New year, new crises. Plummeting prices, degrading quality of life. But most citizen-consumers feel happy, it seems. The Philippines allegedly ranks third, among the happiest of nations, if that means anything. Well, it does, for social media well-wishers. Indeed, digital windows have doors that open to other such windows,“without intermediary spaces,” in what Byung-Chul Han (2017) calls “demediatization”. The overload of information carrions as all of us produce and consume double-dead data. If we are all writers and readers, then any of us can become poets. If you have developed a liking for what might be deemed unhealthy, carry on and read through your screen-windows that is nothing more than a black mirror, once turned off. Continuing your solitary activity of reading may translate to solidarity of acting, or otherwise.
Half-seriously, I intended to draft the manifesto of the Poetry Democratic Front (PDF), a revolutionary force to reckon with, as implied by someone who describes himself in interviews and introductions as “not your usual poet” and proceeds with a list of his great achievements to prove that writing poetry is possible, without a “coterie” or a literary “barkada.” Filename to be distributed via email shall be “pdf (dot) pdf.” Due to his impressive biodata, let us call him CV in this article. After criticizing workshop circuits, gate-kept publications (with, what, not your usual Yale padlocks) and institutions, both emerging and established, CV sets an example for aspiring poets, like Maalaala Mo Kaya protagonists who overcome their poverty through hard work, against all odds, via resourcefulness and out-of-the-box routes. PhDF revolution, anyone?
Circumvention is, of course, possible and necessary; and CV raised some valid arguments here and there. However, giving premium to the individual, particularly himself, for whom he writes his poems for (as mentioned in the interview), is no less problematic than the figures and structures he problematized. Such thinking is not quite different from romanticized notions of writers as the conscience of their times, poets as the voices in the wilderness, the verses / literature / art as vessels of beauty / truth / freedom. I hope devoting a paragraph or ten of this insignificant article (that performs like a tabloid that employs cheap use of the blind item) to the poetic genius of CV is enough. With his Marxism relegated in his essays, and refuge from madness elevated in his sublime poetry, what can go wrong?
A lot perhaps, going by Edel Garcellano’s “Extra Memo” (2002) and his other essays that challenge what Rogelio Braga (2016) will later term “Philippine literary mafia” headed by “ninongs” and “ninangs” (gender-neutral translation: godparents), as Arlo Mendoza (2017) will call them them. Garcellano remarks how the privileging of writers as individuals outside politics or “beyond partisan categories” reproduces the prevailing delusion of “literary gadflies” regarding their talents, qualities, essence, gifts, greatness that makes them chosen ones, “ordained to stare at the face of the Absolute.”
This time, neither cliques nor confabulators anoint CV, as he sets his lyric poetry that subverts and reinvents the form by, well, being longer than usual. Such rad, much wow. CV’s attempts to divorce his poetics and aesthetics from politics or what he calls the “madness” of the world that his “Marxist” essays dissect is as faulty as the doe-eyed celebration of interconnectedness and liberty offered by social media and other digital platforms that punctuate the instant and the now. What he naively assumes as his “autonomy” is an exemption, rather than the rule. Emphasis on “assume.” He once policed the knee-jerk, meme-like trolling aimed at the anthology Bloodlust (2017) and the obnoxious “new protest poetry” that failed to justify its existence and to situate itself within the tradition and history of Philippine protest poetry. Surprise: one of the editors of Bloodlust put out a good word for CV’s first poetry collection, gravitas and grace-laden, last 2015.
Not indebted, just autonomous and gifted, unlike poets who have to form a collective to forward a new aesthetic that consequently concerns itself with the polemics and politics within and without literary institutions. Example: High Chair, which shall publish Kerima Lorena Tariman’s Pag-aaral sa Oras: Mga Lumang Tula Tungkol sa Bago (approximately, Study of Time: Old Poems on the New), one of the books of poetry I am looking forward to, after reading some of her poems and translations. Does Tariman lack the autonomy of CV? She has neither the prestigious PhD nor the institutional affiliation nor the decorated curriculum vitae but she was among the pool of writers and editors of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura’s (UMA) Bungkalan: Manwal sa Organikong Pagsasaka (2017). The solitude of individual poetics and solidarity of collective praxis braids Tariman’s literary and organizational work into a banig of verses and subversions, perhaps driven by the same kindred energies that empower the poetry of Gelacio Guillermo and Alan Jazmines, Ericson Acosta, Axel Pinpin, among others, who weave political lines and aesthetic struggles.
Had there been a pissing contest for the title of the most radical (and unusual) poetry free from hegemonic institutions that govern our miserable lives, the ones I would be vying for have slim chances of being awarded. If I wanted to win a cash prize, I would rather bet that they find such recognition ridiculous. They are barkada-less and all barkadas are theirs. They are tribeless and all tribes are theirs. They are homeless and all homes are theirs. They are nameless and all names are theirs. To the fascists they are the faceless enemy, who come like thieves in the night, angels of death: The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm. For Han, such are “crowds” that constitute a mass capable of epic “rage,” an affective state that translates to a “capacity, or power, to interrupt existing conditions and bring about new ones.” On the other hand are “swarms” whose “digital outrage” CV somehow summons to his side. Rallying a horde against the mad world, he attracts isolated individuals who had enough of the “system” but would rather not develop a “we.”
This essay may be mistaken as a participant to what Han calls an online “shitstorm” or the digital swarm’s “gathering without assembly.” Far from it. This article does not advocate a mere smear campaign to “strike individual persons” for the sake of “unmask[ing] or mak[ing] an item of scandal,” since CV exists [as] more than a person: “he” becomes an “it,” an “I” with a “tea,” a pronoun referring to a template of the enlightened “homo digitalis,” a snowflake in the swarm: a hybrid in the “multitude” who resists “empire” within empire: fleeting, unstable, vacillating, scattered poetic geniuses who blush when poets of the establishment notice their fellow poet-genius. This essay may be mistaken, not just as “dictatorship in conversations that invoke democracy” but also as a rejection of kindred spirits who also wish to resist the reactionary government of authoritarian patriarchs. Far from it, as a crowd assembling a critical mass for enough political energy for a potential ouster is yet to come but in order, I hope, we hope, let us hope.
Anyone can join any group. As long as principles are shared, methods are generated, values are negotiated, pasts are reviewed, and futures are imagined, I can co-exist with people and groups. You choose: (a) a self-absorbed fist-in- the-air call-to- arms by someone who coins (in an email interview hence not spontaneous) the term “PDF revolution” as a blanket resistance, inclusive of a randomizer; or (b) a call to act by self-reflexive groups who know that they might themselves become territorial gatekeepers, hence they enable shared spaces (like Better Living Through Xeroxography), perhaps with preventive measures and progressive steps toward collectively creating dynamic reading and writing communities that foster creativity and criticality. In taking down neoliberal structures, would you opt for a bodiless swarm or a resolute crowd committed to a common cause?