Dr. Marot Nelmida-Flores on Santiago Villafania’s Balikas ed Caboloan
Pangasinan poetic tradition has seen rebirth in the verses of Mr. Santiago Villafania. While the anlong (Pangasinan poetry) as oral literature has always been part of Pangasinan folk life, as literary genre, it had its golden years in the vernacular magazine Silew only from 1934 to 1943. Subsequent publications gave more space to short stories and serialized novels. In the 1970s, the local magazine Traveler became an outlet for Pangasinan poetry in English except for a few bilingual writers who dabbled both in English and in the vernacular. In recent times, vernacular writers dwindled in number as more and more Pangasinan writers educated and exposed to foreign literatures and periodicals shifted to English. Literary tradition in the province such as the anlong (poetry) and tongtong (narratives) has yet to be given form and structure after having been interrupted by the valorized meta-narratives and canons from the West. With Villafania’s poetry in the vernacular, the Pangasinan anlong resurfaces asserting its tradition amidst intersecting and pollinating genres and literary influences.
Villafania’s Balikas ed Caboloan (Verses from Caboloan) while contemporary in rhythm and impulse echoes the sense and sensibility of early anacbanua writers of the political and cultural elites during the Spanish and American colonial writers. Rich in nostalgia and historical memory, Villafania as the modern day anacbanua writer configures the provincial Pangasinan from the point of view of the native literati.
The selection covers the existentialist moorings of a young, impetuous provinciano from his precocious childhood days to his virile adult years. Palsot, Skylab, Di Balkesan and Bai Marina describe the innocent yet mischievous and gullible character of boyhood. Sika, Dua’ran Liriko, Lingaw, and Iliw prefigure the romantic bard whose love interest rests in his field of dreams. Villafania’s work is evidently anacbanua literature, i.e. more personal than political. Except for his Dia’d Pagew na Cordillera and Dala na Tumatagaumen which contain images of social unrest and guerilla warfare, Villafania’s poetry reflects the laid-back, bucolic life of Pangasinan folk especially those from the central plains.
It is observed that Pangasinan literary traditions have been characterized by gaiety and festivity unlike the poverty-ridden plots of Iluko stories and the class struggle themes of Hiligaynon poetry. It is because Pangasinan literature sources its material from the fertile agricultural plains of interior Caboloan that is perennially irrigated by the Agno River. Pangasinan anlong for instance derives it restlessness not from peasant agitations but from romantic musings of farm boys in their adolescence.
But Villafania’s nostalgia transcends saccharine romanticism and unbridled sentimentality for he is a poet who exactly knows his roots. Caboloan is an ancient name of the province referring to the interior where bolo a species of bamboo abounds. Meanwhile, Pangasinan then only referred to the coastal salt-making communities. It was the early Agustinian missionaries who, occupying first the coastal settlements, named the entire region as Pangasinan obscuring the age-old economic and cultural relations between the interior Caboloan and the coastal Panag-asinan. Villafania’s Balikas na Caboloan recreates this ancient ethno-cultural reality of the province. In his Uliran ed Piga’ran Baley ed Pangasinan, Pitoran Haiku, Dia’d Ilog Ari, Dia ed Uma, and even in his Urduja, the poet’s fond and historical remembrance of places retell not only his childhood experiences but also reveal his own historical mapping of Pangasinan,
Santiago Villafania’s Balikas ed Caboloan certainly has reinvigorated the anlong tradition of Pangasinan that for a long period of time suffered silence from the hands of writers more attuned to English writing. Characteristically anacbanua, Villafania’s poetry echoes his predecessors and presages a promising era for young writers in Pangasinan.
Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.
A collection of haiku, senryu, tanka, haiga, and other poems in English and Pangasinan language. Order now at Amazon.com
“Santiago Villafania is a searcher with a seemingly insatiable curiosity and endurance. His quest has brought him to explore world poetry from points East and West. He is no stranger to sophisticated verse forms such the Sapphic strophe nor to the diverse permutations of the Japanese haiku. But he is not a formalist, he has daringly explored Asian and Western cultures in a very personal way and writes his mind with a daring, invigorating, aesthetically pleasing ease. In his poetry Villafania displays not only a breadth, but it feels very much like a breath of fresh air.” – Ute Margaret Saine, poet, critic, translator, past president of PEN Orange County and the former editor of the California Poetry Quarterly
“Villafania’s emergence as a poet is a fine moment to celebrate. Another voice from the regions augurs a richer body of writing that Filipinos can hold up as a mirror of our native culture.” – Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature
"The publication of Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles by Santiago B. Villafania should be a source of rejoicing for readers of regional literatures. This second book by Pangasinan's leading poet today is impressive in both form and substance. Villafania has created 300 sonnets and 50 villanelles in his own language that attempt to reflect the primacy of native culture and return the poet to the central stage of social life." – A Boost to Pangasinan Literaturefrom Breaking Signs by Cirilo F. Bautista (Philippine Panorama, 16 Dec. 2007, pp.25-26)
"Villafania is not only a visionary poet, he is a linguistic philosopher who codifies the origin of language and culture, dissects the myths and the common beliefs of the people against the urban legends, juxtaposes the literary tradition against the modern influences by dialectically infusing them in his poetic revelation of truth." – Poetic Revelation in Language and Culture by Danny C. Sillada (Manila Bulletin, 12 May 2008, pp. F1-F2)
"Santiago Villafania's Balikas ed Caboloan certainly has reinvigorated the anlong tradition of Pangasinan that for a long period of time suffered silence from the hands of writers more attuned to English writing. Characteristically anacbanua, Villafania's poetry echoes his predecessors and presages a promising era for young writers in Pangasinan." – Dr. Marot Nelmida-Flores
Translations of Erolalia in German, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Hindi language. And here is the 1st version of the poem published in The Sunday Times (Manila Times, 11.23.2003).
Six of my poems translated into Arabic by Prof. Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif (English Dept., College of Education, University of Basrah, Iraq) and have been published in TEXT - the Cultural Monthly Journal, Issue No.13