Tales of the Spiderwoman by Merlie M. Alunan

Tales-of-the-Spiderwoman

by J.I.E. Teodoro from: http://www.gmanews.tv/story/216711/lifestyle/kiss-of-the-visayan-spiderwoman

Kiss of the Visayan Spiderwoman

THE release of Merlie M. Alunan’s third poetry collection entitled Tales of the Spiderwoman (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2010) is an affirmation that indeed, she is one of the finest, if not the best, Filipino woman poet writing today. Her voice is young and pure, beautiful and wise, sincere and strong. Indeed, she is the Spiderwoman of the Visayas, weaving the web of poetry in the national consciousness.

Tales of the Spiderwoman gathers 38 new poems of Alunan. Some are also in the collection of the same title that won first prize in the 2010 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. The poem “The Neighbor’s Geese” is included in the Norton anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond.

Alunan’s poetic voice can be deadly, like the poisonous bite of a tarantula. In the only prose-poem in the collection entitled “Ampatuan, Maguindanao, November 23, 2009,” the persona curses the culprit of this gruesome massacre of 57 (58 according to a daughter of one victim whose body was never found) people due to political conflict.

The last paragraph of the piece begins with a simple but vital question: “Who ordered the killing?” Then the persona proceeds: “Whose hands acted the deed—he will make that name known with his words. Let shame and dishonor fall upon that name, and follow him to his grave. To him and his kind who continue to live and breathe on this world, let rice turn to sand in their mouth, water into bile. Let the tears of widows and orphans, lovers and friends, drench their sleeping mats every night. May their dreams swarm with the cries of the murdered. Let the fifty-seven cram their sleep with nightmares. No mercy. Wherever they go, blood will trail them forever with its stench—”

In a series of five poems called “Bantayan Notebook,” the woven strings of the Spiderwoman-Poet’s web of poetry shine the most. Bantayan is an island with a historic character in Cebu province, the heartland of Visayan culture. In the poem number 5 entitled “Leaving Santa Fe,” the persona sings with wisdom and grace of the ancient waves of the sea: “Nothing there to weigh our bags / or fill loose spaces in our luggage, / claim only what memory may hold: / the morning’s pure light, / the color of sand at high noon, / the sea endlessly crashing in our sleep, / a star’s death streak in the night waste.” Yes, earthly possessions are nothing. Only beauty in its pure state endures. Only the wise poet could recognize this reality.

That is why in poem number 6 entitled “Poet Travelling Over Water,” humility in the face of the divine is the poet’s sole means of survival. The poet-persona is prescribing total submission to the vast power of nature: “befriend the wind / let it ride easy / in the hollows / of your bones / open your bosom / for wind to go through / storm rising / from the abyss / could pitch you / on the rocks / blow the skull apart / for darkness and sun / cold and heat / flow in.”

This is a kind of baptism of salt water for the poet so that she could sing: “salt-caked and split / your tongue will breed / secret words / of the wind’s singing.” Merlie M. Alunan’s Tales of the Spiderwoman is definitely a joy to read, for this is the kiss of true poetry.

A poet’s poet

Alunan spent her childhood in Iloilo and Leyte. As a literature teacher, she taught in the cities of Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, and Cebu. She also writes in Cebuano and Waray. As a translator, she has translated into English the works of Cebuano poet Adonis Durado and the young Waray poets that include Voltaire Oyzon and Phil Harold Mercurio. Alunan is an example of a poets’ poet.

Her first two collections were Hearthstone, Sacred Tree published by Anvil in 1993 and Amina Among the Angels published by University of the Philippines Press in 1997. If there is a long gap between the second the present book, it is because Alunan devoted her time and energy training young Visayan writers. She organizes creative writing workshops in the Visayas, especially in Tacloban City where she taught English and creative writing at the local University of the Philippines campus.

In 2008, she organized the All-Visayan U.P. Creative Writing Workshop in Tacloban City that gathered the best young and not-so-young writers from Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas. Her vision: for regional writers to develop a “Visayan consciousness” as a writer. The participants presented their poetics to a set of panelists that included Cebu’s literary critic Resil Mojares and Iloilo’s literary guru Leoncio Deriada. National Artist F. Sionil Jose was also there, observing and commenting on the presentations.

In her latest book, Alunan continues to pave the way for other Visayan writers. – YA, GMA News

J.I.E. TEODORO is an assistant professor of Filipino at Miriam College. He has won several Palanca awards for his works and a National Book Award for creative nonfiction from the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from De La Salle University, Manila.

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