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National Artist Virgilio Almario releases new poetry book ‘Lemlúnay’

MANILA, Philippines — Lemlúnay is a word or term that denotes the concept of paradise in the mythology of the T’boli people of southern Philippines, thus signifying the aspiration or dream of a better country through a deeper and more critical reflection on our history and culture and interactions with cultural products.

Lemlúnay also happens to be the title of National Artist for literature Virgilio S. Almario’s new book, which was launched last December 2.

Published by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), "Lemlúnay: Pagunita sa Gunita" is a collection of poetry featuring 30 of Almario’s poems written in Filipino in the last six years, from 2018 to 2023, using his pseudonym Rio Alma. These poems are accompanied by excellent English translations by poet Marne Kilates, who wrote his thoughts on translating the work as well as the significance of the poems.

This new book caps a prolific year for the former chairman of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino and NCCA. On March 12, 2023, his birthday, Almario launched "Mga Póon, Mga Piyón, Mga Pusóng, Isang Púsong," his collection of poetry published by San Anselmo Publications Inc.

His second book this year, "Ang Wikang Pambansa at Amerikanisasyon: Isang Kasaysayan ng Pakikihamok ng Filipino para Maging Wikang Pambansa," was published by Ateneo de Manila University Press. Then came the third edition of "Si Balagtas at ang Panitikan Para sa Kalayaan," published by University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Now, it’s the turn of "Lemlúnay," which was recently launched in rites organized by the NCCA, Office of Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Filipinas Institute of Translation and Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo.

Held at the Ignacio B. Gimenez Gallery in University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, the book launch was aptly a literary celebration attended by esteemed writers, artists, historians, academicians and cultural workers, including National Artist for dance Alice Reyes, National Artist for film and broadcast arts Ricky Lee, National Artist for music Ramon Santos, UP Chancellor Edgardo Carlo L. Vistan II and former Vice President Leni Robredo.

The book is one of Almario’s most visual books, with photographs by journalist and publication designer Roel Hoang Manipon, and design by Manipon and Mervin Concepcion Vergara.

In his speech, Almario provided the context in which the book was written, saying that it — along with his most recent books, "Ang Wikang Pambansa at Amerikanisasyon: Isang Kasaysayan ng Pakikihamok ng Filipino para Maging Wikang Pambansa," "Si Balagtas at ang Panitikan Para sa Kalayaan" and "Sapantahàng Wika" (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2022) — is a product of his search for new methods and ways of writing poetry and looking at Philippine history and culture as more Filipino and sans colonial influences.

“At ang lahat ng ito ay recent na produkto ng aking mga pag-iisip. Kasabay nito ang 'Lemlúnay.' Bumubuo ako ngayon ng isang panitikan para sa aking sarili na nagsasama-sama ang aking sariling pagtula at aking critical mind para mabuo ang isang bagong matatawag kong sapantahà tungkol sa ating panitikan, isang bagong paraan ng pagtingin sa ating panitikan na matatawag nating higit na autentiko, Filipino at hindi masyadong nalalaganapan ng kolonyalismo at Amerikanisasyon,” said Almario.

(“All of these are recent products of my ponderings, including Lemlúnay. I am now creating a literature for myself, which will combine my own poetry, my critical mind to form a new theory about our literature, a new way of seeing our literature that is more authentic, Filipino and not much influenced by colonialism and Americanization.”)

He added: “Ang 'Lemlúnay' ay isang paggunita sa ating kasaysayan. Ang naiba rito sa librong ito ay ginawa ko ang pagmumuni tungkol sa kasaysayan ng Filipinas sa pamamagitan ng mga cultural objects, magmula sa primitive art objects, relics, at mga natuklasan recently na mga fossils at iba pa, gayundin ang mga likha ng ating mga dakilang pintor at manunulat na kailangan nating balikan, pag-aralang mabuti at ituwid sa ating paningin ukol dito.”

(“'Lemlúnay' is a remembrance of our history. The difference of this book is that I reflected on the history of the Philippines through cultural objects, from primitive art objects, relics, and recently discovered fossils and others, as well as works by our great painters and writers, which we must return to, study diligently and correct our perception about them.”)

Kilates, in his Translator’s Note, considers Lemlúnay as “a new landmark work.”

“In it he is the Rio Alma that lures us with the sparkle and grit of his poetic language, and grips us with his penetrating insights and never lets go of our questioning mind. 'Lemlúnay,' as we now know, should be celebratory. But the voice in many of these poems is elegiac. The visual reality apparently would give us 'eye-witness reader and listener-over-the-shoulder' no quarter from the growing realization that, either by slow on-coming tide or the rush of tsunami, sorrow is at hand. On the other hand, as the poet sings the Songs of the Ordinary (from the contemplation of art to the flying of a child’s kite) and holds in front of himself the Mirror of History, 'Lemlúnay' demands the re-visioning and re-education of the Filipinos, under centuries of post-colonial oppression and no little deceit, into a state of real self-pride, national self-respect and true human dignity,” Kilates shared.

RELATED: Poetry for our times

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