traje de boda
Just like playing the guitar, I have indulged in poetry without any formal training. I am basically self-taught and having discovered my interest in it when I turned 40ish, I am rather late. Equipped with nothing but vague memories of what at the time seemed meaningless lectures from high school teachers, I plunged ahead thinking I could make it on my own, with lots of help from an online university to provide me with the ins and outs of what poetry is, and how it is done. Armed with a little knowledge gathered from online friends and reading here and there, I tried my best to get myself published once I thought I was ready. After all, why am I studying the craft if my products could not be read or heard, or so, I thought.
Slowly, I managed to sneak into the world of letters having some of my works published in the same online university. As a matter of fact, I even managed to give a public reading of three of my poems in Richmond, Canada, with the auspices of my very good friend, the late Arlene Lawson.
I can say that poetry has been very good to me. I have befriended a lot of poets and writers from abroad. That gave me enough courage to try new depths. It was during this time when I chanced upon a site for Filipinos in the diaspora, a term I even had to look up. I submitted some of my works and failed miserably. It was then that I knew my knowledge is not yet up to par. I should have been crushed but that is not my way.
At the time, I was already practicing to write by maintaining this blog. Unbeknownst to me, I shall be friends with two remarkable sisters, one is a visual artist, the other, the associate editor of the same mag I wanted to penetrate. I don't recall who among the sisters I got to know first but I did exchange blog links with at least one of them. Then, from out of nowhere, the associate editor, Aileen, contacted me one time to tell me that she was interested in publishing my first poem ever that is written in tagalog,Malapot na Tubig or should I say, Filipino, as more people in the academe refer to it. I was ecstatic. To think I was contacted and offered to be published in the mag I wanted to penetrate was heaven to me considering that neither she nor I knew where we are coming from. She would ask me again for my permission for another poem and ask me to join a project of a thousand views of Eileen Tabios' "Girl Singing". That gave me a natural high.
Nevertheless, this post is about the associate editor, Aileen Ibardaloza's, first book of poems entitled traje de boda published by Meritage Press with the cover having been designed by none other but the sister, Sophia. I am fortunate enough to have the honor of having a copy together with another book the poet has sent my way, Toni Morrison's beloved.
From the title alone, I hint the union of two personalities, which I suspect is a metaphor for the merging of two cultures not necessarily worlds apart. To me, the term traje de boda does not simply mean a wedding dress but it suggests sophistication brought about by a rich Spanish heritage deeply embedded in our veins. The fact that we have been influenced by more colonizers complicates our entire being rendering the traje de boda as not only consisting of a heritage taken from the conquistador but is, in fact, the conglomeration of a hodge podge of different sets of values, mores and sentiments rolled into one. In all its ups and downs, this mix is what makes us unique as a people.
I say that the merger of two cultures does not necessarily mean of two opposing worlds as the culture of one of the halves is already known to one of the partners after having been exposed to it, nay, probably to what the other's kindred wanted to be exposed. I say this having in mind one of the poems, Viand, a term we all know to be a dish to go with rice. We enter the world of the union with lines such as
the word before,
language was never
While this can be seen as something light, if not comical, yet we know the situation can be serious as with matter/of children,/politics,in-laws, finances (La Paloma) but everything is worth it considering the happiness the union brings as in Italian Wedding Soup or the commitment one gives in For Paul
But this is not all that I got from the book. I also feel the sense of longing for what once was while learning to embrace the new. I managed a smile upon reading Quiapo a poem written, I suppose, from memory. I, too, have not gone to the place in a very long time and the images that the poem conjured are the same as mine. It may be acaulescent (another word I had to look up. Man do I have a very limited vocabulary) for it is the arm that stretches to all directions. Any part of Manila points to Quiapo and vice versa. It is the heart from where the blood flows; where vendors of abortive potions, assorted herbs, amulets juxtaposed with red candles sell beside the grand ole church to where the Black Nazarene sleeps. It is the age-old traditions of pre-colonial times trapped within an urban jungle.
The book, too, is about relationships made more complicated by players with different circumstances, forged by time between joy and angst, turmoil and plentitude, naivete and wit and so much more. The ironies in The hay(na)ku of the Broken Fourth Wall, replete with sharp images give it power. Who would miss the reference to Jose Rizal and Josephine with the words dulce extrangera? A term Rizal gave to his "lonely" wife. We feel the loneliness of the man as he leaves behind an alien woman who will live in a foreign land in condemnation of her beloved's family and yet continue to fight the battle of her husband and dying of extreme poverty in yet another land that is HongKong?
If there is one thing I learned from this book, other than rousing my otherwise, short attention span, it would be knowing how to make a poem, deliver its punches, enjamb in more ways than one. I have concretized what I have read before that what is universal lies in the particular. That one can write about what one knows without fear of not being understood by another person from the outside looking in. That one should learn how to speak from the heart and surely, there will be someone somewhere who could relate to it and this will grow until what one has written is accepted to be universal truth.
Like I said, I am just self-taught. I may be way-off with my understanding of the book, its essence and raison d'etre and for that I apologize. But I shall not apologize for my innocence. This has been what I saw, or witnessed as I turn each page and I am owning it. To my friend, congratulations on a job well done.