Close Reading of Filipino Poetry

The concept of organic unity was established by the New Criticism school of thought. It says that all the interdependent parts of a literary selection must add up to create one whole. In literature, all the parts and aspects of a literary selection must contribute to one whole so crucially that if one part or aspect went missing, the literary selection cannot be complete or may not have the same meaning anymore. To understand the organic unity of a poem, you must use the process of close reading. Close reading is a way for you to analyze the poem by carefully reading and rereading a text until you have found its interpretation.

When you close read Filipino poetry, what must you look out for? You may try to find the context of the poem—when it was written, the setting in which it was written, the reason why it was written for you to better understand its idea. You may also look at its interdependent elements, as was discussed previously, so that you may find visual clues to its meaning through its rhyming scheme, overall structure, word order, and the like. You may also try to identify who the persona is and who the persona is dedicating the poem to. Again, the persona does not necessarily have to be the author—it can be any face in local society, someone who fits the descriptions in the poem quite well.

Try to close read a poem by Marjorie Evasco entitled “Is It the Kingfisher?” Marjorie Evasco was born in Bohol on 21 September 1953. She writes bilingually in English and Cebuano-Visayan, and is considered one of the country’s earliest feminist poets. She has received numerous awards for her poetry, and in 2010, she received the prestigious South East Asian Write Award (SEA Write). She is currently a professor emeritus of De La Salle University—Manila.

The poem “Is It the Kingfisher?” analyzes the relationships one has with a Supreme Being, in a tropical island where everything seems clear through nature. You should read and reread poems such as Evasco’s to understand the depth of its meaning. The questions asked in the Reflect Upon section are guide questions to help you closely read the poem. This time, try reading the poem out loud with proper pronunciation and enunciation in front of the class. If you have formed your own interpretation of the poem, try reading it in line with your interpretation by putting emphasis and feelings on the words and lines which you think are important to its central message.

Another poem that is made for poetry recitation is Cirilo Bautista’s “Oh How to Find Silence in the World.”

Cirilo Bautista was born in 1941 and is a well-known poet, fictionist, critic, and nonfiction writer. After receiving a writing fellowship at the International Writing Program in the University of Iowa, he received an honorary degree and was the only Filipino to be honored there. He has taught in De La Salle University–Manila and is currently a professor emeritus. Recently, he was awarded as a National Artist for Literature by the Philippine government.

Recite this poem out loud with feelings, emotions, proper pronunciation, and enunciation. Do you think your interpretation of the poem changed when you read it out loud? Why or why not?

Ask the same questions you posed when you read the previous poem. Who is the persona of the poem, and what is the situation he or she is undergoing? How is the poem told? Did you also notice the way Bautista used a smattering of Filipino words with English? Why do you think did he do this? What do you think is he trying to imply by using some Filipino words in a mainly English poem? If you were to change these words into English, do you think the poem will still mean the same or not? Why?

Filipino poetry is truly unique in its creativity, meaning, and expression. Whether in English or not, there is always that certain brand of artistry that our Filipino poets offer. More importantly, these poems are the expressions of our lives in the form of words.