Friday, December 22, 2006

Bikol poet’s First Book Award a spark of hope in the devastated region





by Vic Nierva

DILIMAN, Quezon City—“My mother told me how difficult it was when she gave birth to me. I was their first-born. I wasn’t sure if my mother was just trying to make me feel guilty so that I’d learn how to pay debt of gratitude. But I agree with Mama that giving birth to your first-born is certainly difficult.” When Kristian Sendon Cordero shared these words with the audience of the Book Forum at the Pulungang Claro M. Recto of UP-Diliman’s Bulwagang Rizal last December 8, he had not the slightest hint as to how close he was to receiving the 6th Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award (MGBFBA) for his “Mga Tulang Tulala: Mga Piling Tula sa Filipino, Bikol at Rinconada.”

Cordero, 23, the first regional writer ever to receive the prestigious award, also shared in vivid recollection the situations in his native region after it had been devastated by typhoon Reming. He said it was really hard to think about the First Book Award with all the depressing scenes on the background way back home in his native Iriga City. “I wish that through this I may somehow share hope with my fellow Bikolanos, that even in the midst of adversities we suffer, we have reasons to be happy. This is not for me alone. I share the triumph with them.”

When award-winning writer Rene O. Villanueva, this year’s chair of the board of judges, called his name and proclaimed him the winner, Cordero rose up from his seat with disbelief and proceeded to the stage to receive his award. He had only a short statement to say. “The prize is something we need in Bicol.”

Poems and sufferings

Panitikan.com.ph’s webmaster Arvin Mangohig called this year’s MGBFBA an event of many firsts. “It was the first time a volume of poetry won. It was the first time a trilingual book won. It was the first time a book published by a small press won. It was the first time the winner was not known beforehand.” It was also the first time when finalists of the MGBFBA were gathered together and shared the biography of their first book in the forum dubbed “Breaking into Print.”

Together with “Mga Tulang Tulala” (Goldprint Publishing House), the shortlist of the finalists for this years MGFBA included fiction books “Iskrapbuk” by Allan N. Derain (UP Press), “Pangangaluluwa at iba pang Kuwento” by Jimmuel C. Naval (UP Press), and poetry books “Order of the Poets” by Jaime Dasca Doble (Akdang Bayan), and “Ibang Daan Pauwi” by Manolito C. Sulit (UST Publishing House). Each of the finalists related different stories as how their first books came about and got into print.

It was Cordero’s moving story that left everyone captivated and in awe, including senior writers like J. Neil C. Garcia, Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Charlson Ong, and National Artists Virgilio S. Almario and Bienvenido L. Lumbera. He spoke about his poems while in mind were the images of the destructive typhoon battering Bicol.
“In these times when we [in Bicol] are suffering due to the recent calamity, it will just be more disheartening if we will let our enthusiasm to revive our literature wane. It is only literature where genuine and deep reflections of our experiences as Bikolanos are found. In this way, we can only proceed to a new Bicol. There are poems which will remain etched in our hearts; there are poems which are destined to be forgotten. I am looking for poetry that could rouse me from fatigue, stir me from grief, poetry that is redemptive in the sense of offering a kind of deliverance, or rescue of the imagination, and poetry that awakens delight—pleasure in recognition, pleasure in strangeness.”

After “Mga Tulang Tulala” which was published in 2004, Cordero, has published another poetry book, “Santigwar,” also published by the Naga-based Goldprint Publishing House. He won for his poetry Homelife Magazine’s grand prize in 2004, he also earned the magazine’s second prize in 1999 and 2004, respectively. Last September 1, his short story in Filipino, “Langaw,” placed second in the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature. Cordero’s “Langaw” is a sad tale of a poor girl whose sufferings tragically ended in the hands of merciless rapists along the railroad tracks.

The award

Cordero received a Php50,000 check which was awarded to him by Likhaan: UP Institute of Creative Writing Director VE Carmelo D. Nadera, Jr. and Likhaan Foundation treasurer Linda Panlilio.

Nadera says that, “the prize obtained from winning the MGBFBA is deemed to encourage beginning writers to persevere in writing and publishing, and it also encourages publishers to take risk with new authors. The cash prize is there to help them in their next book projects.”

“For a young writer from the region, it really confirmed my desire to write. This helped me find my place in the resurgence of Bikol literature. I think things like this will get the attention of my fellow Bikolanos, that even in the face of marginalization, our native literature continues to resurge and be recognized on the national arena. But no reward comes greater than being read by my own people, the people who speak my own language,” Cordero said about the award.

The MGBFBA, established in February 2001 and administered since then by the UP-ICW, is the only award-winning body in the Philippines recognizing first books by new authors published within the last two years. It is granted by the Madrigal and Gonzalez families, through Atty. Gizela Gonzalez Montinola, writer and granddaughter of Bienvenido Gonzalez, former UP President, and daughter of Gonzalo Gonzalez, former member of the UP Board of Regents.

The award covers all genres of creative writing and nominations may come from publishing houses, university presses, creative writing centers, writers’ organizations, and other literary enthusiasts. It is given on alternate years to writers in English and writers in Filipino.

Previous winners of the MGBFBA were “Life After X” a story collection in English by Angelo R. Lacuesta (2001), “Paghuhunos” novel in Filipino by Ellen L. Sicat (2002), “Smaller and Smaller Circles” a novel in English by Felisa H. Batacan (2003), “Makinilyang Altar” a novel in Filipino by Luna Sicat-Cleto (2004), and “The Sky Over Dimas” a novel in English by Vicente Groyon (2005).

Together with Villanueva, Malou L. Jacob, Director of DLSU’s Bienvenido N. Santos Center for Creative Writing, and Luna L. Sicat Cleto, winner of MGBFBA in 2004, consisted the panel of the judges.

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