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The poet as a revolutionary

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 20, 2022 5:00 am

Sa Aking Henerasyon: Mga Tula at Saling-Tula by Kerima Lorena Tariman, published by Gantala Press, posthumously collects all of the author’s works published in books and chapbooks since 1996, when she was but a 16-year-old scholar at the Philippine High School for the Arts.

On her graduation, she went up onstage barefoot, and delivered her “salutary address” as a poem: “… Pero, maraming salamat/ At patnubayan nawa ako ng espiritu/ Sa pagbaba ko sa semento ‘tsaka sa rutang pinili ko,/ Kasi alam ko ang hindi ko alam/ At may mga tanong na kailangang saguti / Na iiwanan at ipinabaon ng bundok sa amin.”

The girl chose the revolutionary path early. And stuck to it the rest of her life that was made brief by the tragic consequences of her conviction. Last year, on August 20, 2021, this poet of resolute activism met her unfortunate fate in a shoot-out with soldiers at Barangay Kapitan Ramon, Silay City.

Her early martyrdom to the cause of the eternal plight of the downtrodden in the countryside echoes precedents set by popularly acknowledged poets of an earlier generation, the best-known being Lorena Barros and Emmanuel Lacaba — who also took to the mountains, literally and metaphorically, and laid their lives on the line as warrior-poets.

Tariman comes close to Lacaba in terms of both quantity and quality of poetry. She’s a natural as a poet, so aware of the power of fresh language, imagery, irony, subtlety, and the rhythm and musicality, even humor, that raises verse to exceptional, memorable expression.

From “Alamat”: “Ito ang kwentong/ Nais naming ibato/ Sa panahong napakaraming/ Dapat basagin na mito.”

From the more contemporary “Fake News,” where she dismisses “malalaking balita”: “Wala akong interes sa mga anunsyo:/ na ikakasal na ang bastardong anak ng pangulo,/ kung bibisita sa bansa ang mga lider ng bansang Asyano,/ o kung ililigtas tayo ng Washington sa bagong ayuda at pondo.// … Ano ba naman iyon sa akin,/ kung nililipol ng militar ang mga bandido/ sa isang napakalayo at di-kilalang pulo?/ Makikinabang ba ako sa mga pahayag/ na pare-parehong masasamang tao/ ang lahat ng nag-aarmas laban sa gobyerno?”

We can only hope that poet-warriors are spared from unfortunate consequences, so that their words may continue to ring upon joining the civilized discourse.

Fellow poet Marra PL. Lanot observes in her Introduction: “Payak at kung minsa’y salitang kanto ang lengguwahe ni Kerima, pero may angkong ritmo ang indayog ng kanyang mga berso.”

For her part, in her own Introduction, Joi Barrios points out that Kerima Lorena Tariman has claimed the distinction, among the relatively few activist women poets in this country who write in Tagalog/Filipino, of not only joining the list, but also filling up a remarkable collection with poetry actually written on the field.

“Hindi totoong ako’y bihag/ ng mga berdugo’t salarin./ Narito ako sa piling/ ng aking pagkiling,/ at alam kong alam mo/ kung saan ako hahanapin.” (from “Mga Sulat Mula sa Lambak ng Cagayan”)

Her father, fellow poet and writer Pablo Tariman, disclosed in his Foreword that he knew “very little of my daughter’s involvement in the underground” nor “to what extent she was passionate about her literary aspirations. Until she started winning prizes in poetry, among them the Gawad Ka Amado in 2001.

“… I also didn’t know she carried various names while lending support to and later working with underground rebels. As Marjorie Monumento, she wrote film and book reviews, as well as articles on the mass movement and the plight of political prisoners. In 2000, she herself was arrested and illegally detained in Isabela while doing research on peasant communities there. …

“As Ting Remontado, she wrote and translated poems and songs that appeared in underground publications. …

“Poet Vim Nadera said of my daughter: ‘Kerima knew the value of people, of the land, and of poetry. As a poet, she also understood the merit of conflict. She sought to make her actions more valuable than words.”

Kerima’s words will undeniably remain invaluable. Gantala Press deserves commendation for putting together this hefty book of nearly 600 pages that memorializes and pays total tribute to the significant literature that she produced in her brief life.

The NTF-ELCAC’s operatives would do well to take time out from their cringeworthy red-tagging activities and gjve themselves a chance to understand the sentiments that propel some impassioned activists to go the whole route and become actual rebels.

Kerima’s poems may yet convince them that the roots of resistance often grow from all the red flags that signal oppression, and that armed rebellion is but another alternative in addressing injustice. Poetry is one way to traverse the course. We can only hope that poet-warriors are spared from unfortunate consequences, so that their words may continue to ring upon joining the civilized discourse.

In her Introduction titled “Poetry and Revolution,” Neferti Xina M. Tadiar offers: “The importance of revolutionary poetry, in particular, is attested to by the history of revolutionary and resistance struggles in the former as well as still colonized world from the twentieth century to the present.” She cites poets in Latin America, starting with Ruben Dario and Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua. Tadiar also quotes Barbara Harlow: “Poetry is part of the struggle. It is one of the arenas in which that struggle is waged.”

Not all of Kerima’s poems dwell on the struggle in the countryside. Urban woes such as traffic have also been casually pictured, although most concerns, as over drying faucets, also ramp up the dissatisfaction with errant governance.

But mostly, even during moments of whimsy and discernment, the essence of her creative expression involves the challenge of confinement or constriction, and the promise of hope, a dream of triumph:

“nais na patuloy na magsulat/ kahit ngayon na madilim ang paligid/ sapagkat hindi mapigilan/ ang kagampang sinapupunan sa pagsilang/ ng kanyang tanging pag-asa/ at sa pagbaha ng tinta/ pulang bandila ang buong silangan/ katuparan ang banaag ng umaga/ sa paglupig sa dilim/ at patuloy na bumabagtas/ ang dumadaloy na tinta/ sa mga pahina ng kasaysayan/ sumusulong, hangang tagumpay.” (“Pangako”)

This outstanding volume was launched last May 29 at Conspiracy Garden Café. Limited copies were printed. These can be reserved and shipped by texting 0906-5104270. The feminist indie publisher Gantala Press may also be reached on Facebook.