Bikol reaps bumper literary crop despite lockdown

Despite the pandemic and a series of typhoons, the Bikol literary harvest has proved more than bountiful, based on the number of publications and literary events from 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.

The sixth Pagsurat Bikol, a quadrennial conference to assemble Bikol writers and teachers for the writing and study of Bikol literature and culture, was hosted by the Camarines Norte State College, with funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). The conference, themed Sanghiran Bikol, included new resource persons from Daet, Masbate, Buhi, and Sorsogon. Held for the first time online, it garnered thousands of views.

“Pandemic” Bikol writing. Honesto Pesimo Jr launched Sa Ngaran nin Aki, followed by Anthony Diaz’s novella, An Ika-tolong Aldaw, winner of the Kabulig First Book Grant in Feb. 2020. In March, from the island of Catanduanes, Rey Valeza launched what might be the first novella in Virac Bikol, Si Ilde Buda ang Kapre. Niles Jordan D. Breis seems to be the most prolific of the Bikol writers given the number of books he has churned out during the lockdown. He completed his fourth Bikol novel Nalup-og (Droop), his contribution to writing on the pandemic, followed closely by Burayrahay (Firewind Vagina), novella Kabangang Kikilat (Half-Lightning), and 14 short stories for the collection Burubuskay (Lymph Swell).

Bikol Children’s Lit. There is now a body of children’s literature written in Bikol, when there was just a handful in the previous decade. Spearheading the effort to produce more new children’s literature in Bikol was Kabulig, through competitions in 2019 and 2020. Kabulig launched two children’s books in Feb. 2020, An Pabo ni Biboy by Marissa Redburn and Annie Potpot by Ofero Basbas, as well as a chapbook of stories of the ten finalists in its children’s short story writing contest. Ten original children’s books written in Central Bikol can also be found on the Let’s Read Philippines website by ABC+, a project of the Department of Education, supported by USAID and implemented by RTI International with the Asia Foundation, SIL Lead, and Florida State University. More children’s books in Central Bikol, Bikol Rinconada, and Masbatenyo are expected within the year

Indie publishing spread like the virus. Borlagdan launched his chapbook “Kakanon sa AroAldaw” and Yatoy Carretas his Xenos Sonex during the Ani activity organized by Gode Calleja last February. Borlagdan also updated his 2015 ebook of essays and stories Ako Kalag Omay. Fellow Albayano Richard Madrilejos put together a new chapbook of poems, "An Saimong Ngaran," which he uses in his Art Appreciation class in Bicol University. Parasurat Bikolnon (PB) has six chapbooks by Jerome Hipolito, Eilyn Nidea, Edwin Breva, Froy P. Beraña’s, Elbert O. Baeta, and Irvin Sto. Tomas written in Bikol-Sentral and Bikol-Rinconada for its Writers Series last October. Sto. Tomas also released a second chapbook.

Meanwhile, the Facebook page MagBikol Kita of poet-artist Vic Nierva which initiated Bikol translations of Covid19 updates has since evolved into an education website. It now features exciting new writing in “the intricacies and intimacies of the beautiful Bikol language” by the likes of Carlos Aureus, Breis, France Clavecillas, Greg Castilla, Ernie Verdadero, Kenneth Abante, Kerwin Tate, Vic Loquias, Leny Felix, Javier Rugeria, and Christian Dy. Last December, MagBikol Kita initiated Bikolyana, an online anthology of writing in Bikol for the students in the region.

Books in Filipino and English also poured out of the region. In Catanduanes, Bilog Writers Circle launched Emmanuel Barrameda essays in Balager and Napoleon Arcilla’s story collection Maqueda last August. Bernardo Aguay of Calabanga released his book of Tagalog poetry, Homo Erektus last October. In Albay, veteran writer Abdon M. Balde Jr. published two collections of flash fiction, Quarentina: 40 Kislap and Sa Checkpoint ni San Pedro. Sumaro sa Salog (SULOG, Inc) produced Mother Eagle: Emelina Gagalac Regis, biographical vignettes about Bikol’s great ecologist last September.

More to come. Breis expects to launch three more books in March and April: Tabaco, three essays in Filipino in March; Nagnungurub-ngurob (A Muttering Sleep), five essays in Bikol with English Translation; and his Premio Valledor Grand Prize novel Kalatraban sa Alkawaraan (A Long Wait into the Vanishing). Jerome Hipolito’s novel in Bikol and co-winner of the 2018 Premio Valledor Grand Prize, Dyurnal Intris will also be released thru AdNU Press in April 2021.

Barrameda will introduce his creative nonfiction Distrungka in the summer of 2021. Love Potion and Other Stories, the late Randy Bustamante’s English translation of Alvin Yapan’s Sangkatauhan Sangkahayupan is now in the Ateneo de Manila University Press. Yapan is also working on a new series of stories. Burabod Original Bikol Music by Paz Verdades Santos and Borlagdan, with funding from VC Igarta Foundation, is scheduled for launch before Fete de la Musique in June 2021. Dennis Gonzaga has completed his “ipistolary” novella “Bug on the Bed,” a riff on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and is finishing his epic poem in Bikol, “Santero.” Borlagdan plans to release another chapbook "Kalagnon" this year, and expects the publication of his long-awaited book, Dios Mabalos. Merlita Tariman is churning out poem after beautiful poem on her Facebook page, for publication sometime soon. Barrameda has called for Catanduanes writers to submit flash fiction for Downtown Mga Dagli. In Masbate, En Villasis and Roda Daignre have initiated the call for poems for a zine for Orawa, the first literary folio of Masbateño writers. Kabulig is planning its second anthology. In Manila, Marne Kilates has two collections of poetry ready for publication, The Memory Machine and Antinostalgia. He is also collecting contributions to “Lockdown Poems” in Filipino and English with co-editor Mikael de Lara Co. Villasis is also completing his collection of ekphrastic poems on the paintings of Vicente Manansala.

Bikol writers have also been included in print and online publications. The works of Breis, Baeta, Diaz, Pesimo, Paul John Padilla, Arnold Valledor, and Marvin Aquino are among those accepted for publication in Liwayway, Ani of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, PGH Human Spirit Project’s Pagninilay, Revolt Magazine, Busilak and many other literary folios. Jazmin Llana wrote a chapter for the book Covid-19 Lockdown in the Philippines. Internationally, Danton Remoto announced the Penguin edition of his 2015 novel Riverrun and Manny Aureus released his A Circuitous Journey from the US. Merlinda Bobis is scheduled to launch her new collection of 14 stories The Kindness of Birds in Australia this May while Greg Castilla is publishing Magis: What Matters Most in Life in Las Vegas and Naga. Villasis’s poem “Birds in Flight, 1965” as translated by Bernard Capinpin won in the 2020 Words Without Borders—Academy of American Poets Poems in Translation Contest.

Organizations and activities. Arts and culture organizations not only survived, but were active ‘frontliners’ during the pandemic. In Feb. 2020, Kabulig-Bikol awarded the Premio Bragais and Writer’s Prize to three Bikol writers. Dynamic performance group Sining Banwa (SB) gathered theater groups in and outside the region in the first ever Pista nin Teatrong Bikolnon. SB later shifted to a variety of online films and performances together with the Bikultura Film Collective, Musika Publiko Bikol, and the Taragbo Bikol Theater Network.

The Bilog Writers Circle in Catanduanes published their poems in various venues. Members of SurTe, which advocates the growth of Bikol literature and writing in the languages of Catanduanes shared their poems on their FB page to express anxieties and uncertainties, helped translate Department of Health materials to the local language, launched an online book auction and virtual poetry and music performance to support an ailing colleague, and set up its literary and visual folio, “20/20” texts in Southern and Northern Catanduanes Bikol, to be launched in 2021. PB continued its monthly poetry contests and its members won a regional literary contest. All these organizations did relief work for typhoon survivors, with SurTe holding a mini-workshop for children on how to write the rawitdawit.

On the patriotic front, young writers and artists joined the Spoken Word Poetry event billed “Oragon Para sa Nasyon Online conference of Bicolano Youth to Resist Tyranny and Dictatorship” of the Youth Act Now Against Tyranny-Bicol in Aug. 2020.

Born during the pandemic in a flurry of activities, Pagsirang Inc. sponsored Gimata, an online poetry writing contest in July 2020 and a Love Letter Writing Contest this month. This Camarines Sur-based organization held a roundtable discussion and workshop last July and August, presented Open Access Learning Portals to government in December, and launched the online Bikol Wiksyunaryo through the Wikimedia Foundation and with the help of MagBikol Kita. It is also participating in the Philippine Climate Change Translate-a-thon, the Art and Feminism in the Philippines Campaign 2021, and the Let’s Read Asia Foundation to set up a Mobile Library in Pasacao, Camarines Sur.  

Burabod Artists, a community-based arts group that promotes meditation for peace in Albay, joined the Pista nin Teatrong Bikolnon in Feb. 2020, and sponsored storytelling and poetry reading tutorials for mental and spiritual healing and well-being from May to October. Burabod Artists will celebrate National Arts Month with original performances this 2021 with the theme "Kay Gugurang (Kun Kisay hali an pagkamoot buda arte)." Albay group An Banwa (ABKAT) also offers Bikol poetry and music through Pagtanyog sa FB Live every Sunday to celebrate Arts Month. In Sorsogon, the Kurit-Lagting Art Collective has workshops and webinars for Arts Month “to raise awareness, collaboration, and strengthening networks …to help promote active participation and creativity in the Bicolano community through group interaction and self-exploration.” Keeping tab of the Bikol arts and culture scene is SB’s BalayBayan: Bikol Culture, Arts, Events.

Involvement in national activities. Llana was involved in the March 2020 Festival of Women’s Plays at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, webinars on drama, and monthly online events featuring art projects and collaborations in six international sites. Barrameda gave an online talk on creative writing in Jan. 2021 and Breis will speak in an International Webinar on Arts and Inclusion with Divya Gurung is from Nepal at the Camarines Norte State College in March. Barrameda was a fellow in the 59th UP National Writers Workshop while Arcilla and Elsie Albis were fellows in the ninth UST Writers Workshop.

An earlier report noted the NCCA’s approval of new work by Bikol writers for the Ubod anthology and Agwat-Hilom; Maliw learning modules; webinars of Dennis Gonzaga and Jay Salvosa; and a documentary film project of Nierva, all on Bikol arts and culture.