I. Why I Write
On occasions like this when I am asked to talk about my poetics
the image of the Great Heron standing in the mudflats comes
to mind. It is an image that brings me back to a long bus ride
I once took with my parents from Tagbilaran City to the town
of Ubay to visit my grandparents for the summer vacation. I
hated those bus rides because invariably, too many people were
crushed together, and under the seats were all sorts of odds
and ends-- potatoes, bananas, dried fish, corn grits and chickens
tied at the feet to be sold at a public market in some town.
There were fewer buses in Bohol then and when the one we took
blew one of its tires, it meant a tedious wait in the middle
of nowhere while the driver walked to the nearest vulcanizing
I was a hungry, hot-tempered and testy 10-yr. old from the heat
and dust when our bus stopped in San Pascual, a barrio 25 kms.
from our destination. But my father hoisted me down from the
seat, brushed the white lime dust from my hair, and led me up
a hill where the cogon grass swayed to a pungent breeze. From
this lookout point, the rice in the paddies were ready for harvesting.
“Watch,” my father instructed, pointing to a pond where two
carabaos were cooling off. Suddenly, my father clapped his hands,
and as if by magic, a flock of white birds flew out of the water
behind the clump of cogon grass. The birds circled and took
my heart with them as they flew away.
“Herons,” my father named them. They were perfect in flight,
and as the child I was, I must have associated beauty with motion.
I must also have associated magic with the way the hands can
call forth things, and the way names can fix in memory a moment
of transient wonder.
Many summers hence, far from my family and away from the island
of Bohol, I began to learn the language of flight, dream and
memory I now call poetry.
II. What I Write
My first book of poems called “Dreamweavers” is a book of origins.
It took form in 1987 after ten years of work and its themes
touch upon the creative concept of the “Mata” or “Eye” motif
found in traditional Asian handwoven fabrics. In the Cordilleras,
north of the Philippines, the eye motif also conveys the concept
of keys, locks, openings, closures. In an associative leap of
the imagination, these concepts relate to the sense of an integrating
Another creative concept that informs the first collection comes
from Phillipine history. At the point of colonial impact, the
Spanish chroniclers described the Visayans pintados/pintadas--
the tattooed people. Markings on the body were only for men
and women who had done deeds of valor or created beautiful things
useful to the life of the community.
The second book called “Ochre Tones” took longer to complete
-- 12 years, and I call it a book of changes anchored upon the
primary elements of earth, water, fire and air. It is in this
book where I undertook to reclaim my mother tongue through translation
from English to Cebuano-Visayan. Needless to say, the decision
to write in Cebuano and become a bilingual writer is a political
and artistic choice in the context of postcolonial acts of language.
III. How I Write
Drafts of poems are telltale signs of the work I do to shape
the material at hand in order to give it its best possible hearing.
I can never truly say how I write because a large part of the
process remains wondrous. One necessarily resorts to reconstructions
of the process, something called “memory’s fictions” by Filipino
poet-novelist Bienvenido N. Santos.
I know only this: that the materials of the imagination are
taken from the haphazard paddies of dreams and memories, and
that each poem feeds on whatever it needs. The rich loam of
time and space, lived outside and inside the self nurture the-creative
process. And the poem’s making is a way of focusing this inner
sight, to let something new come alive with sound, movement,
taste, texture and shape, bringing us back to things as they
were when we named them for the first time.
I believe that once a poem is written, the poet can become invisible
again until the next urging to sing the rattlesnake, grasshopper,
centipede, cow dung or buddha. For the making of a poem is an
eccentric act of faith that both the conjured up thing and the
living presence of the world will someday awaken in another
person’s body of memories and dreams.