Sunday, June 1, 2014



(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2014)


A requisite of the art and practice of poetry is the art and practice of being relevant. “If you would be a poet,” challenges Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “write living newspapers.” Such as Allen Ginsberg who “howled” against conformity and intolerance, thus breaking a barrier, and changing his generation with a poem. Or Jose Rizal who, on the eve of his execution, wrote verses that would be instrumental in giving Filipinos a Bill of Rights and the privilege of legislation; the same poem would be translated into more than 70 languages, and would serve as a battle hymn of Indonesian soldiers in their national struggle for independence.

Poets are inherent game-changers, the “unacknowledged legislators of the world,” according to Percy Bysshe Shelley. To practice poetry is to be freely, fiercely radical – form a community, inspire change, show compassion wherever and whenever it is needed. Verses Typhoon Yolanda is a call to action, where 133 Filipino poets came together to create a fundraising anthology. To emphasize the extent of Yolanda’s devastation, the Federation of American Scientists, in a report prepared for Congress, writes, “Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)… directly swept through six provinces in the Central Philippines… with a force equivalent to a category 5 hurricane and sustained winds of up to 195 mph… [As of January 2014,] UN agencies reported that 14.1 million people had been affected… with more than 4.1 million displaced… an estimated 6,201 had been killed and 1,785 [are still] missing… an estimated 1.1 million houses [had been] damaged or destroyed… and nearly 5.6 million [people] required food assistance… International donors contributed a total of $662.9 million to the relief efforts…”

Verses Typhoon Yolanda is a reportage invoking the language of the poets. It begins with a “Lament,” a prelude to profoundly moving instances of loss and the persistence of love:
You have become driftwood. / Only the sea knows the full story / of how you were battered and / shaped into death, limbs twisted… // I love you and the Universe / you once contained, which include / memories of the sea and its splendor… (Madriaga, 21)

The book flashes back to “The Night Before the Storm” with images and muted tones of foreboding:

They huddled inside their living room / And watched the news. They wondered / What signal number 4 will feel like… // And what is a “storm surge”? They / Heard that the sea will rise from the / Shore and extend its reach inland. (Cuales, 23)

And then follows a post-landfall narrative with unbroken verse lines so powerful and immediate they necessitate anger or action, or both:

We crowded the basement. There were bodies spilling out, we couldn’t all fit, and some took refuge in the scattered Jeepneys along the road, and when the trees and metal gates bent, so did they. // We walked ten miles to the airport after the winds fell and the storms bent metal gates and 10,000 went missing… We hear the military planes roaring above, bringing us more things to eat: we eat our hope… We walk, one leg lifting, one arm swaying, we walk, one breath inhaling, we walk. We walk with 10,000 bodies. We walk more than ten miles. We walk longer than eight hours. We walk till the metal gates unbend. Till the trees re-root. Till the coffins are filled. Till the houses are rebuilt. Till the roads are paved with our sweat. (Sipin, 26-28)

The world is warming. And like Yeb Sano, we are outraged by delaying climate action. “It is the fight of our lives – yet we can hardly bear to look at it,” Naomi Klein points out. In more solemn and mournful tones, the following quatrains express both umbrage and remorse:

Men endure the world both tropical and bipolar. / Water, true ruler of our lives, / awaits coronation by the public / that still sings paeans to oil. // The wind stabs through the cracks, / the smell always smoky, a charnel / house of the dead and the hungry. / The soil bone dry, the cities // And their sirens remind us / of the appointments we set, / and the graves we dug for ourselves / a long time ago. (Francia, 54)

The indignation spreads across boundaries and generations, demanding both perception and action:

because music more than my english words can cross borders / and move a giving nation, because my words ironize sympathy, / solidarity, because, my poems are infected with corruption, / about deforestation… / The danger is, words can romance what I have never seen–only in postcards and travel catalogs, but my family calls the archipelago home. (Manzano, 75)

“Poetry [is] a way to survive,” says Meena Alexander, “In a time of [tragedy], the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and allow us a measure of tenderness and grace.” Verses Typhoon Yolanda, even as it recounts, sifts, and thunders (at) the larger issues, offers vignettes of life that restore, gently hopeful and forgiving:

raise the line high, to catch the wind, sun, sky, our clothes / bellied out, bleached white, drops darkening the sand, / vanishing into air, turning into clouds, falling as the rain / that lashed my grandmother’s house one night as a typhoon / blew through. Downstairs filled with neighbours, / sleeping on the concrete floor. Outside, the rain became needles, / pinning the night through and through. When we woke, / the sun was out, the water dried up. I wound my watch, / brought it up to my ear to hear it tick. (Alvarez, 126)

Mostly in monsoon weather / There is that rush for umbrellas, / Colored dots seen from the sky / As the scurrying of shiny ants. / From the slick wet streets / The doorways glimmer with light / Veiled by haze of downpour, / Welcoming, beckoning, opening up / For those who would come home. (Anonas-Carpio, 160)

i wanna write a song for my people / a love song / soothing / blunt edge / and / sorrow / on / lonely nights / home from factories / song / stitched / mountain to field / all us folk / chanting / this song / psalm / a poem of love / united / this moment / breath / rhythm solid / breath / once again / unity / in poem / a song of love / for my people (Sevilla, 185)

Ultimately, Verses Typhoon Yolanda is about community – building one in order to rebuild another. It is this, our sense of Kapwa, that moves us to

look out  for each other (Skyline College’s Fall 2013 PCN Class, 205)

Help to change the world, and make it blossom. (Fernandez, 202)

most of all make the story heard. (Caranto, 199)


VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA can be ordered HERE; all profits will be donated to relief organizations helping survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.


Aileen Ibardaloza is the author of Traje de Boda (Meritage Press, 2010) and the Associate Editor of Our Own Voice Literary Ezine.

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