Death of the author: J.D. Salinger

To the author whose Catcher in the Rye accompanied me during my teenage years and whose writing style influenced me more than I would care to acknowledge:

J.D. Salinger (1919-2010), see you in the river or something, anywhere, except in a goddamn cemetery because we do not want people coming and putting a bunch of flowers on our stomach on a Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead?

Nobody.

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

Mr. Antolini, Catcher in the Rye, 1951.

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Berso sa Metro

This afternoon while on my way to Ortigas from my condo in Boni, I took a snapshot of this Spanish verse translated in Filipino inside that MRT train. I smiled and said to my self: this can never be truer.

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In the absence of my muse

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Just when I desperately need my brain to work does it decide to abandon me in the middle of this race against time.  I felt betrayed.

I am frantically filling up forms and recalling what I’ve been through this past three years, emailing people who could vouch for my good work ethics and the value I put into scholarship, compiling supporting documents, and writing brief descriptions of my qualifications. But when I start to write a free essay that can be anything under the sun, my brain suddenly comes  to a halt. Writers are supposed to wait for inspiration from their muse, but with this situation I cannot anymore afford to wait to be possessed by the spirit of my muse while the clock is ticking unusually fast.

For the sake of exposition, allow me to name my muse Calliope as she is wont to be called in Classical Greek as the muse for epic poetry. The daunting task before me is akin to an epic in proportion. But this muse Calliope, during this time when I need her most, abandoned me as if I’ve never tried to satisfy all her whims.

Muses are not to be trusted, this I know a long time ago since I started writing but forget every time I embark on a writing exercise. They are not there when you need them but they will bother you like a pregnant woman when they demand to be immortalized through writings on papers or binary numbers on computer screens. This usually happens during the most inconvenient of times. They are merciless, capricious, irrational being we wish to trap in our brains but remain untamed, wild. They enslave us without any chance of emancipating ourselves. We remains theirs but they could never be ours.

The muses can be flabbergasting sometimes, but they are almost always beautiful to look at. They are exasperating but worth all the effort of worshiping them. They appear when you least expect them, this I think makes them so special to me and to some other writers who, like me, experience this feeling of hallowness inside.

I shall not write an ode for my muse, Calliope. Instead I will write a lamentation, a wail.

Of all Cebuano poems, the most beautiful:

Balaki ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal*

by Adonis G. Durado
A habalhabal in Valencia, Cebu
A habalhabal in Valencia, Cebu

Balaki ko day
Samtang gasakay ta’g habalhabal.
Idat-ol og samut
Kanang imong dughan
Nganhi sa akong bukobuko
Aron mas mabatyagan ko ang hinagubtob
Sa imong kasingkasing.
Sa mga libaong nga atong malabyan.
Gaksa ko paghugot
Sama sa lastikong
Mipungpong sa imong buhok.
Ug sa kainit sa imong ginhawa
Gitika kining akong dughan.
Ang mga balili unya
Nga naghalok sa ‘tong batiis
Isipon tang kaugaligong mga dila.
Dayon samtang nagakatulin
Kining atong dagan,
Mamiyong tag maghangad
Ngadto sa kawanangan
Aron sugaton ang taligsik
Sa uwan, dahon, ug bulak.

Recite to me, day, a poem while we ride a habalhabal

(the blog writer’s translation)

Recite to me, day
A poem while we ride a habalhabal.
Stick your chest closer
Here on my back
So that I can feel better the beatings
Of your heart.
With the potholes that dot our way
Embrace me tightly
Like the rubber bands
That you use to tie your hair.
And with the warmth of your breaths
Tickle this heart of mine.
And the amorseco
That kiss our legs
Let’s think of them as our own tongues.
Then while we’re speeding up
Our ride
Let’s close our eyes and face
The wide sky
To meet the drizzle
Of rain, leaves, and flowers.

Often times when we read a text, that is to say do a critique of a poem, a short story, a play, etc, we tend to sanitize the text and try as hard as we can to distance ourselves from the spirit of, say, poem. We measure the canto, the rhyme, as well as the relevance of the figures used, but we forget the beauty that makes the poem endearing. Objectivity takes away the true joy of reading a text. (By the way, I abhor using text to mean the subject of a criticism, I prefer to call it as how it should be called: a poem, a novel, a novel, but for the sake of generalization, although I detest the word, I shall use it anyway.)

I remember to have first encountered the poem Balaki Ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal in the Humanities class of Dr. Leoncio Deriada in UP Visayas. I admit that I am not an expert in any kind of poetry, but the images in the poem captured my imagination and there and then fell in love with the poem. I can speak and understand Cebuano, arguably the most popular language in the Philippines in terms of the total number of speakers, but I have never tried using it as a medium for writing. Adonis Durado used the language beautifully. He never made use of much garb and highfalutin Cebuano, rather he opted for a simpler and ordinary spoken Cebuano. The simplicity made it even more appealing.

For anyone who has tried riding a habalhabal, a local form of transportation that can carry as much as seven persons plus a cow tied infront of the driver and a sack of vegetable behind, the imagery of riding this sturdy transport while reciting a poem is truth distilled to its barest essential.

It may come as primal, if not sexual, yet the physical closeness of the persona, who is the driver of the habalhabal, and the woman passenger is full of innocence and drama of young love. Orgasmic as it may seem, the last part gave us so much promise of what lies ahead for the lovers.

When I introduced this in my class in Philippine Literature at the University of the Philippines, my students had the same reaction with some ‘kilig factor’ while they were relaying their textual intervention in the class. Balaki Ko ‘Day Samtang Gasakay Ta’g Habalhabal celebrates provincial love at its most beautiful. A perfection in Cebuano poetry.

Seating space maximized, habalhabal. A common for of transportation in southern Philippines
Seating space maximized. Habalhabal a common form of transportation in southern Philippines

gaano kahirap ang pagsulat ng poetry

kung sino’ng nagsabi na sa poetry
you let things take shape
ay isang hangal.

ito’y di gaya ng
clay na iba’t-iba ang kulay
na sa isang dakot nakagagawa ng
fairy o pagong.

hindi ito basta pagpapatulo ng esperma sa
gabatyang tubig.
ito’y pagpapatulo ng esperma sa
nagnananang sugat.

ang pag-iisip ng saktong
rima
ay paghihintay ng
pagsabog ng mga chocolate hills.

kung iisipin
ang pagbibilang ng metro
ay ‘di mahirap
‘yon eh kung magbibilang ka lang.

ang pagsulat ng poetry ay
isang mahaba-habang
paglalakad
bitbit ang krus
kung mahal na araw

talo na.
nakataas na ang dalawang kamay ko
ayaw nang sumulat ng bolpen ko

kaya ako,
mas nanaisin ko pa ang prose.
ayoko ng poetry.

mahal ko ang poety
gusto kong sumulat ng poetry
nabubuhay ako para sa poetry

titiisin ko ang init ng esperma
hindi ako matatawa
sa fairies
o sa pagong

maghihintay ako
sa rima

mag-aaral ako ng calculus
matalos ko lang
ang tamang metro

hinahanap
hanap ko
ang sarap ng sakit

na dulot ng
poetry.