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"Our culture consists of broken pieces of stone, but the sunlight of the present constantly falls on them, and therein lies hope."

Håkan Sandell
Håkan Sandell
Sandell is now MODERN TIMES' regular poetry critic. He is a Swedish poet and literary critic. He is now a regular poetry critic in MODERN TIMES. Sandell has published around 30 books, and for several decades he has also worked as a culture writer for the Swedish morning newspaper Sydsvenskan. His latest book is the collection of poems The world opens the gates (2023).
POETRY / MODERN TIMES presents here Filipino Cirilo F. Bautista. He is an internationalist, influenced by European and American high modernism. For Bautista, there is no other way to understand contemporary Philippine politics than by retelling its history.


The most recognized poet in the Philippines, Cirilo F. Bautista (1941–2018), is unknown here in the north. He can be placed next to Thailand's leading contemporary poet, the culturally conservative Angkarn Kalayanapong (see MODERN TIMES's winter issue), and South Korea's leading poet, Ko Un, who is constantly in the running for the Nobel Prize. But where these two have their starting point in the religion of their home country, Bautista is an internationalist, influenced by European and American high modernism (Eliot etc.), which can be linked to the history of the Philippines, as a Spanish colony and as an American protectorate. Like most of the educated classes in the Philippines, he writes in both English and Tagalog. (Tagalog, which is influenced by Spanish vocabulary and grammar, is often called 'Filipino'.)

Like the West Indian Nobel laureate in literature Derek Walcott, Bautista – in addition to colonial oppression and its social damage – nevertheless sees in the colonial language a liberation, a world belonging. As he writes in the poem "Third World Geography": "A country without miracles / sits heavy on the map." And as in the case of Kalayanapong, radical and national values ​​are close to each other in Bautista, but here in the sense that his task is "to serve his poor country", as he stated in an interview. There is, in the poet's eyes, no other way of understanding it Filipinoe politics of the present than by retelling its history.

The 'Discovery' of the Philippines

Such a historical perspective is adopted in Bautista's main work, The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus#, which ten years apart received its third and final part in Sunlight on Broken Stones, published in 2000 (a collected edition in 2012). The trilogy is only partially historically chronological, but begins with Magellan's 'discovery' of the Philippine Islands, then dwells at length on the literary romance under Spanish rule. But all the while with resonance in contemporary Philippines. More than history, the desire behind the poem-epic is to give a portrait of Filipino mentality and – as the poet says – a "Filipino destiny". He also writes surprisingly positively about this 'discovery' of the Philippines as something that gave the country a "self-awareness of its geographical position".

A poetry which, in its image density, can at other times be close to surrealism or its Latin American successors such as Neruda.

With the title Sunlight on Broken Stones comments Bautista that "our culture consists of broken pieces of stone, but the sunlight of the present constantly falls on them, and therein lies hope." There will be many references to Philippine realities and politics. But the poet is restrained with direct political statements in the trilogy, which was written during the presidency of several dictators. It is nevertheless a fiercely expressive long poem that is being discussed here, where a "plastic tide" washes over the islands, and where "abonded brown Gods" look down on "gun powder and paradise", and on the country's "juggle chimeras". All the time in solidarity with his Filipino people: "If love betrays all?" asks the poet, but gives the answer himself: "road mendors, bamboo splitters, market vendors. / Love must not betray them, nor graveyard silence.”

"For the sake of my country"

It gives one poesi which in its pictorial density can at other times be close to Surrealism or its Latin American successors who Neruda. Bautista is fully aware – this is also evident from interviews – that the general public hardly reads him, and as he says about the 'poet's' situation: "he does not bring in / the tourists."

But he is a poet of the simple people. The background for the poems is that of shipping Manila – as with a quiet decay, mornings when the small shops open, and where the sardine cans are "the company of the lonely". Bautista himself grew up in Manila's low-income districts, in a shabby area with low buildings and alleys (Balic-Balic in Sampaloc). Growing up, he worked as a newspaper delivery boy and shoe shiner, while his father was employed at a tobacco factory. When asked why he writes, he replied: “For the sake of my country, a desire for change for people – in the people.”

In Many Ways

Bautista regards his poems as a unified work and sees his entire poetic production "as a single poem". Sometimes he also reuses passages from previous books in new contexts, in a kind of sampling, and rewrites. This is visible right up to his last collection of poems, In Many Ways (2017, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House), from the year before he quietly passed away from a muscle disease. It collects poems from the last five years, many in bound form, and it includes, among other things, a magnificent suite of free sonnets – "A Salt Crown". This is a motif that connects Phillipiness location between (climate-endangered) land and surrounding sea, both parts crowned by this "crown of salt", and therefore: "Salt is food for the dead or the living."

«Salt is food for the dead or the living.»

In an earlier poem, during scholarship travels in Europe, at the baroque fountains of the Villa D'Este in the Italian Tivoli, thoughts go back to the Philippines here too, with all this wealth of water; «Was this what he / thought, he who planned the garden of his mind, / to freeze that brilliance?» And, Bautista adds, with a discreet criticism, about the cardinal who had the fountain park built: "as if he owned the ocean."

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