*First published in the Philippines Graphic.
“And the world they create must have the requisites of completeness…”
I can scarcely distinguish my memory of Filipino poet Cirilo F. Bautista from his writings in Panorama magazine, which I have cut and clipped for the better part of my younger years. It was a collection most valued and cherished, kept and taped in several big brown envelopes that said, “Hands off!” I have only met the man once or twice during literary engagements recently, but in each occasion a kind of trembling took over me as I realized I was in front of the writer that had kept my wee hours warm with verse and short prose or while often crouched at the UST Science Building stairwell.
Then comes his book The House of True Desire, and no less my recollection of his words came back to life. Published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, the book is a collection of Cirilo Bautista’s 115 of 476 essays in Panorama, the product of 17 years of writing for the magazine. Bautista is currently Professor Emeritus of Literature at De La Salle University, Manila and the author of 18 books on poetry and criticism.
What singles out this book from any other collection of essays by a Filipino author is intense fire, and the manner by which each essay nudges the reader to both light hearted laughter and deep thought, all the while astounding the child and adult within.
In Max and the World We Live In, Bautista pulls together his knack for wit and writes with a kind of good humour other authors can only dream of accomplishing while penning lyrical prose.
“If cinematic meanness is an art, Max Alvarado was a consummate artist. For almost five decades, in the various roles that he played, he gave badness a bad name, and ensured his niche in the fickle world of Philippine movies.”
Bautista thereafter leaps from the comic to the comical in Filipino society, yet with hands chary in their approach, he reshapes his voice to a more sober tone: “Though Max dies years ago, I am reminded of him because present events seem to turn the world into a nebulous affair where the lines between goodness and badness is hardly discernible.”
Ringing with German bard Rainer Maria Rilke’s notion of the hidden poet in the avid reader of verse, Cirilo Bautista prefigures in his essay The Imagination of Jose Garcia Villa the closet eccentric in the lover of books:
“Since the reading of the poem is a private transaction, the readers must strive as much as the poet to know the poem in all its aspects… They must in essence be poets themselves.”
Pedagogical in ways only an experienced writer of prose and verse can get away with (as with the word’s Greek etymology of leading a child), this poet makes it clear that “linguistic environment” is crucial to understanding poetry in its fullest, allowing experience and “intuitive assertions” to bring the reader to artistic enjoyment.
In many of his essays, Bautista dons the robe of the quintessential professor of literature, poetry in particular, exacting and thorough. Yet he is far from the stereotyped judge with raised gavel to pronounce the death of a bad poem. There is a generosity to Bautista’s spirit that defies conventional knowledge of what a professor of poetry must be like. His tender rendering of the poet in the throes of literary creation, one reminded of both rhythm and responsibility, is vital to the appreciation of poetry as art and the poet as creator and the inevitably created.
“To understand the poem, therefore, we must understand what the poet is doing with the language and determine if there is artistic in it. Afterwards, we can relate the linguistic characteristics of the poem with the cultural environment of the intellect that created it. When we are sufficiently able to explore these two worlds, then we can enter into a dialogue with the totality of the poet’s mind and heart—appreciate the poet’s efforts and struggle with language.”
A book for the serious reader and writer—and your everyday book lover—Cirilo Bautista’s The House of True Desire leaves little room for the imagination, despite the undulating play of comedy and tragedy, and a swash of the metaphorical in sterling prose. This is proof undeniable that Cirilo is also master of the short composition, even when as poet he paints in stunning hues “the rise and fall of the tide, sunrise and sunset, the beating of the heart, night and day…”
Indubitably, a national treasure.
Joel Pablo Salud is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle.
Note: My sincere gratitude to Ms. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo for allowing me to review recently published books by University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.