Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Spine Poetry December 2013: Judge's Review (2 of 2)

Here is the second part of Rhandee Garlitos' review on the poems that made it to the finals in the library's Book Spine Poetry Contest. Part one can be read here.

Therefore, these three best entries captured not only the essence of being a poem built on a stack of found titles.  I see this exercise somewhat done before by the American writer Annie Dillard, making something out of newspaper and magazine articles, creating poems from an obsolete almanac in the 1920s, putting together lines by obliterating the unnecessary weeds and hedges.

The third place winner captivates me with its premise – that there could be fun in poetry despite its serious messages.  Its humor is natural and appealing to the young with its premise on the oldest subject in the world, the monkey on every normal student’s back – Maths (When no one understands / Maths 1001 / Academic anxiety / A Game of Groans)

A few more editing touches, and if the last line was used instead as a title, it would be a very potent haiku on the subject, like this:

A Game of Groans

When no one understands
Maths 1001 —
Academic anxiety

The second prize winner had the strength of a strong message.  It speaks of the need for restraint in order to achieve atonement, and it cuts both ways, too.  It could be like a gentle advice to go easy as one passes by an offended elemental, or a stern warning to be careful not to disrespect the boundaries set by a higher being, sort of like the traditional Filipino superstition of “Tabi, tabi po”.  Although it suffers slightly from the natural lack of a preposition (If whispers call for / atonement), it impresses me with its brevity.  A few more tweaks and fine-tuning and this would have gotten my two thumbs-up.

Walk softly, Rachel, 
if whispers call 
by the river.

If properly edited, this would read like

By the river
walk slowly, Rachel,
if whispers call (for)

The first prize winner stands out above others simply because its author (or I would prefer to call “recreator”) knew how to piece together a four-line poetry that is cohesive in thought and message.

In the country of men,
Things fall apart.
Funny how things change
As I lay dying.

The first two lines join together seamlessly and conjure the image of disarray brought in by what would have been expected as a warranted chaos.  To me it speaks of a world where men destroy each other in quest for power and command of fear above others, and the world collapses because of their whims.  It also speaks of how someone who lays victim to this chaos speaks of it with a casual, almost cold, demeanor.  Then again, it may be a stoic response by someone finally gasping his last ounce of breath.  It is for this reason that its imagery, along with a powerful message, causes this poem to stand out above all others and deserve a much needed applause for its precision and careful marriage of irony and imagery.

Rhandee Garlítos (aka Raymund Magno Garlítos) is an award-winning poet and children’s book author in English and Filipino.  He has received four times the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (the Philippines’ premier literary contest); the Salanga Prize given by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People or PBBY; and the Gintong Aklat Award for his body of work.  He has published 12 children’s books, with his most recent being “Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki (The Fierce and Fabulous Boy in Pink)”, “Lauan, The Seed that Wanted to Fly” and “The Cat and the Bat and Other Fables.”  He edits and writes for the monthly travel magazine Cruising #Going Places, where he also edits its literary section.  He is currently based in Quezon City where he lives with his daughter, a sizable number of cats, and a house full of books.

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