It appears to be an endless debate whether art should be for art’s sake or for social transformation. Interestingly, “Kataga,” in their first book presents a concise and comprehensive anthology of poetry, flash fiction, essays, short stories, and plays that are neither solely beautiful nor utilitarian, but a perfect mixture of both.
Edited by Dr. Reuel Molina Aguila, a Palanca Hall of Famer who writes across genres, “Kataga 1” introduces its readers to the various voices of young and veteran writers. The declaration of the organization itself posits the goal of the movement as a foreshadowing of what to expect from the collection.
Kataga upholds that they will create meaningful works based on the truth and experiences of society in order to contribute to its progress; enrich the art of writing through their individual and collective undertakings; and propagate literature as part of being cultural workers.
Erick Dasig Aguilar opens the collection with the aroma of his coffee, while luring you with its “beingness,” he eventually guides you to the MRT and LRT stations. Then you stay there to wait for a ride. Out of curiosity your eyes run around and take a glance at, zoom in, to every minute detail of the things happening around you—from the counter where you buy the tickets up until the last station, which you wish to not see again the following day. Now you at your destination, your new place, Baseco; it openly welcomes anyone who dares take the challenges of the metropolis.
You sit in front of the television, see a game-show that is hosted by someone who has gone from one station to another, one time slot to another. Finally, you get irritated at how he treats the contestants and dancers, but sooner you realize that after a while, all of them, including you, will need to go home, sleep, and repeat the same routine for the following days.
You turn a few pages after reading the mellifluous poems of Marlon Ala, Mark Angeles, Patrick Noah Bautista, Lean Borlongan, Emmanuel Halabaso, Rose Angelie Hernandez, and Michael Rey Orlino. Then Ma. Cecilia de la Rosa offers you your first lesson on poetry, freedom. Just like in love, she teaches you that force shall be nonexistent for your love to grow by itself. Let her be awakened by the noise outside your house, though it might not sound good, these are the things that might give her a kick for the day. Don’t bother her; wait until she calls you for breakfast, Maki assures you that not much time will pass until your love offers you coffee, fried rice, and tuyo with vinegar and chili. In a while, she will also tell you her dreams, nightmares, and experiences, but don’t dare to ask, let her tell you stories, when the time is right and when she is in the mood. Possibly, she will also ask you for a walk and remind you to never insist on the rhymes, just like letting go of the torn malong.
Abegail Pariente will give you a ride while your grip on the book is still tight. She will whisper into your ears her story as it is vividly painted. Every movement of the hand going under your shirt will be felt and resisting from the temptation will not be an option. You will give in to the eroticism of the moment in that transit where she puts you. Though you may close your eyes, the feeling will linger on your skin, piercing into your bones. Up until your destination, the cut-short feeling will irritate you, leading to crave for more, more of these adventures by people with separate lives that meet in a crossroad whenever the gods play a game of chance.
Jayson Ongose Paderon will introduce you to a concept that is normally avoided in a pretentiously conservative society. Eklipse will pave your way to understanding every possibility of existence; that choice will always be on the edge of being and nothingness. Shall there be a standard for love? Who is permitted to love who and when? But let this be clear that he neither negates nor rejects the possibilities of true love, but rather he proves that love knows no boundaries.
Mark Angeles, on the other hand, gives you a critical look at Andres Bonifacio, the Filipino Language, and José Rizal’s character, Elias, proving his dexterity in dabble in literary and academic undertakings.
Ferdinand Pisigan Jarin—popularly known as pogi of the PNU Mafia and the author of Anim na Sabado ng Beyblade, which is a personal account of his days with his child, Rebo, tells us another bold and compelling story of him as a working student in Service Crew. As always, creative nonfiction makes an elaborate presentation of a slice of life, which can build a strong personal connection to the readers.
To conclude the anthology, Erick Dasig Aguilar gives you his award-winning play, Terminal. While Herlyn Alegre and Mixkaela Villalon leave you with their pieces that were staged at the Virgin Lab Fest.
The book is indeed a multifaceted collection of the best literary pieces from the members of Kataga. This is a challenge to all literary writing groups to produce works of art that befit the binary of dulcet utile. For the readers, what you hold is a representation of life itself, which might, hopefully, lead you in writing your own magnum opus in the future. As what Reuel always says: “For Literature and The Nation!”
Kataga After a Decade: A Conversation with the Chief
Dr. Reuel Molina Aguila, known to his fellows and students as the Chief, is the founder and mentor of “Kataga.” Now he shares the aspirations and the direction of the organization in relation to writing and current issues.
“In 1993, the Galian sa Arte at Tula ceased to exist and there was a necessity for writing organizations for the young writers; till 2008. This resulted for them to seek for groups to belong in, but some did not want to get affiliated; the writing community was in clamor. I tried to organize before Kataga, but it was hard. One thing we strived to have was to sustain writing after college. There was no existing group to respond then. The question was what will be writing after college? Is it just bounded in the university alone?”
“Since then to now, the demand for writing organization is high. So, hopefully, the small group can strengthen themselves so as to accommodate more members. There is really a giant leap at present on the number of people who got interested in literature and writing. From “Kataga” alone, young writers knock to get affiliated, but we can only accept much.”
“After the establishment of “Kataga,” the next task was to answer why do gather or what is our goal. Hence, the declaration from the first book was created. It was a year in the making. We tried to balance the extreme left and the extreme right, or shall I say that we seek something near at the middle. You know, some says that you just need to write and that would be enough, while on contrary, some claims that your writing should always serve the masses.”
“So, we tried to seek a compromise wherein you can meet the artistic needs of writing without sacrificing the essence of your work. To do that, rigorous training is needed—studying and workshop—and it is painful. As what I always say, you cannot just always be just cute and adorable or perennially shouting “Ra Ra Ra! Ra Ra Ra!” Thus, up to now, every literary work of our members is constantly evaluated. There is no exact formula that can standardize good writing. Maybe, this hardship that the writers experience makes writing fun.”
Since the establishment of Kataga, Reuel declares that its direction is “to intensify; to study not only on how to write, but about the topic of writing. The choice of what to write should always be critically looked upon. You cannot forever dealing with hugot nor angst. What is happening to the society is getting heavier and heavier, and there are only a few who writes about these things.”
“We have noticed that the reason behind this is that not everyone understands the totally of the picture. So, intensive six months of study is what we have agreed on to check the current projects [of Kataga] then strengthen it.”
Furthermore, Reuel, together with some other writers feel a “déjà vu of Martial Law.” Hence, the task of the writers then is seemingly the same with the present to “expose what is really happening in the society through their writings. There are different ways of showing this. Some can present it in an aggressive manner, lonesome,sarcastic, and etc. All methods and means should be exhausted so as to reveal what is really happening. There is no one way. Just whatMarne Kilates said, all possible ways should be used. Maybe, the strength of “Kataga” is we write in all forms. We have already started in the multifaceted approach. Let me highlight that, starting. We cannot yet claim that we are experts of it, but at least we have started already.”
In terms of what to write, Reuel believes that “every generation and time has its own call.” During their time, as he said, “everything was fast-paced, you haven’t breath yet, it is already Martial Law. That is why when I was asked by the young writers whether I am in favor or not to declare Martial Law at present. I sarcastically answered, maybe yes, so that you can experience the feeling. I cannot tell you that this is what is needed to be written, but the challenge is to respond to the challenges of every time.”
Fake news and historical revisionism is also an inevitable topic to deal with, especially in the advent of Mocha Uson and Imee Marcos’ public and social media appearances. Though this is a matter of the “signified” and the “signifier”, Reuel and other writers abhor the idea of moving on. They concurred that “everyone, not only the writers should seek for the truth, but it should not end there. The next thing to ponder on is whether the people are ready and brave enough to know the truth. For the writers, the question is whether they strive for the truth and will dare to write it.”
“The problem” Reuel continued “is that there are writers who have sold their pens in order to gain money and power. This is a downgrading act to the art, for the other writers will look down to them and might cause them to be an outsider of the literary circle.”
“According to Jess Santiago, another heavy task to be crossed will be to sustain the writing momentum into ten, twenty to fifty year. That is a valid statement for him because, there are only a few of us who never stopped writing, Marne [Kilates] is one of those. If we have reached this time of retirement and still vigorously writing, I hope that these young writers will do the same. They should realize that it is not just a hobby, but a profession, just like …