When I first heard that Alfred ” Krip” Yuson would be attending the 3rd Taboan Writers Festival, I knew I just had to meet him. Undeniable as this urge may have been, it was also unexplainable and that made it rather awkward. I needed an excuse for going up to him. And then it came: Mr. Cimafranca, our Creative Writing teacher told us that our midterm examination would be to “attach” ourselves to one of the Delegates in the Festival and write about him or her.
I first encountered the Krip Yuson brand when I read a haiku he wrote that appeared in our Literature book. I was in first year college, and though I had been writing earlier than that, that was my first exposure to the Philippine literary scene. The haiku went:
Is Galman the one?
or are there two, maybe three?
each day, brief to grief.
That haiku fascinated me even though I didn’t understand it. When I dug into its background, I couldn’t help reading about the poet as well.
Born in 1947, Alfred “Krip” Yuson has written in every literary form. He is a poet, fictionist (both novel and short story), essayist, screen playwright, filmmaker, and newspaper columnist. What sets him apart as a writer is his dislike of “ordinary” language. He prefers heavy doses of word play, exaggeration, and sarcasm. “Efren Peñaflorida’s triumphant return as CNN Hero of the Year,” he wrote in a 2009 article in the Philippine Star, “was all but overshadowed by grim news of unprecedented atrocity, thanks to the creation and coddling of monsters that have turned into the latest dubious poster boys for warlordism.” Note the alliteration and irony.
I caught a glimpse of him was on the first day of the Festival. While I was busy entertaining the arriving guests and instructing the ushers, he came out of the session hall, a laptop bag slung over his shoulder. He was a muscular, middle-aged man with spiky graying hair and a sparse moustache and goatee. His sleeveless blazer worn over a sleeveless shirt made him look cool, both figuratively and literally — other delegates were already wearing scarves and jackets because of the cold airconditioning.
I was frozen where I stood, not because of the cold but because I was starstruck. The fanboy in me couldn’t gather the courage to even greet the man: I could only muster what I believed was a polite smile. Luckily, Mr. Yuson took the initiative and smiled back–Krip Yuson smiled at me!
Where I found the courage to greet him good morning I don’t know, but he replied–Krip Yuson said good morning to me!
Alas, I could do no more than that: he was just too cool for me to approach. I was busy being head usher for the rest of the day, so I did the next best thing: I attended the sessions he was panelling.
On the second day, had a cold. My head throbbed and I had an onset of arthritis triggered by a full day on my feet. Nevertheless, I insisted on attending the session he had that day. One was “Ako ang Nagwagi.” Not only was it Plan B to get close to him, it was also about winning literary contests, something to which I aspired.
Krip displayed his sharp humor in the panel. Ms. Jhoanna Cruz, one of my writing mentors, mentioned to me once that he was the funniest writer to ever talk, but I didn’t quite expect it to be quite so intellectual as well. I thought that Krip would be a fun guy to approach, and no conversation with him would ever be boring.
But fun wasn’t just the reason why Krip was chosen to be a speaker of that session, it was also his long string of accomplishments. Krip Yuson was inducted to the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards Hall of Fame in 2001. He first won the award in 1968 with his English short story “The Hill of Samuel” which placed third that year. He tied for first with Leoncio Deriada in English short story in 1975 with his entry “Romance and Faith in Mount Banahaw.” Then, he tied with himself for first in 1978 in the English poetry category with his collections “15 poems” and ” Icon Corner.” He got his second double award in 1985 when he bagged first in the English Poetry with “Dream of Knives” and third in the English essay for “A Filipino Poet’s Tokyo.” He won the 1987 Grand Prize for the Novel, with his “Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café.” His 2001 entry, “Pillage and Other Poems”, won him first place in the English Poetry Division and a place in the Hall of Fame.
Not only that, he has been judging the contest, too. He thus had the perspective of both contestant and judge. And that’s not to mention his Man Asia Prize, his FAMAS award, his SEAwrite Award…
So yup, despite having a captivating sense of humor, Krip Yuson is still just too cool for me to approach.
But the session revealed something more about him. He mentioned this when the topic of his daughter Mirava’s honorable mention in the recently concluded “Chile: Odes from the Philippines” poetry contest came up. He was expressing worry over “lutong macao.” F. Sionil Jose was a judge at that contest, and he feared the National Artist (along with the other judges, all of whom he personally knew) might have given the honorable mention to Mirava out of friendship. It turns out, he explained, it wasn’t so: the entries were only numbered, and the poets’ names were never shown to the judges.
The mention of his daughter revealed a fact I little knew of Krip Yuson: he has a daughter? I hadn’t read that anywhere. In the event that I didn’t get the courage to talk to him, I took as a contingency plan to use the available written accounts of his life as a basis for my assignment. Bad idea. As much as his curriculum vitae is readily accessible, almost nothing about his personal life is mentioned either in books or online. He did mention that his daughter Mirava also writes reviews of Broadway plays and was a co-writer when she was just five. But does he have other children? Grandchildren? Who is his wife and is she a writer too? He mentioned once that he voted for Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas, but does that mean he is a Liberal by heart? His place of birth isn’t even anywhere. These questions just show how hidden this writer is behind his works.
And this despite the fact that he is one of the stars in Philippine Literature.
There are writers who churn out works but barely participate in literary discourse. Krip Yuson is not one of them. Aside from being an award-winning literary writer, he is also a literary critic, professor, and vocal promoter of art. His column in the Philippine Star, “KRIPOTKIN,” continues to be a main source of literature-related news for me. When he is not engaged in the literary discourse, he is teaching in the Ateneo de Manila University as a professor of Fiction and Poetry, mentoring new readers and writers.
In session, he mentioned a writer who attacked him and the Philippine literary community at large. According to Krip, the writer called him and the community in general “The Literary Mafia,” supposedly for monopolizing literature in the country.
The Literary Mafia! Nothing could be further from the truth, Krip Yuson said. The literary community suppposedly in power is too divided an entity to exert discursive hegemony. Not all the revered writers agree. But Krip Yuson was among those with whom most everybody agrees with, effectively making the otherwise incorrect description true for him: he monopolizes literature because he has conquered it. He has become the Literary Godfather.
But that made it all the more difficult for me to approach him. Of course, it served to strengthen that undeniable imperative for me to make his acquaintance, and it gave me the courage to at least ask for his autograph the afternoon of the second day. But the excuse to converse with him, my writing teacher’s requirement, seemed a ridiculously shallow reason. Who was I to write about the unwritten life of Krip Yuson?
You can get his autograph, but nope, Krip Yuson is just too cool to approach.
I attended another session of his the next day, “Writing below the Belt.” His humor was still very much in play, only this time, with J. Neil Garcia’s own blend, it touched on the lecherous side. The concluded the session with a reading of his erotic incestuous poem by showing a picture of Anne Curtis whom it is allegedly about.
But as he opened himself up to the audience (anything to do with sex always ends up opening you up) he did not reveal anything about himself. The jokes were funny, and the poem was captivating in its subtlety, but it revealed nothing about him save that he could joke and write.
I thought back to my writing assignment. Then I remembered Jhoanna Cruz telling me that that many famous young writers had actually been his students. Even my favorite writer, Jessica Zafra, came under his wing. Wouldn’t they be more qualified to write about him? Krip Yuson has a lot of talented, accomplished young students to write his life. To me, he’s still too cool to approach.
So I never went beyond greeting him good morning and asking for his autograph. Do I regret it? Do I regret not being able to know and write those unwritten aspects about this literary celebrity’s life? Of course I do. But could I be blamed if the man behind the sarcastic, pun-loving and witty literary brand of “Krip” had me froze me in my tracks?
In the end all I could write about Krip Yuson was that ubiquitous curriculum vitae of his, presented with my personal experience with it.
Because he was just too cool for me to approach.