Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Guest Blogger: Diona Filipino Poetry by Ralph Semino Galán

Ralpah Semino Galán

I am happy to feature Ralph Semino Galán as my Guest Blogger. He shares with us his work on a unique form of Filipino poetry called "diona" which has been labeled Pinoy Haiku. The poems are in Tagalog and are about coronavirus. This is part of his larger writing project on the subject matter. ~ Cecilia Brainard

Ralph Semino Galán, poet, literary and cultural critic, translator and editor, is the Assistant Director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies. He is an Associate Professor of Literature, the Humanities and Creative Writing in the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters and the UST Graduate School. He has a B.A. in English (Major in Literature), magna cum laude, from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, and an M.A. in English Studies (Major in Creative Writing) from UP Diliman. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Literature in the UST Graduate School. His poems in English and Filipino have won prizes in the national poetry contests. His works, both creative and critical, have been published in numerous national and international literary anthologies and critical journals.

He is the author of the following books: The Southern Cross and Other Poems (UBOD New Authors Series, NCCA, 2005), Discernments: Literary Essays, Cultural Critiques and Book Reviews (USTP, 2013), From the Major Arcana (USTPH, 2014), and Sa mga Pagitan ng Buhay at Iba pang Pagtutulay (USTPH, 2018). He served as a juror of the Gawad Buhay!: the Philippine Legitimate Stage (Philstage) Awards for the Performing Arts from its establishment in 2008 until 2014. He is currently working on a research project sponsored by the UST Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities titled “Labaw sa Bulawan: Translating 100 Mindanao Poems from Cebuano into English.”

Isang Daang Diona sa Panahon ng Corona
(100 Diona in Time of Corona)

by Ralph Semino Galán

Copyright 2020 by Ralph Semino Galán

The diona is an indigenous or native Tagalog fixed poetic form. The traditional diona is composed of three octosyllabic lines with a monorhyme, or three lines containing eight syllables each that rhyme with one another. Since it is made up of three lines, the diona has been labeled by some Filipino literary enthusiasts as the Pinoy haiku. Like the other traditional Tagalog songs, the diona was originally sung rather than recited. The diona as a domestic song could either be a courting song or a wedding song. Noceda and Sanlúcar have preserved the diona below which pertains to marriage in their Vocabulario:

Mayag aco sa masiguing,
ang malubay na ang aquin,
malayo ang madarating.

I’m ready to take on a taut strand,
but I’d rather take the slack one,
for I could go far that way.
(translated by Bienvenido L. Lumbera)

In my version of the diona, I have mutated the form a bit—the way a virus mutates the genetic materials of a cell—by removing one syllable per line. In doing so, I realized that the form has become more flexible if not dynamic, for instead of three octosyllabic rhyming lines that are typically end-stopped, what I have are three lines with seven syllables each, similar to the middle line of the haiku and the second, fourth and fifth lines of the tanka, another traditional Japanese fixed poetic form. These three seven-syllabled lines have proven to be more malleable, capable of penetrating all sorts of subject matter and types of consciousness, as well as producing different kinds of acoustic and rhythmic effects despite the monorhyme, the way the coronavirus-19 is affecting and altering the very fabric of our individual and collective lives.

With regards to the tercet, I have always been particularly attracted to it as a stanzaic unit, rather than to the more commonly deployed quatrain or couplet, since as I have written in the preface of
my second book of poetry in English titled From the Major Arcana (Manila: UST Publishing House, 2014), my sensibility and reading repertoire are heavily “influenced by numerology and the Kabbalah, the number three being symbolic of the unity of mind, body and spirit, hence the Holy Trinity of Roman Catholicism, the stable structure of the pyramid, and in the Wiccan
tradition the tripartite goddess of virgin, mother and crone.

Furthermore, there are other significant associations with the number three: we perceive the flow of time as past, present and future (the very essence of divination), physical space is three-
dimensional (height, length and width), and there are three persons in English grammar, which I have somehow exploited in shifting the point of view and/or speaking voice (persona) from
poem to poem. (In some of the poems, like “Hermit,” “Hanged Man” and “Devil,” it is the character depicted in the card himself who utters from a first person point of view. In others, like “High Priestess” and “Empress,” the poetic persona addresses the card’s iconic image.) Three can therefore be perceived as the number of progression, probabilities, and the proper order of

But the number three in other traditions does not necessarily denote balance or harmony. In the preface of her novel featuring a love triangle, Instances of the Number 3, British novelist Salley
Vickers says: “It is said there were ancient schools of thought which held that the number 3 is unstable. If the reasons for this belief were ever known they are lost in time. A three-legged stool
refutes the claim, as — less prosaically — we are told does the Christian trinity. Whatever the case, it is a fact that three is a protean number: under certain conditions it will tend to collapse
into two or expand into four ...”

In terms of versification, however, the number three in the form of the tercet does not only embody the rigidity of Apollonian order or the cthonic chaos of the Dionysian, but paradoxically
both flexibility and stricture in lineation. In utilizing the tercet, I have realized that I can contain/ sustain a thought unit by making the third line of a stanza end-stopped; or I can let the idea meander by making it a run-on line that spills over to the next stanza. Moreover, the ebb and flow, push and pull of the lines create a poetic tension which appears to almost mimic the rhythm of nature: cyclical like the changing of the seasons, circular like the endless sequence of birth, death and rebirth.”

Here are the first 20 dionas of my ongoing 100-diona writing project:

Novel Coronavirus 19

Bigla kang naging reyna,
Salot mula sa Tsina,
Maawa ka, tama na!

Ayon sa Banal na Aklat

Sa apat, ang nauna
May pana at corona—
Hudyat, kataposan na!

Ayon sa Baklang Byukonera

Gusto ko ng corona
Nasa ulo ng reyna
Di dulot ay sakuna!

Ayon sa Lasenggong Mahirap

Tanduay ay puwede na,
Aabot din nirvana—
Di ko kaya Corona!

Ayon sa Nagbebenta ng Bulaklak

Rosas ay palaos na,
Nalantang Magdalena—
Mabenta ang corona!

Ayon sa Sawing Mangingibig

Parang koronang tinik
Sa pusong nananabik
Ang covid na nanlintik!

Ayon sa Espesyalistang Mediko

Tulog isinagilid,
Sobrang pagod at said
Mga doktor sa covid!

Ayon sa Pasyenteng Pasaway

Di ako sinungaling,
Sa Wuhan di nanggaling,
Pasensya na sa bahing!

Ayon sa Politikong Kurakot

Magbigay ng donasyon—
Humihingi ng rasyon
Bulsa ko at ambisyon.

Ayon sa Artista ng Pelikula

Wag kayong mag-alala
Kapuso’t Kapamilya
Lahat tayo ay Tala...

Ayon sa Mahaderang Maestra

Utos ko ngayong Lunes:
Isumite sa Martes,
Online, mga papeles!

Ayon sa Nalockdown sa Condo

Kausap ko kisame,
“Ang covid gumagrabe!”—
Ito ay natameme.

Ayon sa Mahilig MagTiktok

Wag manood kung ayaw
Sa aking kanta’t sayaw:
Hilig ko lang gumalaw!

Ayon sa Alter sa Twitter

Buwan ay bumibilog,
Lumalala ang libog,
Pasilip nga ng itlog!

Ayon sa Kalapating Mababa ang Lipad

Saan ako dadapo
Ngayong ako ay hapo?
Barya lang, sige na po!

Ayon sa Kolboy na Walang Booking

Kumakalam ang tiyan,
Bagsak na ang katawan,
Ser, pakape ka naman.

Ayon sa Yumao Kong Ama

Mag-ingat sa bayawak—
Ang ligtas sa pahamak
Tanging nais ko, anak.

Ayon sa Realistikong Tagapagmasid

Hindi kayang sagipin
Lahat ng nadidiin,
Dapat nating tanggapin.

Ayon sa Formalistang Editor

Bago ko ilathala
Sinumete mong tula
Ayusin mo ang tugma.

Ayon sa Pilosopong Intelektwal

Ano kaya ang premise
Ng covid, hypothesis?
Ang sagot, bukas, promise!


This is also published in Cecilia Brainard's official blog:

Read also:

Poem by Ralph Semino Galan "Lamentation" 

Poetry by Elmer Omar Pizo 

Tags: Philippines, Filipino, FilAm, Tagalog, poetry, poems, Haiku, Diona

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