Yet another instance, when one man appears to have denied a quip about literature and journalism.
It was Oscar Wilde, addressing literature in general terms—although keen observers believe he could have been focusing on poetry in particular—towards the end of the 19th century, who said in The Critic as Artist, “The difference between Literature and Journalism? Journalism is unreadable, and Literature is not read.”
Nearly a century after that statement, one brave man, trained to be a journalist in a Benedictine-run college where he got his liberal arts diploma, filed news reports and beat deadlines, aided by his Petri camera gifted to him by an uncle which helped him catch for posterity events that jabbed his thoughts and made him more than just a bystander.
One sees in Raymund B. Villanueva’s 100-page book (Pantas Publishing, 2018), aptly titled Persolitika, a mirror that reflects his person and formidable political persuasions.
The San Pablo, Isabela-born award-winning journalist (Titus Brandsma Award 2015 for Leadership in Journalism), at present the director for the radio of Kodao Productions while serving as reporter and photographer of Bulatlat.com, confesses he is not an all-time poet.
Several decades back, poet and journalist Archibald MacLeish commented on the intersections of Poetry and Journalism in a lecture at the University of Minnesota. The Illinois-born poet and writer, a modernist poet in his youth, once wrote that “a poem should not mean, but be”—eventually changing as he became involved in civic life, persuaded by the conviction that it was appropriate for poets to engage the world.
Here, Villanueva appears to succeed as a journalist and a poet, if MacLeish’s line were to be followed because his poems allow his readers to have the ability to feel the facts.
Ezra Pound wrote in ABC of Reading, “Literature is news that stays.” With journalism mainly explicit and plain, and poetry mostly implicit and suggestive, Villanueva triumphs in having these “married” to make an effective couple, where his poetry, the tendrils of his observations as a journalist, can be news that stays news.
In his poetry—written in free verse in English, Filipino, and one in his native Ibanag—one can see in him a thinking rebel of society, a friend, a respectful son, a brother, a relative, a husband.
And his camera’s shutter is as quick as his thoughts and sentiments with eyes that would make any ophthalmologist appreciative of the clarity of his vision.
If pictures speak a volume, his compendium speaks volumes about frames that agitate a sleepy soul or make that same soul rest as it rides into the uncharted beyond beneath the tropic, almost unforgiving, Philippine sun.
He talks about the posh city of Makati, post-graduation from San Beda College, where he was co-editor of The Bedan and The Spires literary journal in his days, where one of his English professors, a journalist and a poet like him, had dropped a hint.
The older man in the air-conditioned classroom said a journalist could make his readers/watchers understand if a major earthquake was tectonic in origin, but the poet in that journalist could go farther and make the readers/watchers appreciate why there were aftershocks, long after the major shock had taken the bite out.
Villanueva shows his sharpness and affectibility in his poem titled “Makati:” My gleaming shoes walk the paths concrete/ Sandwiched between towering temples/ Where money is god/ Where souls are sold and bought/ Where the perfumed and jacketed are priests/ Where multitudes are sacrificed/ Where I’m off to work.
Much later, he finds himself talking with the moon, the cricket, a small river, and the wind in an adopted language: where he talks of each vibration in his chest as a line in his poem; where the cricket’s celebration is his anguish; where his tired limbs are soothed by the river’s cold water; and asks the wind to wipe away the tears that flow down his face.
He starts to reveal himself as a social activist in his answer to a friend he identifies as Cherry, who had said: sa bawat dahong nililipad/ sana’y mga bagong usbong ay magsilbing karugtong ng buhay.
If the dates were to be believed, Villanueva’s retort three days later, also in the language of the friend, has his cards on the table: Ako’y naglalagas ng lason, nagdidilig ng ugat/ Upang pakikibaka’y masigla at mulat.
More than a decade later, in December 2005, Villanueva talks with his father, Noveclieto, who used to work as a local government employee in their home province of Isabela at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range.
Villanueva tells his father: I am a rebel Papa. Not your kind –/ silent and suffering/ But the people’s kind –/ Raging and angry.../ And as your sunken eyes look westward/ Your heart beats unrepentant/ Of the poverty you earned./ Am I wrong to hope/ We, the people, may soon win?/ Victory earned not in silence/ But with a cry of rage./ There are many kinds of rebels Papa./ We are two of them.//
Nearly two years later, Villanueva, in his poem “A visit,” talks rather touchingly: Finally you paid me a visit, Papa/ Albeit in a dream./ I’ve waited long for this.../ Pay me another visit soon, Papa./ Don’t make me wait long again/ I have many things to tell you.//
His soul talks about seeing death: The awaited daughter has arrived/ The family was starting their day/ The dying’s burial concerns have been communicated/ A good time for death to come.//
In his “Ode to the man who just died,” Villanueva captures a heart-rending scenario as he tries to describe the man who just died.
He says: It seemed the entire town came/ When we buried the man who died.../ His young grandchild kept looking around/ Wondering why everyone was grim, was crying/ And when his grandfather will wake up/ From his deep and long sleep.
His political heartbeats begin with a picture snapped by his camera titled “Mandirigma ng buhay”—of a young boy, naked from waist up, beating the bushes for food from a heap of filthy city garbage.
Then he talks about “water” during the State of the Nation Address of the incumbent president in 1995, with acidulous lines: But they whom they protected/ with jets of water/ hitting us on our faces, chests, bellies, groins/ will someday pay the price/ more than thrice.
The poem is chased by a page showing a picture of anti-government protesters being hosed down during a rally on the streets of the capital.
Villanueva, in his Taglish poetry that can make one laugh, says: What sensitive mouth and lips you have naman./ Pero what about the nerve endings/ Down your throat, to your chest?/ That’s where your heart is, di ba?//
Then he says: Alam mo, you’re mouth centered./ But sa panahong ito, hindi kaya mas mainam/ You feed for the people’s mouths naman?/ Here we are, mouths agape...//
W. Dale Nelson, a foreign news agency reporter for decades and published poetry throughout his writing career, must have been thinking of the kind of Villanueva when he said, “The journalist has to get (his facts) right...newspaper stories tell us about names and titles, distances and populations, fatality totals and investigations. Poems tell us about ourselves.”
In his book, Villanueva talks about what a journalist gathers in his run. In between beating his deadlines, he enables the reader to feel what he must feel, what MacLeish points to as meaning in the events and what they should be.
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