Day 5: Workshop Summary

Workshop Session 7: Paul Castillo

There’s a thin line between science and poetry, said Paul Castillo during his workshop session.The poems in his collection, “Luna’t Lunas,” make use of different metaphors related to health and medicine, typically placed against scenarios of loss and affliction.

His workshop session, moderated by Joey Baquiran, started with a presentation of Castillo’s Poetics. “Ang pinaka-layunin ko [dito sa aking akda] ang pagpapakita sa purpose ng panitikan na meron siyang kakayahang mag-lunas sa mga suliranin ng pamayanan o bayan.”

Yet one of the points for discussion during the workshop was the lack of social relevance shown in his poems. “Meron tayong layunin na magkaroon ng relevance yung sining, sa panahong isinasantabi ang humanidades,” Bomen Guillermo noted.

Baticulon suggested for him to explore health issues prevalent in the Philippines, such as the prevailing stigma against certain diseases. R. B. Abiva, on the other hand, forwarded the idea of grounding the collection in a more culturally-relevant background. Similarly, X Vallez suggested for Castillo to look more into our own culture of local and folk medicine.

Luna Sicat-Cleto praised the poem “Perigee,” for Castillo’s use of the medicine tablet as an image for the moon. “Napakabago ng imagery na ‘yan.” Sicat-Cleto also urged him to take risks and delve deeper into the dramatics of each situation presented in his pieces.

To add to the comments, Jun Cruz Reyes proposed the idea of exploring other “diseases” familiar to the Filipino culture. “Yung usog, kulam, pasma. Kailangan itanong, bakit ang mayayaman, hindi nagkakasakit ng ganoon? Kung gagawa ka ng collection, kailangan titignan yung totality. Ano pa ang ibang hindi naisulat?”

Reyes suggested for Castillo to layer the narratives with issues of class and how medicine or health is largely affected by it.

“Kulang sa ambition–sa insight–sa optimization ng dramang ito,” Tolentino says. “Nakukulangan tayo sa rage at relevance sa ganitong klase ng collection.”

Anna Sanchez told Castillo not to overlook other health issues, such as psychiatric disorders, while Gonzales urged him to look at the gender aspect of the theme.

Workshop Session 8: Gerry Los Banos

Challenging the difficult, and rather controversial, genre of contemporary “sick-lit” in YA fiction, Gerry Los Banos’ novel-in-progress was tackled by the fellows and panelists during his session.The workshop was moderated by Charlson Ong.

Los Banos detailed how his work came to be by discussing the typical ills of popular YA sick-lit. “I took ideas on what to write and what not to write when it comes to writing about a protagonist with a terminal illness,” Los Banos said. After presenting his Poetics essay, he asked for advice on how to best deal with the ending, given that the protagonist is inflicted with an incurable terminal disease.

“Reading this, I now ask myself, would I recommend [your work] to young readers? What would the kids get from this story?” Baticulon asked Los Banos, noting that the ending should not be devoid of hope but should neither be feeding false hope. The doctor-writer urged Los Banos to focus more on humanity.

“When it comes to disease, sometimes, the destination doesn’t matter. Siguro bitawan mo na ‘yung problematizing of the ending and focus more on the journey,” Francis Quina also said in response to Los Banos’ question. Quina shared his own personal experience with cancer back when he was a young adult and told Los Banos how alienating it had been.

“Dahil napaka-warm and inclusive [nitong book mo], hindi na na-capture yung alienation,” he said.

Lumba noted that the story could be grounded more on our culture and also suggested for Los Banos to explore the stages of grief over time.

Sanchez pointed out some words or phrases in the text that made it difficult to determine the age of the supposed young adult protagonist.

Reyes gave Los Banos pointers on how to better deliver the drama to make the narrative more powerful. Dawn Marfil agreed with Reyes’ comment about the lack of drama, and pointed out that there are parts glossed over by the narration that would have worked better broken down with more details and dialogue.

Guillermo urged Los Banos to employ football (a sport the protagonist plays) as an extended metaphor. He also questioned why Los Banos had chosen to give the protagonist an incurable disease, saying that taking away the possibility of him surviving, however little, also takes away from the overall narrative.

Workshop Session 9: Dawn Marfil

Moderator Jing Hidalgo began the session by talking about creative non-fiction as a genre. She then introduced Marfil, who had previously been one of her students.

Marfil, author of “Looking for Polaris,” is now working on another autobiographical collection before, according to her, moving onto fiction. In her Poetics, she talked about how she dealt with the prolonged absence of her father as well the strained relationship she had with her mother.

“Speedy Gonzales, Won’t You Come Home?” is the first entry in the collection and it talks about her father’s homecoming–a father who has not been a very good father for the persona.

The personal nature of the story affected the reading of the piece, as well as the discussion that revolved around it during the session.

Baticulon raised concerns of how the text can resonate with the readers, given that it’s a deeply personal experience.

Lumba commended her for her writing style, which, according to her, effectively conveyed pain even through a humorous narrative. However, she said she had reservations about the ending, which showed the persona forgiving the father, felt too abrupt.

Abad suggested for Marfil to end the piece with an image–one that would “give flesh” to what she actually felt about her father. For him, the ending does not feel earned because the father “has not grown up.” He suggested for her to use an image show how her perspective of her father had changed.

Tolentino added to the ongoing discussion. “From a reader’s perspective, we’re not at all convinced [that you’ve forgiven your father].”

Marfil was urged to open, however subtly, the possibility that perhaps she hasn’t truly forgiven her father yet, despite what the persona seems to think.

“The word I would use is acceptance, not forgiveness,” Abad told Marfil.

Tolentino suggested for her to intersperse moments of instrospection in other sections of the essay and to build them up into a metaphor to make the narrative, as well as her decision to forgive her father, more effective.

Aside from these comments, Hidalgo and Sanchez also questioned the harsh language the persona often used to describe her mother and urged Marfil to write more about her in a proper perspective.

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