deciBels series 2 introduction: Notes on the New Lyric

Editors' introduction to deciBels series 2

'Notes on the New Lyric'

While many of the formal elements, conventional lineations, and stylistic strategies of poetry have been abandoned in modern times, the voice persists as an identifying—and unifying—feature, which hews poetry to its origin as song. But how can this lyric be made new or, more appropriately, how can it be relevant to contemporary times assailed by social media, populist leaders, fake news, and alternative facts?

Perhaps, it would be productive to enter the mind of Philippine literature in English, After being a Spanish colony for more than three hundred years and an American one for forty, Philippine poetry in English only took flight in the 1920s. Its first ventures were orchestral in tone and emotion, the English still so new, it was more novelty than expression. According to Dr. Gemino Abad, one of the foremost poets and scholars of Philippine literature in English, there have been three major movements in Philippine Literature: the Romantic Movement from 1904-1940s, which espoused a romantic sensibility, poetic diction, and imagery; the New Critical Movement from the 1950s-1970s, which was imported from the Iowa Writers Workshop through the writing and scholarship of Edith and Edilberto Tiempo; and the Postmodernist/Post-colonial movement from the 1980s to the present. It is in the last movement that we find ourselves, in 2017—well-aware of the contributions of those who came before us, our post-colonial reality, and the role of English as both our second language and the apparatus of empire.

As we near its centenary, poetry in English has been redefined, readjusted, and recalibrated to our longing and contemporary context. Dr. Abad argues that we write not in, but from, English. If English colonized us, we have in turn colonized it. This is a discourse we share with the other Englishes of the world.

The issue of the use of English in poetry turns more complex, especially within the context of Filipino writers who live in countries where English is the dominant language: Paul Maravillas Jerusalem and Rodrigo dela Peña in Singapore; Jasmine Nikki Paredes in New York City; and Joy Anne Icayan, who was once based in London. For them, English is not a second language, but a primary one. It is less historical baggage than functional necessity. The poems they write in English are extensions of their daily negotiations with the countries they live, study, and work in. For the poets in this series writing in the Philippines, the language comes as choice and predilection (and, it can be argued, noble folly, given that Tagalog is the country’s primary language). The point is that they have written and will continue to write in English fully aware of the duplicity of the language in the local context, as both imperial apparatus and second language.

Seeing as there is a decided shift in one’s critical attitude towards English, one can only guess at the invention of a new lyric, a style foregrounded in voice and subjectivity, but one that also questions the tongue it speaks in.

We see intimations of this new lyric in deciBels, where contemporary Filipino poets employ vernacular and universal English in its various poetic iterations and forms—from the bravura of the short line to the courage of the long line, from formal unity to lyric exuberance. We see this also in the work of our guest contributor Yao Feng, whose masterful and spare lines have been translated from Portuguese and Chinese into English. Our encounters with English on the local level may have historical implications but on the universal level, they have only human ones.

The Editors of this series invite you to enter the world of Philippine poetry in English, in all its exuberance and inventiveness. As hosts to a welcome guest, there’s no need to dust your feet. Come in.

Mookie Lacuesta-Katigbak and Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Guest editors, deciBels series 2
Manila, May 15, 2017

View the deciBels series 2 here.

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