The transforming image is one of the most captivating things about poetry. When a poem transforms one thing into another right before the reader’s eyes, it becomes magical. Such a feat of ingenuity demonstrates the creative genius of the poet-magician.
This poetic element has been central to the poetics of many Filipino poets. It has been argued by many Philippine literary critics that the earliest form of poetry in the Philippines is the riddle, which represents things in fresh, often startlingly unexpected ways to tease the curiosity of the reader or listener. The “teasing of curiosity” lives on today to be the main appeal we get in reading poetry.
The successful execution of transforming imagery involves comparison between two things, and by properly connecting the dynamism of one thing to that of the other. The transforming image may be central to the poem, or may simply be a supporting element in its overall effect. The image may result in fantastic, often semantically deviant language, or it may arise in intended ambiguity.
Today, particularly in Davao, the transforming image is championed by local men of letters such as Don Pagusara and Macario Tiu, and many young writers, picking up from their poetics, also demonstrate this in their poetry.
A look at three particular poems by young Davao poets would reveal a harvest rich in imagination and transforming images.
Krisini Nanini, “Espresso”
you left nothing
The short poem “Espresso” by Ateneo de Davao University graduate Krisini Nanini came out in both Dagmay, the literary journal of the Davao Writers Guild, and Banaag Diwa, the literary folio of Ateneo de Davao’s Atenews.
The poem is a slice of reality in the stormy complexities of a romantic relationship, where pleasure and pain often occur simultaneouslyand become indiscernible from and even evocative of one another. There is a violence of language in the poem: the sentence is parsed against conventional rules of language, making the last parts before the sudden volta of the last line a mimicry both of drops falling slowly and tenderly, or gagged breathlessness. The complexity of the romantic situation is conveyed concretely by the apparent paradox between the complaining nature of the first half and the expression of delight in the sudden volta. But the central appeal of this poem, of course, is its transforming image. Is the persona talking to a cup of coffee or a lover? By deftly connecting the tumultuous paradox of a stormy relationship’s masochism to the gustatory pleasure of bitterness in coffee, the poem is able to be productively ambiguous, demonstrating at once human and culinary reality.
Paul Randy Gumanao, “Pieta.”
Tell me how much you loved your firstborn,
about how you could have kissed every inch
of his tender skin. I know, as you told me,
you only allowed him to eat blended veggies
that you carefully prepared. Are you sure
he did not sleep unless you run while cradling him?
That was funny! I could not imagine how you delighted
when he learned to close-open his hands while
you sang him that simple rhyme.
I am interested in what you shared about how fast
he learned to talk, how fast he learned to walk.
Was he really just seven months old then?
Ah, so he is nineteen now.
Why do you worry when he leaves? It was you
who taught him how to walk. No, please,
please don’t cry when he talks. He is just
thanking you because he now learns not to
unclench his fist. No more close-open rhymes.
He has to be steadfast because many
do not eat even blended veggies.
And he told me, when he does not come back
and when you hear of him no more, follow his trail.
Pick him, bone after bone and kiss him.
He will not sleep unless you run while cradling him.
I know you will. You told me you love your firstborn.
Like Nanini’s “Espresso,” Kidapawanon poet Paul Gumanao’s “Pieta” also appeared both in Dagmay and Banaag Diwa (he was an Ateneo de Davao graduate and an EIC of the Atenews).
The poem’s title, an allusion to the subject of Christian art, is a solidified specification of a mother’s grief over her son’s demise. The poem begins with images of intimacy between a mother and her firstborn. In the middle of the poem is a volta, initiated by a chronological flash forward.
What follows is a chain of delightful transforming images that all of a sudden lend a magicality to the piece: teaching the child to walk suddenly assumes a different connotation as the now grown up child leaves (has the mother taught her son to flee?); talking transforms from a baby’s accomplishment to a rebellious child’s voicing out; the childish close-opening of hands become solidified strength (fists not unclenching); and ultimately the thematic image of cradling a baby is compared to supporting a son’s remains.
The poem also builds up repetition in the image of veggies and the indication of the mother’s love for the firstborn which begins and ends the poem.
The piece is fascinating in that it demonstrates how comparison can be used to urge action: by making a parallel between the mother’s tenderness for her baby and the now grownup offspring’s need for tenderness after losing in a fight, the poet is urging the mother to once again show tenderness.
Karlo Antonio David, “Pagtatapat”
Sandali lang lumangoy
ang mga alitaptap
Sa aking mga luha
Nang sabihin niyang
Hindi sapat ang liwanag ko
Nung gabing yun sa Kidapawan…
Ah! Hindi ko rin
Ang kahel nitong Claveria
Sa puti mong panyo!
If it not be deemed tacky, let me end by analyzing my own poem, which came out in Dagmay. I will approach it not as a reader, but as the creator baring the attempted craft. The poet is a magician, but nothing prevents him from revealing the tricks of the trade.
Understanding that good poetry has narrative, I attempted to tell a story in this piece. The persona alludes to a third person in the first stanza and tells of how he/she was brought to tears by this third person’s rejection of his/her confession of love. This situation is set in Kidapawan on a long gone night. In the next stanza, the persona addresses a “you” who is crying, presumably for the same reason the persona had been crying. This situation is then situated at night amidst the orange streetlights of Claveria street in Davao.
In both situations, I tried to emphasize the ephemerality of tears, attempting to thereby solidify suffering in rejection. I tried to emphasize the universality of this in the contrast between the two situations’ settings: whether in woodland Kidapawan in gone days or tonight in urban Davao, suffering won’t last.
My attempt at transforming image is in the way crying is implied with the presence of tears. In the first situation, these tears are indicated by the shining of firefly lights, described to establish a rural setting, and the fireflies, as their light reflects on the tears, are shown swimming in these tears. In the second situation, it is the orange of street lights which sparkle in the tears, and I attempted to solidify the poem’s theme by linking it with the impossibility of having that reflected orange light stain a white kerchief. Having established the image of lights, I solidified rejection in the first stanza with “my light was not enough.”
The transforming images were, in fact, my main motivation for writing this poem. The title is a pun, as “pagtatapat” can mean both “confession” and “aligning.” It was my intention to “align” these two transforming images to each other, using the theme as a justification to weave together these two flights of my imagination’s fancy.
And I could blame neither myself, nor Paul and Krisini, nor even the ancient poets who first spurted out riddles, if we found ourselves arrested by these little moments of creative genius. The swimming of fireflies in tears and the staining of street lights on kerchiefs possessed me, as I am sure the image of a mother “cradling” her defeated firstborn and the coffee connoisseur becoming a masochist came to Paul and Krisini in equally enchanted suddenness. The transforming image in poetry, after all, arrests the poet as much as it dazzles the reader.
Born in Kidapawan, Karlo David was a fellow to the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop and Silliman Writers Workshop. He graduated AB English from the Ateneo de Davao and is on his way to Dumaguete to get an MA in Creative Writing.