a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 14 2010.
Lawrence Lacambra Ypil’s first books of poems has many things going against it, including the fact that it is poetry and that it is in English, both of which limit it to a particular audience. More importantly, it comes at a time when the kind of Philippine poetry in English that’s celebrated – if publication and recent award-winning collections are any indication – has been about going beyond the person and the personal in the poem, almost a poem-for-and-of-the-world, where the nation is missed/missing/ disappeared, the text existing beyond the page and into a realm of learnedness and influences that it requires the reader to inhabit. This, at a time when people continue to think poetry too difficult, and Filipino poetry too removed from the conditions that are real to us. In this sense, the debate has become too simple: the easy/ confessional/personal poem, or the difficult/conceptual/landless poem?
The Highest Hiding Place (Ateneo de Manila Press, 2009) by Ypil lands right smack in the middle of this debate, not falling clearly on either side of it. There is a refusal to be easily about personal confessions here, even as these poems seem to refuse difficulty. It experiments with forms, yes, and necessarily does with content too, but it does both without refusing the reader entry into the poem.
And yet, this is no cliché of doors being opened to the poet’s mind. If anything Ypil is able to allow an experience of the poem that is uniquely about the words, and how they fail, and become, in this context that is familiar.
The poem’s gaze upon landscapes, the different ways in which they develop and decay, what is left behind in the swiftness or left without in the slowness of change, is our gaze as well. While the spaces Ypil deals with are the city and his native province of Cebu, the perspective his poems take speaks entirely of our experiences with urbanity and its concreteness, and the homes in ourselves that are ambiguously tied to the rural spaces we own. There is a distance to these spaces that Ypil takes, a clear finger pointing at change and the past it forgets, another finger pointing at the ironies of what have been deemed as normal in our lives.
There is religiosity and our notions of faith, those that change every day, and yet seem to remain static. There is art, and its creation for the world, even as it remains removed from it, even as it proves the lack of a world that is about us all. There is family and acceptance, and the silences of rejection and refusal, the absences created by expectations not fulfilled, dreams not lived. There are the things we never talk about, but which we see; words we don’t utter even when they are in our collective consciousness.
The yes and the no, the right and the wrong, are dealt with by Ypil with a sensitivity to the poem’s reader. It refuses the yabang of poems that younger poets have churned out recently, and it speaks from a place that is certain in its words, but fluid in its statements. It is melancholy that allows this fluidity, the kind that’s borne of a knowledge of how things were, and why they have changed, but more importantly, how things should be, but sadly aren’t.
And here lies the power of Ypil’s poetry. It dares to familiar. In the context of the kinds of poetry that continue totell people that it’s a form that’s too difficult, a cultural product that’s only for the educated and the elite, the ones who speak in English and are from urban Manila, Ypil’s poems refuse this question of easy or difficult, and instead, given the limitations of the language(s), includes us in the world it creates. It is all at once about the poet’s voice, as it is about a tone that we all take about the world we are forced to put into our own words. It’s about the persona(s) here that question omniscience in its mere existence, that invites the reader into what the poem looks at and says, come here, this is what you might see differently, or might see now.
More importantly, it dares to be here and in the now, in the Philippines. In and through Ypil’s words, we come to a particular space in this country, the kind that is his secret, but which becomes ours as well. It is our ownership of the poetry in The Highest Hiding Place that is special here. It is the fact that we are there. In this third world space of the city and the beach, of the strangers that become familiar, and the familiar that remain questionable, of family reunions and community, of Church and market and the streets. What we know and what we deny any knowledge of.
The here that is about nation, is something that Ypil consistently works with from his hiding place, telling us of our guilts, of our voices, of the many ways our world may be handled by words, and the possibility that it can’t. And that is what makes it infinitely important, at this time, in this place, given these sadnesses we live and the bright sheen of happiness we are made to believe every day.