Note: This list has been updated on May 4, 2018 to include the recommendations of Angelo Suarez.
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The scorching heat of Philippine summer, coupled with the stress-inducing traffic and the daily grind of a 9 to 5 job, can drive anyone to search for peace, quiet, and refreshment whether it’s up in the mountains or down by the beach. But wherever you decide to escape for a vacation, it’s a good idea to carry a good book with you, a solid companion especially for those looking to unplug completely and leave all the noise behind, internet connection and social media included.
We reached out to several local writers and artists to help us come up with a reading guide for the summer. You’ll find a variety of genres, from fiction to self-help, a mix of both local and foreign titles, and even books that offer a dose of Fil-Am angst.
Juan Miguel Severo (poet, “Habang Wala Pa Sila,” “Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado”)
“Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve often been asked by aspiring spoken word artists and fans of my work for book recommendations and this has always been my go-to reply: Rilke. “Letters to a Young Poet.” If you haven’t read it yet, do it now. I read it for a class back in college and liked it immediately. However, it took me a second reading of it a couple of years after (when I already started writing spoken word poems), when it changed how I viewed my self, my passions, my solitude, and ultimately, my life. The past several years of my life have been an attempt to live in accordance with some of Rilke’s words, an internalization and actualization of his profound advice. Every creative soul who dreads aloneness or is still in fear of his process and his truth must read Rilke’s letters. Opening somebody else’s mail can never get this rewarding.
“Letters to a Young Poet” is available in major bookstores.
Laurel Flores Fantauzzo (author, “The First Impulse”)
“American Son” by Brian Ascalon Roley
Growing up in a majority white suburb of Los Angeles, my mixed-race, Fil-Am angst often felt like the only mixed-race Fil-Am angst in the whole world. It was only in literature that I learned I did not ache alone. In 2000, I found the slim novel “American Son” by Brian Ascalon Roley, about lonely mixed-race Fil-Am brothers surviving ‘90s Los Angeles. The story seized my heart and never let go. I recognized my own confused silence and sensitivity in the teenaged narrator, Gabe, as he struggles between his self-styled gangster older brother, his single, working class Filipina mom, and the legacy of his absent white father. The language is spare and tense, and its compelling portrait of Gabe’s searching affections and conflicts make this a resonant read nearly 20 years later.
“American Son” is available through Amazon.
“There Will Come a Time” by Carrie Arcos
In 2014, I found another Fil-Am protagonist I now think of as Gabe’s spiritual cousin. In the young adult novel “There Will Come a Time” by Carrie Arcos, Mark Santos lives the aftermath of his twin sister’s death in a car accident he survived. It’s an updated 2010s portrait of Fil-Am family life in Los Angeles, with Mark living in a blended household with a loving Italian-American stepmom and a hardworking Filipino-American dad, and he stays connected to an eclectic group of friends who help him through. The book’s unvarnished portrayal of grief, survival, and keeping your loved ones close to you even after death, will help young readers feel as seen and understood as they need to be.
“There Will Come a Time” is available through Amazon.
Katrina Stuart Santiago (critic and author, “Rebellions: Notes on Independence” and “Romances: Variations on Love”)
“Republic of Taste, The Untold Stories of Cavite Cuisine” by Ige Ramos
It would be a mistake to think that you need to be a foodie or a culinary scholar or a food writer in order to enjoy this book, because the moment you open it, you realize that while it might be talking about food, it is also about all the things that bring food to our tables: history and geography, agriculture and heritage, the underground economy and capitalism.
Ramos takes what would be considered by Nick Joaquin as the “heritage of smallness” of the provincial and the palengke and makes it larger-than-life. With beautiful photographs — who else can make carinderia fare instagrammable? — and wonderful design, it’s a book that will make you salivate for food, but also cultural work that took its time in being made.
To think this nothing more than a cookbook with recipes to follow would be to miss out on what is at the heart of this book: the belief that the food that nourishes us is cultural, that local fare from the kalye to the carinderia defines us, and that heritage is in everything from how we pair our ulam to the heirloom recipes from the hacienda.
The reminder is that eating local is a political act, even as the choice of what and where to eat, is a privilege in and by itself. Certainly, a reminder we all need these days, yes? And if we don’t like being reminded: then there are recipes to follow, and food to eat.
“Republic of Taste, The Untold Stories of Cavite Cuisine” is available online through email@example.com or the official website.
“Traffic, Vol 1.” by various writers, edited by Leslie de Chavez, W Don Flores, and Lyra Garcellano
You know how you went to Art Fair Philippines and took photos of everything you saw, posing with artworks and installations, from the bright, big, neon ones to the emo ones, and of course that one about extrajudicial killings for more relevance on your Instagram? You know how it’s now fashionable to do art, or at least be surrounded by it, or at least rub elbows with artists, collectors, gallerists, and whoever else is deemed “important” to this “scene”?
“Traffic” collects essays on art and its making at this specific point in time in the Philippines, a discursive act that is necessary, a frame against which we might understand better what it’s like to be working in art at this point, given the state of affairs. This is not what those who capitalize on the art scene might want to read; but for the rest of us who are consuming art tangentially — i.e., not as collectors or gallerists who earn from art — it is an important document that reminds of the creative labor that goes into the oft-celebrated, but rarely grounded or defined, art scene. That cultural workers here are rarely allowed to speak honestly is of course part of what makes reading “Traffic” exciting: it’s like reading blind items about the intricacies of the art sector.
Even more exciting: the fact that there are cultural workers here who are actually thinking about what they’re doing, rooted as they are in this context, no matter how far their creativity brings them, devoid of a romance for the local. Such a rarity.
“Traffic, Vol. 1” is available online through artbooks.ph.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat At Lupa” by Emiliana Kampilan
There is no more important comics creator than Emiliana Kampilan at this point in our history, and while that is a grand declaration to make, there is this first volume of “Dead Balagtas” that proves it true.
Do not fear the use of Tagalog — everything here is easily accessible, from the powerful illustrations to the dialogue that captures our changing lingua franca, and even the intertext between history and fiction, geography and science. Kampilan gathers stories from our past and present and weaves together a narrative that is painfully familiar because it is forgotten, buried deep in that part of us that refuses to talk about nation. Here is a reminder that we are bound by the same things, no matter the evolving stories of love and becoming, the shifting perspectives on gender and sexuality, because there are the constants of a nation and struggle.
The power of Kampilan is a clarity of vision. One sees where the map starts and where it ends, but the process of getting from one point to the next, the stories that are woven into this geography and history of nation, is what surprises, rendering what is universal to be irrelevant, even as it builds upon what are the true universals for us here, where we are: the inequality and injustice, the crises of privilege and identity, and in the midst, people who live through it, keeping their heads above water, as they gather the energy to go against that current, and swim ashore.
We are those people. If anything, Kampilan tells us we’ve got a long way to go. She would be correct.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa” is available at Fully Booked branches, the Adarna Bookshop in Quezon City, or through the Adarna website.
“Pro Bernal, Anti Bio” by Ishmael Bernal with Jorge Arago and Angela Stuart-Santiago*
National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal started discussing his own memoir with collaborator and closest friend Jorge Arago 25 years ago, insisting that it be a tell-all, not a hagiography, not a listing of who one’s friends or mentors are, not an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Bernal and Arago would die 16 years apart from each other, with the unfinished memoir existing as nothing more than interview transcripts and a couple of essays from Arago. It would be left to Stuart-Santiago, who built a book from what Bernal and Arago left behind, using as anchor the insistence that it be an anti-biography.
The final book builds an imagined conversation between Bernal and Arago, while allowing multifarious voices of critics, friends, scholars who intervene, expound, build context, for what it is the two friends are discussing.
And what are they talking about? As Bernal had envisioned, “Pro Bernal” is about Philippine cinema, as it is about Mother Lily, as it is about show business. It’s about filmmaking and creativity. It’s about activism and cultural work. It’s about depression and drug use. It’s about love and homosexuality. It’s about the compromises one makes, the challenges of being engaged, in the changing political landscape of nation. It’s a display of Arago as organic intellectual, Bernal as public intellectual.
It’s about us as cultural workers decades since Philippine culture gave birth to Bernal, who knew of the value of truthfulness and honesty, the importance of telling-all, in a nation that lives off too many silences and exists on duplicity. At the risk of tooting my own horn, producer as I am of this book, there is nothing like “Pro Bernal” in these shores — just like there is no other National Artist like Ishmael Bernal. This book proves why.
“Pro Bernal, Anti Bio” is available at Uno Morato in Quezon City, the UP Press Bookstore, Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio, and online through artbooks.ph.
Carljoe Javier (managing editor, Anino Comics; author, “The Kobayashi Maru of Love,” “Geek Tragedies”)
“Tools of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss
This book is more a collection than actually written by the author best known for the “The 4-Hour Workweek.” And there’s a lot of stuff here that isn’t for everyone. But this voluminous tome (and its companion book, “Tribe of Mentors,” which I would also recommend) would fill up a summer of both reading and thinking. It’s a book that collects thoughts and recommendations from some of the top performers in athletics, business, creative fields, and pretty much anything else you can think of. If you’re looking for something that helps you become better at what you do, and also become better at living life, this book is a pretty good place to start. Sure, maybe only 60 percent of it will speak to each individual person directly, but because it’s packed with so much material, that’s still more than 100 percent of a lot of books.
“Tool of Titans” is available through Fully Booked.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa” by Emilia Kampilan
Full disclaimer that the book is published by Anino Comics, and if I could, I would be shamelessly plugging all our books here. Why this one? Well, apart from that it’s the latest book out, it pushes the boundaries of the comic book medium (making it essential for comic book fans) and it tells incredibly true and heartfelt stories (making it perfect for all readers). The book moves from an incredibly ambitious conceptual framework, telling its own creation myth and then proceeding to teach history, all while weaving in some of the most beautiful love stories you will ever read.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa” is available at Fully Booked branches, the Adarna Bookshop in Quezon City, or through the Adarna website.
“Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View” by various authors
We all know “Star Wars” (and if you don’t, really?) and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has the original trilogy pretty much committed to memory. And so it’s a daunting task to offer different takes on it, which is what this collection does so well. There are so many insightful approaches and interesting characters that it’s a wealth of story. Think you know what’s what with the Battle of Yavin? Experience it in many new ways. Revisit the Mos Eisley cantina yet again, and hear the stories swimming around that cesspool. And in perhaps the most striking piece, understand the trash compactor monster in a wholly new and unexpected way in “The Baptist.” A must-read for fans, but a wonderful collection for anyone.
“Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View” is available at Fully Booked branches and National Book Store.
Chuckberry J. Pascual (author, “Ang Nawawala,” “Pagpasok sa Eksena: Ang Sinehan sa Panitikan at Pag-aaral ng Piling Sinehan sa Recto”)
“May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” edited by Allan N. Derain*
There may be quite a number of books in the market now about creatures from Philippine lower mythology, but this eclectic anthology edited by Palanca award-winning novelist Allan Derain still proves to be different, if not groundbreaking.
It is the first anthology to approach the figure of the aswang from multiple perspectives: there is an essay about the representation of the aswang in Philippine komiks, an essay that teases out the connections between the aswang and the CIA, graphic fiction adapted from an indigenous myth from Bicol, and of course, a trove of short stories and poems.
“May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” is available at the Ateneo University Press, Fully Booked branches, and National Book Store.
“Sapantaha: Kalipunan ng mga Maikling Kuwentong Ispekulatibo at Imahinatibo” edited by Luna Sicat Cleto and Rolando Tolentino*
At first glance, one may think that the stories that make up this anthology are mere speculative pieces, “Filipino style.” But if one bothers to look back, Philippine literature has never been a stranger to most things that are deemed as “non-realist,” what with our epics, folktales, myths, and legends.
And this collection, edited by Sicat Cleto and Tolentino, professors from the University of the Philippines and founding members of Katha, a group of writers of experimental fiction, is a logical continuation of that tradition: “Sapantaha” is made up of “speculative and imaginative” stories that are firmly rooted in and influenced by Philippine realities.
“Sapantaha: Kalipunan ng mga Maikling Kuwentong Ispekulatibo at Imahinatibo” is available at the UP Press Bookstore and Solidaridad Bookshop.
“Kami Sa Lahat ng Mataba” by U Z. Eliserio
There is nearly nothing conventional about this book of criticism, from its title (which is a riff on the title of Allan Popa’s poetry collection, “Kami sa Lahat ng Masama,” which is derived from the last line of the Lord’s Prayer) to the name of its author (yes, he has one letter for a first name), down to its choice of critical language. The latter is the book’s shining virtue: it discusses Lacan, talks about different approaches to translation, and gives a commentary on literary history, all in accessible Filipino.
Eliserio has the qualities of an excellent essayist and critic: clear-eyed, insightful, and most of all, self-deprecatingly funny.
“Kami Sa Lahat ng Mataba” is available through UST Press.
Mervin Malonzo (co-founder, Haliya Comics; comic book creator and illustrator “Tabi Po”)
The “Hitchhiker’s Guide” Trilogy by Douglas Adams
The universe is a joke. Life is meaningless and it’s alright. We can laugh at it. As a moneyless college student looking for a purpose in life and questioning religion, I found solace in Douglas Adams’ philosophical, smart, and funny view of life, the universe, and everything. This series of hilarious books shaped the person I am now.
By the way, this trilogy is actually made up of five books: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish,” and “Mostly Harmless.”
The “Hitchhiker’s Guide” Trilogy is available in Fully Booked stores and through Amazon.
“Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
This story feels and reads like a Douglas Adams book so I liked it immediately. It’s about an angel and a demon who have been on Earth for a long time and decided to team up to stop the coming Rapture. Neither of them want the world to end because they’re rather fond of their lifestyle here. There’s also the missing Anti-christ.
This funny book explores a lot of philosophical and theological ideas, like good and evil, organized religion, free will, and human nature.
“Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” is available in National Book Store and Fully Booked branches.
“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke
I recommend this to people who love books — not just in terms of story but actual physical books. This is a thick epic fantasy set in 19th century England where remnants of an ancient magic exist and only two magicians have access to it. The characters, world, and lore are so fully-realized that even the footnotes paint a very believable world. I love this story so much that I also followed the equally well-done T.V. adaptation.
“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” is available through Amazon.
“Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by Jose Rizal
I dreaded reading “Noli” and “Fili” in high school because it meant I had to memorize the chapter titles and passages that would surely come out in our test papers. However, upon reading it outside the academe, I was able to appreciate the story deeply. I understood why these books sparked the revolution. I also remembered it to be a very serious book when I was in school but I found out that it also has funny and light moments. The books affected me so much that I named my own original characters after the characters from these books. My son’s name also came from these books.
“Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” are available at National Book Store and Fully Booked branches.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Sayaw ng mga Dagat at Lupa” by Emiliana Kampilan
Emiliana Kampilan successfully makes the subject of our history interesting to everyone, especially the youth, by injecting humor, hugot, and an art style that’s appealing to both the new and older generation of comic readers. She also employs creative storytelling techniques that take advantage of my beloved comic medium. You can see this in the superb transitions, panelling, and design of the book. Moreover, she has this unique way of humanizing historical figures or even inanimate objects (tectonic plates in this book), updating them, and taking wild but well-thought-of creative liberties in making them relatable to the readers. She educates and entertains at the same time.
“Dead Balagtas Tomo I: Mga Sayaw ng Dagat at Lupa” is available at Fully Booked branches, the Adarna Bookshop in Quezon City, or through the Adarna website.
Lawrence Ypil (poet, “The Highest Hiding Place”)
Books by Byung-Chul Han
I might wish to blame book design for this one, but for the past few months I have been devouring the books by contemporary philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Part of a series of less than 100-page handy philosophy books published by MIT press, Byung-Chul Han’s books seem like the perfect crossover between quick summer travel read, nostalgic college philosophy required book, and the kind of sneak peek into the realms of the deep you might wish to slip in in between reading thick novels. I’ve slipped my copy literally in my back pocket, in the inside portions of my backpack, inside a thicker book — as if it were illicit.
Whether it be talking about the need for mystery in “The Transparency Society,” or the call for the Other in “The Agony of Eros,” or about the true bane of contemporary society — burnout — Byung-Chul Han sheds light, through lucid thought (translated from the original German) and perceptive insight, on what it means to live in a world where everyday life is exposed through an endless stream of social media and the common ways of measuring success is primarily through productivity. In many ways, it is a rallying call for the recuperation of mystery and the slowness of the human pace, and tacitly what it means to ponder thoughtfully in the middle of a commute, in the deep of night. A book you had initially bought because it felt light in the hands until it gave the surprise of all surprise of all good books — that we think about our lives differently.
Byung-Chul Han’s books are available through Amazon.
M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac (Xi Zuq, teacher and reading advocate, “Ngumiti si Andoy,” and “Supremo”)
“Archipelago of Stars” by Gutierrez Mangansakan II
Ateneo de Naga University Press released “Archipelago of Stars” by Gutierrez Mangansakan II last year. It is a collection of essays that interweaves mythical, mystical, personal, and factual accounts as a way of showing the complexity of his reality in the Cotabato region. Mangansakan's use of conversational language and peppering of humorous lines make the book an easy read.
You can read one of the essays in the November 2017 issue of Cotabato Literary Journal or inquire about the book through Ateneo de Naga University Press’s Facebook page.
“Malong” by Mary Ann Ordinario
“Malong” is one of latest releases of ABC Educational Development Center, the oldest publishing house of children's books outside of Metro Manila. Mary Ann Ordinario of Kidapawan, Cotabato Province wrote the text of this picture book that enumerates the various uses of the malong cloth, while Pepot Atienza created the colorful illustrations using clay to mirror the designs of the malong. Besides being a visual feast, “Malong” is a peek at the people's life in the south-central part of Mindanao.
“Malong” is available through ABC Educational Development Center.
“Black Arcadia” by Kristine Ong Muslim
Kristine Ong Muslim's poetry collection, “Black Arcadia,” was published by the University of the Philippines Press last year. It is a reimagination of our complex realities using poetic language and form. Making sense of the world(s) Muslim created in the book is an experience in itself.
“Black Arcadia” is available through the University of the Philippines Press.
Angelo Suarez (poet, “The Nymph of MTV,” “Else It Was Purely Girls”)
“Revolutionaries, Not Terrorists” and “Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms” by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines
There’s no better time to immerse in the documents released by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) than now. In the wake of President Duterte’s fascistic declaration that the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army are terrorists, followed by his posturing that he remains interested in peace talks despite enforcing various policies that undermine the aspiration for peace founded on social and economic justice, just how important is it for us to understand what exactly these Maoists are a protracted people’s war for almost half a century for?
Just the very existence of the NDFP’s draft of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) — considered the heart of the peace talks between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines — debunks the baseless accusation that terroristic motives underpin their armed struggle. CASER also spells out why, indeed, the CPP’s red fighters are revolutionaries, not terrorists — a comparison made in such stark, I’d even argue hip, contrast by the zine “Revolutionaries.”
Both publications may be downloaded for free. “Revolutionaries, Not Terrorists” is available through Liberation, the official publication of the NDFP. The NDFP draft of CASER is available on the NDFP website.
“Ang Hari ng Komyut” by Lizette Daluz and “Keith Busilak” by Julius Villanueva
Daluz and Villanueva have both contributed to national democratic propaganda supporting the peasant struggle for land justice and food security in the countryside, but they’re just as sharp casting light on the struggle for/of mass public transport in urban spaces through their comics.
With more and more of our public utilities being sold off to compradors — local capitalists who facilitate foreign plunder — the conversation around who owns the infrastructure for social services as well as who operates it for what ends grows more and more indispensable. The fact that the urgent maintenance and repair of the MRT are shouldered by taxpayers in spite of its private ownership, and consequently its inevitable monopoly, is more than enough indication that the state is extorting from citizens for the benefit of cronies favored by bureaucrats in authority. And such institutional theft — which has been going on even before Marcos came to power, perfected with impunity by Marcos, then replicated by every one of his successors — has turned its plunderous gaze of late to the jeepney sector, with tens of thousands of drivers and small operators standing to lose their livelihood, despite their heroic effort of consolidating public transport on the streets with little to no government assistance since Manila was ravaged by the U.S. during the Philippine-American war, over the Department of Transportation’s corporatization of the jeepney system.
“Ang Hari ng Komyut” is as much a love letter to mass public transport as it is a declaration of solidarity. As early as its first page, it indicts for-profit ride-sharing applications that jack fares up and heighten the exploitation of labor, before extolling commuter culture in several panels as symmetrical as they are spartan. Structured as a comic-strip serial of six square panels per page, it alludes to mass public transport’s role in the organization of everyday life, rife with the relief of regularity if properly carried out as a public service rather than a private business.
Daluz’s regard for the commuter is mirrored by Villanueva’s regard for the transport worker who navigates the streets as much as the social conditions that allow him to work and bar him from sufficiently earning from it.
In “Keith Busilak,” we follow a cab driver whose support for Duterte, consolidated by the latter’s electioneering promises, is challenged by the reality that Duterte’s fascist rule has only enforced, reproduced, and aggravated the lead character’s impoverishment. The volume may be thin, but it’s packed with class contradictions — from its well-intentioned protagonist embodying one of the milieu’s most maligned and misunderstood sectors of the working class, the cab driver, to its very production, independently produced by Villanueva even as its publicly accessible on Haliya Publishing’s website.
“Ang Hari ng Komyut” is available at Fully Booked and Filbars branches and through Adarna House. “Keith Busilak” is available through Haliya Publishing.
“erasures” by Mich Cervantes, “Sequencing Details” by Hulyen, “Estela Vadal” by Marlon Hacla
Variability has long been a hallmark of modernist production, and Cervantes, Hulyen, and Hacla keep the modernist flame burning.
Known foremost for their comics work, Cervantes and Hulyen destabilize the main characteristic that makes comics comics — the sequence. Bound together by a cardboard coil bearing the title, “erasures” is made of two separate components, a collection of 17 drawings and a collection of textual fragments that may well be the drawings’ captions. However, “the text does not correspond to the illustrations in chronological order in an attempt to isolate object from sentiment,” Cervantes’ endnote explains, insisting on a break of the habit of reading in sequence. While it may very well be a puzzle, a challenge to match the text with its corresponding illustration, the zine appears to favor the tactic of defamiliarization, estranging the reader from what is taken for granted to be an image of a bus ticket, a blister pack of contraceptive pills, and corals by mismatching them with “funeral,” “21st century destroyer,” “souvenir.”
While equally interactive, Hulyen’s “Sequencing Details” works in a different vein, making use of a cardboard fold-out featuring empty, but numbered, panels. It comes with stickers that are discernibly the panels’ contents, arranged randomly for the reader to work on. One intimates a fairly logical story — an updated take on the local legend of the pineapple — cut up into isolated sections, but like “erasures” Hulyen’s work works best when the various components mis-correspond — as when the stickers are deliberately stuck in a random sequence or, better yet, stuck on surfaces other than the cardboard fold-out’s, leaving traces of a comicbook on commonplace non-comic objects.
Hacla, on the other hand, comes from a different discipline. A poet, Hacla in his latest work composes not just a poem, but what appears to be an author. Estela Vadal, his composition, is an electronic personality, a bot who composes algorithmically determined verses. Some of these verses have been compiled into the zine “Ito ang Pangalan ng Aking mga Dila,” curated by Hacla himself, but more importantly, more verses are continuously being composed on Facebook where Vadal may be followed. Posting cryptic lines with seeming regularity as status updates, Vadal is even more engaging on Facebook Messenger, where she responds to messages with eerie turns of phrases as delicate as they are convulsive. But Hacla’s real achievement isn’t in the beauty of Vadal’s individual lines coalescing into fragile oeuvre, but in his interrogation — and subsequent expansion — of the categories of poetry and the poetic, from the insistence that poetry production consists of composing the author function itself the way one composes code, to calling attention to calcified habits of language-use we’ve internalized as our collective standards for determining whether a turn of phrase is poetic or not.
“erasures” may be purchased directly through the author. “Sequencing Details” may also be purchased directly through the author’s official page. Estela Vadal may be reached through Facebook.
“Daddy Digong Issue Volume 2: Para sa Alaala ng Yumao Nating Ama” by Magpies Press, “Apo sa Ika-22 Siglo: Mga Abstrak” by Tilde Acuna
As in Marcos’ time, a milieu of outright fascism produces amazing literature. Even several years later, one remains in awe of Pete Lacaba’s “Prometheus Unbound,” a poem that encodes in acrostic the agitational slogan “Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta,” sending the message to the public that martial law was not invincible, that it could be breached and therefore overthrown. As Duterte militarizes more and more of our daily lives — of course while facilitating the rehabilitation of the Marcoses — the times demand that poets detourne familiar forms to agitate their audience into participating into the anti-fascist mass movement, just as Lacaba detourned the form of the innocuous apolitical lyric into a work of agit-prop.
Magpies Press, a collective of writers largely based in Los Baños, released a peculiarly formatted zine. Titled “Para sa alaala ng yumao nating ama,” the publication took the form of the typical family album, literally using images printed on photo paper inserted in plastic sleeves, to parody the macho-feudal paternalism between rabid Duterte supporters and the even more rabid fascist himself. Every photo comes with a handwritten inscription on the backside, a mock dedication addressed to the president as if he were that specific writer’s father — his supporters call him Tatay Digong or Daddy Digong after all.
Tilde Acuna, on the other hand, took the form of the academic conference program, filling it with fictional abstracts from made-up scholars living in a future where the restoration of the Marcoses has been completed. Titled “Apo sa Ika-22 Siglo,” it contains abstracts to inexistent conference papers whose ridiculous titles range from “Katutubong Ugat ng Lahi sa Tasaday” to “Timog-Silangang Asya, Disiplinang Marcos-Suharto.” They are even arranged according to topic categories such as “Pagbabalik-tanaw sa kadakilaang lahi” and “Ang Apo at ang Daigdig.” What is funny is despite their differing formats — one a family album, one a conference program — they take on the same fascistic paternalism, whether under Marcos or under Duterte, that emerges from the maintenance of semi-colonial, semi-feudal life in the Philippines.
“Daddy Digong Issue Volume 2: Para sa Alaala ng Yumao Nating Ama” is available at Uno Morato in Quezon City orthrough Magpies’ Facebook page. “Apo sa ika-22 Siglo: Mga Abstrak” may be purchased through the author.
“Sacada” by Alan Navarra* and “Spare Change Paradise Bank” by Ev Yu
The catalog is also a form begging to be detourned, particularly in a milieu of heightened consumerism. Alan Navarra and Ev Yu’s takes on the form reveal them to be purveyors of the popular, lapping it up in order to refract it in the form of critique. What’s particularly impressive about them is their critique is as evident in the content of their works as it is in the very modes of their production.
Navarra, for instance, who works in advertising, has released a truly functional catalog titled “Sacada.” By referencing outright the seasonal workers in sugar plantations whose backbreaking labor is abused twice over — one, through unfair wages and ungodly work hours; two, through the maintenance of feudal relations where landlords who have acquired vast tracts of land by way of illegal, often murderous, grabs own and make money off it despite not tilling it themselves — he identifies himself as a precarious worker in the creative industries dealing with the field’s own kind of exploitation and abuse. With wry humor, he has literally tapped a growing publisher of commercial literature to publish a catalog, prices included, containing small reproductions of what could be posters, stickers, and other items the reader may order directly from the author.
Yu, on the other hand, illustrates life under the crushing weight of finance capitalism, rendering in stark line drawings the consumerism foisted on us by the terrorism of banks. Among its terrifying items are “pocket cathedrals,” supposedly made by “Earthly-Passages-to-the-Afterlife Solutions Co.”; a “fan-type wall-mounted friendly neighborhood”, part of a section on so-called “packet living” designed for “embracing overpopulation as a lifestyle,” whose human-sized sleeves, unfolding like a book, can accommodate people “up to 1,000 kilos”; even “social climbing mini-courses” that include sessions on smiling and “how to make insincere connections happen and last.”
“Sacada” is available at Fully Booked or through Lazada. “Spare Change Paradise Bank” is available at Studio Soup Zine Library in Cubao X, Quezon City.
*Katrina Stuart Santiago is the producer of “Pro Bernal, Anti Bio” and the daughter of the book's co-author Angela Stuart-Santiago.
*Chuckberry J. Pascual is a contributor to “May Tiktik sa Bubong, May Sigbin sa Silong” and “Sapantaha: Kalipunan ng mga Maikling Kuwentong Ispekulatibo at Imahinatibo.”
*Angelo Suarez wrote the foreword to Alan Navarra's "Sacada."