It is always an inspiration for an aspiring literary writer like me to listen in to discussions of established authors. This is especially so during the four-hour public forum on "New Trends in Philippine Writing" held at the UPB last Friday afternoon where some of the Filipino literary greats were. The speakers were National Artists Bienvenido Lumbera and Virgilio Almario, as well as three other major authors and noted professors Charlson Ong, Vim Nadera Jr., and Jun Cruz Reyes. These famous writers and other associates of the UP Institute of Creative Writing are in Baguio for the 6-13 April "47th UP National Writers Workshop."
Hoping that I will not misrepresent any of the speakers in any way, I'd like to share with you some info/insights I gathered from the discussions:
Reyes: Philippine Literature Alive and Well
Jun Reyes started out by noting some of the gaps or issues in Philippine Literature like the great number of potential but untapped writers in English or Filipino in this era of globalization, or the unpopularity among the larger number of Filipinos of the country's canonized literary works. Nevertheless, he affirmed that Philippine literature is not dead -- it is simply transforming according to the demand or need of the times.
As a blogger, I was especially attentive to his allusion to some statements of a fellow writer who advised bloggers to (please) edit their posts (for "why should you have us read your drafts?") and, for those who are bent on celebrating their angst and imposing their writing upon others, to consult a psychiatrist instead. Goooood points. Will keep the advise in mind.
Ong: Trends in Content and Style
Drawing from his vast experiences as a literary editor, Charleson Ong apprised the audience on the current themes or content of fiction --from OFWs, Filipinos' marriage to foreigners, ethnic or local culture, to gender issues. He observed that many rising writers today dwell on speculative/futuristic narratives and that the social realism characteristic of Protest Literature in the 1960s and 1970s has now given way to the surrealistic. He also noted that as to style, not much has changed even in blogging where works of fiction still follow the narrative format.
Nadera: Rise of Regional Writings
Vim Nadera showcased the development and recent resurgence of regional literary organizations and writings (see his related article here) as well as other newfound means of popularizing literary texts. The latter includes UP Likhaan's -- and the world's first -- "text-a-poem contest" and UP Diliman's Ikotula passenger jeepneys that display poetic lines as they round the streets of the campus. The poetic jousts Balagtasan and Bukanegan are still alive and well, he said, and are keeping their themes abreast with the times. (See an analysis of the Filipino's inductive and intuitive reasoning based on versed debates in this article.)
Almario: Return to our Roots
Virgilio Almario tied his talk to Nadera's topic and to the UN declaration of 2008 as the "International Year of Languages." With one language dying each year, the declaration's importance cannot be brushed aside, he said. He added that this is especially significant to the Philippines which has 100+ languages (see list of the Philippines' 171 languages and 4 extinct languages here), which translates to 100+ "repositories of knowledge and culture that form part of our national culture/identity."
Believing that language finds its greatest use in literature ("Ang pinakamatayog na paggamit ng wika ay sa pamamagitan ng panitikan"), he hoped for the continuation of the resurgence in regional writings and for the rise of young writers who will not content themselves with just aping western literature but will strive for greater creativity in their work. He ended his speech by reading a short poem entitled Inday Djutay (Little Inday) which he appropriates to mean a call for a return to our roots.
Lumbera: Return to our Oral Tradition
Bienvenido Lumbera focused his talk on the Philippines' oral tradition ("tradisyong pabigkas"). He mentioned that three of the greatest works in Philippine Literature were spread through oral tradition -- Gaspar Aquino de Belen's Pasyon, Francisco Balagtas' Florante at Laura, Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere & El Filibusterismo.
He further informed his audience that the Pasyon was originally recited or sang to or over a dying person to help her or him cross over to the regions beyond, and that the Pabasa (singing of the Pasyon) was used to educate those who couldn't read.