PATHOLOGIES OF ILOKANO POETICS:
THE SENSELESS LACK OF VISIONARY AESTHETICS
IN SENESCENT WRITING AND SENESCENT LOGIC
A Solver Agcaoili
The 2009 Souvenir Program of the 41st GUMIL Filipinas Conference spells out the aims and purposes of GUMIL Filipinas, this group of writers that began with clarity of vision on how to promote the writing and reception of Ilokano literature.
Sadly and pathetically, some pretenders to Ilokano writing have mangled this clear vision and have their own delusion of grandeur in its stead.
I quote from this document—my main source—to remind those who have forgotten what wisdom and civility and prudence are all about.
This is also a good reminder to those pretending writers who have lost what graciousness means in order to advance their cause of decapitating other people so that their swollen sense of self could swell more and more.
On the Pedro Bucaneg Awards, the souvenir program states: “…maipaay kadagiti lallaki a mabigbig iti panagsuratan ken addaan dakkel a naitulongna iti panagdur-as ti Literatura Ilokana. Saan a nababbaba ngem 50 ti tawenna, makapagsao iti Iluko ken uray ania a lengguahe ti pagsursuratanna. Maysa laeng ti mapadayawan tunggal tawen bayat ti kombension national iti bulan ti Abril. Kangatuan a pammigbig nga ipapaay ti GUMIL Filipinas kadagiti lallaki a mannurat” (“…given to recognized male writers and who greatly contributed to the development of Ilokano Literature. With an age not below 50, can speak Iluko, and writing in any language. Only one male writer is awarded each year during the national convention in [the month of] April. Highest recognition given by GUMIL Filipinas to male writers” [translation supplied]).
On the Leona Florentino Awards, the same souvenir program states: “…maipaay kadagiti babbai a mabigbig iti panagsuratan ken addaan dakkel a naitulong iti panagdur-as ti Literatura Ilokana. Saan a nababbaba ngem 50 ti tawenna, makapagsao iti Iluko ken uray ania a lengguahe ti pagsursuratanna. Maysa laeng ti mapadayawan tunggal tawen bayat ti kombension nasional iti bulan ti Abril. Kangatuan a pammigbig nga ipapaay ti GUMIL Filipinas kadagiti babbai a mannurat.” (translation: “…given to recognized female writers and who greatly contributed to the development of Ilokano Literature. With an age not below 50, can speak Iluko, and writing in any language. Only one female writer is awarded each year during the national convention in [the month of] April. Highest recognition given by GUMIL Filipinas to female writers” [translation supplied]).
In articulating some of its aims, GF states without equivocation its definition of what it regards as the qualifications of awardees of PB and LF.
In that important definition, there is that inseparable phrase, two conjuncts, in fact, that have been overlooked in the past especially in the giving of awards to some pretenders to Ilokano Literature: (a) “recognized” and (b) “great contribution”.
Let us have some smart logic here, based on traditions of “recognition from peers”.
Recognition from peers simply means that a writer being considered must be able to show “a body of work.”
And a body of work here means that that writer being considered must have sustained his or her writing all through the years, but not necessarily so such that that writer is now senile or at least close to it as some would argue.
In the better award-giving traditions, the age requirement is deemed even an inutile requisite that smacks of decency and democracy as it accords recognition only to those who have reached 60 but not necessarily capable of showing a body of work but only some stodgy columns about inanities or some poems or two about a nostalgia for one’s ‘gekgekgek’ of a barrio without any critical consciousness, a nostalgia without a critical context.
Let us get real: think of the better Ilokano writer here as an intellectual and not some pretender you pick on the wayside.
That writer must have the gift of artistic vision, a gift we can draw from that body of work.
Failing to have that artistic vision, what can the PBA or LTA winner offer, even if that writer has reached that flimsy and facile 60-year old requirement?
Any writer wanting to have that PBA or LTA without that artistic vision must be told: Hey, you pretender, get out! Now, let us account.
It is artistic vision that we want to see; it is not how a pretending writer is well connected.
It is not how that writer is able to dance the indelicate dance of the Ilokano literary curracha.
This dance, well, we have them.
And there are good dancers among our rank.
For real, many of the younger Ilokano writers are not idiots—far from it.
Some are even smarter than those who can flaunt that they are already 60 years old and thus, have reached the age of patriarchy and thus, too, have now become Ilokano literary feudal lords and masters.
In better award giving bodies, there is even the recognition for young writers—a concept that seems to be ‘unknown’ and ‘alien’ to GF.
What has GF done, so far, is to recognize old and dead writers.
In doing this, GF has left out younger generations to look for inspiration elsewhere.
Then again, the younger generations know their literary theory, their literary history, their literary criticism, and the real art and craft of writing drawn from their readings of other world literatures.
Ah, they can challenge the older generations who can write stodgy columns but who have not read Neruda or Paz or Eco but only their own stodgy columns and their own ‘paspasarak’ award-winning pieces they do not tire of reading and re-reading.
Think of these braggarts and catch them in their creased pants and creased foreheads if they know the connection between the political unconscious and the reflexivity of literary production and consumption, much less the connection between displacements and estrangements, and diasporic Ilokano writing.
We realize too soon: zilch. No can, they say, no can.
When I was secretary general and then vice president of GF, I argued for the removal of the age requirement for these awards.
I argued for its removal because it was plain and simple a case of silliness as some 60-year olds today argue for fear that they become another emperor without those clothes he thought he had while parading before the gathered public.
I argued—in the same way that I argued for the recognition of GUMIL Oahu so it can legitimately get out of GUMIL Hawai’i and that argument became a resolution—that the age requirement is a clear case of discrimination, a form of institutional and organizational injustice.
Any writer worth his or her salt, I argued further, must be able to readily recognize the sources of all forms of injustice and do something to end these forms.
The pretender of a writer, of course, can always pretend.
That principle was followed during the four years that I served GF and the presidency of Honor Blanco Cabie, one of our more respectable writers whose body of work has yet to be recognized by GF because some other people in the right places have been recognized for their lousy work ahead of him.
(Who knows, for instance, that Cabie is one of our foremost sonnet poets, in English and Ilokano? Is there anyone who has come across his journey poems written in airports and airplanes, the whole account a fecund semiotics of the vast possibilities of the journey motif in every person’s life? But who reads Ilokano literature written in English among those who espouse senescence and ‘compadrazgo’ as the basis for the PBA and LFA?)
In those years of service too, I tried to recast the concept of the ‘annual convention’ into an honest-to-goodness ‘conference-style’ exchange and diffusion of ideas and knowledge on writing, literature, and criticism in general, and the art and craft of Ilokano criticism in particular.
Which worked for a time, and then this aesthetic recidivism to the path to mediocrity. Who wants to hear “how to write a poem” for 41 years, pray, tell me?
The problem with Ilokano poetics is that many of us have turned too prosaic that we have forgotten that literature ought to make us more human and humane.
That it should make us sensitive to all forms of social iniquities.
That it should equip us with the sensibilities that make us understand more about human life and not about award-only for the 60-year old Ilokano writer.
That it should arm us with a liberating perspective so that we are able to see the world of human life more fully in the round.
The trouble with writing stodgy columns just to fill a page is that we lose sight with the renewing metaphor of life, that metaphor that suggests and reveals vim and vigor, that metaphor that can open up to us a cosmos with its vast possibilities.
It is that same metaphor that teaches us humility—a virtue that is needed by old people in their 60’s who have not learned to be morally upright but only flaunt their absent moral ascendancy based on the flattering ‘im/possibilities’ of the compadrazgo relationship they have nurtured parasitically and virally infecting in a pandemic way many Ilokano writers—like swine flu—through all the years.
Those of us who are students of Ilokano literary history try to understand that there is much power in historical consciousness that is critical and creative, a consciousness pre-formed and pre-shaped not by what impotent prose an illogical columnist can dish out to make us believe that his cause is most just and fair, but by that vision to create an artistically possible world for all our people.
This leads us to the challenge for the current GF leadership.
The challenge for this leadership is this: Get real.
The challenge for Ilokano poetics is for all leaderships of all Ilokano writers groups to acknowledge that our ranks have become a fertile ground for people who are morally and aesthetically corrupt, decadent, devious.
The challenge for all of us is to win the young—to win them young.
However, we cannot do this winning of the young—an urgent program of action—unless the clanging-cymbal kind of moral ascendancy of the senescent tyrants of Ilokano poetics, and thus, Ilokano Literature in general, remains the standard for what is good for us and for our Ilokano literature.
We must acknowledge this: these Ilokano literary bigots and tyrants are entrenched in the corridor of organizational power.
The challenge for all of us is to give a full accounting of all the PBA and LTA given and recall all those awards given to those who cannot prove (a) that they have a recognized and substantial body of work and (b) that they have contributed greatly to the cause of promoting Ilokano literature.
Fair is fair.
And may I remind that the leadership of GF is a leadership for all GF members, in the Philippines and abroad.
We need to account this leadership with seriousness if we want Ilokano literature to not only live but to thrive—and to thrive forever.
And the time to do this is now.
It is high time we put some real brains to the GF after all those years of despair.