamalak kay susama ra og kung fu" is most importantly about patience, persistence, and perseverance in the craft of writing and poeticizing. In life and in writing, patience is the greatest virtue.


You said that your design motto is "Bribe beauty with a pinch of absurdity." Do you also apply this motto to your writing?
I do. We live in the world full of contradictions – that's why I consider absurdity an essential ingredient to my art. And life is too absurd not to be mocked.


There is a curious freshness to "The Magician's Wife" that addresses a social as well as gender issue. It is the seeing and your awareness of her multiple roles that makes the poem very successful. It should have been titled "Magician Wife" since she is the one casting magic.
I am happy that you read it like that. The idea of the poem is really to show the ironies in life. In the eyes of the audience, she is just an assistant to the magician, but the different roles she played as a spouse, as a housekeeper and as a mother, and the little miracles she conjures at home are no match by any magician. In her own right, she herself is a magician, but I don't want to give that away in the title. Ha!


Any advice for aspiring poets and writers?
Read philosophy. Die for an experience. Breathe art.




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ARTWORK PREVIEW: 
RADEL PAREDES






ARTIST STATEMENT:
TRAGEDY MEETS IRONY
by Radel Paredes


This series of artworks came as a reaction to the string of tragedies that we saw recently on TV: the storm in Burma, the earthquake in China, the terrorist bombings in Baghdad, the sinking of a ferry and the massacre of civilians by armed groups in the Philippines.

As Picasso realized after the bombing of Guernica, the faces of the victims show common rage and terror. In fact, my own works are directly influenced by Picasso’s obsession to translate the profundity of human suffering into abstract imagery, as was demonstrated in the “Weeping Woman” series, which continued even after it reached a climax with the “Guernica” mural.

The famous antiwar mural was rendered in black and white, but most of the drawings and paintings in the “Weeping Woman” series were composed with the brightest colors. The most famous version of this theme shows the subject “dressed as for a fete,” as one critic noted, while her veiled face, painted in black and white, looked like it had been stripped to the bones.

We saw the same irony in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” where the most violent scenes were shot in day glo colors with upbeat music in the background. Much earlier, in “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock also shot the famous shower scene in blinding overexposures. As a personal tribute, I intended to continue this tradition in my own portraits of terror.

Incidentally, while in the middle of doing gouache studies for these paintings, I was asked by my friend Adonis Durado to illustrate the cover of his first book of Cebuano poems. After reading the manuscript, I was struck to find the same penchant for irony in his verse, which portrays human suffering in grotesque humor.

Adonis also reacted to the earthquake in China in the poem “Sichuan”. Like the Bangkok-based Cebuano poet, my own exposure to the art community in Asia has deepened my sense of solidarity for the peoples in the region, particularly the artists. When I heard of the typhoon that devastated Rangoon, I immediately recalled our friend Thant Sin, a Paris-trained painter who we, his fellow ASEAN art jurors, called the “Chairman.” Likewise, I feared for our friends in Guangxi, China, after hearing the earthquake that struck neighboring Sichuan.

Finding all these fortuitous, I immediately emailed photos of my gouache drawings to Adonis and in the next couple of days he would send me his design of the book cover featuring one of them.

The exhibit organized for the book’s launching is thus the culmination of a collaboration, which extends to those years when we worked together as part of the design collective of the student publication and in many other earlier projects.


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ARTWORK PREVIEW:
JOSUA CABRERA






ARTIST STATEMENT:
GAKATAWANG MGA PULONG
SA DAGWAYNG GADAG-OM

by Josua S. Cabrera



Nagsugod sa balak ni Adonis…

Iyang kong gihangyo pagbuhat og huni sa iyang balak, unya ako lang kunoy bahala kung unsang balaka niya akong pilion isip liriko sa mugnaong kanta. Ug Ang Pinakamalipayong Balak sa Tibuok Kalibutan ang ulohan sa akong gipilian. Gipili nako ni kay lagi mubo ra. Sayon duwaan. Pero payter pud.

Morag usa ka juggler si Adonis nga iyang giitsa-itsa ang mga irony sa wanang unya pagtugpa, nasawo lang gihapon niya og tagsa-tagsa. Lingaw kaayo ug simple ra ang mga hulagway ug pasumbingay sa hahisgutang balak. Mga hulagway nga atong makita, makawhat diha sa daplin-daplin sa kadalanan. Mga hulagway nga manuktok sa atong hunahuna ug kasingkasing aron tultolan ta sa atong paglaroy-laroy sa mga dagkung iskina o iskinita sa atong pagkabisaya.

Kay usahay masaag ta -- sama adtong usa ka inahan nga among silingan nga iyang giayu-ayo og latos ang iyang otso anyos nga anak kay lagi iyang nadunggang miistorya og binisaya. Nitiyabaw tawn ang bata apan nadugay nakog tan-aw niya mora man hinuon nagbuhahak siyag katawa.

Usahay mauwaw sad ta -- kay usa ka higayon diha toy makililimos nga gitagaan nako og piso kay wala pa kuno siyay paniudto. Apan pwerte niyang katawa kay piso ray akong gihatag. Unsa kunoy mapalit ato… nilakaw nga pwerte niyang katawa pero iyang tingog morag gitarang buak, gahilak.


Nagkalawom, nagkangiob

Ug samtang nagbuhat kog tuno sa balak ni Adonis, bitbit ang akong hinulman nga gitarang karaan, mora kog misawom sa gamay nga lim-aw sa akong handurawan. Nalingaw kog patungod sa gamayng busay nga nitaguktok sa akong ulo. Nagpaanod ko sa sulog, naglangoy-langoy hangtod nakuyawan ko, kay dili na nako matugkad ang gilawmon. Mao nga akong giutong sa pamasin nga akong mahikapan ang salog sa maong lim-aw. Hilom ang palibot. Bugtong kong mabati ang ritmo sa akong dughan.

Sa akong pagkapa-kapa, maoy nitabo sa akong panan-aw mga isdang gagmay sa unahan nga gilamoy sa mga dagkung isda. Ug sa dihang ilang nabantayan nga ako nagkaduol nila, daw nikurog sa kahadlok, nisutoy silag langoy palayo luyo sa kangitngit. Adunay mga langub-langob sa ilawom. Nagkalawom, nagkangi-ob. Sa dihang ako nang nakita ang salog sa lim-aw nakurat kos akong nakita. Nagtipun-og ang mga basura sa ilawom. Nidali kog langoy aron mokawas. Pag-abot nako sa daplin sa lim-aw, nibuhakhak kos kakuyaw ug nitibi ang gitara sa akong huni.


Tintang naluha sa ngislit sa papel

Ang pagpadayag sa hunahuna ug kasingkasing, daghang paagi. Isulti, isyagit, ikanta, isulat, ibalak, idrowing, ipintal, ipaagi sa lihok -- mobalitok, moligid, maghubo, magpa-opaw, pwede sad ihilak, ikatawa… apan ang pagpadayag gagikan sa panginahanglan. Niining higayona, akong gipili ang pagdibuho. Nigamit kog watercolor paghata og bulok, bolpen ug tinta sa akong pagwiris-wiris.

Nagsugod ning akong wiris-wiris, dugay na. Nagsugod sa insomia. Maghilak na lang kos una kay magbuntag na lang, wala pa ko katulog. Dugay nakong antos ani. Hangtud akong nabasa sauna (ambot kung unsa tong magasina), nga ang wiriswiris tambal sa insomia. Mao tong akong gitestingan, nagsugod sa short size bond paper. Malukop nakog wiris-wiris. Hangtud tabloid size na.

Malukop nakog wiris-wiris hangtud makatulog ko. Epektibo tuod. Hangtud nga ako lang sang porma-pormahon ang wiris-wiris. Pormahon nakong mga tawo. Hangtud nga nahimo nakong paagi sa pagpadayag kung unsa ang naa sa akong hunahuna. Ug di nako kalikayan nga kung unsay akong makita sa akong palibot mao say mogawas sa akong wiris-wiris. Mao nang pagbasa nako sa mga balak ni Adonis naka-abli dayon kini sa pultahan sa akong hunahuna ug kasingkasing aron paluparon ang akong handurawan ngadto sa matag atup sa mga kabalayan nga naglibot kanako.

Kini magpataka og panglili, mangolekta og mga hulagway aron tanggungon sa iyang kwardong panumduman ug ibitay sa bungbong sa mga alimpatakan ug kasingkasing sa manan-away.


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ang pinakamalipayong balak 
sa tibuok kalibutan

milayat gikan sa ngislit sa bintana
ang gatingsing iring nga gatangag
og gapahiyom nga tinap-anan.
milabay kini luyo sa gangising labandera,
sa banang galigid og buhakhak sa kahubog,
sa kainom nga puros namuwa sa kahimuot.
ug milatay sa talidhay sa gubaong paril,
sa kasadya sa mga buslutong atup.
miagi sa kaalegre sa gamayng sugalan,
sa bahikhik sa mamusuhayng istambay,
sa tsimosa, usyuserang ga-inagik-ikay,
ug dayog huong sa malipayong silong.
sa unahan, gakatawang misawp ang adlaw,
gadalig uli batang gikomedyahan sa gutom.


-- Adonis Durado



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ARTWORK PREVIEW:
ADONIS DURADO





4 comments:

grains of sand said...

durado, ganahan ko aning itlog. apil ni sa i-exhibit?

shai said...

ing-ani jud siguro ang gugma, daw sama sa dagat ug sa palibot niini...

Jun Abines said...

It's good to see Cebuano poetry being tackled and appreciated. It's high time we put love to our mother tongue.

I am a poet too. I have at least 120 balak na bisaya for everyone to read and a out 260 english poems too.

please check them at www.mgabalakbisaya.blogspot.com and www.junabinespoems.blogspot.com

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