Filipiniana-Dinah-Roma
Reading “We Shall Write Love Poems Again”

Filipiniana

Dinah Roma is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, A Feast of Origins (UST, 2004), winner of the National Book Award for Poetry in English, Geographies of Light (UST, 2011), and Naming the Ruins (2014, Vagabond Press Sydney).

The inner need is built up of three mystical elements (1) Every artist, as, a creator, has something in him which calls for expression (this is the element of personality). (2) Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age (this is the element of style) dictated by the period and particular country to which the artist belongs (it is doubtful how long the latter distinction will continue to exist). (3) Every artist, as a servant of art, has to help the cause of art (this is the element of pure artistry, which is constant in all ages and among all nationalities).” Wassily Kandinsky, in Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Dinah Roma’s new poetry collection scales all three of the ‘mystical elements’ of composition. The title of this Four-Part amalgamation of lyrical expositions seem paradoxical. Part one lets the reader into the grim violence etched in national memory and recalled in particular images of ongoing violations of human rights. There’s that danger that one could get numbed by the sheer bombardment of everyday news of gory killings both casual and intended. But this poet will not let us turn our backs away nor forget. The poems disturb us in our comfortable numbness as we watch these things on our screens like they are mere spectacles. Each structure is a performance of a forceful breach of life, engaging us to watch closely, repeatedly, and to go back in history. There is so much at stake not just for the ‘men and women, who wage war against the world’ but for everybody who’s a citizen of this country. The state of the nation is bleak and writing love poems may just have to wait in favor of the prophetic call to ‘See what they see. Until enough is enough. And learn.”

The poet’s personal style is most evident in the songs collected under Parts 2 and 3. Singing life as it happens, recording intimate images of loves as more paradoxes evolve within the dynamics of family relations, friendships, in connections with things and particular places.

Compass

This is the song of the mortal heart.

Its compass says Leave now

to where the choices promise

no destination. It will show

you sign posts and footholds

that will tempt you to rest

from the many warfare.

You shall call it by many names

as virtues hold many rhythms:

hope, love, trust, faith.

Let none of these convince

you to stop. Let the altars

by the wayside do what they need

to do for travelers. Offer

what you can offer. But don’t

pray to find the way.

By the Bay Gardens

Singapore

It could only happen in gardens.

Confessions that tear at the full marrow

of our lives. Intimacies ruptured,

the solitude we guard in our core

alters in our daily attempts at virtue.

How hard it is to speak, how little

suddenly is left of us. Against the day’s zenith,

there is no denial. Only this vintage wine

that laces our tongues with surrender

among these green sunken meadows,

watered constantly for display. Patterns

winnowed for perfection. Our memory

of green woken again to the flora

that attend our age and vocation.

From temperate to tropical, encased

in tempered glasses, flown into cities

manicured to discipline, these blossoms

raging for the open fields.

In Part 4, the collection begins with a seeming impasse in poetry's servanthood of art, about which, the poet casts her doubts:

“I used to think we poets owe

the world beauty. Wizard of words,

I trouble them for the possible.

 

Until I learned love poems

do not bleed for broken hearts.”

                                                We Shall Write Love Poems Again

And although sometimes, when staring at the spectacular and there’s a chance that one will miss seeing what only the heart can see,

“in time and space, remnants of stories that engulf

in each shift of bright and dark, gifts to poets all

bestowed by the lesson from sorcerer or sage

coming upon a celestial map here on earth

revealing the secret of what it is to stand still,

sharpen one’s vision against the dark,

while our metaphors constellate

into the wide circumference

of the universe.”

                                                                Stellar

It is art which allows the poet to affirm life. More realistically however, even with the prospect of writing love poems again, the heart is deeply attuned to being that is shaped by personal struggles. As a lifetime of enchantment with myths, legends and classical lore has so enriched the poet’s calling as an artist and Dinah Roma writes:

“I owed to neither time nor experience, I do not know.

I moved on from the program licensed to read

meanings out of texts. Through decades of deaths

I had come close to smelling the moment the body

 

expires. I had come close to grasping the rancor

of weakness and confusion, loss and lust woven

into the wide fabric of galaxies. Andromeda

or the willingness to make sense of nothingness.”

                                                Rereading “Distance to Andromeda”

Dinah Roma received the Gawad Pambansang Alagad Ni Francisco Balagtas for Poetry in English: A Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to Philippine Literature.