Neil Garcia Comments on How Poems are Read by Philippine Poets

Philippine poets are routinely critics. Neil Garcia, poet and a critic, considers this a positive quality, and notes that these two roles are reflexive qualities. His essay  "Filipino Post Colonial Poetics" presents an alternative way of reading Philippine poetry critically.

Two ways of critical reading are espoused by two of the major critics of Philippine poetry. Virgilio Almario's view, as he reads Poetry in Filipino and Gemino Abad's, as he writes and edits books and anthologies of Philippine poetry in English. Dr. Almario posits that a truly Filipino poetry is in Filipino. But Dr. Abad argues that Filipino poets have conquered English and have made it their own. Both Abad and Almario insist on texts that must reflect nationalism or espouse a nationalist vision.

In the light of all these, Dr. Garcia thinks that it is purist to persist in Dr. Almario's contention. He agrees with Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera's comment regarding Abad's notion of a poet's conquest of English - that 'to have conquered' English is really still a dream. 

Neil Garcia Engages the Poetics of Two 'Foremost Literary Critics' of Philippine Letters

Neil Garcia's Postcolonialism and Filipino Poetics: Essays and Critiques engages the poetics of National Artist Virgilio Almario and eminent poet-critic Gemino Abad, whom Garcia referred to as "the foremost commentators on Filipino poetics."

Virgilio S. Almario National Artist of the Philippines and currently serves as the chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), the government agency mandated to promote and standardize the use of the Filipino language

Gemino Abad edited landmark anthologies of Filipino poetry in English, among them Man of Earth (1989), A Native Clearing (1993) and A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, ‘60s to the ‘90s (1999).

Neil Garcia argues for a recognition of the "hybrid". This means acceptance of the emergence of "subversions" in both the languages used in poetry (hybrid Filipino instead of pure Tagalog, and/or non standard instead of Standard English) and the means of evaluating those poems. The hybrid notion shows an in-between slate resulting from the colonized mimetic adaptations of a dominant colonizer, whether the mimesis or adaptation is conscious or not.

Garcia also takes it from Homi Bhabha, who argues that mongrel expressions are manifestation of an insistence on "difference" that will eventually highlight a culture's uniqueness via acts of "bastardization" happening deliberately or arbitrarily.

Neil Garcia is not averse to recognizing the context where "claims of identity" are anchored. In the case of Philippine poetry, the "difference" that will eventually surface must always reflect a truly Filipino experience provided by history, and problematize a political, religious, cultural context unique to this country and its people. Writing about the "Filipino experience" should embrace the past, the present, and probably also the future merging of tongues and native cultures and origins found within or outside the archipelago. This is a post-colonial view, and not anymore within the frame of  either Balagtasismo or Modernismo. Both ismos reflect Romantic notions of the language and poetic utterances as influenced by colonizers.

Such tendency to root for what has been established as the lingua franca - say Almario's bias for Filipino in poetry, with diction choices originating from native cultures (say Hiligaynon, Bicolano, Ilocano), in spite of the push and shove to call this "final language" Filipino, remains nativist. Nativism as Garcia elucidates will not always reflect that elusive Filipino uniqueness (say in the field of letters) since it might favor only a fraction of the overall meaning of an experience however much this experience is anchored in a set context or situation. In the translations and negotiations resulting from attempts to individualize a learned ethos or structure in the field of poetry, Garcia concludes that nativism is passe. Based on a post colonialist stance, he concludes that indeed the colonized is never completely subjugated. Rather, the "colonized" appropriates and gives a new history to anything of value from the colonizer, completely creating the notion of the "third" and another of the simply Us-versus the Other. This "third", this "hybrid" this never-subjugated-subjects and their utterances must also be recognized as purveyors of identity - in our case, the Filipino identity.