Unknown Feminist Poet from Guagua-A A +A
Monday, January 28, 2013
IF YOU'RE looking for an idiom for "Get tough," better not say "Grow some balls." Testicles are fragile, breakable and must be handled with care.
A more accurate idiom, according to actress Betty White, would be "Grow a vagina," because a vagina can take severe and repeated pounding even from a very determined rapist.
Yesterday, as I went over my dead files, I came across a newspaper clipping of a short poem entitled Revolt from Hymen.
These days, with the air still electrically charged with the RH fallout, a poem about a protesting piece of skin that covers the opening of a woman's genitalia will surely trigger sparks. It's like a Catholic school staging The Vagina Monologues, or a diocese sponsoring a blasphemous exhibit by Mideo Cruz.
Guess what-Revolt from Hymen was written by a woman (gasp!), who's a Kapampangan (double gasp!) who was born in 1907, long before women were even allowed to vote and to wear anything above the ankle!
The poet's name is Angela Manalang-Gloria, born in Guagua, Pampanga but raised in Tabaco, Albay, by a very strict father who sent her to two schools run by an even stricter religious congregation (the Benedictines' St. Agnes Academy and St. Scholastica's College).
She followed her father's wish and took up pre-law at UP, where a faculty member who noticed her writing ability convinced her to shift to liberal arts. She was part of the first generation of female students at the state university.
Soon a rivalry developed between her and another student poet, Jose Garcia Villa. When they both took the exam for literary editor of The Philippine Collegian, she beat the future National Artist for Literature.
It was 1925 and she was only 18. Yet Angela Manalang was already rocking the literary scene in Manila, with critics hailing her as "the only Filipino poetess worthy of the name."
But the American colonial period being dominated by all-male, all-white cliques, Angela Manalang endured sexual and racial discrimination.
Filipino writers at the time, raised in Spanish, were still grappling with the nuances and intricacies of the English language. Angela's rival Jose Garcia Villa called her "at best, a third-rate writer of merely pretty poetry, pleasant amateur verses."
Her American and British professors at UP were also initially critical of her style, but eventually retracted. George Pope Shannon, for example, commended Angela for her "excellent mastery of verse and fine sense of verbal harmony," while T. Inglis Moore called her "our Sara Teasdale-sweet, melodious and charming."
Angela graduated summa cum laude in 1929. She married her former Collegian editor-in-chief, Celedonio Gloria, who allowed her to pursue a writing career while he went into law practice. She became editor of the Herald's Midweek Magazine but resigned after six months due to poor health.
In 1940 she published an anthology of 79 poems (which she had written in the 1920s and 1930s), making her the first Filipino woman to publish a poetry collection written in English. (The next woman to accomplish a similar feat would come only after World War II.)
Her book became her contest piece in the prestigious Commonwealth Literary Awards held that year. Unfortunately, the all-male jury denied her the top prize because one poem in the collection, Revolt from Hymen, was "immoral" and another, Querida, "did not make sense."
First prize went to Rafael Zulueta y da Costa for his collection entitled Like the Molave and honorable mention to Angela's perennial rival, Jose Garcia Villa, for his collection Poems by Doveglion.
Angela's husband was killed during World War II, which meant she had to raise three children as a single parent. From 1946 to 1950 she managed to write only three poems. When her poetry collection was reprinted in 1950, some of the "most objectionable and offensive" poems had to be revised or deleted. Eventually she and her works receded into obscurity.
It was during this time that Angela reinvented herself as a pragmatic, strong-willed and influential businesswoman who sometimes aroused fear and loathing in her community in Tabaco, Albay.
One Tabaco native, Niles Jordan Breis, wrote about his childhood memories of a spiteful old woman living alone in a bahay na bato. His essay, Kung Tawagin Siya'y Angela Buruka, which won first prize in the 2003 Palanca Literary Awards (Filipino essay category), was actually a loving homage to a poet who lived in a community that was clueless about her greatness.
After her death in 1995 at age 88, the National Historical Institute (NHI) recognized her literary legacy by putting up a marker at her bahay na bato.
It's time Kapampangans also recognize Angela Manalang-Gloria of Guagua as another Kapampangan pioneer in Philippine literature, alongside Luisa Gonzaga de Leon of Bacolor, who is the first Filipino woman to author a book, and Zoilo Galang also of Bacolor, who wrote the first English novel in the Philippines.
Lastly, here's Revolt from Hymen, all eight (8) lines of it, which is actually a protest against the then unheard-of of marital rape:
O to be free at last, to sleep at last/As infants sleep within the womb of rest!/To stir and stirring find no blackness vast/With passion weighted down upon the breast,/
To turn the face this way and that and feel/No kiss festering on it like sores,/To be alone at last, broken the seal/That marks the flesh no better than a whore's!
Here's Querida, even shorter with four (4) lines, which denounces the all-too-common practice of extramarital affairs:
The door is closed, the curtains drawn within/One room, a brilliant question mark of light/Outside her gate an empty limousine/Waits in the brimming emptiness of night.
As Neil Jordan Breis said, "She was a sheer rarity during her time, pitting herself and her poetry against a prudish and chauvinistic world."
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on January 29, 2013.