Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rio Alma's SONETOS POSTUMOS Book Launch, CCP Main Lobby, May 9, 2006 at 4pm

Book Launching ni Virgilio Almario, National Artist for Literature ng kanyang bagong libro Sonetos Postumos, na may kasamang mga paintings ni Ang Kiukok at translations ni Marne Kilates sa Mayo 9, 2006 , Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Lobby, alas kuatro ng hapon.
Manila Bulletin May 20, 2006 Two National Artists, one book
Rio Alma's poetry and Ang Kiukok's paintings flesh out themes of life, death and resurrection By SUSAN A. DE GUZMAN THE first time Virgilio Almario a.k.a. Rio Alma saw a painting of Ang Kiukok, he felt an instant connection to it. It was the 1960s, and there in the newspaper was an announcement of the young artist’s exhibit showing his works of stark torment. Rio Alma, then a struggling poet, felt that the painting captured his own sentiments. Perhaps swayed by the spirit of the times, he had a rebellious streak that made him a self-described “anti” — anti-establishment, anti-industry, even anti-religion.

"This is my painter; this is my spirit," Almario recalls himself thinking then. Through the years, he never quite forgot the artist who had made such an impact on him. In the meantime, they were both gradually making names for themselves in their respective fields until both attained the ultimate accolade — the National Artist award, Almario for Literature and Ang for Visual Arts. Still, their paths did not cross… until the former decided to make a move.

Last week, it was a dream-come-true for Almario as the book " Sonetos Postumos" was launched at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The landmark publication from the University of the Philippines Press juxtaposes the works of the two National Artists — Rio Alma’s poetry alongside Ang Kiukok’s paintings, a seemingly perfect fit tackling the themes of life, death and resurrection.

Almario, called to the podium for his remarks, amused the crowd when he merely said, "Maraming salamat, maraming salamat, maraming salamat" (Many thanks, many thanks, many thanks). It was actually a nod to the late Ang Kiukok who had uttered those exact words when he received his National Artist recognition.

The "Sonetos Postumos." launch, which was attended by Ang’s widow, also included a mini exhibit featuring some of Ang’s works featured in the book.

When Almario realized that his latest collection of poems — made up of sonnets in particular — was attuned to the mood and angst of Ang’s works, he lost no time contacting the reclusive artist some two years ago. The poet remembers his visit to the Ang home, awestruck as he was to be surrounded by works he so identified with. It was a congenial meeting wherein Almario was able to explain the book project, and to which Ang subsequently agreed.

From Almario’s personal list of Ang’s works that he favored, book designer and poet Fidel Rillos chose the ones to suit specific sonnets. Another poet, Marne Kilates, who had collaborated with Almario on his last book entitled "Dust Devils," provided the English translations for " Sonetos Postumos."

Apart from getting the opportunity to have a collaboration with his favorite artist, Almario enjoyed the chance to tinker with the sonnet. "Pinaglaruan ko ‘yung form (I toyed around with the form) — from the Petrarchal to the Shakespearean to the English sonnet," he cites. "I used my own deviations. For example, in the number of syllables, usually, there are 12; in my own, there would be seven or eight — and even just four. I also expanded the lines. I have some that seem to be so long, but actually, when you analyze it, it’s still 14 lines. I did lots of experiments; there were so many possibilities."

At 62, Almario remains as prolific a writer as he was in his younger years, producing a seemingly inexhaustible stream of works both new and repackaged. Later this year, UST will release the prose/poem anthology "Tatlong Pasyon Para sa Ating Panahon." By June, he expects to finish the manuscript for a book of essays on Jose Rizal as a novelist. (He insists that Rizal should be taught as a writer, and not just as a hero.) He also expects to complete two other collections of poems within the year — "May Mga Damdaming Higit Kaysa Akin," underscoring antirealism, and the tentatively titled "Salunggati" (Bakit Kailangan Natin ng Himala), comprising commentaries on the social condition.

Ironically, Almario is slowed down by the computer, which he admits to using regularly only since last year. This concession to modernity has, alas, brought him a few instances of woe. Forgetting to save his files, a sudden brownout has made him lose half a day’s work. A wrong punch of the keys has also caused moments of panic, as he rushes off to find a staff to retrieve the disappeared text. What he does now is to jot down his writings on a notebook before transferring them to the computer. But in case things get really desperate, the poet still keeps one of his trusty Olympia typewriters at home.

Almario says that his output has actually been reduced because of his duties as dean of the UP College of Arts and Letters, a post that he finds challenging but enjoyable. As it is, he says, "I have no luxury of time."

His longed-for sabbatical will have to wait yet again. But if it does come, he already knows what he will do. There are two novels "20 years in the making" and epic poetry that he wishes to finally concentrate on and complete.

Asked what his mission is that he seems to be working quite fanatically, Almario answers simply: "To write."

joey de leon at obra ni kiukok.


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