“Without language, the finest invention of the human imagination, there is no memory, no history, no culture, no civilization,” said Dr. Gémino H. Abad, revered poet and literary luminary, as he addressed a gathering of writers and the culturati during the awards night of the 65th Carlos Palanca Awards, the most prestigious literary contest in the Philippines.
Abad is a multi-awarded poet, essayist, fictionist and editor of several landmark literary anthologies and books that chart the history of Philippine literature in English. He has also won the Palanca Awards many times in the Poetry in English category, alongside other literary accolades such as the National Book Awards by the Manila Critics Circle, the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas and the Patnubay ng Sining and Kalinangan from the City of Manila, among others.
A democratic writing world
For him, the plurality of styles and schools of writing is indicative of a true democracy even in the writing world, and that not one true school should be considered the sole acceptable standard or even canon. “There isn’t, for instance, one way of writing the poem, for there are kinds and kinds of poems, depending only on one’s principle of classification, and even the criteria of excellence for any literary work change over time, like any literary taste, fashion, or fad,” he explained.
Language is the soul of a culture
Dr. Abad also extolled on language being the essence and soul of a culture, and that writers are committed to forge and reinvent it for the latter to survive: “He must work the language even as the farmer works the soil to produce his crop; as the writer works the language, he might also note that the ground of the language he employs is his people’s culture and history, their day-to-day living in their own time and place.”
Using poetry as the embodiment of all kinds of literary work, Abad told the audience of its importance in the culture of all humanity. “The poem, the literary work, is a verbal artifact, its soul or inner form is its meaningfulness from reader to reader. On its own terms, the poem, the literary work is already an interpretation of a human experience.”
The Filipino-ness in Philippine literature
Abad also spoke on the quintessential role of literature in the identity of the Filipino race. “Our own literature speaks in/from many tongues; what we have then is an archipelago of letters. The hidden ‘diwa’ or spirit there is our Filipino-ness which isn’t an essence but a faith. Filipino-ness isone’s own individual sense of his country: his own people, their own culture and history as he understands it,” he essayed.
Abad was conferred the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi, the Palanca Awards’ special honorary award, by Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Director-General Mrs. Sylvia Palanca-Quirino and Carlos Palanca Foundation Vice President, Mr. Carl Anthony S. Palanca during the 2015 awards night held at Manila Peninsula.
A prolific writer, he has authored ten volumes of poetry, nine books of critical essays, and two short story collections. He also edited a landmark three-volume anthology of Philippine poetry and a six-volume historical anthology of Philippine short stories in English. As professor of English literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines, he also served at his alma mater in various capacities – Secretary of the University, Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Director of the UP Creative Writing Center (now the UP Institute of Creative Writing). He is now a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines.
The Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (Palanca Awards) was named in honor of businessman and philanthropist Don Carlos Palanca, Sr. It aims to develop Philippine Literature by providing incentives for writers to craft their most outstanding literary works as well as serve as a treasury of Philippine literary gems.