Arts and Culture

Inkcanto: Of Palancas and the Manila International Book Fair

This year’s Palanca First Prize Winner for Poetry in English is Carlomar Arcangel Daoana—it’s his very first time to win First Prize, and he did it after only twelve attempts. Yes. Twelve attempts in twelve years.  That’s how coveted a Palanca gold medal is: you have no right to give up until you achieve it—and yes, Poetry in English is one of the toughest categories for anyone to win; it can take more than a decade! I hope that Carlomar keeps his medal in a really special place.

Poet Carlomar Arcangel Daoana is 2012’s First Prize Winner for the Poetry in English Category of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Photo from the poet’s FB page.

Now, it’s reasonable to ask—what’s so special about a Palanca award that makes writers try to win it year after year?

I probably don’t have a good answer to that question. Certainly, winning prize money for one’s literary work is a good thing—but still, the amount of money one receives is likely still less than what a call center worker makes every pay day. Is it personal vanity? Is it a desire to test one’s skill? Is it glory?

At the Palanca Awards a few nights ago, writer and CCP Film Department Director Ed Cabagnot introduced me to Spanish writer and literary scholar Beatriz Alvarez-Tardio by saying, “He’s also a writer. Another person who wasted his life.”

Wasted lives? Spanish writer Beatriz Alvarez-Tardio (far right) with writer and CCP Film, Broadcast and New Media Director Ed Cabagnot; poet Marne Kilates; novelist Charlson Ong; and a former Palanca winner on the far left, at the 62nd Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature. Photo by Inkcanto for

So is a Palanca award a sort of affirmation of our talent, or an affirmation that we haven’t wasted our time and our life writing literature that maybe 98 percent of Filipinos don’t really know or care about?

Or maybe, the real answer is that a lot of writers are just lonely for each other’s company—after all, even with all the technological progress, writing today remains a solitary activity. All we have for company are words, a computer, and our own minds. That’s not a very sociable situation. And the yearly Palanca award ceremony is still the ultimate Filipino writers’ soiree.

Filipino writers, particularly, may feel the loneliness of writing more acutely because our culture is all about making personal connections: we’re raised in this predominantly oral (as opposed to textual) culture where we thrive best when we’re engaged in personal conversation. In such a milieu, writing can feel like enforced solitary confinement.

My theory seems to be given at least some credence by the flurry of picture-taking that went on during Palanca night. All these writers had their digital cameras and camera phones out, taking pictures of each other and with each other.

One other notable development I observed among my writer-friends and myself: we’re all older. I spoke to poet Michael Coroza and poet John Enrico Torralba, and instead of talking about more poetic stuff, we talked about our graying hairs and our back problems.

Old-timer poet Michael Coroza with First Prize-winning poet John Enrico Torralba (for the Tulang Pambata, or Poetry for Children, category). Mike is a friend of Inkcanto and will in no way resort to bodily harm over the dig at his age.

Mike’s back pain, according to him, was successfully treated with acupuncture. John looked at me and asked why my hair wasn’t graying as much as his was. (Well, John, if you’re reading this, my suspicion is that my hairs are falling off before they get the chance to turn gray.)

It seems that this year’s Palanca night was really more for the young writers who won. Quite a lot of the winners, perhaps even a majority of the total number of winners, looked rather young to my aging eyes.
Of all the writers present that night, these young ones will draw the most inspiration from the awards ceremony, finding a hope and a dream to help them through the solitary, seemingly thankless task of making poems, stories, essays, screenplays, novels—and that is what, ultimately, makes the annual Palanca Awards for Literature of great importance to our culture.

Writers and readers are always in symbiosis. So it’s rather good timing that a week after the Palanca Awards, the 33rd Manila International Book Fair will be held from September 12 to 16 at the SMX Convention Center, along Seashell Drive at the SM Mall of Asia complex in Pasay City.

The MIBF does more than just sell books: it also hosts special events and seminars where participants have fun and learn some valuable things. For example, this year there will be an anime festival called “The Best of Anime 2012” (Sept. 15 and 16, Function Room 4 and 5).

This is just one of the cute things that will happen when your children really get into anime. Bring them to the MIBF’s Best of Anime event. Photo courtesy of MIBF.

There will also be an early childhood education conference called “Super Kids 2012” (Sept. 14 and 15, Function Room 3); and a two-day health and wellness fair called “Facets of Wellness” (Sept. 14 and 15, Function Rooms 1 and 2).

As a nation, we sorely need readers more than writers. We’ve all heard the clichés: reading expands our horizons; it opens our minds and our hearts; it helps us overcome ignorance, which is most often a source of bigotry and meanness (not just in the sense of being mean or cruel, but of being small-minded)—and when it comes to reading, these clichés are true, which is a good thing.

Reading also promotes freedom and liberty; you will notice that most tyrannical societies discourage reading among the populace—because the freedom to read leads to free-thinking, which is something that tyrannies never like.

This year’s Manila International Book Fair is being more aggressive when it comes to encouraging more and more Filipinos to read—and to do this more effectively, its organizers are enlisting the help of The Bookworms, a group of four cultural icons that includes cultural activist and performance artist Carlos Celdran; humorous TV and viral video star Ramon Bautista; TV personality, author, and graphics artist Stanley Chi; and TV personality and comedic actor Tado, who is also a newly minted author with two books to his name.

The Bookworms (from left to right) are Ramon Bautista, Stanley Chi, Carlos Celdran, and Tado, who is apparently making off with the others’ books.

Picking out these four as MIBF Ambassadors, if you will, is a good idea—in my view primarily because they are popular in online media. Today’s generation of “readers” is actually composed of Internet surfers and browsers, more at home with reading through social networking posts and blogs rather than books.

Tado’s two books are Mga Kasinungalingang Pwedeng Sabihin sa Mga Mangmang (Lies You Can Tell to Stupid People) and Nag-iisa Lang Ako (I’m On My Own)—both contain hilarious musings and anecdotes. He plans to write a third book, for which he has invented a genre: Bieulogy (the name is a portmanteau of “biography” and “eulogy”.)

According to Tado, a bieulogy is an account of someone’s life, based on recollections and statements made by other people. So he plans to gather other people’s recollections, thoughts, and statements about him and put these together in a book.

The Bookworms will be at the Book Fair and will also appear in viral videos to help in a campaign to encourage more people to read and go to the 33rd MIBF.

An Inkcanto tip: Save your money now and hold off any book purchases before you splurge at the MIBF. The MIBF is always paradise for book lovers. And if you’re the sort who doesn’t really read a lot—but wishes to discover more about the joys of reading, then go to the MIBF for the sheer pleasure of it.