Rhandee Garlitos, author and poet, sent his review and comments on the winners of our Book Spine Poetry Contest in school. He was the judge for the month of December. He had five poems selected as honorable mention (2) and 3rd, 2nd and 1st placers respectively.
What do I look for in (found) poetry? As a poet and as a lover of books, I find the task of threading together words in order to produce an image very daunting and challenging. But the basics remain – poetry should have the capability to hold a moment that should stun its reader, like venom that would leave an impression to its beholder, although in a positive way. What makes this doubly tasking is to put it together in such a way that it comes out as a form that would withhold its meaning without being too cryptic.
Several of the entries stood out, and some of the entries contained some of the most arresting book titles that have seen the light of day. Though I personally feel that your library, where most of these titles where sourced from, would have carried more. Imagine if someone started his/her poetry with one of Paolo Coelho’s – “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept”. I would have also wished that there would be more Filipino entries (Was it the lack of Filipino titles or the simple disinterest of the students with Filipiniana? I just wonder.) as Filipino titles would have elicited more images that would be more authentic to the Filipino experience.
Nevertheless I commend the creativity of the students who came up with some of the interesting stack of found poetry. Some would have stood out had there been more care and restraint, but three of the entries followed what the American poet Stephen Dobyns calls “Best Words, Best Order” in poetry (I am actually quoting the title of one of his books.).
I commend two entries here that would have merited had they been edited well. One, “The Old Man and the Sea / Fell / After / the Fifth Mountain / Snow Falling on Cedars / Catching Fire”, would have succeeded if it were threaded properly, so that it would read like this:
snow falling on cedars,
the old man and the sea
the fifth mountain.
Had this been the order followed, this would have gotten my utmost attention and admiration for its stunning imagery. Imagine Hemingway’s two most powerful adversaries (coincidentally the title of one of my most favorite books by a most respected author) being enclosed in what would be a conquest of the formidable, while at the same time it reads like a Zen poem, lush with the image of smoldering embers warming frostbit hands.
Another entry was able to gather some of the best lines/titles, but it suffered from one or two more extra (therefore unnecessary) words. I always emphasize the need for restraint in poetry, that it should never reveal more than it should. Therefore, “Over a thousand hills I walked with you / Up the downstair case / going going / criss cross / thinking about almost everything / Piercing the Darkness / Breaking Dawn” would have been better if it read like this:
Over a thousand hills I walked with you,
piercing the darkness
up the down staircase,
thinking about almost everything.
It would have personified the deadening pain of being with someone in a journey, trying to dismantle the fabric of the cold, unfeeling “darkness” from where the persona stands (up the downstairs case? or up the down staircase?), trying to break free and see the light from the chains of worrying too much. It would have symbolized the weight of a mother’s anxiety, anticipating the arrival of her beloved (husband or child, one can choose) even as she imagines herself being in the process of going home.