Saturday, April 23, 2011




The Empty Tomb:


John 20: 1-9 (RSV)

God’s problem way back when was: How to enable/make people know him love him, and serve him, so they can be happy with him on earth and in afterlife; even as he knows them to be sinner-saints, weak in every way, he loves them still, and cares for them spiritually and sociologically.

The Scriptures dramatize his proofs of love, the great saving deeds, Magnalia Dei. Not enough! He guides them, us, with the Ten Commandments, proverbs, and the prophets. Not enough! He fulfills promises, and continues to make promises. “I will create new heavens and a new earth!” (Isaiah 66:22). “See, I am making everything new! (Rev. 21:5). Passé is the Eden of Adam and Eve. Not enough!

There have been people who have recognized him as designer of the universe and loving Parent of all and have lived according to his will. There are and will be such persons of good will. But there are many who have departed from him to worship idols of wealth, power, and illusions. Many have yet to experience his divine presence, many want proofs that he exists.

God’s attitude is to want all and have all, be and move in all. He does not demand clear and distinct, rational and scientific proofs that he exists. He asks for simple creedal faith that enables one to proclaim: “I believe in God!” Easier said than done? He has decided to prove himself. So God devised a plan, a strategy cum tactics He tells a story, the Jesus Story.

He sent his Son Jesus to make his presence felt in concrete historical terms in various areas of personal and social life. So Jesus came, had first to prove he was a human being. That was easy. Then, that he was sent by God. A bit difficult, this. His teachings, his proclamation of the Kingdom begun, his miracles, were clear proof; only that scribes and Pharisees and Roman imperial powers judged these to be subversive.

All because he preached good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Because he broke Sabbath ordinances, loved women, and treated them well. And because he called oppressive elites hypocrites and brood of vipers. He scandalized the temple priests with a hint of a new temple of spirit and truth and life. Still not enough!

And so the final proof had to be as metaphysical, epistemological, ethical as can be, and more. Divine proof as only God can give, that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die,” Jesus said to Martha. Do we believe this? Many say, “Yes!” “Hhhmmm,” mumble many. Or say, “Not yet.” Words are not enough?

The final proof: Death had to be conquered and made a door to everlasting life. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead had to be, to once and for all prove that he indeed is the Son of God, and is God who can neither deceive nor be deceived and so is worthy of one’s total surrender to him and his will for the glory of God and humanness of neighbor. So he ministered, suffered and died, and rose from the dead by his own power. Indeed, God loves the world; gives grace that people may believe.

Now, to all who believe there is a command underlying the miraculous resurrection of Jesus. It is the command implicit in every miracle performed by Jesus. It is a Eucharistic command: “Do this in memory of me!” As the risen Lord shattered the illusions of Mary and John first, and Peter and the other apostles and disciples later, that death had silenced the Word-made-Flesh, and confirmed them on the side of life, so too we who believe are called to conquer death and all its forms.

Enabled by the resurrection, we are called to be always on the side of life; to summon forth to life of grace captives of personal sin and victims of the illusions of the idols of wealth and power, scientism and dogma; to summon forth people power in the risen Lord against structures of injustice, exploitation and oppression in society to alternative forms of the Kingdom of God; to protect the unborn and to care for creation. To renew ourselves and be holy because God is holy.

The resurrection of Jesus confirms believers in hope. As it was in ages past, so, too, today. Because we are a forgetful people, the Jesus story must be told and re-enacted again and again, as “play, symbol, and festival” (Hans Georg Gadamer) for the sake of believers and non-believers alike, to latch on firmly to liberative thinking, doing, and being of every person. The power of the resurrection enables us to know God, to love him, and serve him, to be happy with him on earth and in heaven.

The Lord is risen! Do you believe this?


---Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano
Ilagan, Isabela, Philippines

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): A COIN IN THE FOUNTAIN: (A COLLABORATIVE POEM SERIES # 14)

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): A COIN IN THE FOUNTAIN: (A COLLABORATIVE POEM SERIES # 14)

Friday, April 22, 2011


 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted
and lifted up and shall be very high.

Just as there were many who wee astonished at him---
so marred was his apppearance, beyond human
semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons
of man --- so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before the Lord like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form
or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God,
and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment
that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; each has turned
to their own way and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led
to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers
is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off
from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression
of my people. They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich, although he had done
no violence, and there was not deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see
his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him
the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish
we shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his
knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make
many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore, I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession
for the transgressors. The word of the Lord.

Painting in Pastel by Alfredo Roces. Man of Sorrows.



Monday, April 18, 2011



By Gémino H. Abad

I have only a one-word message, and I could end right there: Read!

Let me tell you about my novel. It was not a best-seller, it was a failure because it hasn’t been written yet. Aliens from a high-tech civilization on a planet in the constellation we call Andromeda came to Earth to colonize it. So high-tech they were they could just say, “Do!” and anything they wanted was done; we may call them Dodos. They could assume human form, and so, they lived among us and gave us all our high-tech equipment – computers, the internet, video games, I-pods, even palatial malls, all diverting forms and voids of entertainment. Their secret agenda was to take us over by softening our cerebra all the while that we celebrate our comfort and camaraderie with Dodos. “Do!” they softly enjoin and smile and smile, and soon enough, we are done for, differently wired, we are spoken for.

I think now my novel isn’t one; it is rather a post-modern, post-colonial, post-parable.

You see, upon graduation, your education begins, you were only equipped for it in college. The word “education” is from Latin, e-ducere, “to lead out of.” Out of what? – out of any darkness of mind: out of ignorance, prejudice, fanatic advocacy.

It is a curious thing that the word “dogma” is from Greek dokein, meaning “to seem, or to seem good,” which is by definition what an opinion is: dokein. An opinion (Latin, opinari, to suppose, imagine, or conjecture) is anything that hovers between fact and fiction, with more or less of either one.

It is also instructive that “theory” is from Greek theoria, meaning “a way of seeing.” Thus, any theory one might subscribe to is only a way of looking, of making sense. No theory has a monopoly of seeing. And further, “to subscribe” is, again, from Latin sub-scribere, that is, “to be written under,” and so, if I subscribe to any theory, I see things in light of a script that is already given. By any theory, what I see and understand is a reading of a given script by which I too am read.

From all these, you can see that I am a skeptic, again from Greek skeptesthai, that is, “to look, to consider, to ponder.” That was what your college education equipped you for: a life of the mind, a care for thought that, this side of Eden, is our only light. Look and consider, to read close is to open.

You can also see, in all our etymological trips, not only that English is both Latin and Greek through a great part of its multitudinous sea of words; not only that any language is omnivorous, assimilating words and nuances of words from various cultures, so that language becomes borderless, and this makes translation (with imagination) at all possible; but also, and most importantly, you see that the sense for language is the basic poetic sense, that is to say, our most intimate sense of our reality. I said, most importantly, because the only reality we shall ever know, in science and the humanities, is only, and nothing more than, our human reality. A cat’s perceptions of the world is different from ours; it inhabits a different world. And it is only with words and words of a given historical language, be that English or Filipino-Tagalog, only with our words do we give form to our perceptions whereby we grasp a sense of our reality, what we call “our world.” As Jacques Derrida might put it – it seems to me - Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. There is nothing outside the text.

This is why I put a premium on language; through all your years in college, you shall have enhanced and enriched your sense for language. It is the finest human invention, the supreme human achievement. Without language, we have no history, no culture, no civilization.

And I put a premium too in the same instance on imagination, the finest form of intelligence. This is not a mere Romantic fancy. Without imagination, we have no literature, no art, no science, no technology. I said earlier that the sense for language is the basic poetic sense. Again, “poem” and “poetic” are Greek, from poiein, “to make” – that is, to construct with words and words, by which we make sense of our world. The poetic moment, that is, the moment of writing, “opens the intuition to all that language refuses,” as the poet Yves Bonnefoy says.

That intuition is a power of the imagination by which language is enabled to transcend itself, to overcome its inadequacies and limitations by its own evocative resources: those “turnings and twistings of sense and reference” (Donald Hall), those rhetorical strategies, by which the writer, the thinker, clears his own path through the wilderness of language. Our thoughts and feelings without our words are like brambles – the underbrush of the human psyche, dream and intuition. The writer makes his own clearing within language, for he has his own way with language, his own distinctive style. Style, or the manner of expression by which its matter or subject is negotiated, is, says the philosopher Albert Camus, “the simultaneous existence of reality and of the mind that gives reality its form.”

“All that language refuses” is opened up by the writing, for – as the writer Jose Dalisay says, “the knowing is in the writing.” But what is language’s refusal? That is symptomatic of its inadequacy to reality, for language fixes our perceptions with labels and names, and we are entrapped in abstractions. Yet, language secretly yearns to be free. Again, that word “text” is from Latin, texere, textus, “to weave.” It is the imagination that weaves the text by which the words are set free to evoke, to call forth to mind, the reality that the imagination seeks. That weave is precisely what Camus speaks of as one’s own distinctive style. For to write is to translate: yet again, “to translate,” is Latin, from transferre, translatus, “to convey or ferry across.” So then, to write is to ferry across the river of words that is a language’s dictionary one’s own soul’s freight without hurt or injury to the mind’s import and aim.

When a child is born, the brain is already there, and the brain becomes a mind through language; and that steady state of mind is state of play – play of language, play of imagination.

And so I end where I began. “Read or die.” And yes, write, or grow blind; write, even only for yourself – else, you would think vaguely, formlessly. To read, to write – the very compass of education, the unremitting work of imagination by which things are brought back alive from their labels and names. To read is to enter the living of it, for the meanings of our words come from lives lived, from a people’s history and culture. To write is to get real, for what is most real is what is most imagined.--- Gémino H. Abad UP-CAL, Day of Recognition, 16 April 2011

*READ OR DIE! (University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters Recognition Day Speech of UP University Prof. Emeritus Gemino Henson Abad, 16 April 2011, UP Film Institute)

Gimeno Abad, poet and scholar, has written extensively about Philippine literature, particularly poetry, and is a respected anthologist of Philippine fiction and poetry. This post was reposted from Jose Wendell Capili's blog. Photo courtesy of Mr. Capili.

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): A SONG OF TWO GAMES (COLLABORATIVE POETRY SERIES # 9)

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): A SONG OF TWO GAMES (COLLABORATIVE POETRY SERIES # 9)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New York Times: David Kirby's "How to Read Poetry Today"

How to Read Poetry Today



A Guide to Modern Poetry

By David Orr
200 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.

Some years ago, I wrote a poem called “Broken Promises,” which was adopted by the Poetry Out Loud project for its annual competition, meaning that high school students can recite it or one of several hundred other poems and maybe advance through regional and state competitions to the nationals, where some serious money is at stake. “Broken Promises” deals with just that: the promises we break and how they limp around and gaze at us reproachfully while enjoying an immortality denied to the promises we’ve kept.

Recently, I spoke with a group of high school teachers who wanted to discuss my famous poem — rather, to tell me what it meant. “It’s about your own poems!” said one teacher, and another shouted, “I think it’s about your children!” They seemed a little crestfallen when I said, no, the poem is about the promises we break, as the ¬title and, as far as that goes, the poem itself says.

The teachers thought that my poem said one thing but meant another, and that it’s the reader’s job to figure out what the poet is really saying. No wonder poetry doesn’t have a bigger audience. All that code cracking. Who has the time?

David Orr, that’s who — though in “Beautiful and Pointless,” his new guide to modern poetry, the most important thing he reveals about codes is that there aren’t any. True, no poem speaks to us as directly as a stop sign or a Star of David. But nobody listens to a Jay-Z song and says, “Hmm, I wonder what he meant by that,” and a well-made poem works the same way. Susan Sontag once wrote an essay advocating “an erotics of art,” and that’s the main point of Orr’s passionate, nimble little book: that poetry is for lovers, not cryptologists.

Orr came to poetry as a sophomore in college, when he bought Philip Larkin’s book “The Whitsun Weddings” by mistake. (It seems as though half of the poetry addicts out there got started on Larkin; somebody really needs to look into the role of his poems as a gateway drug.) The poetry columnist for the Book Review, Orr is also an attorney, which makes sense: a good poem, like a sound legal argument, puts the right materials in the best order so as to convince an audience. A lawyer doesn’t want his listeners to say, “I wonder what he meant” any more than a poet does.

But just as you can’t predict the outcome of a trial, so, too, does poetry work in mysterious ways. Consider 9/11. Orr relies heavily on Google to research the state of poetry (more on this later), and he gets 237,000 hits when he puts the phrase “bearing witness” plus “poetry” into that site’s search window.

Now every poet I know, me included, has borne witness in poetry to the events of 9/11. Yet the poem that speaks best to that tragedy is W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” — written just after Germany’s invasion of Poland but, as Peter Steinfels has noted in The Times, “endlessly quoted and reprinted” after the 2001 attack “to express grief over what had happened and foreboding about what was to come.” The recent poet laureate Kay Ryan’s “Home to Roost” is another poem often associated with Sept. 11, but it, too, was written before the attacks.

So if poets can’t serve immediate political ends, what should we expect from them? (Besides liberal rhetoric, I mean: “Almost all poets, including myself, lean left,” Orr says. “There are maybe five conservative American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.”) Orr quotes another former poet laureate, Rita Dove, as saying “poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful,” but he argues that the Nike slogan “Just do it” is more distilled than anything James Merrill ever wrote, and that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” beats William Carlos Williams for sheer power every time. Then does poetry express our innermost selves, as is often claimed? Maybe, but most people get the same validation from other sources. As far as poetry speaking for the culture it springs from, Orr says, so might “joining the Coney Island Polar Bear Club or collecting interesting bits of bark.”

In the end, poetry matters to the people it matters to for the same reason that anything appeals to anyone, which is that they love it. Orr uses the title of the poet Edward Hirsch’s book “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry” to suggest that people who fall for poetry fall hard. In a book filled with excellent quotations, he surprisingly doesn’t cite James Dickey’s line — “What you have to realize when you write poetry, or if you love poetry, is that poetry is just naturally the greatest god damn thing that ever was in the whole universe” — but essentially his book says just that.

This will come as no surprise to many. But what makes “Beautiful and Pointless” different from thousands of other defenses of poetry is that, according to its author, poetry differs from music and stamp collecting in that people’s love for poetry is measurably greater than their love for any other activity. Poetry fans don’t just love poetry a little; they really love it.

To test that hypothesis, Orr went to Google and conducted two different searches, one for “I like X” and one for “I love X,” with X being represented by baseball, cooking, gardening and half a dozen other activities, including movies and poetry. Admittedly, the science behind this research is slightly less complicated than that required to make a lemon meringue pie, but the results are noteworthy. In every instance except two, more people “like” an activity than “love” it; for example, readers of romance novels like that art form 3.36 times more than they love it. The exceptions are poker, which splits 50-50, and — of course — poetry, whose partisans “love” it twice as much as they “like” it.

Why is that? Hard to say, and Orr doesn’t argue for distillation or power or any of the other rationales he shot down earlier. Instead, he ends “Beautiful and Pointless” with an account of the final days of his father, who suffered from cancer and had a stroke that left his speech flat and affectless. The therapist recommended some exercises, and then Orr had an idea: why not poetry? That is, why not use an art form with obvious stresses and rhymes, especially one people love so much?

The first thing he learns is that you shouldn’t ask a stroke victim to read Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose crowded lines are difficult enough for those of us with full use of our tongues. And Robert Frost isn’t much better.

In the end, the senior Orr develops a crush on “The Owl and the Pussycat,” Edward Lear’s classic tribute to interspecies romance. The two lovers elope in a pea-green boat, and after a voyage of a year and a day, are married and dine “on mince, and slices of quince, / Which they ate with a runcible spoon,” and they dance by the light of the moon.

Orr’s father tells him, “I really like the runcible spoon,” and that’s close enough to love for me.

David Kirby’s latest poetry collection is “Talking About Movies With Jesus.”

Reposted from the New York Times Sunday Book Review
The New York Times

April 10, 2011

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): COLLABORATIVE POETRY 5: DESPAIR

Ambit's Gambit (A. B. Casuga Litblog): COLLABORATIVE POETRY 5: DESPAIR