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Poems of Rolando S. Tinio, Jose F. Lacaba & Rio Alma

This second volume in Vagabond’s Asia Pacific Poetry Series brings together a selection of poetry by three major Filipino poets writing in Tagalog: Rolando S. Tinio, Jose F. Lacaba & Rio Alma, translated from Tagalog and introduced by Robert Nery, with cover art by Lyra Garcellano.


Rolando S. Tinio was born in the packed district of Tondo, Manila in 1937, and began writing poetry in English. He switched to Tagalog, his mother tongue, (the national language, called Filipino) in the mid-60s. After acquiring a Masters degree in English from the Iowa Creative Writing Program in 1958, he taught at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is better known as a playwright and translator of plays, founding and artistically directing the Teatro Pilipino (1975-92). The plays he translated into Tagalog range from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Chekhov and Beckett. He worked as a set designer as well as director, had a career as an actor for film and television, wrote film scripts and teleplays. His first book of poems in Tagalog, Sitsit sa Kuliglig (Cricket Gossip), was published in 1972; there were two others and in 1994, a selection of his poems in English and Tagalog. These books don’t include the lyrics to numerous songs. He died in 1997. Among the most popular of his poems are a handful of poems not wholly in Tagalog, but in a code-switching combination of Tagalog and English.

Jose F. Lacaba, born in1945, is the youngest of the three poets. He wrote journalism in English in the sixties, having abandoned college and gone to work as a copy editor and proof-reader at the Philippines Free Press. His Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage is an on-the-ground narrative of the protest demonstrations and riots that preceded the imposition of martial law in 1972. He was detained for two years during the Marcos dictatorship for his political and labor activism. Among his scripts are those for three of Lino Brocka’s best films, My Country, Jaguar and Orapronobis, and films by other highly regarded directors of the New Wave. He has received much public recognition for his screenwriting, including the Aruna Vesedev Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.  His first book of poems, Ang Mga Kagilagilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Juan de la Cruz (The Amazing Adventures of Juan de la Cruz), came out in 1979. Having begun with poems in fixed forms or comic internal rhyming or both, he has become freer in recent work, which evokes the texture of daily life in the megacity. His disillusioned irony, his moral realism, underplays his sympathies.

Rio Alma came from a family of peasant farmers in the province of Bulacan, near Manila. His collection of criticism Ang Makata sa Panahon ng Makina (The Poet in the Age of Machines) is one of the founding works of modernist criticism in Tagalog. Professor Emeritus in the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, he is well known as a scholar in the national language and a promoter of literature in it. His poetry covers a broad range of forms, and is often exuberant in expression and passionate in its sympathy for the poor and the working class. His earlier ranged from expansive free verse to sonnets, but his more recent work emphasizes formal convention. He is prolific, and his indispensable work looms large in Tagalog poetry produced since the sixties.

Robert Nery was born in the Philippines and has lived in Manila, in Cagayan de Oro City and on the island of Camiguin in the Southern Philippines. He now lives in Australia. He was editor for a year of Photofile, the journal of the Australia Centre for Photography, and published film reviews until he began making films. He has made two feature-length non-fiction films, Black Nazarene and In 1966 The Beatles Came To Manila. In 2010, with the help of three other artists, he showed a large installation work If On A Tropic Night – about Philippine history and the Cold War ­– at the Casula Powerhouse Art Centre, near Sydney. 

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