Attending book launches was a regular occurrence in my university life and a little after I graduated from university. The whole routine vanished when I entered the working world, but the streak was broken with the book launch of Vanishing History & Other Poems by Edel Garcellano last July 12. Held at the Pulungan Claro M Recto at University of the Philippines in Diliman, friends, family, colleagues and students came to attend the two-hour book launch of my father’s latest anthology of poems.
A short program organised by Choy Pangilinan, senior lecturer at the College of Mass Communication and friend of the author, was compèred by Bugsy Nolasco and Mark Abalos who warmly welcomed guests to their dear Sir Edel’s book launch. It was a simple program punctuated by welcome remarks from key people led by Neil Garcia and Gerry Los Baños from UP Press and Dr. Adelaida F. Lucero, outgoing chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. What followed next was a round of reading of selected works from the collection that filmmaker- director-actor-scriptwriter Boni Ilagan began with an enthralling interpretation of Monico M. Atienza (page 123):
“A day before Christmas
& he lies comatose
at Mary Chiles.
Is it a way of forgetting
How long he has waged
war against the empire,
or the body now refuses
what the mind perseveres?
He doesn’t even know
he’s taking a long nap –
he has dream of
after all those exhausting years.
His friends keep vigil.”
It was a poem written in honour of their – his and my father’s – common friend, the late Monico Atienza who fought tirelessly for justice and peace. Aside: He was Sir Nic to me – amiable, smiley and welcoming every time I’d see him at the faculty centre.
Next was freelance writer and former radio announcer Alex Dacanay whose deep and rich voice held guests in sway with his reading of Zero-Sum (page 1):
“It’s the Castle
All over again.
Will the trial start,
linger at the gates,
Will the Kingpin
stay in his air-conditioned room
As if it were an accident?
There were bodies, sure,
but nobody did them in.”
Next was student Christine Valeña who selected Mush (page 117) to share with everyone:
“O his lost childhood’s eternal weather”
the constant threat of rain & sun
that filters through the grim, grey clouds –
Mother’s gaunt face, her religious sentiment
her soft voice calling out for a young Oping
to keep company with their meagre meal
on the wooden table that stared in the empty air…”
Finally, it was the turn of Nolasco who opted for Imaginary Voice (page 133):
“Of course, I’ll commend him.
She rehearses the lines before the invisible crowd
inside her head,
repeating the words to make them real, authentic,
smooth like silk.
He’s my General. A smile breaks on her impassive face.
You can do your worse: I take it as a game.
The sudden birth of light through the thick clouds
dapples the room.
Something is rotten this side of the river?
It was time to hear from the author but not before Pangilinan properly introduced him, which he rendered in fluent Filipino. Then my father took to the stage. Speaking in Filipino, he, firstly, thanked everyone for coming and those who made the publication of the anthology possible and then proceeded to regale the audience with the raison d’être for Vanishing History: the people in his lives – “…Sino pa ang aala-la sa kanila?”; the persistent thought if he’s able to connect with the generation of today whose milieu and concerns are completely different from his; and the nature of poetry, which is not as mystical and mythical as others would have it . He then segued into dedicating his books to my grandparents who are sorely missed, shifting into a brief apology for those who might not like the collection after having bought it as “hindi nag-re-reimburse ang UP Press”. Winding up, he again thanked everyone and the universe “dahil kahit minsan ay nagkakasama-sama tayo.”
Although good friends Carol Hau, Neferti Tadiar, Bliss Cua Lim and Jonathan Beller were miles away, their presence were felt as they formed the group that greatly helped in making history with the putting together of Vanishing History & Other Poems.
Vanishing History & Other Poems and 11 other new titles from UP Press will be launched collectively on August 3, 5pm, at the 2nd floor of Balay Kalinaw, corner Guerrero & Dagohoy Streets, UP Diliman campus.