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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Poetic Revelation in Language and Culture

By Danny C. Sillada

Poetry, according to a German philosopher Martin Heidegger, is the foundation of truth. As a foundation of truth, it employs aesthetic symbols to reveal realities that concern the historical, cultural and socio-political conditions of man in his society.

The use of metaphor or allegory, for instance, is a symbolic device to magnify the objective reality and establish a rational basis in understanding the truth.

As a foundation of truth, poetry reveals what is hidden in such a way that the general readers or public will know it, and the most effective tool to reveal such symbolic reality is the use of language and linguistic expression common to a particular culture and society.

One of the greatest poets who had achieved such magnificent feat is a British-Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, whose poetry transformed, not only the lives of Bengali people, but also the Bengali literature and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Tagore's poetry like the famous collection of Gitanjali (Song Offerings), which was translated into several languages, has been sang and spoken by the common Indian people such as farmers, fishermen, the monks, the townsfolk and the intellectuals.

The Poetic Revelation of Sonny Villafania

In the local Philippine literature, there is one poet who is about to achieve such vision and poetic revelation to the common people in his region: a multi-awarded Pangasinan-born poet named Santiago "Sonny" Villafania.

His remarkable achievement, in the standard of anlong tradition (Pangasinense Poetry), defies the conventional use of Filipino literary languages, which are English and Filipino, by creating a suite of highly structured sonnets and villanelles in his native lingua franca.

In his book 364-page "MALAGILION: Sonnets tan Villanelles", one of poems titled "Rekindled", which is included among the collections of poems written in Pangasinan, Villafania takes the reader into a sensual journey of bucolic life that reflects his origin and culture.

"There is a rice-pounding song tonight playing..." he wrote in a simple introductory line, yet the imagery is filled with sensual meaning that is only decipherable among the ordinary people in his region.

The "rice-pounding song" evokes the rhythmic sound of pounded rice on lusong or wooden hollow echoing amid the rising moon and the silences of the night. One could imagine the smell, the sound, and the taste of unripe rice being fried on a cauldron and then pounded to make them crunchy.

As the poem continues, Villafania introduces and defines the rice-pounding not only as an ordinary activity, but also as a ritualistic gathering of young men and women to celebrate the offering to the goddess of earth and harvest.

The poet reveals the symbolic meaning of rice-pounding as offering and ritualistic celebration. In like manner, he uses a subtle allegory to signify the fruition and harvest of poetry in his own native language. "They will hear me scream my poems of hunting...", thus, says Villafania with creative force and passion in his native language.

The Elegance of Language and its Accessibility to the People

There is something mysterious and magical in the language, or any language for that matter, that only a poet could fashion, magnify and unveil its hidden message through a unique linguistic expression of poetic symbols and meanings.

A poet is like a messenger and, at the same time, a shaman, who conjures up the spirits to magically transform the language with unassuming meaning and become the common source of understanding among those who write and speak about it.

A good poet lifts up the soul of his or her reader to the symbolic and metaphysical meaning of reality so that his message can be understood and applied by the common people in their daily lives.

In the first paragraph of Sonnet 158, for instance, Villafania mesmerizes his readers with the use of sound and fluidity of language that even a non-Pangasinan could feel the sensual rhythm and the elegance of written words:

Panon takan aroen Pinabli?
Ipetek ko man ira’y sonata
Anlongen ko man ira’y sonito
Ag iraya onkana anganko
Ed puson agto amta’y ondengel
Ed saray Dangoan na panangaro

("How can I love you, dear?/ Even if I sing these sonatas/ Even if I write these sonnets/ These are nothing it seems/ To a heart who knows not how to listen/ To the Songs of Love.")

Villafania addresses that concern with urgency in such a way that his particular readers do not only feel and understand his sentiments, but also live and speak about it. He is like a chameleon immersing and identifying himself with the anguish of his people by gathering them toward a common perception and understanding of reality.

In a sense, 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.

The Book in the Context of Philippine Literature

To understand and appreciate the literary content of Villafania's 364-page "MALAGILION: Sonnets tan Villanelles" as an important contribution to Philippine literature, it is noteworthy to discuss the derivation of title, the literary content, style, and structure.

The book’s title "MALAGILION" is derived from "malapati" (dove), "agila" (eagle), and "lion," an allusion to the alter ego of a Filipino-American poet Jose Garcia Villa, who called himself Doveglion (Dove Eagle Lion), the title of the poem which famous 20th century American poet E.E. Cummings wrote as a tribute to his Filipino friend, Jose Garcia Villa (Adventures IV 5; CP 904).

In essence, "Sonnet" is derived from "sonetto", an Italian word for little song from which, in the 13th century, became a poem of fourteen lines following strict rhymes and specific procedures. It is fundamentally a dialectical structure with contrasting ideas, emotions, beliefs, images, etc. allowing the poet to resolve the tensions at the end of the poem.

The "villanelle", on the other hand, is a poetic form originating from French literature and was employed in the English-language poetry in the 1800s. It is composed of two rhyming lines. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. Composed of 19 lines, 5 tercets and 1 concluding quatrain, the villanelle is a complicated poetic form compared to sonnet.

One could imagine the regimen and artistry that Villafania underwent in conceiving and delivering his aesthetic creation, integrating these poetic forms in his own native language. The result of his painstaking labor is, impeccably, a magnificent work of art comparable to one of the Shakespearian opus in the 16th century.

Funded and published by the Philippine government's Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino and Emilio Aguinaldo College, the book, among the very few written in native languages, is an ambitious attempt to bring literature to the masses, albeit, a minute victory over the 170 Filipino languages spoken by the 80 million Filipino people inhabiting the 7,107 Philippine islands.

The Poet's Advocacy

As a visionary Filipino poet, Villafania advocates the use of native language. He also encourages other writers to weave their craft in their native tongues so that literature will become accessible to the ordinary people – the same poetic vision which the famous poet Tagore envisioned for his people. Villafania's online publication Dalityapi, for example, is a venue for all international and regional writers who write in their respective languages.

To sum, in his regular column “The Breaking Signs” in the Panorama Sunday magazine, multi-awarded Filipino poet, writer, and columnist Cirilo Bautista hailed Villafania's book as "a source of rejoicing for readers of regional literatures… 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."

Source: Manila Bulletin (Lifestyle section, pp. F1-F2, May 12, 2008)

permaLink | 2 comments

at 11:43 PM, May 13, 2008 , Blogger Danny Sillada said...

Hi Sonny, congrats; you're an inspiration to regional literary writers.


at 8:01 AM, October 13, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats, Sonny. Keep inspiring and breathing through your poetry!

- angelo a.


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A Tao 道 Sign

Le poèt de 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 ghazals in Pangasinan language. Order now at Amazon.com

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 Beloved Idiom | A Reading of Villafania’s ‘Pinabli & other poems’ by Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo

LCCN.: 2010338612

Order your copy now at CreateSpace or Amazon.com :)

"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 Literature from 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)

Photos: Book Launching at the Pearl Manila Hotel, 5 Feb. 2008

"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

Thesis: Bilay ed Caboloan - Reconfiguration of Space using a New Historicist Lens by Ayesah Tecson

from Pangasinan 'Anlong': Oral tradition into the 21st century published in Manila Times / Sunday Magazine, March 13 & 20, 2011.

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