Drawing from Abad's introduction, one could regard the stories as a quest of memory, and the poems a probe of feeling, which both seek to define our humanity as Filipino. Whether the subject in story or poem is love or family, a natural function or even an idea, what is crucial for the definition is the integrity of the fictional persona's response. But the form that integrity takes is always, for both persona and reader, a work of imagination.
The poet and literary critic Gémino H. Abad was born on February 5, 1939 in Sta. Ana, Manila.
At present, he is a University Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines. His current writing and research include “Upon Our Own Ground”, a two- volume historical anthology of short stories in English, 1956- 1972, with critical introduction; “Our Scene So Fair”, a book of critical essays on the poetry in English since 1905 to the mid- 50s, and; “Where No Words break”, a volume of his own poems.
His parents are the noted novelist, playwright and essayist in Sugbuanon and Spanish, Antonio M. Abad, who was at one time Chair of the Department of Spanish in UP, and Jesusa H. Abad, professor of Spanish in UP. He is married to Mercedes A. Rivera, with whom he has five children.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, magna cum laude, from UP on 1963, and has been teaching English literature and creative writing since then in the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature, even after his retirement in 2004. He earned his Master’s degree with honors, 1966, and Ph.D in English, at the University of Chicago under a Rockefeller Fellowship Grant. In 1993, he was appointed University Professor in Literature, the highest academic rank at the University of the Philippines.
In UP, he served as Secretary of the University and the Board of Regents from 1977- 1982; as Vice- President for Academic Affairs, 1987- 1990, and; as Director of Likhaan: the UP Creative Writing Center, 1995- 1998. He was the first holder of the Carlos P. Romulo Professional Chair in Literature from 1982- 1983, and received the UP Outstanding Faculty Award for 1985- 1986. He was also holder of the Irwin Chair for Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University, 1993. He received the Chancellor’s Award as Best Office Administrator in 1998 for his management of the UP Creative Writing Center as its Director.
He was a Fellow at the Cambridge Seminar, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 1988; a Fellow in the International Writers Program, University of Iowa, 1990; a Visiting Professor at the Center for Philippine Studies, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, 1991; a Fellow at the Oxford Conference on Teaching Literature Overseas, Corpus Christi College, 1995, and; Exchange Professor in Literature at St. Norbert College Wisconsin, 1998, and at Singapore Management University, 2003; represented the Philippines in the 3rd “Mediterranea International Festival of Literature and the Arts” in Rome, July 2006.
Abad is also a member of the UP Writers Club and founding member of the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), which puts out the Caracoa (since 1982)- the only poetry journal in English in Asia. He has served as director and member of the teaching staff in numerous Writers Workshops in UP, Siliman/ Dumaguete, MSU- IIT, and San Carlos University/ Cornelio Gaigao Workshop. He is a judge in various literary contests such as the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, Graphic, Free Press, NVM Gonzales Fiction Awards, and Maningning Miclat Literary Awards. He is a speaker/ paper reader in various writers’ national conferences and various international conferences of scholars.
He was a columnist in The Manila Chronicle, a weekly column called “Exchange”, with NVM Gonzales, Sylvia Ventura and Luning Bonifacio Ira; The Evening Paper, a weekly column “Coming through”, with NVM Gonzales and Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo; Musa: The Philippine Literature Magazine, a monthly column called “Vates: Our Poets Speak”, and; Flip, a monthly column “Poet’s Clearing”.
He is cited in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992, as among “poets of note”. He is also included in the Encyclopedia of Post- Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Eugene Benson and L. W. Conolly (London: Routledge, 1994) and the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (IX: Philippine Literature, 1994).
Gémino Abad rightfully deserves all the praise. This collection of stories and poems is truly worthwhile. I admit that I was surprised when I saw half of this book was actually composed of short stories because I was expecting it to only have his poetry. It was a nice surprise still, the stories were very entertaining. The atmospheres were poignant and well established. I specifically love the very first story in the line up called "The Garden Swing". It was interesting to see how love looked like in the Philippines went it was all writing letters and no cellphones.
When it came to the poems, I had a hard time latching onto his imagery. And I was very uncomfortable for some time while reading the first few poems. Until I read about four and I finally realized why it was uncomfortable. He had the purpose of critiquing language in it's most fundamental state. It was uncomfortable because of the dissonance that it creates when you try critique language using-- well, language!
His self-awareness is expertly ingrained in the poems though, so you cannot make fun of him. And you cannot say he is not aware of the dissonance that is birthed. This set of poems have completely changed my point of view of what words are and the power they hold. It also taught me that overuse of words is- a thing- and it should be avoided as much as possible.
There's this constant reiteration and emphasis on the relationship of thought and text. Words are just letters; Thoughts make them meaningful. Seems mundane but it was so impactful to me. He is saying words are just vehicles, do not fuss over them to much. The memory and the feeling is what matters. And so what if you can't put some of them into words? Let them be what they are without the need to label them.
There was also this line in his "Mind and Language" poem that says: Neither does the mind rest as the world forms carefully around each word. The anti-thesis of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis! To put it simply, it made me go into shock. It was my first time to be offered the idea that the world or the culture doesn't dictate language, rather it's the other way around!
The tendency is, the simpler ideas or thoughts are more easily communicated. So they get executed faster and in bigger numbers. These simpler ideas, feelings, and thoughts materialize more and they go on to comprise the world and dictate how it is structured. The complex ideas, thoughts and feelings that cannot be put into words are held inside us and they should be respected even though they cannot materialize; Even though we cannot figure out how to accommodate them. Like the kind of grief you just can't talk about. The kind of happiness that makes you want to hide. The kind of shame that melts you from the inside. Loss that you just can't describe.
I was never the same after reading this collection. I hope I come across more works like this.
Sadly, I've lost my copy of this book. But even now, years after I last read this, the story of Rene and Cita and the bougainvilleas still haunt my mind. Those ending lines paint so painfully well the feeling of having to accept the things that happen for no good reason.
The other stories are also masterful. I remember a vivid slice-of-life during the Japanese occupation, a setting so alive it's almost like I grew up in that barrio.
Finally, there is a poem that particularly interested me-- I could never understand my parents' smoking habits when I was a child. There is one poem that captures that conflict very well, and allowed me to sympathize with the sentiments of such parents.