First published in the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature
by Joel Pablo Salud
Lushes always make for good company. Those verdant in word, those teeming with brilliant metaphors, that succulent throng with alcohol for blood hardly bore the senses. They are at home wherever letters and spirits fuse to form an evening of poetry and prose, be that in a graffiti-spangled garage, a discreet piano bar at a corner in Ermita, or the historic Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel.
Well, one has to hand it to poet extraordinaire Alfred “Krip” Yuson to make what was otherwise an unfussy book launch feel like a royal coronation ball. Huddled in Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room last week was some of the country’s crème de la crème of Philippine letters, ever the curious, critical and inebriated crowd. But that night was a rare exception; they were neither curious not critical—only inebriated. In high spirits, if you really think about it.
This brings us to the point of Krip Yuson’s book, Lush Life, a collection of non-fiction prose spanning nine-years of the writer’s columns in the Philippine Star, Rogue magazine and, you guessed it, the inimitable Philippines Graphic. Lush, for everyone with a dictionary, means a tantrum of things: verdant, profuse, luxuriant; with a tinge of urban colloquialism, meaning cool; or a 17th-century slang describing one who laps up alcoholic beverages like sweet pearl shakes. All of which describes the incomparable Krip Yuson as award-winning poet, father and your playful Leonardo di Caprio-next-door—in that particular order.
The book is a definitive testimony to Krip’s knack for “bending language to his every whim,” as UST Publishing House chief Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo wrote on the back page. His humor is of the lofty kind, neither flippant nor heavily oxidized, even the most concupiscent of his essays. He ploughs the curious mind with nary the honk and a sudden screech to warn unsuspecting pedestrians. Not that he needs to. You see, in his case, to understand his writing is to understand the man first, not the other way around. Why he wrote what he wrote is Yuson classically flaunting his fondness for subjects other writers can only dream of putting into words sans getting jailed.
Short of penning a ‘70s pene film in his essay, Whoring in Manila, Krip takes his readers to a voyeur’s excursion of his teenage life in Kamuning. And like any Sydney Sheldon novel where the middle part opens up to the more luscious scenes, the essay unveils—funny, with a mosquito net—a scene of rumps and grinds, crotches and loins. The aborted attempt at an honest-to-goodness wet dream had all the tension and suspense of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover minus, of course, the mosquito net. But then, you just have to read it for yourself. I rarely peek and tell.
Another subject he writes with the smoothness of Scotch is booze. He could very well have outdone Nick Joaquin as San Miguel Beer’s endorser had it been proven that Krip drank it more than Quijano de Manila did. But that’s beside the point. Booze for Krip is his Desiderata, this poet’s desired thing, his indulgence and obsession. In his essay of the same title, Krip plays doting surrogate to single malt Scotch whisky like Dad to a favorite child. He mentions Glenlivet, Bowmore and the Macallan 30 Year Old (which goes up to P60K) and explains with such perspicacity why only Scotch whisky is spelled without an “e.” In reading Krip, you always have to make it past his word on booze even when you’ve dropped the habit for bottled iced tea. Because really, there’s nothing like a sip of Krip.
It bears mentioning, too, that this poet is not all fun and tickle. This advocate of art and culture loathes the fickle minded, and sometimes wanders off to uncharted political waters in much the same gravitas as French-Algerian author Albert Camus. In Re/defining the Filipino, Krip writes:
“Like any other as a people, we have been characterized no end as readily available stereotypes. We are said to have a country that spent 300 years in a convent followed by 50 years inHollywood, suggesting a quality of schizophrenia. As the ‘Battling Bastards of Bataan’ and America’s ‘little brown brothers’ we seem to be the odd man out in Asia, ‘adrift in the wrong waters’—given to our Hispanic heritage, former ties with Mexico and Latin American temperaments.”
Even with such “quality of schizophrenia,” Krip never shirks to promote, as he had said, his desiderata. Why I Will Vote for Noynoy and Why He Will Win makes this plain. He lists his reasons why other candidates will go the way of the Dodo during the elections—ranging from “being not quite grown up” and “self-righteous” to strutting like an “environmentalist” and the possibility of “Alzheimer’s.” As a poet he is never content at saying it like it is. However, as non-fiction writer, humanity does sometimes get in the way of his Muse.
Overall, the book is definitively a tour de force in nonfiction writing. That’s really a trite way of stating the obvious, that Krip Yuson “has few equals in the field of nonfiction.” With close to thirty books to his name—as poet, essay writer, playwright, novelist, journalist, columnist and critic—he is by far the virtuoso among the country’s illustrious pens. Some may find Yuson a bit of a snoot, supposedly a hitch for whatever reason these Turks may have. Instead of sitting on your cranky little virginal pebbles, little boys, get more than 30 books out and only then will you be worth your words.
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 (sister publication to 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.