By comparison with the youthful Vietnamese writers of the third volume, the three Filipino poets in this fourth anthology are of a much older generation, and generally the pieces in-cluded are not recent work. Rolando S. Tinio (1937-1997) was a theatre director who wrote poetry in both English and Tagalog, and it is possible to see the influence of the theatre in the deft characterisation employed in works such as ‘The Granny’, ‘Song for the Dead’ and ‘Af-ternoon Coffee’. Scene-setting and the disposition of objects illustrate person and circum-stance, as Tinio uses observation to shape the poetic voice. Consider the beginning of ‘After-noon Coffee’:
As if she grew fat on the cold and hardship, Ensconced under a cardboard pergola and rotten iron sheet, Ripened by the noons, Turned grey-haired by merciless dust, For years she was in my view: Companion of boiled peanuts, papaya and jackfruit Blowflies, too fastidious, weren’t tempted by, Like her always in season. The tragic Downstairs is tender in its disposition of discarded objects: The day before yesterday was the anniversary of her death: Bashed by the Japanese, mistaken for someone else they say. I fixed a padlock to the drawer And crazily Slipped the key Into a lotion bottle.
In contrast, poems originally written in Taglish (a mix of Tagalog and English) celebrate a disrupted linguistic surface, both in performance and on the page. ‘Postscript’, with the poet’s own English language lines set in italics, is an example:
Adios America w/all your star-spangled ideas You made us idiots No match for you CRAZY MAN CRAZY CRAZY I get so furious everytimeithink we were put through school and come out silly Because we’re out of touch (chua chua) Because we’re out of touch (chua chua)
Making up this volume from the Philippines are Jose P. Lacaba (b1945) and Rio Alma (b.1944). Their work continues this series’ trend to surprise us with its selection of poets and an exciting range of subject and style. Lacaba’s verse, with its subtle social observation, in-cludes the refinement, indeed artifice, of the lyric. ‘Letter from father to son’ is particularly moving:
We talk about a lot of things, trivial things, yet never talk about what’s close to the bone ... Still I know when I’m plastered from beer and tequila, you’re ready to drive, and you can be sure when those aliens land, it will be over my dead body when and if they get you.
In contrast to Lacaba’s spare verse, Rio Alma’s poetry tends to follow the trajectory of the emotion generated by the poem. This might be a meditation on a particular state of being, as in ‘On Loneliness’, or as an evocation on the melancholy and tragedy of contemporary rural life – a theme he shares with Lưu Mêlan – as in ‘The Returning Herons’. His poetry appears to be pitched at performance, with subject and image moving together in tragic and communicative unison. Of the meditative poems, ‘On Suicide’ possesses a mordant iciness while ‘On Loneliness’, with its haunting imagery, inhabits the dwelling place of loneliness:
... Loneliness will make its appearance In the form of a green enchantress With a circumspect and kindly smile And an armful of dreams for the gash in your heart. It will sing to you and while singing Alter scent and the colour of its dress. Now ruby, now silver or copper, now emerald Until you fall asleep with cobwebbed eyelids. When you make it to the dream’s noonday, however, Again it will pull apart the wound in your chest, Rub lime juice and salt into it Till it has grown black pearls.
These volumes give the reader a snippet of the enormously various subject and style to be found in contemporary poetry from the Asia-Pacific region. By not focusing on one style, one generation or one singular vision or point of view, this series from Vagabond Press effectively disperses any idea of a singular regional canon and embraces diversity and inclusivity. In this way, the series does what is, perhaps, the key function of anthology: it encourages the reader to look further; to seek out the many poets currently writing work that is worthy of close reading and critical engagement.