To the uninitiated, poetry and journalism appear to be opposite ends of a very wide spectrum. In reality, this is not so. Poetry is the mother root of all written language. It is the point of origin and common ancestor of prayer, prose, song and, yes, journalism as we know it. The same economy of lines and vivid imagery make up the vital foundations of both the poem and the news report.
The best poems, and the most informative and engaging reportage, require that perfect balance of form and substance that provides enough tension to keep you reading (or listening), enough details to keep things interesting, and clarity with which to absorb everything. Catchy phrases and witty word usage help the audience learn these pieces by heart and spread them far and wide by recitation, chanting or song.
Poetry, whether spoken, chanted or sung, was the first form of the news brought by traveling bards, jongleurs, troubadours and minstrels from town to town and country to country. The news, literally, could be had for a song and the singing news-bringer was often paid with food and a warm place to sleep—the coins tossed into his hat but an afterthought and unexpected manna.
Now, why do I go to all the bother of writing about the kinship of the news reports you read and the poetry that is its direct ancestor? Because this week’s book up for review is a tome of poetry titled “Each Sold Separately” (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2018) by Sunday Inquirer literary editor and journalist Ruel S. De Vera. Let me make an early disclaimer: De Vera was my co-winner for the third prize of the 1994 Don Palanca Memorial Literary Awards in the Poetry in English category. We’d promised each other we’d sit down to shoot the breeze and drink coffee one day on that evening when we shook hands to congratulate each other. It has been a quarter-century since we’d said that—and we’ve shot many breezes together, but we have never yet had coffee together.
De Vera has this eerie, almost supernatural agility for word-play, and such glassine-clear focus on imagery that is painstakingly detailed yet sharply brief. The chandelier of De Vera’s poetry is spare, yet ornate, dripping with stuns of skillfully-faceted diamonds amid light that shivers rainbows and refracts thought in the most unexpected of ways. The prisms of his enjambments catch and hold light, releasing it only when one has given one’s total focus to each word of the poem at hand.
His homages in “Each Sold Separately” are subtle, sly, unassuming until you suss out the poem and poet to whom he pays tribute. Take these lines from the penultimate verse of “Polyester”: “your unbridled Gemini love/This is no return, no exchange/ on an amplified scale:/Keep it all, keep everything, and owe nobody anything.”
In that poem, De Vera captures the late yet still beloved poet Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta—with tantalizing echoes of Lady Polyester herself in the enjambments and juxtapositions of his verse. He also presents the crystallized, immortalized images of Ophie, the tune and rhythm of whose poetry he captures with seeming effortlessness while still retaining his own voice.
If one could craft and stage a whole play using nothing but black ink on cream paper, that would be De Vera’s forte, I believe. He does have 14 books of poetry under his byline as proof of this—a rich harvest spanning 25 years, maybe more, of writing both journalism and poetry.
Treat this book as a treasure chest filled with perfect jewels and priceless gems. After all, De Vera has polished each word, line and verse with the care of a master-jeweler and cut his work with the laser precision and unerring eye of a consummate gem-cutter.
De Vera combines the precision of his discipline and training as a journalist of field and desk work with the keen sensibilities and taut emotional control of the town storytellers of old. His poems were crafted, it seems, for the open mic, or for speaking out loud, theatrically, to a night sky lit bright with a full harvest moon and uncountable stars.
Virtuosity at word-play aside, De Vera’s economy of lines and the nearly-Spartan lean-and-mean melody of his work will keep you dangling like Lara Croft’s high-altitude gymnastics until you catch the next image, and the next, hanging on until you can’t and falling into each poem with neither safety net nor wings to save yourself with.
You won’t want to save yourself. You will want to drown, be impaled, implode, explode, coalesce and blend with this book of deceptively simple words arranged so that you think you’re doing easy reading—until you realize you aren’t.
“Each Sold Separately” is the intricate lace of a spider web that is nearly invisible to the naked eye, or it would be but for the perfectly precarious dewdrops marking De Vera’s parlor into which the fly of you has been so casually invited.
Walking into this book is easy. Putting it down is not. If the demand for poetry in this age of Millennials is shooting up like a junkie getting a fix straight to the jugular, then De Vera’s latest collection of selected and new works will definitely meet that demand and raise the ante up. Way up.
Have you read enough of my writing? I’d like to get back to my new book, you see. Kthxbai. G