By Pablo A. Tariman
In December 2021, my first book of poetry, Love, Life, and Loss: Poems during the Pandemic, will be off the press.
This month, I will debut as a contributing poet in the Singapore-published anthology called The Best of Asian Poetry 2021. I can’t believe I will finally be a book author at age 72!
When did my love affair with poetry start? In the Bicol island of Catanduanes, where I was born and where I grew up, I read Edna St. Vincent Millay and Walt Whitman courtesy of an American Peace Corps volunteer named William Keating.
In college at the Manuel L. Quezon University, I wrote poetry in the college publication The Quezonian.
In 1971, my first published poem appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine. It went thus:
Someone dropped a coin, the needle
Lifted and a polyphony of sounds came
Blasting in the early dawn.
let it be, let it be…
I thought the lyrics struck a familiar chord
Rich in human experience. The lyrics could
Be sheer poetry of the folks if only the
Machine would tone down a bit and give
Your ears a break.
Seeking words of wisdom…
Good phrasing, indeed! It could have
Been Russell or Goethe speaking. It
Reminds me of Aiken whose thoughts
Lost in the depths of the deep sea
Would find himself in the long maze
Of confusing corridors, blind alleys that
Lead to nowhere.
Somewhere along the song I asked:
Who am I? Why has life grown so bad?
What is good and what is bad?
Then I heard the final line:
Let it be.
After 50 years, in 2020, I resumed writing poetry during the long lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote almost every day. I heard good words from netizens whom I hardly knew.
At year’s end, my poem “Ode to Frontliners” appeared on a marker dedicated to health workers. It was unveiled on my birthday (Dec. 30) by Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto with a special program complete with marching bands.
Two days after the inauguration of Joe Biden as US President, my poem, “A Poet is a Lonely Hunter,” appeared on the FB timeline of the celebrated young poet Amanda Gorman. I greeted her with this poem.
Two days after the inauguration of Joe Biden as US President, my poem, “A Poet is a Lonely Hunter,” appeared on the FB timeline of the celebrated young poet Amanda Gorman.
In February 2021, I was one of the speakers at the University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB) symposium on the subject of poetry in time of the pandemic. By this time, I had written about hunger on the streets, how people lost jobs, and my personal reaction to how the government was dealing with the pandemic.
I thank Fara Martia Manuel-Nolasco, chair of the UPB committee on culture and the arts, for giving me a chance to open up about my pandemic experience through poetry. The theme of the UPB symposium was “demja,” which in Ibaloi means “open the eyes after a long time.”
I related to the theme because my modest poetry output during the pandemic was literally an act of re-opening my poet’s eyes after a silence of almost 50 years. I could say that my second literary life, ushered in by the pandemic, dramatically shifted during the lockdown.
My poems took notice of the empty streets that brought in temporary peace and quiet in the neighborhood. I thought of the people lining up outside pawn shops and jobless breadwinners coping with hunger in the family. I was touched deeply by the news of this boy who offered his school medals for sale to be able to feed his family. I paid tribute to people in the city walking and biking their way back to their hometowns for days on end. I did not spare myself. I wrote about my own mortality and how I would fare when it was my turn to be hospitalized or wheeled into the nearest crematorium.
In other words, I lived people’s fears in order to write about their hopes and their simple mechanisms for survival. I confronted death for what it was and how it changed the landscape of the living and the dead.
One poem, “The Heart of Fury,” turned viral and got powerful reactions from netizens. I was unbelieving of the overpowering feedback to my poem, “Grief without Words.” It was liked by more than 6,000 netizens and shared by more than 3,000 readers and with more than 3,000 reactions and comments.
That is a good consolation to one who has not touched poetry in almost half a century. When I paused to look at what I’ve posted on FB, suddenly I realized I had already written close to 400 poems in 18 months. It was not an earthshaking thing. I don’t like counting poems. But I know it is a good start as any to go ahead and explore the heart and soul of poetry. I know I can still get better.
(The author’s debut book, ‘Love, Life, and Loss: Poems during The Pandemic,’ is published by Music News & Features with cover photography b Carlo de Leon, book design: Jennifer Patricia A. Carino, and copyediting by Elizabeth Lolarga. Initial copies of author’s edition is priced at ₱1000, including delivery. For reservation and delivery details, email [email protected] or text 09065104270.)