Not exactly a 'Dead Poet's' society

Not exactly a ‘Dead Poets’ Society’
by Diana A. Uy
Manila Standard Today
March 30, 2010

At the Taboan: 2nd Philippine Writers Festival, held recently at the Casino Español in Cebu, the country's most prolific writers tried to address issues ranging from the literary possibility of facebook, including blogs, to mainstreaming indigenous writing, organizing writing workshops, and the apparent decline of the country’s readership. Taboan, organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, under the National Committee on Literary Arts, was meant to highlight Cebuano literature, as well as honor the city's most accomplished and brilliant writers. as what to do with the country’s “ethnic’’ works in this very ‘‘Manila-centric’’ community of writers and readers?

The problem with ethnicity

Most of the participants/facilitators agree that indigenous writing is a matter of national importance in Philippine literature. But the fact remains that even in this very small, free-wheeling industry, can’t get over the “Manila-centric” attitude. They did not fail however in coming up with suggestions to cure this both cognitive and behavioral malady. And almost everyone agreed on the vital role of the young writers in promoting the genre.

“We have to talk about it because we are [all] ethnic,’’ says Ric de Ungria, head of the NCLA, ‘‘It’s only in Manila that's not ethnic. All the rest around it are regional. The solution is we try to wake up our consciousness in a sense that we have to keep on doing what we have to do within our own communities, ethnicities. So that eventually people won't be blind to these ethnicities and create oneness in the Filipino people.’’

Butch Dalisay, an internationally-renowned novelist, columnist, and author of Soledad’s Sister, suggested a few practical approaches to resolving the problem: incorporating not only the works of the young writers but of indigenous literature in school curriculums and supporting more translators.

Twenty-two-year-old Napoleon Paris, a Kankanaey (a sub-tribe of Igorot) poet and fiction writer, sees it rather differently. Paris insists on writing in his native tongue, seemingly indifferent about the need for translators. ‘‘I am able to express myself more freely and purely [in kankanaey],” shares Paris. “Also I feel that we are slowly losing our own culture and this is my way of promoting it. And in order to effectively do that is to have total immersion [in my art]. I write for my ethnic group. I want to go back to the roots.’’

‘‘You write in the language you are most comfortable in,’’ agrees columnist and Ladlad author, Danton Remoto.

Online writing and the facebook phenomenon

At the online writing room, writer Ian Casocot provided a lengthy Powerpoint presentation on facebook, deconstructing and analyzing the four corners of the social networking site through research and an online poll of sorts. Apparently, even some of the panelists, well-respected and established writers and novelists themselves, use some of its services. Their usage however is limited only to connecting with students and “social and poll networking,’’ in Remoto’s case. At the end of the lecture, the writers still could not decide on the relevance, influence, and contribution of facebook on and to literature.

Dominique Cimafranca, editor/founder of, finds it a major time-waster and a great contributor to ADHD. Some compared FB status updates to that of Japanese haiku —to some extent.

“The answer to that question, like what Ian has presented, will depend on your generation, age, class, and what is your need,’’ says Jing Hidalgo, fictionist, essayist and academic. “One thing is for sure, it’s changing everything—the way we relate to each other, the way we acquire information, even the way we receive art. There’s no fighting it.’’

Cimafranca did however defend online writing as the next big thing in the literary scene, explaining that almost everyone is now online. That the flow of information is far more immediate, encouraging more writers; and that there is actually money in it. Even Remoto and Dalisay agree that blogging is a form of literature and online writing can serve the interest of everyone.

“That’s one way in a sense of going around the system or equalizing things,’’ says Dalisay, “To the extent that you can spread your work in one press of a button—not only here in the Philippines but outside the country, as well. The Internet plays a big part in democratizing the access to literature and its distribution especially to the young writers. Through the internet, you can easily publish your works without having to wait down on your knees before publishers like UP Press and Anvil can actually print them. You don’t need to compete with seasoned and really good writers, too. But of course, there will always be a lot of garbage on the Internet but that comes with the territory. The good ones will always stand out though and those works come from the young. The Internet keeps the spirit of writing and the imagination alive.”

Cimafranca, all things considered, still cannot deny the prestige of published works, something that online writing can never truly accomplished. “They provide a greater sense of fulfillment,” explains Cimafranca. “It’s the physicality of a book. It's a book!’’

A dying industry?

No one left Taboan without answering the question, do we still have enough literary consumers given the fact that we do have enough materials to feed the industry?

“One of the reasons why our literature is not developing as well as it should is because we keep writing new novels, new stories but no one is buying and reading them. We still sorely need readers among Filipinos –in all languages. We really need to develop our readership.’’

Remoto blames social networking sites for the change in the reading habits of Filipinos. “Our attention now is very technological and shorter because of texting, Internet, Facebook,’’ says Remoto. “But I don’t think Philippine publishing in general is a dying industry,’’ says Remoto. “It is just changing its direction.”

Remoto cites examples like the “Bob Ong phenomenon” (Bob Ong has sold more than a hundred thousand copies of his part-satirical, part-political books) and the new marketing strategy of publishers like Anvil, UP Press, UST, and La Salle: Printing small books for the mainstream and young readers. The essays are supposedly as short as blog entries compiled in a 100-page booklet, sold at P100 or less.

“So it is very affordable. Big Mac hamburger is more expensive,” enthuses Remoto, who sold 30,000 of his Ladlad series.

“The writers have to adjust to the demands of the readers. The writers have to be conscious of the demands of the marketplace.’’

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