Saturday, August 26, 2006

RECUERDOS - Introduction

(My second compilation of poems and essays in English, Spanish and Tagalog was launched in Madrid, Spain in May 10, 2009. The proceeds from the book launch were donated to the USTHS 80 Scholarship Fund. Copies are now available from all Central Book Store branches nationwide as well as a few other bookstores.)

In 1989, I came out with my first compilation of poems, essays, short stories, editorials and columns written in college, mostly for The New Builder where I became Editor-in-Chief.

After college, in spite of my love for poetry, personal circumstances required that I set my pen aside. I would have wanted to live a poet’s life but it wasn’t meant to be. As most from my generation, I had to pursue a corporate career. That and, later on, my family were to become my most important priorities.

During what would eventually be a long hiatus, the closest I ever got to writing anything that may even be remotely considered as literature, were my love letters to my (then future) wife and the dedications which close friends insisted that I write on their behalf in greeting cards for their love interests. I never really stopped reading poetry though.

In fact, I have always thought that one of the fringe benefits of working in the salt mines and earning a decent wage was it provided me the means to buy and own the books which, until then, I could only pick from the shelves and browse through as I whiled some of my spare time away at libraries and bookstores.

However, I promised myself that I would someday write again and publish my next compilation by the time I turn 40. I’m well over 40 now and so, as far as the promise goes, this is now overdue.

As we age, there is a growing tendency to reminisce on our life experiences. Some of these memories are captured in photographs neatly tucked in albums which give us pleasure as we look through them over and over again. Mementos we keep and happily share with family and friends.

I guess it could be said that rather than choosing verbal imagery, it might have been more efficient had I simply shared some photographs. After all, as the ancient Chinese proverb points out, a picture paints a thousand words. However, while my talent for writing is already at risk of being taken to task by some, I believe that my abilities for either painting or photography would be even more so.

Moreover, as my family and I have moved from one house to another several times over the years, we have misplaced so many pictures from earlier times. Many of these are of people who have passed away and places which are no longer the way we remember them to be. Their memories now exist only in our minds and even there, we each have our own impressions.

Thus, Recuerdos, the Spanish term for the nouns “souvenirs” and “memories”, is meant as a keepsake for family and friends like you. It is my way of sharing some memories I have kept for posterity, views of the world as I had seen it, and elements of life to which I have found attachment. As a verb, “recuerdo” also means “I remember”, which probably makes the title even more appropriate given that these writings are obvious fruits of retrospection.

Portraits is a showcase of personal relationships, the same prevalent theme as in my first compilation, and a couple of attempts at self-description. From my college poems, the tone might have shifted from that of an apprehensive, single young man uncertain of what lies ahead to that of a reminiscing middle-ager coming to terms; from a lover and a son to that of a husband and a father who has experienced both joy and pain in more meaningful ways.

Landscape and Still-Lives hope to reflect the views of a world traveler who has been to more spectacular places, perhaps indulged in more sophisticated treats or even acquired more impressive possessions only to miss places and objects from an earlier, simpler time in his life.

Sketches shows the beginnings of my published works, a glimpse of my college poems. Here, I offer some of my personal favorites from that period together with their more recent and better Spanish translations.

And then, there are some essays .

In all, Recuerdos is my tribute to some of the people, places, and even some of the things I hold dear. For what else is there for me to write about other than what have become familiar?

I am a keen student of the Spanish language and a firm believer in the beauty of Tagalog in its more pristine form. Since both languages are an integral part of my Filipino heritage, I took the liberty of including in this compilation the Spanish
and Tagalog versions of some of my poems in an effort to help sustain the vanishing craft of writing in Spanish by Filipinos and to add my small voice to those of many other writers struggling to keep Tagalog literature alive and well.

Twenty years ago, not a few of my friends were surprised to find out that I wrote poetry. This is due in part to the fact that I wrote these while hiding behind the name "Rocky". I'm sure this project would still be a surprise to many of my friends today.

Well, at the end of the day, the writings included in this compilation may not be of much literary value but if you should find them amusing, then for me, that really should be enough.

PS. I have no plans of quitting my day job anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who's Afraid of the Editor?

by Vilma Severino, Editorial Adviser, The New Builder 1984

Rocky C., the editor, made it clear that this article would be for a limited space only. Yes, my dear readers, I, of all people, had been commissioned to write a space filler. If you think I was one who would storm out of the office in anger, you are right. I left the editor in a huff and refused to talk to him for days. I had seen the guy vulnerable before those other girls who made “tampo” to him and I thought this particular strategy might work out fine in my case too. When he failed to bring up the matter again, it dawned on me that he meant what he said. The following morning (after nights of fuming), I placed this article on his table before him. When he let go of his widest grin, I thought I wanted to kill him. My dear editor had just robbed me of my sense of self-importance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Rocky and I have always been in good terms. Not once has our relationship been marred by any friction or conflict. Ours is a loving, harmonious relationship. He would dish out his orders and I would obey. He would tell me his jokes and I would giggle. As to our conversations, they are always varied and therefore quite interesting. You see, Rocky and I have many things in common – the Beatles, deadlines, poetry, the Major, books and Basil. We both have doting mothers and an ever increasing number of female friends (his own list gets longer and longer, he once boasted). We both have our own share of fiascos in our respective love life. When work in the office is light, Rocky would talk to me about all these. For hours and hours. And I would listen and listen.

After John Lennon was shot to death, Rocky spent sleepless nights listening to Beatles songs. He wept in bed and refused to eat. He vowed to campaign for love and peace. He even went as far as falling in love with a Yoko Ono look-alike. After he had recovered from all these and was himself again, he went to the chapel and prayed for John’s soul swearing he’ll be a Beatles fan forever. Once in a bookstore, I chanced into a big poster of the fallen Beatle. I stopped, gazed and gazed again. The guy and my editor look alike! Off course Rocky blushed when I lied to him about this. I told him he was handsomer.

Erica Jong once wrote that poets fall in love to write about it. Count the number of poems Rocky has written and that’s how may his love affairs have been. His poetic cycle goes this way – he falls in love, he is now in love, he falls out of love, he is now in pain, he falls in love again, and so on. If you want to know in what stage of his cycle Rocky is undergoing now, go get a copy of the September issue of the TNB. Make sure you have your Spanish dictionary with you, otherwise…

Rocky’s closeness to his mother is common knowledge in the office. He worships her, adores her and often talks about her. Now I can’t help wondering how Rocky’s mom would react to this article. Perhaps she’d be asking, why are they treating you like this son? And Rocky would kiss her, would put his arms around her to assure her this is all for fun. If there’s anyone in this world whom Rocky doesn’t want to hurt, it is his dear mom. Plus his many girlfriends naturally. I am the exception as always.

The first time Rocky came around, he was that way with an LCC girl. As to how many there had been before this love affair, I wouldn’t know. What really struck me was that December love note. It read “to my sweetheart_____ of LCC”. For me who has always been private about my feelings, this indeed was a shocker. Besides, who would think the guy would come out in the open about his relationship? If you’ve met Rocky you know what I’m talking about. Erica Jong was right. Beware of the man you think is harmless, he will surprise you. After the LCC girl there were a lot more, perhaps one at a time, perhaps two at a time, perhaps three. I had often wondered how my editor could have avoided the risk of having them all mixed up. Had he failed, I could swear he got himself out of the fix with all ease. What Rocky wants done, Rocky gets done.

That Rocky is the Major’s favorite is quite obvious. When the guy lost his calculator, he was so hysterical nobody dared come near him. For weeks, he was sullen. He sat in one corner unsmiling, a quiet anger all over his face while he ranted about honesty and what has happened to it. The following morning a brand new calculator lay on the editor’s desk. Yes, it was from the Major. Now, the staffers have been trying to tell the big boss about their own losses. Will they be as blessed as Rocky?

Every time deadlines come, Rocky would sit by the door coldly reminding everyone who enters of his commitment to the paper. With a stern face and with eyes that pierce through those glasses, he demands and commands and no amount of teasing and smiling can make him change his mind. Call it his Taurean streak. If there is anything that Rocky forbids in the office, it is not meeting the deadline. On those found guilty, fines are imposed. I was told the editor owes the TNB fifty bucks for non-compliance.

This article has three paragraphs more to go. Here goes the first. When Rocky got hold of this article, he didn’t like it. He told me if I were to write about him, I might as well make it much longer. He use the word “exhaustive” actually. I am available for interview everyday at 6:30, he added. I reminded him this article was primarily intended as a space filler. When he insisted, I started lecturing him about press freedom and how can an editor who has been mouthing the curtailment of freedom of the press be so repressive. The fact that he kept quiet and looked disturbed tickled me no end. Getting even is indeed one of the thrills of life.

First thing in the morning, Rocky gave me the go signal to publish this article the way I wanted it. He prided himself of his sense of humor. He wouldn’t allow publication of this irreverent article if he didn’t have any, he said. And then the punchline. “Besides, I do believe that a put-down humor is a front for great admiration,” he stressed. I looked up from my paper hoping to see that characteristic grin of his when he’s joking. I didn’t see any. Me admiring Rocky? Much as I wanted to protest, I decided against it. I kept my mouth shut and later gave him my sweetest smile. The guy after all is entitled to some illusions in life.

And now for the last paragraph. I have already spent hours thinking of what to write after this first sentence but can’t make a go of anything. Here I sit hopelessly reaching out for something only to be confronted by nothing. Earlier, the editor scolded me for not filling up the space that lay waiting (he is in his blackest mood when he is lay-outing). Write five sentences at least, he ordered. This is it.

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