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Book Review

A case for the Filipino identity

Trill and Mordent
Trill & Mordent
by Luisa A. Igloria
WordTech Editions (Cincinnati, OH)
Copyright 2005

The book's poetry is a delight to the senses and intellect for its luxuriance and sultriness, as well as for its reverent articulation of the past, much like the idea of "Filipinoness" it corresponds to.

Filipino American poet and writer Luisa Igloria, an Associate professor at Old Dominion University , once discouraged contributors to one of her books from holding fast "to a single horizon celebrating an idea of Filipinos at global ease anywhere in the world." In a sense, it could be said that Igloria was referring to the transience of the Filipino identity, to its capacity for overcoming historical obscurity and misrepresentation, and to its ceaseless redefinition through the medium of Filipino and FilAm artistry and literature.

As much as any of her peers in Filipino and FilAm literary circles, Igloria has made the case, through her works, for the recognition of the Filipino identity, an identity that will forever be engaged in the process of "becoming" and not be regulated to the fixed category of "being." Identity development after all, is an intricate course of action that entails a multiperspective approach and a constant negotiation and reshaping, only to have the final product ready to be replaced anew again and again.

In her latest collection of poetry, "Trill and Mordent," Igloria tries to give her reading audiences a feel for the Filipino identity and for the thoughts and experiences that form it. The book's poetry is a delight to the senses and intellect for its luxuriance and sultriness, as well as for its reverent articulation of the past, much like the idea of "Filipinoness" it corresponds to.

Igloria possesses an amazing talent for choosing the perfect word at the perfect place at the perfect time in a poem. It is a talent that produces an indescribable effect on the reader. You simply cannot teach this kind of poetic acumen or touch; only the best poets are born with this ability.

But Igloria's poetry also attempts to discern at least a slice of the existential design that every human is a part of. In the poem "Argument and Consolation," Igloria as the presumed narrator is asked by an anonymous poet whether she is "leading the life that my soul wants me to lead." Could she have chosen something other than her "life of passion or the imagination"? Could her life have been more prosperous or contented? Every poet worth his or her existential salt asks these types of life questions, questions that cannot be answered but that bring us closer to a more fulfilling comprehension of existence:

The poet asks am I leading

the life that my soul wants me to lead,

am I desiring to be someplace else

other than where I am and thus being a thorn

in the side of the god who loves me and suffers

because there's something he sees and I don't-

presumably the lives ensuing from all the other

choices I haven't but could have made at some

indeterminate moment in the past; the possibility

I might look better, be wealthier and more at ease

with my station in life: instead of a bank teller,

a lawyer; instead of a lawyer, a judge; instead of a

scientist, a CEO."

(Excerpted from "Argument and Consolation")

Igloria's poetic style and substance are at once adroit and exquisite. Her imagery is graceful, contemplative, rustic, and cerebral; her diction is refined, intuitive, and abundant with possibilities. Igloria's poetry calls to mind the works of Robert Frost. Like Frost, she puts a premium on location and physical environment. For Frost, geography and locale were conduits for narrowing the gap between the individual and the meaning of life. For Igloria, setting and landscape provides an inspired link to what she calls "the idea of history."

History and memory run parallel to Igloria's lavish and naturalistic scenery in "Trill and Mordent." The acts of reminiscence in her poetry may not necessarily be in actual conjunction with her descriptions of setting, but each in their own, sometimes obscure, way allude to the author's deference to the past and her poetical perception of it:

In late summer we walked past

rows of boxwood, houses where porch

swings had folded the accordion

sounds of wind and rocking away.

At dusk, as though to hurry

us along the path, fireflies-

also called June bugs

here-circled our heels.


The hours are always ripening,

like fruit we have chosen

with our own hands.

We climbed the stairs and poured

wine to make the glasses ring,

toasting the future, which means

what cannot return.

(excerpt from "Tree of Prophecy.")

These readings are anything but the final interpretive word on Igloria's verses. Active imaginations are welcomed by the author to discover other meanings in her aesthetically appealing and impressionistic poetry, meanings that will foster spiritual and intellectual growth, but make no claims to absolutism.

Luisa Igloria would not have it any other way for what she was trying to do in "Trill and Mordent" was to convey "different ways in which to ponder my (our) relationship to poetry, to art, to 'beauty'.especially in the context of some of the climate of anxiety and uncertainty about the future that we all as citizens of a 21st century world must feel to some extent in our own way."

Strangely enough, Igloria's inclination towards centrifugal energies in her poetry are the very same forces that calm us, that provide us with a portrait of beauty both natural and poetic, in what is a chaotic and uncertain world.

(Reprinted from The Philippine News Dec 14, 2005 issue)

© Allen Gaborro

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