Philippine literature in English is an interesting case, full of paradoxes and contradictions. It is barely 71 years old, yet its writers have achievedhigh localand internationalreputation, a fact which becomes more significant if one remembers that in the Philippines, aside from English, there are nine other major languages used as mediaof literary expression; its writes at present are faced with the problems engendered by their choice of English, a foreign language, as the medium of expression; and, in spite of the reputation it had attained, Philippine literature in English lacks a literary tradition. There are things one has to consider in studying Philippine literature in English if he desires profound and realistic results. This paper, then, will deal with these things in order to give proper perspective of this literature. Becauseof the limitation on the length of this paper, it will touch mainly on the art of poetry.
The English language was introduced into the Philippines by the Americans at the start of the century; it is surprising, however, that only 40 years after, the Filipinos were already adept with it. One is constantly amazed? wrote Edgar Snow, By the ease with which Filipinos master the difficult idiom of the American Language, and by the eloquence with which they employ it?when English was made the medium of instruction in all schools during the American occupation , English become more widespread, the result being that now, 70 years later, it is the most popular spoken language in the country, This skill with the foreign language consitutes a great advantage that our writers hold over their Asian counterparts, In such writing conferences as the breadloaf, Iowa, and Harvard workshops, foreigners are indeed amazed by Filipinos?facility in using English. At the 1968-69 Iowa international Writers?Workshop , for instance, of the more than 30 participants from almost all parts of the world, only a handful could write in English. This advantage, however, must be taken with caution, for facility in language is only one aspect of writing craft.
Much of our country’s literature in English for the past 50 years shows a marked improvement over the over the earlier writings done by the literary pioneers. technically and aesthetically, there is a great difference between the poetry of Tarosa Subido, Amador Daguio, Toribia Mano, on the other hand, and the poetry of federico Licsi Espino Jr., Emmanuel Torres, Jolico Cuuadra, and Virginia Moreno, on the other. Our poets, generally speaking, have a better command of their language; they are more aware now in the potentialities and the power behind words; whereas before they were content merely imitating American and British models, now they havethe self-confidence to experiment, and the results are noteworthy. Jose Garcia Villa, for instance, invented the principle of reversed consonance in rhyming and the comma poems. Their poemsfind acceptance by editors of international lmagazines such as The beloit poetry journal, poetry- a magazine of verse, botteghe Oscure, London imes Literary Supplement and the new world writing, to mention only a few, and have been anthologized in American, Italian, and british collections. In addition, Jose Garcia Villa, undoubtedly the foremost poet in English, he won the shelley Memorial award for poetry, the American Academy artsand letters fellowship, and is a niminee for this year’s Nobel Prize for literature
But despite this writer’s facility in the English Tongue, they are confronted with the corollary question: how valid is the use of a foreign languagein the iteration of native thought s and emotions? Simple as it may seem, it is a problem that Filipino writers in English have to resolve before they can really face the task of creative writing. True many of them are bilingual (writing in English and in their dialects) and even trilingual (with the addition of either Spanish or French) but the fact remains that they have ultimately to decide which of these languages really suits their purpose.
Presently, it appears that there are two groups of poets in the country:those committed to social writing and those who write poetry for poetry’s sake.The first group believes that to articulate the needs for social reforms, and to expose the ills of the country, it is necessary to employ a language understood by the largest segment of society.They argue that since they are writing for the common people, they must communicate with them in the people’s own language, in this case, Tagalog.This group can trace its beginning in the writings of Jose Rizal and his contemporaries of the latter part of the nineteenth century, but it became active only in the beginning of this decade as a consequence of the agitations for social changes and of the political unrest.This group has contributed much to the acceptance of Piilipino as a valid medium of the literary art, whereas before scholars frowned on it and considered it somewat inferior to English or Spanish.Now, magazines which were before exclusively English publish Tagalog poetry and fiction as well.Some poets who earlier wrote only in English have joined this group composed mostly of student activists.
The second group, opting for the use of English, is composed of writers with diverse interests.Separately, their poems are characterised by romantic, realistic, imagistic, philosophical, and projectil-verse tendencies.They may write socially commited poems, but this is not a quality shared by all of them; their individual commitment seems to be a commitment to the art of poetry itself, independent of any outside factors except as the experience they explicate is hsaped within the context of poetic verities.This group is very active in experimenting with poetic forms since it is not, like the first group, constrained by any political or social considerations.But still the question opsed earlier about the validity of a foreign language as a medium of expression faces these writers, and they have been criticised adveresly for this expecially by the members of the first group.Debates have been and are still being held about this question.Two views important in this connection are those of Father Miguel Bernad’s and Leonard Casper’s.Father Bernard says that it is not so much of choosing between English or Tagalog as a realisation that literature in English in the Philippines can prosper and attain maturity: