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حوار الصحفي السعودي سطام الحقباني مع الشاعر الفلبيني سانتياغو فيلافانيا في صحيفة الرياض - الثقافة اليوم Interview with Filipino poet Santiago Villafania conducted by Sattam Haqabani and published this morning in Riyadh Newspaper - Cultural Section today
November 23, 2014
About the poet
Santiago Villafania (b 1971) is a contemporary Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, one of Philippines’ twelve languages. He has published several poetry collections, including: Pinabli & Other Poems, Voices From Caboloan, and Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles. Villafania is one of the most prominent Pangasinan writers. He has received several awards, including the Asna Award for Arts and Culture (Literature) in 2010. He is well known for his effort in reviving Pangasinan as a literary language. His poetry is characterized by its treatment of the human experience in its wide variety, the boldness of imagery, and the vividness and richness of meanings.
A Selected Poem “Looking at the Moon”
looking at that moon
i have wronged my eyes too much
now my heart is blind
give me back my sight
your voice may not be enough
to let me see you
i long to feel you
in the lines of your poetry
unbreaking my heart
Q The structure of the culture in the Philippines is based on the effect left by previous colonial eras, which influenced the techniques and styles of writing. Could you give us a general description of the poetry before and after colonialism up to these days?
Santiago Villafania: Pre-Hispanic Philippine literature was actually epics passed on from generation to generation, originally through oral tradition. These epics were eventually transcribed when we adopted the Latin alphabet for our languages. Most of the notable literature in the Philippines was written during the Spanish period, and the early versifiers wrote in Spanish and the vernacular. Poetry and metrical romances were widely read as a form of entertainment. The most popular secular poetry is the metrical romance, the awit and korido in Tagalog. The awit is set in dodecasyllabic quatrains while the korido is in octosyllabic quatrains. There are numerous metrical romances in Tagalog, Bicol, Ilongo, Pampango, Ilocano and in Pangasinan language.
Q The greatest portion of Spanish literature was written during the American Commonwealth period, mostly by prominent writers and intellectuals who had been educated in Spanish or had lived in the Spanish-speaking society and were influenced by the so-called “Modernismo,” a mixture of elements from the French Parnassian and Symbolist schools, as promoted by some Latin American and Peninsular Spanish writers.
SV The introduction of English as medium of instruction in the Philippines hastened the demise of Spanish so that in less than half a century, English writing had already overtaken Spanish writing. The American colonial period brought about new changes in Philippine literature. New literary forms such as free verse were introduced and used my poets who advocated modernism in poetry. But alongside this development, writers in the vernaculars continued to write in the provinces.
Today, there is a resurgence of Philippine literature in the various languages. The contemporary Filipino poets, whether writing in English, Filipino or their mother tongue, continue to write and ritualize their work in print and online.
Q Aside from proper names in the Philippines, which have a great resemblance to Spanish proper names, do the remains of Spanish imperialism, particularly on the cultural side, still exist even today?
SV No. Spanish imperialism doesn't exist anymore. It has been replaced by American imperialism. Haha :)
The United States gained control of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American war. The Treaty of Paris gave Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines for a set price. The Filipinos and Americans fought the bloody Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902, and the Americans won. Over one million Filipinos died as a result of that war. Even though the Americans won, they decided to help the Philippines become an independent nation. On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became an independent nation.
Q How would you describe the publishing and reading activities in the Philippines in an era dominated by the cinema, which attracts so many people, particularly since the dominant orientation among the audience in your country is probably audio-visual?
SV It is not easy to publish literary works in the Philippines commercially unless you belong to the so-called mainstream literati. Young writers usually start by joining creative writing workshops, winnig major literary awards and eventually publishing their works in university presses.
Foreign books still dominate our bookstores, as young readers patronize foreign authors more than our local writers. Yes, the cinema attracts such a large audience due to the fact that young readers today are more "visual." They would prefer watching the film version of the book, instead of reading it.
Q In the Philippines there are so many languages and dialects. This fertile environment has made it possible for a number of literary figures to emerge. In the Arab world, however, we have not heard of any famous poets from the Philippines. What is the reason for this, do you think?
SV Yes, we have 170 languages and more than 500 dialects. Since public education was institutionalized in the Philippines, with English serving as the medium of instruction, we have been looking toward the West. The Philippines is an American colony, so to speak. I guess the reason perhaps is that our writers took the American and European writers as their models. While I was still in college, the only Arabic literature I became familiar with by heart is the Qur'an and, of course, the translation of the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), ghazals, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. And perhaps the other major reason is that most of our writers have not been translated into Arabic.
It would be a great idea to come out with an exchange program for poets between the Arab countries and the Philippines. Thereby, we can introduce our contemporary writings and writers.
If I am not mistaken, I am one of the first Filipinos whose poetry has been translated into Arabic language. My heart-felt thanks to the poet Nizar Sartawi.
Q In 1911, around 11 million people from the Philippines were working abroad. Most probably some of these emigrants were creative writers. Do you have any prominent poets among these?
SV Since the early nineteenth century, Filipinos have been migrating and working abroad. Yes, some of them are creative writers. To name a few: Bienvenido N. Santos (1911–1996) was a Filipino-American fiction, poetry and nonfiction writer; José García Villa (1908 – 1997) was a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, painter, awarded the National Artist of the Philippines title for literature in 1973; and Carlos S. Bulosan (1913 – 1956) was an English-language Filipino novelist and poet. who spent most of his life in the United States. His best-known work today is the semi-autobiographical "America Is in the Heart."
Q An archipelago with 7107 islands, the Philippines has a variety of climates that make it a suitable place for any creative artist. Which places in the Philippines inspire you?
SV While I can write anywhere, whether in bucolic rural areas or modern cities, I am more inspired to write in and about my province of Pangasinan. Our local history, myths and legends, language, and culture have been the subject of my poetry.
Q You write in both English and Pangasinan. Which of the two languages gives you more space for expressing your feelings and your surroundings?
SV Both. My early poems are all in English, and the paucity of published works in Pangasinan inspired me to write in my mother tongue and revive our dying literature— poetry in particular.
I started writing poetry in my native tongue only in 2001, and relied solely on my mastery of the spoken language and instinctive phonetics to come out with my first poetic attempts. I have come out with five poetry books since.
While I can write or translate from English to Pangasinan and vice-versa, I am more comfortable now writing longer poems in the Pangasinan language and shorter poems in English.
Q In your poetry I feel an ecstasy that takes meaning to higher horizons, and a strength of expression that describes the most delicate things. What has influenced Santiago most, nature or his childhood? And who does read most?
SV I am influenced both by nature and my childhood. I grow up in a province surrounded by rice fields, hills, rivers and seas. As a child, I was always fascinated with our local stories. So I believe my environment and childhood feed my imagination, which was eventually heightened by the books I’ve read.
I started writing in English when I was immersed in reading classic literature books during my college days. I was particularly interested in the works of the Romantic poets, E. E. Cummings, Jose Garcia Villa, Pablo Neruda, Piet Hein, Saadi, Hafez, and Basho. And I believe some of these poets, if not most, have influenced my writings.
Q Poetry is the mosaic of a life that might be long if it were put in the form of a novel. Has Santiago attempted to write prose, in response to a state of deep grief that he has experienced?
SV Yes, there is an attempt to write a novel, but have not quite finished it. I am also attempting to write science fiction. But currently, my only writings in prose are in my literature and arts column for the local paper “Sunday Punch,” published in Pangasinan.
Link source - http://www.alriyadh.com/996794 (in Arabic)
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A Tao 道 Sign
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.