Day 27: a preview of my poetry booklets

This is for my father, Jun Verzosa Jr., for teaching me how to read.  I love you, Pa. Happy Birthday.

Before I even took writing seriously, there was a lot of reading. I can vividly recall my very first Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure book, a Christmas gift from my dear parents who literally taught me how to read even before I attended school. They hated me in the end for choosing to lock myself up in my room than get dirty like the all other teenagers back in the early 80’s. Back then, I knew it was the way my eyes would eat the words like any other foodstuff. It was hunger and satiating that hunger. I would not survive a day without appearing trivial with a book or a magazine for that matter. Reading, thus, become more than an inclination, it became an obsession.

In high school, I was the features editor of our school newspaper. Although I wrote issues and labored on editorial hooeys, this was also the time when I was reading fat, contemporary novels that I began aping the popular writers by writing short stories (mostly autobiographical) and eventually completed a novel called Lifetime, which my friends considered a debauch in itself because of its incestuous theme and being fourteen years old in a Catholic school, that was understandably inconceivable.

Falling in love introduced me to poetry. In the last year of my secondary school, I began writing verses, untitled knitted words I played around with during the lowest moments of unrequited love and acne invasion. This went on for years before Baby steps were born. Instantaneously, poems became a therapy as they popped out like mushrooms in the events that both shaped and reduced my daily existence. It was not easy but I have to admit that words formed a delicate mission within my waking hours and somehow helped me go through inadequacies, rejections, insecurities and depression by the mere fact that it helped me understood them. My friends and family saw me as somebody who could beat all odds. Perhaps they were right because in times when I wanted to bang my head on the wall, there I was, locked up in my room, with a pencil and a piece of paper. I never got out of the room marooned by my sorrow. I was in many ways, everybody’s pleasantry. On the other hand, my work estimated the obscurities by the dozen. Then again, it saved me from drinking pest control agents or slashing my wrists. I am not sure whether my grandfather, Gavino Garido-Katangkatang, who was a published poet and an illustrious story teller, had it the same way but I am most sure that he ate away his artistic itches during his early literati beginnings dying young and in a wheel chair.

In 1992, I went to the University of the Philippines and studied comparative literature and creative writing. There, I was educated with a grueling progression of research, Shakespeare, advance humanities, the classics and of course, how to write metered poetry. I did not enjoy it. More often than not, I was loaded with more books to digest than spending time collecting calluses from my then dependable Remington typewriter. When I was, I was merely writing for instructors and have faked inspirations to pass the course. It all became a drill. A monotonous construction of thoughts that died right off the edge of slumber. Well. I survived that fairly well. I burned the midnight oil writing a serious poetry in between takes, so to speak. These were the Babysteps poems. Poems that spoke of drug addiction, the Catholic faith, incest, family love, destructive love, tons of sex, imagination applications and projects I submitted in the writing workshops. I was a nineteen-year-old groper searching for his own poetic voice. I experimented a lot in the shades of Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. I did not succeed in that but their words delivered an eloquent stimulus in my onset of sole nostalgic expression. I tussled with That Night In Antipolo, Grandfather’s Guitar, Schooldays and Romancing Jocelyn contriving to pencil in a more narrative mode, unlike with 3am, Rapunzel, I am My Own Charlatan and Housekeeping Diva which was more Dickinsonian in intonation that fundamentally my own. Nonetheless, these were the firstborns, the early attempts, thus, I included therein the B-Sides; the untitled verses I wrote behind my notebooks and the ones I doodled unceremoniously in my journal during muddy daylight hours. Writing has become my playground.  And I carried my papers like a prayer book everyday.

By far, I consider the time of editing of these babies to be memorable. It was the summer of 1995, almost Holy Week and there I was, under the “pigeoned roof”, in sister’s room in Zambales, with my Remington, round the clock hearing the pigeons croaking madly next to my irrational typewriter by the window. I almost dedicated the entire collection to the amusing birds but it was to Francis Martinez to whom I bestowed my first assemblage because during the first two years of my poetic voyage, he was there, painfully going through every word and listening to it breathe or intrepidly calling it dead. He was a comrade, a teacher and lover back in UP and now a published writer himself and the resident professor in the College of Arts and Letters.

This is Manila and Zambales, where I was born twice and died once.  A cat’s life.

I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for seven years from 1997 to 2003. Out in the wasteland, an expatriate and dealing with realism in the course of managing a restaurant and obliging in corporate tyranny (and surviving that, too), I came up with three collections. Desert Boys was born from poems written behind tray liners and thoughts scribbled in tissue papers during breaks and the endless nights mastering homesickness and the Arabian ethos. Adrift in Semitic wonder and the chaste but liberating eroticism of its people and their piety, I gave birth to poems like Standing in the Street at 2 in the morning, Suleimania and Retro, which spoke of the city’s foreseeable but peaceful insight, something that I have never gotten used to growing up in the Philippines. Of course, there were poems like Peregrines on their Block and Desert Boys that delved into male prostitution, particularly of a friend of mine, who had been diagnosed with AIDS just recently. These poems were inspired by his fearless stance towards greasing poverty by trading and his inner voice that I never really saw but felt immensely during our days back in Riyadh. The rest of the DB poems are the impressions of love and finding the right cure for its nameless, undefined shaped once it is, finally, there. First Winter, Sunshine Girl, My Fingers Dancing and Idlesphere spoke of such.

These were the years when I was away from the closest friends I ever had and so I dedicated Desert Boys to my childhood best friend, Eldan Dagsaan who now lives in Nevada and to James Yango, whose unconditional love and friendship gave me inspiration even in the darkest moments and who has come to love me even at my worst. In many ways, the time of DS were the times I could have shared with them but could not.

The Black Project are poems written after a three-year love affair. It was the millennium and while the skies around the world painted the birth of a new century, there I was, talking to my computer and writing perhaps the most ominous poetry collection I have ever devised. Just twelve poems, I may add but daresay the most difficult to maneuver as I wanted to write pain as the most natural of all causes. In Mind, I concocted the idea that the mind itself is not a powerful ally. In My Friends, I unveiled that friendship does die and in Abortive Buddhist, God as an absentee the way pianist Michael Nyman says that the “heart seeks pleasure first”. TBP may very well draw the various shades of depression but personally speaking; these poems were written during a time of heart break, a jagged time when I spent sleepless nights logging in the Internet and a time when I would rather vacuum serendipity out of my shelf of belief’s than restoring it. In addition, this was also the time when I was heavy with Buddhism and had dreamed of Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ being together in the scourging at the pillar. The poem The Black Project was born that morning. If poems can be considered acoustic in all its rawness then TBP is, undeniably, acoustic.

This is a small group, The Black Project. It only concaved twelve works but they were the hardest to rustle up. Perfecting decay and being spiritless in the pursuit of giving flesh to pain was no party. I was lucky to have Raquel Glorioso-Rivera, who was my fag hag and my confidante, Jonathan McTait, who, even as far as England, sent me tons of email and encouragement and Esrine Zander, who is now back in South Africa, but had been the shrewdest anti-depressant and was my running Prozac during the course of these works. Needless to say, they were the characters of these putrefactions, handsome in my subconscious, blowing words behind my ear. To the three of them, I dedicated The Black Project.

I mentioned that love, in all its agony and glory, introduced me to poetry. Other poets may have learned to love the cockeyed level of words as it grows into a single form of thought but for me, I came to love first before creating forms or concepts that made up the handiwork. The Trail to Mohammed’s Heart is a collection that dealt with my very first relationship with an Arab and the Skeleton in the cupboard, so to speak, of loving Arabia in general. Of course, the other poems therein embossed the people that surrounded me in alliance, their encounters per se, and how we survived the language barriers, cultural differences and sexual conduct of our scriptural lovers. Joseph’s Aquarium, Norman Gil and Room #19/ Drugged to Romance espoused the melancholy, protection and the deep void of being in the circle. Being different in Riyadh who enjoyed monogamy and being branded as prostitutes just by loving an Arab man. In retrospect, I have often touched the elusiveness of religion in my works. In TTTMH, I tinkered benevolently the entity of my Christian background to that of my lover, who was brought up in Islamic tradition. Poems like Where, Washing My Feet In The Hand Sink, Ladin and Divided When You Choose Solitude are voices between Allah and God, all disguised in love, every particle of its backpacked to discover the clandestine heart of both the prophet Mohammed and his sons having émigrés as interim devotees, like, well, peregrines on their block. Silent and regal and then suddenly, obsessive and deadly.

I commend Normal Gil Cautivar, my best friend, in the making of The Train to Mohammed’s Heart for providing me the necessary details of the Arabic tell tales, for being my teacher in the Arabic language and for literally providing me his house as place of worship in obtaining the precise nature of Syria that went on a countless 3AMs over packs of Marlboro reds and caffeine plunges.

A covenant of distance and loving someone unconditionally is the work station of Crawl Thirteen. Serenaded with trance music and the thumps my homecoming in April 2003, I enunciated the whirs and the whims of my present love affair. The events that happened from 2002 to 2003, my last year in the Saudi Arabia, if indeed was picturesque, fell into place when I began writing these poems. My mind pulled swiftly towards the poignant country, almost like Vietnam’s post traumatic stress disorder, and began writing about it again. Of course, the nucleus was Rannel Masanque and the blissful moments we had before I left Saudi Arabia but it was a different  occurrence altogether because I was writing a now-distant place about a now-distant lover. Reliving something that is not there take one’s imaginative frontier to stretch on and on thus, I subtitled the collection Poems of Love and Spaces. In all my works from 1994 to 2003, I found nothing of intellectual dispute and new-fangled stylistics in this particular collection. I am not proud of it by the mere fact that egocentricity ruled it from the very start, however, I still regard it as a something that is very close to my heart. Not only did it tackle the importance of friendship but also realized that love can be born out of friendship and that by sheer friendship, love can thrive on even in gaps. It is a work full of hope despite the fact that the voice resuscitates every now and then from its constant battle against the drowned adversity of sustaining passion in an almost-dead long distance love affair. It crawls. It has its bad luck thirteen and askew promises but it lives to tell the tale. For me, that is more than enough to understand what love truly means.  To tell the story.

I completed this patchwork in Bangkok in 2005.  Although it did not speak of Thailand whatsoever, Crawl Thirteen will always be something felt and reconstructed in Thailand.  Like dreaming the aftermath and reliving it in Buddhist Thailand.

I wish I could still recall the exact moment of beauty when I wrote them. It is like seeing God in flesh and hurriedly, He dissolves in his superlative way after two seconds. I am lucky to have this flare for language but perhaps it will be an eternal mania to clasp a reliable pen and hot down the next appearance of God as beauty contrive to appeal in words anyway. Indubitably, beauty is unmatched to any outline of my idiomatic articulation.

Let us face it. It is best to leave beauty as it is than put language into it. What is poetry in the first place without the mind of the heart and heart of the hand?


All five poetry books will be published in CONFESSIONINGS shortly:

1.  Babysteps

2.  Desert Boys

3.  The Trail to Mohammed’s Heart

4.  The Black Project

5.  Crawl Thirteen


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