Invading the hall

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Jan 3 2011

NUMEROUS Varsitarian alumni have gunned for literary immortality through the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, and not a few of them have succeeded. But one of them stands out—his name, Cirilo Bautista.

He etched his name into the Palanca Hall of Fame in 1995 with nine victories in poetry, fiction, and essay. Among his milestone works are Philippine Poetics: The Past Eight Years, an essay, which won him first place in 1981; Crossworks (1979) and Charts (1973), both a collection of poems, which also bagged top awards; and the epic poem Telex Moon (1975), and the short story Ritual (1971).

All of these only proved Bautista’s virtuosity in letters.

Musings from the master

“You have to be able to express your ideas in a precise and convincing manner,” he says of the power of essay.

For him, the essay-writer should commit words to paper with “a certain amount of elegance,” and that the reader should, in the end, be able to say about the essay and the writer, “Ah! He is right!”

But with fiction, it is not just the writer’s reasoning that should be convincing he says, noting that fiction’s main concern is “to spin an image into a believable world.”

“The world that you present might only be a probable one, but the reader should be convinced that it is real, just as much as most of you now are so seemingly certain of the world in Harry Potter.”

In matters of poetry, Bautista believes that it is all about moments. “Poetry is language being used for the sake of language,” he says. “What’s important is to be able to depict the moment beautifully in words. Sabi nga, sa tula, naglulubid ka ng mga salita.”

Bautista is in a league of his own in epic poetry, a genre he says is “not just about moments, but history.” To him, it adds another dimension to the beauty of a story.

“Epic poetry is a novel in poetry. And the challenge is to be able to tell a long, long story in a very elegant manner,” he explains.

But what does the 2007 Parangal Hagbong recipient see as the winning quality in his works that have swept Palanca judges away time and again?

“I think the judges felt that I succeeded in doing what I set out to do,” he says. “And I think there was also a sense of novelty to my works. I think I was the first writer to narrate Philippine history in a poetic manner in a greater magnitude than any writer.”

The first steps

It was amid the pubescent playfulness of highschool that Bautista discovered his gift for the written word.

“I never really thought about it,” he recalls. “It was just that writing was one of those activities in school. And in high school, we already had a brush with journalism.”

When college came, Bautista enrolled at the UST College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Science) in 1957 where he took up a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts.

In 1959, he joined the Varsitarian’s News section and eventually ventured into the Literary section with his published poem in the 80-year-old publication, “Ballad of Bleeding Hearts.”

A versatile writer and editor, Bautista also got to taste being news editor, literary editor, and proofreader during his stint with the campus paper. The experience nurtured in the young man a wider perspective and a deeper understanding of his surroundings.

“I learned how to change how I look at things, because in the paper, your audience is not just yourself but everyone inside and outside UST,” he says

After graduating magna cum laude from UST in 1960, Bautista took up his Master’s Degree in Literature at the St. Louis University in Baguio where he also taught Sociology and English from 1963 to 1968.

In 1968, former Varsitarian editor-in-chief Jose Flores, Jr. recommended him to the nine-month International Writer’s Workshop in Iowa.

“I found the experience enlightening because of the various nationalities gathered there,” Bautista says.

His skill in playing with words was also made known by his works such as Boneyard Breaking, Sugat ng Salita, and The Cave and Other Poems. In 2004, his novel Galaw ng Asoge was published by UST Press.

Bautista was hailed in 1993 as “Makata ng Taon” by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino for winning the poetry contest sponsored by the Philippine Government. Besides a Palanca Hall of Fame award, he also won the Gawad Balagtas and the National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle.

Indeed, the awards were many, but nothing, he says, is sweeter than his first—his 1968 entry for the Palanca, The Cave and Other Poems. V Ana Mae G. Roa, Joseinne Jowin L. Ignacio and Roman R. Loveria