LOUIE JON SANCHEZ’S coming-of-age book of poems, At sa Tahanan ng Alabok, mesmerizes, titillates and builds an appreciation for poetry that breaches the boundaries of convention if only to cross oceans, spend long afternoons at a park, the sprawling space between corners of a photograph into midday prayers to an angry Messiah.
The author, twice hailed as Makata ng Taon (Poet of the Year) by the Talaang Ginto ng Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, smoothly paints settings of earth and sky barely seen by the naked eye, as in his poem, Dapithapon:
“Narito ang aking liwanag, aking Liyag; / Mapulang papawirin, at sa aking mga ulap / Mga pinong guhit ng makinang na abo. / Sa iyong ganap na paglisan sa Ilang, / Nais kong ilahad sa iyo and aking handog— / Ganitong liwanag ang hanggad kong isabog sa iyong natatakdang Pagpapako.”
Sanchez’s excursus into the realm of love and war, shadow and first light, and the fury of a Messiah best painted as a nation barely able to stand because of its wounds, reveals a poet of the more dazzling kind, not the callow among a breed of writers otherwise hailed for reasons unknown. Sanchez makes it easy for the reader to climb the more philosophical peaks in the poems, even the ones bordered and held aloft by blind yet unremitting faith. God, angels, fires and fear are but things to touch by human hands.
Even divine judgment he writes in the form and manner of a kind poet, one who sees more than what the eye could actually make out and shares the visions generously: “Sa altar ng ating mga malay, sa ating mga paningin / Na lilo at lito sa kung alin sa mga imahen ang unang / Tutugon. Mistulang walang takas sa Paghuhukom / Na naroon sa kapilya ng malamlam ng hapon…”
Yet, despite leaps and flights Sanchez manages to keep his feet on the ground, with senses ready to pen what he feels around him. In Digmaan, he relates battles fought by young men barely out of their teens with a keen eye on the seemingly invisible battles within:
“Sa kanto, nakatakda ng lumipad / Ang mga ipinukol na kahoy at bato, / Ang di masawatang pagbigkas / Ng malulutong na mura at
sumpa / Ng sindak, ng ganti, ng kamatayan. / Nahaharap tayo sa gulo at galaw / Ng isang kakatwang munting digmaan…”
With more than 30 poems in the collection, At sa Tahanan ng Alabok is more than a book of verse, alas. In Nostos, he seems to be telling us his story—of church bells and street bends, dark corners and habits, slippers, national anthem and one face unnamed.
His poems have oddly very little influence from the more influential voices in Philippine literature. Sanchez’s tone and voice echo no other bard but himself, with a humble gesture to treat him like a breeze moving gently past one’s face:
“Humayo. Ituring akong hanging nagdaraan / At nagbibigay-buhay tulad noong Paglikha.”
Creation. No other word describes this book of Filipino verse. At sa Tahanan ng Alabok is published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House and is available in bookstores.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.