It’s National Arts Month, and in this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, my co-editor and I aim to show you how literature is made richer by other forms of art, specifically film, music, visual arts, and theater. This issue contains two kinds of literary works. One is literary works that are entwined with other forms of art. These works, such as screenplay, lyrics, and play (written), are meant to be performed; they are mixed with other elements and then presented to an audience. The other kind is literary works that are meant to be read only, such as poem, essay, and short story, and inspired by works from other forms of art, such as film, musical composition, painting, photograph, and play (staged). It’s a headache to classify the works—the forms of art have such a complex interrelationship—but we tried, and here’s the delectably psychedelic results:
We were able to gather two film-related works—the screenplay Jamir by Genory Vanz Alfasain (Alabel, Sarangani Province) and the poem “Kuala’s Song” by Gerald Galindez (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Alfasain wrote, directed, and edited Jamir, a short film, which tells the story of a Moro boy facing a dilemma that even adults would not know how to deal with. The screenplay is deftly written; the dialogue is cut down to the minimum, and each scene is essential to the story. Galindez wrote “Kuala’s Song” after seeing Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang, a classic film by the late National Artist Lino Brocka. Kuala, a main character in the film, is mentally ill. In his heartbreaking melodic poem, Galindez retells how the woman is treated in her town and what has made her lose her mind.
Under music, we have lyrics from Silek (Tampakan, South Cotabato), lyrics from Kim Nathaniel Tan (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a hybrid work from Kurt Joshua Comendador (General Santos City). Silek, composed of six Blaans who play indigenous and modern musical instruments, shared with us the lyrics of their most popular song, “Kastifun,” which literally means “gathering.” The song calls on Blaans to end conflicts among themselves and unite. Tan, a young singer, songwriter, and guitarist, often performs in local poetry readings, where his Filipino love songs elicit bittersweet sighs and generous applause. He shared with us the lyrics of his songs that deal with social issues. “Philippines, My Homeland” is about love for country, and “The Jam Man” is about armed conflict and religious tolerance. Comendador, a pianist since he was a kid, shared with us the piece entitled “Frédéric.” It’s an essay about the writer’s experience of listening to Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat Major, op. 22, by Frederic Chopin, and interspersed in the essay are scenes from the life of the Austrian pianist and composer.
Under visual arts, we have Susi, a painting-and-poem by Aldrick Lawrence Velasco (Tantangan, South Cotabato), and Minsan sa may Bagsakan, a set of photographs by Hajar Kabalu (Cotabato City). Velasco, a self-taught artist, often creates paintings that have accompanying poems, mostly about nature and faith in God. Susi is a typical example. Kabalu’s photographs were taken in the public market of his home city. They form what may be called wordless poetry or photo poetry. The word bagsakan literally means “where goods are unloaded,” but there are no goods in the photos. Instead of showing us the usual hustle and bustle of a marketplace, Kabalu directs us to its humdrum and bleak edges, giving us a wider and deeper view of things, as what a good poem does. To illustrate further how photography and literature may intersect, we asked a few writers to create ekphrastic poems on the photographs. Paolo Concepcion (Koronadal City, South Cotabato) chose the photo of a man leaving a store, and in “One More Customer,” he tells us the life of the vendor. But he doesn’t stop there. He gives us a grimmer—and truer—version. Jermaine Dela Cruz (General Santos City) chose the photo of a cat walking on a pavement, and in “If Curiosity Kills,” she makes us reimagine the captured moment by examining the details.
Our theater-related works include a full-length play by Jim Raborar (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), a poem by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a poem by John Dominic Arellano (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Raborar’s Hapagkainan is a rambunctious story about a family and their friends as they prepare for a wedding. Rivera’s “Hikbi ng Batang Matadero” is based on Eljay Castro Deldoc’s one-act play Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala, which in turn was based on Dean Francis Alfar’s short story “The Kite of Stars.” In a local production of the play, Rivera himself played the butcher boy, one of the two main characters. The story and his experience inspired him to write the poem, which many would find more poignant than either the adapted play or the original short story, for the butcher boy’s heartache is greater than Maria Isabella’s. Arellano’s “Ang Bida” is about a stage actress, her fantastic role in a play, and her staid role in real life. He wrote it after seeing some plays that were staged late last year by Apat sa Taglamig, a Koronadal-based theater group.
We classified the works according to “disciplines” enumerated in Presidential Proclamation No. 683, series of 1991, which designated February as National Arts Month. Also in the list are dance and architecture, but alas, we were not able to find works that may fall under the two. Spoken word is not in the list, for it’s not as established as the others, but we deem it worthy to be added here. We have two spoken word poems—“Pangatlong Mata” by Hannah Adtoon Leceña (Kiamba, Sarangani Province) and “Ako si Dan” by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera. Leceña’s poem is about unrequited love, like most works by young spoken word performers, but by using folklore, she creates something new and interesting out of the worn-out theme. Rivera’s poem is addressed to Filipinos, especially his fellow youth, who seem enslaved by social media and have misguided views on political issues.
This may be the most beautiful issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, and this became possible because we now have a good number of regular submissions and the region has many emerging writers to solicit works from—a step forward from months ago, when we could barely find works to fill an issue, and a far cry from a few years ago, when we seemed to have an arid literary landscape. It is evident in the fifteen works from thirteen artists that the arts and letters of Cotabato Region is starting to have its own identity. The works follow outside trends and traditions but speak to the local audience. The themes are universal, but the setting and characters are specific. The concerns are national, but the sensibility is regional. This National Arts Month, we are glad to participate in the countrywide celebration, and we are glad that we can do it not by blending with the rest but by highlighting our own.
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat