Paano Mo Malalaman Na Isa Ka Nang Mahusay Na Makata?by Alexander Dagrit (Poetry)
May tatlong hakbang upang malaman mo kung isa ka nang magaling na makata. Tunghayan natin.
How to be Good at Poetry?
By Cirilo F. Bautista
(Published in Philippine Panorama, Feb. 26, 2006, pp. 25-26.)
Now that creative writing season is upon us again, our young poets may well face the question, "Am I any good?"
Unless they can find an honest answer, they may be laboring under certain delusions or simply wasting their time. To know that they are good creates in them some assurance that their efforts are not in vain; that, with some more years of discipline and application, they may contribute to the development of their nation's literature.
To know that they are not any good, on the other hand, is also an advantage, for then they can look for other options to make their life meaningful.
But how do they tell if they are any good? There are several ways.
First, if they can get published regularly in national magazines. Aside from fulfilling the universal primal desire for having their by-lines inscribed for all to see, this signals that they have potentialities that can stand further exploration.
Since these publications – The Philippines Free Press, The Graphic, Philippine Panorama, Sunday Inquirer, and Liwayway – have proven records of editorial expertise and credible poetry sections, getting published in them is a mark of one's poetic ability. At the same time, because of their national scope, the published poems get a wide airing, as it were, which allows reactions from different sectors. This is important, for readers' response to the poems adds a new layer of criticism. Whatever the nature of these comments may be, they will be indicative, one way or another, of the poems' literary values.
Since no poets write just for themselves, they consider the vast unseen audience with whom they can link effectively through the printed pages. The pleasure that they get seeing their names and poems printed, at the same time, has a phenomenological value for bolstering their belief in themselves.
Reinforcement of that belief comes with the publication of more and more poems. Constant publication is also a kind of test that inaugurates their literary promise. After all, not every poet gets published, and gets paid for it, too.
I remember the inexplicable elation I had upon seeing my first published poem in The Free Press. I so much admired Nick Joaquin, its poetry editor then, that I brought a copy of the magazine with me everywhere I went and showed my poem to anyone who could read. And for many days I kept in my wallet the postal money order he sent as payment, until unavoidable need forced me to cash it.
In this regard, the poets should try hard to get published in all the existing papers that print poetry; in this way he would get the benefit of the critical insights of various editors of various literary tastes. Approval by all of them increases the poets' confidence in their creative ability.
Second, by winning literary contests which will establish the poets' growing power. Contests are a more rigid and limiting test, for now the poems compete seriously with other poems for monetary and honorific considerations.
The Palanca Literary Contests, by virtue of its history and reputation, are still the best for this purpose. The rules are so well-drawn, the judges are generally fair, and the contestants are numerous that winning in any of the categories becomes a kind of confirmation of the poets' ability to appeal to a more discriminating and expert audience. The win is worth including in the winner's curriculum vitae.
In Filipino poetry, the Gawad Collantes managed by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa is also worth joining.
The prestige attached to winning in these contests encourages both veteran and new writers to join them again and again. In the case of the former, winning is equivalent to retaining their literary rankings, while in the case of the latter, winning is the key to national recognition, giving the poet a membership in the exclusive circle of winners. This is a higher form of recognition than mere publication in a magazine.
Third, if their book of poems is put out by a reputable publisher. After winning in the Palanca, the next step in asserting their definite worth in the poetic field is to put out in book form a collection of poems.
The poet chooses some 50 or so of his best poems for a volume which he submits to a university press with a proven track record, such as the publishing arms of the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila University, the De La Salle University, the University of Santo Tomas, or to a commercial press such as Anvil and Bookmark. These publishers have respectable editorial policies to ensure quality products.
A first volume of poems must be handled with care and artistry, for the rest of the author's literary future depends on how it is accepted by the readers and critics.
And often, literary reputation is made or broken by this first volume. The promise manifested in poems printed in magazines maybe confirmed or negated by the decision of the board of judges of the presses to which the manuscripts are submitted.
Of course, depending on the composition of such boards, the poet may take the decision seriously or not. Sometimes, biased and unqualified members sit in such boards.
In our own case, we had a book rejected by one press but accepted by another. In general, however, these boards possess integrity and intelligence, and their evaluations are often fair.
In the end, consistent and sustained excellence in these three areas – publication of poems and books and in magazines and winning in competitions – establishes once and for all the poets' reputation and indicates the contribution that they will leave to our national literary heritage.