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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

entry arrow3:19 AM | No More Dry Pens (Or a First Week Report From the Literary Shenanigans of May in Dumaguete)

Perhaps it should finally happen like this -- that there should be a renewed sense of beginning for literary culture here in Dumaguete City. Things are unfurling, and perhaps even just for that, most of us can heave a sigh of relief.

Last Monday, for example, the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop began its 45th year, making it the longest-running creative writing workshop not just in the Philippines, but also in Asia. A new batch of writing fellows -- Michellan Kristine Sarile, Andrea Teran, Darwin Chiong, Ana Escalante Neri, Patricia Evangelista, Noel Pingoy, Antonio Adrian Habana, Erika Jean Cabanawan, Douglas James Candano, Larissa Mae Suarez, and Dumaguete's own Dominique Cimafranca -- are finding out for the first time why is it exactly that a huge segment of Filipino writers have kept to calling National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo "Mom."

This week, the panelists assisting Mom Edith are Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara, DM Reyes, and Anthony Tan. And so far, it has been a great first week. Ma'am Marj has already commented that this may be one of the best workshops she has attended -- because of a perfect combination of great manuscripts, chemistry between the fellows, and dynamics between them and the panel. It promises to be a sizzling summer dipped in the worship of the printed word, and like all past summers with writers, the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

This week, too, we find Silliman University stirring to flex its literary muscles once again. One of the things we Sillimanians love to do to relive past glories has always been to drum up hazy memories of how our campus once overran with brilliant fictionists, poets, dramatists, and even poseurs -- a state of things that has not been evident for the longest time in campus, until now. This is something we kept on being in denial about -- but I guess it's healthier to call a spade a spade, if only to be able to start from scratch again, and re-aim for the literary stars. We had asked ourselves this question in this very blog a few weeks ago: "Is the pen dry in Dumaguete?" Certainly, not anymore.

Yesterday, the Department of English and Literature successfully launched the First Literatura Festival, a small showcase of literary brilliance meant to jumpstart things, and get the creative writing juices running again. The highlight of the festival was Palanca-winning novelist Dean Francis Alfar giving a talk on "Speculative Fiction in the Philippines" to a packed Silliman Hall. He almost panicked when Mom Edith Tiempo came right in the middle of his lecture -- but he did not miss a single beat. By the time we got around to holding the second event in the afternoon -- a Reading and a Writers' Forum on the Creative Writing Process -- we had sold out all copies of his novel Salamanca and the anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1. (There is even a waiting list.) The forum featured Dean in his element once again, this time with Myrna Pena-Reyes, Stacy Danika Alcantara, and yours truly on stage. Because the attendees were mostly students, we were deluged with the usual questions about writing blocks, and inspirations, and processes -- and the old concerns about literature's social relevance in the face of contemporary woes, and the use of English and nationalism. We held our own, I think.

The annual Catacombs Poetry Night followed at 6 pm at Cafe Antonio in the Spanish Heritage Building along Sta. Catalina Street. The poetry reading featured the writing fellows of the Dumaguete Workshop, including Ino Habana who read an excerpt from his exquisitely effective horror story, and Patricia Evangelista -- great girl, somebody easy to love and get along with, damn all that controversial air -- who read a short essay about navigating through the hilarious idioms of Pinoy talk. Larry Lacambra Ypil read the "bayot" poem that caused so much stir when he read it during the opening of the Kabakaba Ba Ka? in Cebu. (Jeneen Garcia came late, so I could not ask her to read a poem.) Marjorie Evasco read a new poem, and with her I read her famous poem "Sagada Stills in a Floating World," something my students love. DM Reyes, who was celebrating his birthday, read from his book Promising Light. Anthony Tan read his "Crossing the River," and heartily apologized for reading a poem about the dead. My students and some of the city's culturati -- including the formidable trio of Cecilia Hoffman, Esther Montenegro Windler, and Ma. Luz Havranek -- read assorted poems from some of Silliman's best poets, including Edith Tiempo, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Elsa Coscolluela, Jaime An Lim, Grace Monte de Ramos, Michael O. Ligalig, Merlie Alunan, and others. All of these, with dancing and coffee and violins and acoustic guitar, under the Spanish glow of the cafe, and under a drizzle of rain. Sharon Dadang-Rafols wowed everyone with her magnificent voice as she sang the traditional Bisaya song "Bugsay", that we had to ask her to end the whole show with a song. When it all ended, I was struck by this: that I had great, great friends -- talented ones, too -- who would not hesitate to help me out, just to put on a good show. Imagine the demands of a single day with three events happening one after the other. Even an old activist friend and classmate from college, Jubabes, went down from the mountains (you know what I mean) just to play guitar and sing a song for the show. That's friendship.

The night before, together with Mark, Moses Atega, and theater goddess Dessa Quesada-Palm, I took Dean, Susan, DM, Anthony, and Marjorie to the hills of Valencia, where we had a wonderful dinner of paella with the beautiful Arlene Delloso-Ramas Uypitching and husband Don. At our feet, from the house's balcony, there was the entirety of Dumaguete in grids of lights. The moon had a halo that night.

It came as a pleasant surprise to me that many people here in Dumaguete were quite affected by the series of articles I wrote about the so-called death of the literary sensibility and production in the city [read part 1, part 2, and part 3]. There were text messages and the occasional sudden conversations on sidewalks. Even Jong and Danah Fortunato, of the much-missed Village Bookstore, invited me for talk and coffee over at Cafe Memento.

Fictionist Susan Lara wrote me:

[This makes] me nostalgic and sad. Yes, compared to the late 70s and early 80s, the Dumaguete literary life has dipped somewhat. When I joined the National Writers Workshop in 1979, Dumaguete was enriched by the likes of Marj Evasco, Leo Deriada, Anthony Tan, Butch Macansantos, Ed and Christine Ortega, who were all teaching there. And of course, Rowena and Lem (Torrevillas) were still around. And Grace Monte de Ramos, Fanny Llego, and Lina Reyes. Besides them, there were the ones who were "passing through" as students, like Butch Bandillo and Ester Tapia, Elson Elizaga, Matthew Kuzhippallil -- all of them published in national publications, most of them winners of national awards.

But the fact that University support for the workshop was withdrawn in 1992, and that the workshop would be just a memory by now if the Creative Writing Foundation had not been established to fill up the vacuum, speaks volumes about the University's priorities. I hope a new enlightened University leadership will realize the value of a dynamic literary life in the city, and bring writers back to Dumaguete. In the meantime, you're there, along with Ernie and Bobby and the DULA members, keeping the flame alive, for which I'm grateful.

Cebuano literary maven Erlinda Alburo wrote:

The state of literature here [in Cebu] is not the same, because of those who write in Cebuano. You need to have more regular dissemination of the outputs, even if it's not in book form. [But] as far as I know, no Cebuano writer from Negros Oriental has made it, although I'm sure there are contributors to Bisaya from there. I'm more familiar with Cebuano writers from Leyte and Mindanao. The Negrenses are not keen on joining the writers' groups like LUDABI, Bathalad, Dagang, etc.

Krip Yuson wrote:

Good work, Ian. Thanks for this. I'm forwarding this to some people. Maybe it'll make sindi some puwets. Not just poets.

And then from incoming Silliman President Ben Malayang III:

This is disturbing. Thanks for your effort to regain our leadership in the molding of Filipino writers. I hope you can continue leading our collective endeavor in this area. I hope to see Mom Edith next time I come to Dumaguete. Maybe we can have coffee (or is it beer among writers?) somewhere with her.

But the best comment still has to be Tim's.

Things are changing, though. Thank God. I've managed to convince the Sillimanian writer Graciano Arinday to resurrect the Arinday Literary Awards even. Let's see how we will go about this resurrection... I'm so serious about this, no? Dapat lang naman. (And it's all your fault, Rodrigo.)

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