Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Muses behind the Verses

The Muses behind the Verses                                          
Ruminations on Poetic Inspiration*
It is safe to say without indulging in exhaustive documentation, which could prove to be a mere exercise in erudite futility, that like the Siesta and the Harana, the art of the Zarzuela, as used to be practiced in the Philippines, was something that the Filipinos unwittingly inherited from Spanish cultural traditions.  “Used to be” is the operative phrase.  In the age of Youtube and the MP3 as standard currencies for the consumption of entertainment, the up close and personal components in the practice of these art forms have, to our collective impoverishment, been lost to posterity forever.

My earliest exposure to poetry, as practiced by people and enjoyed in a social setting, in contradistinction to as manifested in the infinite beauty of nature and natural phenomena as obtains in the blending of the sunset with the landscape and the rainbow ever so ubiquitous in a typical tropical day, was in listening to the Sarsuela** which was a regular feature of the weekend community dances that I was luckily exposed to during my preschool days.  Those weekly nocturnal escapades were sustained through the wee morning hours by the sheer unfettered and inexhaustible enthusiasm of a one-man band, whose performance was unpaid for but largely expected by the community for the simple reason that his talent was the hallmark of his citizenship.  The Sarsuela was an intermission feature introduced to give the musician the most required and a well-deserved rest.

On hindsight, this unmistakable bucolic setting as described earlier in Chapter 5 had all the trappings of a fairy tale.  The dances were sometimes held as a means of raising funds for some noble cause or tangible project or another.  But oftentimes, they were held as the community’s attempt to celebrate life, to create a festive mood as a well-needed and most-deserved break from the humdrum which characterized farming life.  As a preschooler, I was not yet aware of political history, nor of the existence of Spain, for that matter.  The beauty of the poetry emanating from the musical drama of the Sarsuela touched my consciousness unadulterated by cultural bias or preconceived notions of what art was supposed to contain, look, or sound like.

The format was that of a dialogue between a man and a woman, verbally indulged in the ritual of courtship.  The verses were extemporaneously minted on the fly by the protagonists sung to the monotonic melody of a ballad, unaccompanied by any musical instruments.  That the event regularly called upon my father as the male protagonist, did not hurt to keep my attention riveted through the proceedings.  Most of the words they used were too profound for my uninitiated mind to comprehend, but that early exposure to the wealth of metaphors and similes in the language, far from weighing me down with frustration, made me dream that when I grew up I should be able to attain mastery of the language and at least equal if not surpass my father’s brilliant performances of the art form.

Unfortunately, for me, I was constantly told at an early age that I could not carry a tune, a verdict which was mainly derived from my perceived inability to sing in harmony with the group during the ritual of the novena.  As much as this did not prevent me from occasionally belting out a tune while gallivanting in the woods, when I was relatively certain that there was nobody within reasonable hearing distance, it did definitely put a dumper on my musical aspirations.   It had to take the irrepressible hormones of adolescence to kick in and the fertile venue of the art of Harana, now irretrievably buried in the bowels of oblivion in obsolescence, for the sparks of inspiration to ignite the smoldering embers into a glowing flame of expressive resonance, unfettered and unafraid.***

Shelley famously observed, as alluded to in Chapter 11 below that “poetry is the language of the imagination.”  My experience with it has been that it is more the expression of the spontaneous celebration of being alive, far beyond just the joys of living.  Over and above what is conceivable, the delicious agony and poignant ecstasy of the tangible here and now constitute a compelling elan for poetical indulgent escapades.  The turmoil of the soul itself, in the entirety of its manifold dimensions and levels of complexity, is the proper province of poetry.

Exhibited in the few following pages are the crude relics of the struggle of my soul to stay whole, afloat and above the corrosive vortex of the ruins of time.  Bereft of elegance the verses may be, they are nonetheless the embodiment of the struggle of a soul in search of a justifiable and sustainable meaning for being.
Chapter End Notes: The notes are itemized below in the order that they were referred to in the preceding text.  They have been included herein to facilitate the curious readers’ penchant to verify any and all information that has been only tangentially mentioned in the text.

*This is a reprint of the Introduction (pp.123~125) to the Poetry Section (pp.123 ~ 128) of my last book, “Flirting with Misadventures: Escapades of an Exotic Life.” { }
**This spelling transformation as we transition from Spanish to Pilipino has been rendered inevitable by the absence of the letter “z” in the Pilipino alphabet.

***Thus, in my sophomore year in Kyoto University when the Chancellor summoned me impromptu to sing on stage of the makeshift amphitheater fronting the athletic quadrangle where a good portion of the 35,000 student populace congregated to witness the Foundation Day festivities, I obliged with my version of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine without breaking a sweat, to a respectable resounding ovation from the crowd.