“A beautiful, moving example of the poetry of place.”
Winner of the 2020 Gintong Aklat Award for Poetry
“If culture is a form of survival, then Merina not only enriches Philippine poetry but also enables Ivatan culture to thrive in a language that his tillage has made hospitable.”
–John B. Labella
“Among our best poets today…[Merina] forges his own path through the lexicon wilderness of language and makes his own clearing.”
–Gemino H. Abad
Available from Ateneo de Manila University Press, the Philippines.
(excerpt from the PREFACE)
AFTER A DAY AT SEA, fishermen in our village often gather in a circle to divide the catch. We squat low on the ground, arms dripping with seawater. One of us rinses a knife and slits the belly of a fish. Another grabs a spoon and, using its edge, scrapes the tough scales and fins. There’s a lot of laughter, jokes, teasing, and storytelling. This is called atatayen, dividing the catch, when everyone gets their share of the day’s work and each person’s contribution is recognized. You may also find someone drawing out a glass of palek, the native sugarcane wine, to start a song amid the chopping and cleaning.
Lipus ko am panahanen ko ava du payhudhuran
ta riyalen nu araw, ta riyalen nu araw.
(I don’t make my relative pass on the hill’s ridge
for there the sun shines down brightly.)
These lines are from a Laji, the oral poetic tradition of Batanes. It’s a tradition that has been passed down through generations. Lajis can be funny or tragic, celebratory or mournful. They spin tales, recount village events, and express longing and joy. I have spent many hours during these past fifteen years or so seeking out the last elders here on the islands who know these songs, recording and transcribing their voices and talking to them about how they learned their art and where it comes from. Though it is a tradition constantly in danger of vanishing, I do not learn the songs for the sake of nostalgia. Rather, I believe our contemporary world—with its challenges and forgetfulness—is in need of this artistic imagination, these rare and valuable phrases that express a particular way of living, a specific balance with the natural world. They are gifts from our ancestors, who were also flawed, also full of dreams, also brilliant in their own way.
Batanes is the northernmost province of the Philippines, located in the deep channels where the Pacific Ocean meets the China Sea. It is remote and has been for many generations, yet it has also been a crossing point for people from what today is Taiwan, to the north, and Indonesia, to the southwest. It is home to Ivatans, the indigenous community that has made the rough seas and volcanic hills their home since before national boundaries were drawn.
It is also where my family is from and where we live today.
Preview a poem from Di Achichúk and read & listen to other poetry by Dorian S. Merina here.