What are poets for?
What are lawyers for? - law. What are poets for? - language. But both law and language are instruments, one for the cause of justice, the other for our sense of reality.
The poem isn't its language, it is the living become word. "Get real," says Franz Arcellana. Words do not have their meaning from themselves, but from lives lived. It isn't meaning that language carries; it carries you. The poem's rhythm is the very sensation of living.
If the poem's language isn't adequate for its subject, it isn't poem; the subject eludes it, or we read only among its ruins. On the other hand, if the poem depends too much on language, it isn't poem either. The poem must always transcend its language, and not be entangled in the language's endless play of meaning. That infinite regress is the curse laid upon the mind's hubris that denies spirit and mystery.
What is fixed in the poem is not meaning, as in interpretation, but a meaningfulness that, for one thrilling moment, is all of life for one human being - the very sensation of living, of being real to oneself, with all that lives. That one human being is the poet only, but he opens that meaningfulness to all the poem's readers.
What are poets for? I'm tempted to be funny or facetious, but I do not want to antagonize friends who take their poetry very seriously. So I'll be very serious and say that poets write what they write because they have something to say, and the only way they can say it is through the language of poetry. Whether the utterance is good or bad is immaterial -- the person who has put the words together is following an impulse (learned in the classroom, in a workshop or in a public event) called "composing" and the words he has strung together make his "poem." Of course, our "poet" is hoping that the words will reach people sensitive to the nuances of language, and such people will seek out the "sense" that the nuances together make, and thereby get what he "means." Briefly then, the poet sensitizes us to language, and having accomplished that, opens us up to the load of ideas, feelings, moods, persuasions and convictions that language brings to the reader or listener rendered vulnerable by the various skills of the creative artist.
Ano ang silbi ng mga makata? Bilang isang panlipunang katanungan, dapat itong sagutin batay sa pampulitikang pangangailangan ng ating lipunan sa kasalukuyang panahon. Sa ating lipunang hati ayon sa nagtutunggaliang interes ng mga uring panlipunan, ang pampulitikang batayang ito ng pagsisilbi ng mga makata, gayundin ng mga kabilang sa iba?t ibang uri at sektor ng lipunan, ay umaalinsunod sa ganitong malaking hidwaan. Halimbawa, ang tindig pampulitika ng mga makatang binasbasan ang sarili noon pang 1990 bilang "world-class poets" at kailan lang ay nag-aleluyang sila na ang nasa tuktok ng panulaan sa Pilipinas sa bagong dantaon ay nakikinabang sa mga palisiya at programa ng malalaking komprador at panginoong maylupa at burukratang kapitalista tungkol sa imperyalistang globalisasyon at ibayong pagpapatindi ng kalagayang malakolonyal at malapyudal sa ating bansa. Ang mga pinuno ng pangkating ito ay may mahabang kasaysayan ng pangangayupapa sa nangakaraan at kasalukuyang rehimeng pang-estado, ng panlilinlang sa mga bagong makata sa pamamagitan ng mga oportunistang teoryang pampanulaan (tulang pulitikal na walang pinapanigan), pusisyon at pabuya, ng paghihiwalay ng mga makata at kanilang likha sa sariling lipunan batay sa mga latak ng New Criticism na hinimud sa pusali ng Cold War. Sa kabilang banda, ang tindig pampulitika ng mga makata ng pambansa-demokratikong rebolusyon (34 taon na nga ang itinatagal, at mangyayaring tumagal pa) ay akma sa pangangailangan ng mga uring api't pinagsasamantalahan mga manggagawa't magbubukid, kabataan, kababaihan at bata, mababang panggitnang uri, pambansang minorya, atbp. Nasa tula't kilos nila ang dakilang pakikibaka at mithi ng sambayanang Pilipino.
Noon lang ikalawang bahagi ng dekada sisenta natutunang itanong ng mga makata sa sarili sa paraang publiko: Ano ang silbi? Sino ang pagsisilbihan? Paano? Mainam ngayong ulitin ang tanong.
I think this species should be condemned for utter (that's a good pun, huh?) uselessness. They shouldn't be bothering ordinary, innocent people with their inordinate concern over language and what it means to the world. The world should be left alone without languange and poets. Otherwise it cannot go about its inane business of, as the pop song goes, staying alive. For how can life thrive if it keeps bothering with language? Why must it stop and think (in its mindless hurtling towards... where?) every once and a while and know what it's doing, to the world and and to itself? Why must it bother about the exact name of what it is, what it feels, what it is for, why it is there at all. Life should be left alone without knowing itself. That is the secret of its bliss. Then it can go about and laugh its stupid laugh when it sees itself--people, animals, plants, the whole caboodle of life--slowly erasing itself from the universe, in ignorance, in unconsciousness, in sheer know-nothing-ness. Then it can go about annihilating itself--in wars, in greed, in pure, unadulterated mindlessness. They say the Word was the beginning of the World. Well, the Word is also the Original Sin. It banished us from ignorant bliss. It taught us responsibility and pain. Responsibility for ourselves and for others. For how can we be responsible for things we don't know? How can we know things if we don't have names for them? How can we know without words? Unless we don't want to know. Then nothing exists. Then we have no use for names. Then we have no use for others. Then we have no use even for ourselves. Then both Bush and Saddam, Palestine and Israel, poverty and injustice, floods and flowers, malls and mountains, piranhas and flamingoes... don't exist. That's why poets (and anybody who ever bothers about words and language) should be banished. (Or at least, they should be outlawed, exiled and left to themselves like the monks and hermits of old, copying and illuminating texts, vanishing into libraries, thriving in secret, or, in their modern incarnations, be the anchorites of the Internet, encoding the mysteries of the universe. Amen.)
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