23 December 2009

Karakol Fluvial Festival, Puerto Princesa City, 7 December 2009

The Karakol Festival is a fluvial parade held yearly in the City of Puerto Princesa on the eve of its patron saint’s day, the Feast of the Immaculada Concepcion. It begins with a mass held in the virgin’s honor, after which her statue is paraded the short length from the place of the holy mass (within the premises of the pier) to the docks. From inside the port the statue is carried in a procession into a waiting boat decorated with banderitas – flaglets that express the cheer of expectation and celebration of the virgin’s triumphant arrival. A sizeable number of devotees follow her in procession and ride on the boats parked in the quay. More than a dozen boats and small bancas participate in the parade. The boating parties, led by the virgin’s boat, will then circle the entire cove of Puerto Princesa Bay. Throughout the procession on land and sea, a marching band strikes their vibrant music. The entire parade takes about an hour at sea. Devotees believe that joining the festival ceremonies will bring good luck to them in the coming New Year. It is a beautiful spectacle to behold and I am happy that I was able to join this year’s festivities. The following photographs are some of the ones I took in this year’s celebration.

Before the parade the priests who led the holy mass open the baskets containing butterflies to release them in the air.

The march begins.

The procession to the docks draws a large crowd.

The statue is loaded aboard the banca.

Followers ride on the boat.

The band plays on.

The boating parties.

Coast guards standing by for rescue.


Small boats join in the sea parade.

A plane passes by.

The giant city Christmas tree in the baybay or park by the coast.

Passing a Chinese fishing vessel parked offshore.

Along the baybay.

Nearing the end of the sea journey.

The full military band.

Reaching the end.

Coming to a stop.


The sacristans wait for the statue of the virgin.

The statue carried aloft from the boat.

Exit procession.

18 December 2009

Don't Cry For Me Copenhagen

Theme song dedicated to the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen to negotiate a deal on easing off climate change

Don't Cry For Me Copenhagen

(with apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice)

Sung by Mother Earth in the role of Inevitability:

It may be queasy
You'll know it’s strange
When I try to exhale how I feel
That I still need your love
After all that you've done

You won't believe me
All you will see
Is an earth you once knew
Although she's messed up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you

Climate had to let it happen
Climate had to change
Couldn't stay all my life trapped in heat
Looking out of the greenhouse
Frying under the sun

So I chose boredom
Spinning around absorbing everything new
But nothing has cooled me at all
I never expected it too

Don't cry for me Copenhagen
The inconvenient truth is I never left you
All through my flooded days
My warm existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

And as for carbon and as for methane
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world
They were all I desired
They are emissions
They are not the solutions
They promised to be
The treaty was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me

Don't cry for me Copenhagen

Don't cry for me Copenhagen
The inconvenient truth is I never left you
All through my flooded days
My warm existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

Have I prayed too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to pray to you
But all you have to do
Is hold my hands to know
Global warming is true

(Photo by Ryan Fuentes)

17 December 2009

The best of Bolaño is yet to come

Or at least the one-half of it. If Bolaño himself (crafty mythmaker) is to be believed. Forrest Gander mentioned in his not-fully-available-online essay, “Un Lio Bestial,” in The Nation, that ‘Bolaño considered Tres (Three), a book of poems published in 2000, to be "one of my two best books."’ The other best book being ... I don’t know.

Such straight pronouncements are characteristic of Bolaño, whose essays are often riddled by Parra-like (Parrian?) puzzles. These puzzles of Bolaño appear like Freudian slips that are both conscious and unconscious, thrown to the wind and catching them at the same time.

Bolaño has interpreted a poem by the anti-poet Nicanor Parra, a poem that plays on numbers: “The four great poets of Chile / Are three: / Alonso de Ercilla and Rubén Dario.” Bolaño’s close reading of this poem was recounted in an essay by Marcela Valdes, also in The Nation. This anti-poem inspired a joke which I’m sure Bolaño will appreciate: “So the two best works of Bolano/ Are one/ Three.”

And then there is this last advice of Bolaño to an aspiring short story writer: “Read Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver, for one of the two of them is the best writer of the twentieth century.” He does not say which one. I’m inclined to vote for the Russian but then the “seriousness” of the joke is bound to be broken once I made the wager.

Tres, by the way, is a compilation of three poems. Another collection of Bolaño poems is Los perros románticos (The Romantic Dogs) which collects the poems of Bolaño starting from 1980. Both poetry collections were published in 2000; I’m not sure which came first. But so far I loved The Romantic Dogs. Intentional or not, a sort of “Parrian subtraction” is actually embedded in the book. At the back of the book it says that it is “a bilingual collection of forty-four poems,” but strangely I (dizzy) counted only 43 in the table of contents. I'm counting again later to make sure. And also at the back page, there’s a blurb by Forrest Gander about a poem describing some "fist-fucking" and "feet-fucking" and mentioning “Pascal, Nazi generals, Shining Path bonfires, and a teenage hooker.” Well, pray tell me which poem is this in the book, because I haven’t found it. Maybe I did not read close enough. This could be the 44th poem so it has to be somewhere in there.

A few months back I came across Garabatos, a journal blog by Laura Healy, the translator of The Romantic Dogs. It was started sometime in June, I think. I cannot open it directly now; you need to subscribe. But I have my RSS feed. There were only two journal entries to date.

In the first entry, “Introduction,” we get to have a glimpse of Healy's background: “The Part About the Translator of Poetry.”

I started this blog to help me study for my general exams as I start my first year of work toward a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard. My specialty is 20th-century Latin American literature. I’ve always known I should start a reading journal, but I’ve just never had the discipline, so hopefully this blog will be a way for me to record my initial reactions to different texts, without having to adhere to any particular format. That’s the hope. We’ll see how it goes.

And then she provided her reading list in Spanish lit for the course she's taking, 154 books in all!

Poetry has always been sidetracked in favor of prose. B was aware of it and so he “shifted” to fiction to better fend for his family. The quantity of his novels far outweighs that of his poetry, but readers do not complain.

Even in translation, focus has always been given to B’s novels and stories rather than his poems. Of course, his poems are the batteries energizing the flashlights of his fiction.

Here's the beginning of the second journal entry by Healy ("A Bolaño Fanatic"):

I’m not quite sure where to start here, since Bolaño has been such an incredibly important figure for me. I first found out about him from Zach and Jonah in 2005. Jonah had heard about him from some friends in Chile and Zach had been reading Chris Andrews’ translations of Distant Star (1996) and By Night in Chile (2000), both published by New Directions. Distant Star is a beautiful, flawless little novella, though I found myself more engrossed by the voice of Father Urrutia in By Night in Chile. I could say much much more (obviously) but I’ll leave it at that for now and go into more detail in future posts.

Anyway, around the same time that I read those novellas (in English), I decided to take some time off from school and travel around Europe with Zach. After bopping around for a while, we rented a room in an apartment in Barcelona and stayed there for a few months. Zach’s Spanish wasn’t very good at the time and he was on a poetry kick, so he bought me a copy of Los perros románticos, a collection of Bolaño’s poems, and asked me to translate it for him. I already had my eyes peeled for a translation project because I would need to complete one in order to graduate, so I gave it a shot.

Translating a book of poems is no small potatoes, so I figured I might as well milk it for all I could. I contacted Bolaño’s literary agent, was put in touch with New Directions in New York and somehow managed to get permission to translate the collection and submit my translations for publication. By the time I returned to school, I had completed most of the collection and Forrest Gander (a great poet/translator and also my advisor) helped me to edit them and polish a final draft. He also advised me through a translation of another collection of Bolaño’s poems, Tres, which will hopefully be published eventually (the opening series of prose poems “Prosa de otoño en Girona” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing).


Great story on how the translator first discovered the work of her author and the circumstances leading to the publication of her translation.

Healy’s acclaim regarding the opening prose poems “Prosa de otoño en Girona” of Tres corresponds to that by another translator of the same cycle of prose poems. Chad W. Post of Three Percent interviewed Erica Mena, a translator who will publish her version of “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona” in the March issue of Words Without Borders. I can’t wait to read it. Erica Mena chose this project as her best translation to date, adding that B’s prose poetry is “much, much better” than his other poems. Bolañophiles alert!

I also wonder, like Chad W. Post, who will finally translate the entire book for publication.

What I’d like to happen is for the two translators, Healy and Mena, to complete their separate versions, and then we will have side by side two interpretations of what could really be one of B’s two best books.

To venture an opinion: I’m not surprised that B will excel in the form of prose poetry, a necessary hybrid that interleaves the savage spirit of his poetry within the sturdy clothing of prose.

But still, the question begs itself: Is Bolaño’s (other) best book yet to come in English language? Is it this much-vaunted, much-awaited (by me at least) Tres? The knight’s answer may or may not be the same as the knave’s. If we don’t trust Roberto, then I guess we should always trust his translators. After all, when Roberto asked the essential question: “How do we recognize a work of art?” he himself answered it without reservation:

That’s easy. We must translate it. That the translator not be a genius. We must rip out pages randomly. We have to leave it strewn in an attic. And if after all this a young person appears and reads it, and after reading it makes it his own, and is faithful to it (or unfaithful, it makes no difference) and reinterprets it and accompanies it on its journey to the edges and both are enriched and the young person adds a grain of value to its natural value, we are in the presence of something, a machine or a book, capable of speaking to all human beings: not a tilled field but a mountain, not the image of the dark forest but the dark forest itself, not a flock of birds but the Nightingale.

That rambling prose poem is your answer.

I can be led to believe that Tres is one of the two best books of Bolaño, the other being the rest of his oeuvre.

12 December 2009

“The Dinosaur” (Augusto Monterroso)

Note to the reader: The following review may contain spoilers. Please read no further if you have not read the story yet.

Sleeping giant: review of “The Dinosaur,” a short story by Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso

Yesterday I read (for the second time) in one sitting Augusto Monterroso’s story called “The Dinosaur.” I re-read it many times, fourteen times maybe, I lost count. I tried to analyze the story in terms of prehistoric literary theories: stunted evolution, creationist realism, posthumous savagery. It was a radical novel. Anyway, after I wrote a first draft of my review, I checked my email, and then I slept afterward. It was not a peaceful sleep. I was trashing left and right on my bed. I dreamt of a Uranusaurus rex just like the one in Stephen Szpilman Bergman’s movie Triassic Park, based on a TV show created by Michael Flintstonnes (pronounced flight-stuns).

When I woke up, I read again my review. I worked on it some more, polishing the paleontological arguments. After some not-so-extensive revisions, I saved the file. I looked behind me and jumped. The U. rex was still there.

08 December 2009

"Ang Gabi ay Gabi " (Axel Pinpin)

The Night is the Night


He is the double of sleeplessness and dream,
he’s the expert in doubt and slumber

His youth enlivening and aggressive,
his depth an invitation to drowning.

He is patient waiting for the burglar,
He is brave gambling in wakes.

His essence starving in unease,
the extent of his threats is worrisome

Fear awakens his pallor
his heat, yawning, is alert

The night is the night

His water tide is stretching its limbs from the bed.

August 18, 2006

(translated from Filipino)

( Axel Pinpin, Tugmaang Matatabil, Southern Voices Printing Press, 2008 )

06 December 2009

"Awit ng Bilanggong Politikal" (Axel Pinpin)

Song of the Political Detainee

My prison walls more than cold and sticky
Are framing whips of twisting agony.
My floor isn’t only rough and dirty,
In it is trapped a searing ennui.
The iron bars coated with rust,
The freedom I so want has greased its crust.

Smear with verses the slipping freedom!
Tear and tear down the silken iron!
Shut and shut off the plague’s kingdom!
Rise from the darkness lighted by anguish!
Smash and smash the walls of cowardice!
Smash the corral with the cry of release!

August 23, 2007

Translated from Filipino
From Tugmaang Matatabil (Southern Voices Printing Press, 2008)

04 December 2009

2666: The part about the title

Previously, the only connection that I found between the Roberto Bolaño novels 2666 and Nazi Literature in the Americas was the character of General Entrescu who appeared in "The Part About Archimboldi" and whose name was listed in Nazi Literature's "Epilogue for Monsters." Recognizable because of the mention of the general's “asset” and his cinematic (if weird) death.

A clue to the book's title can be found from the epigraph of 2666 taken from Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Le Voyage”:

An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.

The original poem in French and several English translations can be found in here. The exact quote from the book comes from the version of Geoffrey Wagner; it is the last poem in the above link.

In part VII of “The Voyage”, the first stanza reads in full:

O bitter is the knowledge that one draws from the voyage!
The monotonous and tiny world, today
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our reflections,
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom!

The last line ends in an exclamation here and the thread is explicit in the futuristic aspect of the year 2666: “today / Yesterday, tomorrow, always …” The implication is that 2666 is just an arbitrary year, albeit a convenient and conscious choice as the number refers to the mark of the beast, thereby invoking an apocalyptic resonance. The Quarterly Conversation's great review of 2666 interpreted these extended lines of the epigraph as a direct evocation of the heinous crimes in Santa Teresa. The translator Natasha Wimmer, in her biographical essay on B, points out from these poetic lines the literal health hazard posed by a long and arduous travel in the desert.

The book’s subject matter supports the notions of apocalypse and the futuristic in the enigmatic title. Throughout the book, individual and collective histories are given a chilling treatment, from the world wars to the holocaust to unsolved mass murders in Santa Teresa. Human struggles and the persistence of evil are the voids that characterize the desert of human heart. The traveller’s journey, into the “desert of boredom”, will invariably lead him and his thirst into “an oasis of horror”. A pure black vision.

The notion that evil is here to stay, that it is a permanent feature of existence, is terrifying and, what’s more disturbing, it is of our own making. Because by our silence and omission, we manifest our refusal to act against the tides of injustice and crime. Etc., etc.

Anyway, what strikes me is that the lines quoted can very well constitute the general framework of 2666. The world that men created here on earth, at this time, at any time (past, present, future), is just a reflection of human folly. It just “shows us our reflections.” This phrase of Baudelaire’s occur in other translations as “shows us our image”, “The horror of our image will unravel”, “we see / ourselves today, tomorrow, yesterday”, “The small monotonous world reflects me everywhere”, “So terrifying that any image made in it / Can be splashed perfunctorily away”, “where trite oases from each muddy pool / one thing reflect: his horror-haunted eyes!”

Our reflections. In terms of Jared’s chosen quote in Nazi Literature, the novel’s pages are “darkly mirroring” a book of history.

To contextualize further the intertextuality between 2666 and Nazi Literature, I'm quoting in full Jared's brilliant take on it:

In Nazi Literature in the Americas, the entry on Harry Sibelius contains the following quote describing Harry's own monstrously-sized (and -charactered) novel: "Then the novel proper - The True Son of Job - begins: 1,333 pages darkly mirroring Arnold J. Toynbee's Hitler's Europe."

Which is interesting. This "novel" is a kind of negative image of Toynbee's, it is in fact "darkly mirroring" it, which is to say that it presupposes another alternate set of 1333 pages, totaling out to 2666 of them.

Further down the page, another interesting passage materializes: "In the final analysis, the British professor's [Toynbee] aim is to testify against crime and ignominy, lest we forget. The Virginian novelist seems to believe that 'somewhere in time and space' the crime in question has definitively triumphed, so he proceeds to catalogue it."

These two sets of quotations easily reminded me of the novel 2666, especially of the 2nd volume's exhaustive and brutal account of the murders in Sonora. The sheer amount of ink devoted to the individual murders is vastly unsettling, and leads the reader to question why Bolano would have him/her sit privy to such a bloody catalogue. The first hypothesis mirrors Toynbee's motivation: perhaps Bolano wants to testify against crime and ignominy, lest we forget. And I believe that this is a part of it. But the answer seems more complicated than that, too. Bolano touches on each murder case with the cold but meticulous gaze of a forensics expert, devoid of judgment, but casting an extremely intimate eye, infringing on the privacy of each character with the kind of omniscience that only an author can possess. And yet there's a public aspect, too, in which the sheer frequency of the publicizing resembles newspaper articles. The great paradox of news media is that horrific events are prodigiously reported, but that such reports reported in such magnitude lose their emotive effect; the public becomes numb to violence, and reports become mere catalogues. Bolano, I think, takes this paradigm to its most taut logical extension: around 250 pages (I admit, I haven't read the book in about 6 months' time) of brutality, daring you not to wince, daring you to ignore it. This, to me, is one aspect of 2666, the theory of narrative strategy: if one wants to write about horror, the horror of history or the recurring horrors behind it, how does one most effectively communicate that horror? To testify sometimes seems naive, and too overtly subjective; perhaps even too optimistic at this point. Perhaps selection is more important: instead of using declamatory statements or opining or rallying, one ought to simply record, record, record, organize, and publish. If the criminal horror exists, if it already exists and will continue to exist up to the year 2666, one might as well write about it and leave it at that.

Or something.

Elsewhere in Baudelaire’s poem, one can associate the main character in 2666 with the desert traveler: the novelist Archimboldi, perennial dreamer in sleep, disappearing without a trace:

… the true travelers are they who depart
For departing's sake; with hearts light as balloons,
They never swerve from their destinies,
Saying continuously, without knowing why: "Let us go on!"

These have passions formed like clouds;
As a recruit of his gun, they dream
Of spacious pleasures, transient, little understood,
Whose name no human spirit knows.

And the poem’s ending can also loosely refer to Archimboldi, a bold diver of the depths of the sea, welcoming Death should it join him swimming amid the seagrasses and seaweeds:

O Death, my captain, it is time! let us raise the anchor!
This country wearies us, O Death! Let us make ready!
If sea and sky are both as black as ink,
You know our hearts are full of sunshine.

Pour on us your poison to refresh us!
Oh, this fire so burns our brains, we would
Dive to the depths of the gulf, Heaven or Hell, what matter?
If only to find in the depths of the Unknown the New!

Ah sunshine! The sun whose metaphor so suffuses the book in many instances. And there is certainly a hope that in the horrifying depths of the Unknown (void), something New can still be found. It does not matter whether the discovery of the (shocking) New is for the good or bad. So long as the sunlight accompanies the journey.

In her essay, Wimmer also quoted Bolaño about the closed-looping relation of the Unknown to the New (which in effect is the Cure):

While we search for the antidote or the medicine to cure us, the new, that which can only be found in the unknown, we must continue to turn to sex, books, and travel, even knowing they will lead us into the abyss, which, as it happens, is the only place we can find the cure.

How elusive the cure. Meanwhile we can read more books, we can take leave and travel, and then we make love.