Filipiniana Poetry: Adrian-Crisostomo-Ho

Reading ACH's Anx,  an Appreciation

"ANX is a collection of fifty poems that explores the tensions between stillness and motion, solicitude and disquiet, harmony and discord arising from and/or in response to anxiety vis-a -vis the poetic space." The collection is divided into five parts of "poetic exploration of anxiety as image, where the page becomes an intersection and intermingling of sense, sound, and shape to generate order and meaning." (from the Introduction)

1: In Tales of Trauma and Tears, the lyrical expressions of anxiety and longing are most poignant, leaving us with images of nuanced sadness. The first poem in this chapter “State of Being” seems to declare the magnitude of anxiety that pulsates in each poem. There is a lyrical progression of this state of self that is conscious of its distortion and dreams the impossible. One seeks for a “Reprieve”, longs for peaceful silence, a calmness after the storm, peace following mundane daily battles, but no, there isn’t a chance this will ever happen, since this is what is constant in life, this palpable disquiet, and thus: ‘we keep holding our breaths…’

The last stanza from “One Day I Come Home and Where is Silence” resonates because it’s not a feeling when one is young and untouchable. But at a certain age, such pounding ache is like the fatal threat of a stroke:  

So they ask what to do with the silences


that numb when unaccompanied by voices?

Music for killing time? Does solipsism sting?

Does gossiping with one’s conscience prove


too much of a guilty pleasure? How does one

enter this reformed house? Does one cover

one’s ears? Does one sing along? Where’s


that guide for adapting? Or the manual for

singing? How to deal with a case like this—

this life insisting on pushing out the longing?

How true. While just about every minute of longing can’t be denied, a time is set for a declaration that one has perhaps arrived. Passion, mission, profession, the desired business of living converged in a center, and nothing follows. But how this merely pushes a fresh anxiety, professing it to be a negative attitude that can be made subservient to our numbered days.

Then the poet asks in “The Encoder,”

What if time ceased to be? No six o’clock,

Just news. No hands ticking, just your fingers

Typing away. Encoding data feels eternal

When your day finds no pleasure. Time

Or, will there still be time? Other things follow. Regrets. Memories which aren’t simply nostalgic beleaguer and blight what remains in both mind and spirit. Our hope is “Another Life That Afford Us Do-Overs” since nobody can go back. Maybe, this is the eternity promised in the Holy Scriptures, this other life which needs us to cross over. Our anxiety for deliverance place us in cognizance of the fact of our lostness.  

And in the last three poems of this chapter “Cake,” “Pater Noster,” and “The Romance of the Dogs” the poet laments the magnitude of such depravities.

2: In The Architecture of Muffled Woe the first poem delays grief through a ritual of acceptable deception: Light them candles…Set them flowers//Let them candles and flowers be,/Let us put on a show to their show./Let us stop the pretense only upon their withering.//

But in “Mourning Song” grief persists in a dream blasting denial into acceptance. “I’m hovering—out of my dreams I’m lingering, /calling out your name at dawn, unable to let go, /your face etched in my recall. But my eyes/now are shutting, waking me up at long last. //

In “All Pains are Asymmetrical” death is something to grapple with, an abnormality that can’t be helped. Same normal for everyone at some point in time, but not everyone will at once be open to receive it. Having lost someone, one will always ask why, or opine the meaning of it all, or pry a legacy out of a permanent departure:

The world appeared to me tilted

like a misplaced apparition

the day my sister passed on.

I had slept absent-mindedly

with my glasses on and I awoke

to things all bent. The shadows,

the stance of lilies, the charisma

of rain. It was a slant so slight, yet

it bragged of permanence, proclaiming

things would never be the same.

So, what is the color of grief? What is its architecture? How does one expunge the pain of loss of a loved one?  How does it happen at once? There must be an answer, and in fact, every possible unsatisfactory answer is laid down in verse. Lyrics philosophize, offer antidotes, and theorizes on ”How to Administer Relief” to muffled “Woe”.

3: In Resist the Quiet’s Creeping the poet begins by facing an “Affliction,” the curse of the muse insisting indulgence. Art is never one to simply wait and see. Art needs the cuddle and caress of memories, even the most passing ones:

Take for instance, this memory: during the Feast Day

of San Dionisio many years back, this marching band

ignited the festivities in my hometown with only a lone

trumpeter among a sea of drummers. His quacks


took center stage as he blustered with all his power

the grit in his gut, trumping all percussions poised

to drown out all other sounds. What he had on

was white. What music he had in him was whiter

Art doesn’t offer a mere lovely view, but rather invites one to gaze. In “The Art of Framing” pre-judgment is admittedly careless and based on what one has not seen.

In “Language Game,” the poet writes to meet the demands of his own art as he grapples with “power is precisely this: it sings/the language only strangers speak.//

Finally, in “Smoke Fragments” the dynamic structure of the poem encapsulates the rigor of his poetry, his art.

4: In The Mum Knocking on Your Door, woman, mother, mum, wife – the unnerving questions of and about this human beleaguer the poet.  Is she a construct? Is she the passive recipient of history’s conditioning? Is she always the martyr and victim? Does she always offer the ultimate sacrifice?

In “Momsense” and “Hand on Hand,” she is the wisest in this poet’s estimate, the ultimate philosopher of life, the perennial questioner of meanings.

5: In Let’s Make Parables of Trees the desire to live life to the fullest is often dulled and frustrated by life itself being difficult to live. In “Daylight” this desire is like grasping a “blazing fire”:

The pursuit gives us nothing to feast on but                                          the tease,

Never the full illumination of day. We labor,                                         stretching

Our fortitude for the flash of awe                                                        and beholding.

Our pursuit never wavers however, even as we presume we have acquiesced to monotony or as the poet imagines it in “Settling” when

‘our hands turn restless,


in their need to wipe the dust

off its claimed residence, ever aiming

for movement, for resolve, always

untamable, never hushed.’

Almost always, we are left with “Antipathy” as we begrudge what must have been or as we belabor pointless, empty wasting of moments. But the poet invites us to gaze and to take note of what we see – ‘notice the clouds…notice resplendence…notice gratitude…notice loss.’

Our ears kept attuned to the “Sounds of Wonder”, we hear the poet sing an affirmation of our state of being, that we are capable of long, stable, duration albeit a lifelong struggle for life itself. In "Let’s Make Parables of Trees," the poet coaxes us:

we ought to make parables that exudes light.

                         Or vessels through which spirits pass. Breeze,

                rainwater, the brown translucency of honey.

Adrian Crisostomo Ho received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada and completed his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at De La Salle University. His essays, poems, fiction and plays have appeared in Rappler, Tomas, Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry, Philippine Graphic, Montage Literary Journal and Sunday Times Magazine. ANX is his first book. 

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