RUSTLE OF BAMBOO LEAVES by VICTOR P. GENDRANOEILEEN TABIOS reviews
RUSTLE OF BAMBOO LEAVES: Selected Haiku and Other Poems by Victor P. Gendrano
(Lulu Enterprises, 2005)
Self-publishing is an honorable tradition within poetry. But it also can be tricky terrain to navigate when the author is placed in a position to edit one's self. Complicating this balancing act is how technology has improved to facilitate self-publishing through print-on-demand (POD) avenues.
Victor P. Gendrano’s RUSTLE OF BAMBOO LEAVES: Selected Haiku and Other Poems is one of those projects that would find it difficult to find a (third-party) publisher, not just because its subject is poetry; the book's nature as a personal album probably would not interest readers unacquainted with Gendrano’s family and circle of acquaintances. Nonetheless, Gendrano need not apologize for utilizing POD technology to see his book published. This collection of haiku, senryu, haibun, haiga, tanka, Korean sijo, American cinquain, and free verse -- while uneven in quality -- offers many lovely poems which certainly deserve book publication (and, hopefully with a book, wider readership), such as this haiku
a spider swings
with the spider plant
And this senryu:
she scolds her son
and joins him crying
And another haiku:
her hand tightens on mine
The book is dedicated to Gendrano’s wife Lucy Parcarey Gendrano who died in 2003 and who inspires many of the most moving poems, such as this tanka:
invites me to brunch
this Mother’s Day
just for a tender moment
she is her late mother
For haiku, here’s
I let my daughter donate
her mother’s wheelchair
Less successful are Gendrano’s efforts with free verse (my assessment is of his English free verse since I’m not fluent enough to assess Tagalog poems). These poems often end up not transcending their sentimentality (fine though those sentiments may be). For instance, from the poem “Lenten Thoughts”:
Embrace each day with joy
Give thanks for gift of life;
Living in borrowed time
In simple joy delight.
Beauty is everywhere
If we but dare to look
Within ourselves, others
Or sound of nature’s brook.
Multilingual poet Luis Cabalquinto who offers an Introduction to the Free Verse chapter echoes my conflictedness with Gendrano’s English free verse. I’ll cite Cabalquinto here, but also to raise the possibility that Gendrano’s Tagalog free verse may be more adept:
“The voice is specially compelling when it speaks in the author’s birth language [Tagalog]: ascending to pleasurable heights in the poems “Awit ng mga Dayuhan,” “Ang Sumpa Ko,” and “Ang Maskara.” In these poems, Gendrano shows a fluidity of thought and musicality of phrasing that are not matched in some of his English poems, which are partly weakened by a didactic and abstract diction.” (194)
The poems are interspersed with autobiographical prose, other poets’ introductions of the various poetic forms and Gendrano’s practices of such forms, and various comments on individual poems which were first published on internet venues (e.g. World Haiku Club, Sijo Forum and Cinquain Forum) that made poems available for feedback. The prose can be educational, such as in Chapter II about “Tagalog and English Haiku” which deviated briefly to offer a useful explanation of tanaga:
If Japan has its short verses like haiku and tanka and Korea has its sijo, the Philippines has likewise a short poetic form called tanaga which dates back to the 1500s. // Tanaga has four lines of seven syllables each. Usually it has no titles. In its traditional form, all lines are rhymed at the end, although the modern form ranges from six to eight syllables per line and also tends to be written in free verse. It is in deep hiatus now but efforts to revive it is gathering momentum, thanks to [Philippine] government efforts, nationalistic Filipino poets, and the Internet. (66)
Nonetheless, some of the prose elements are so specific to the author’s life that if one isn’t interested in an autobiography of this poet, they won’t hold the reader’s interest. For instance, Gendrano's American cinquain "SOLD HOUSE"
and empty now,
but if you listen hard,
the kid's laughter still echoes from
was presented with the author's note about how, following his wife's death, he sold the house in which the family lived for 20 years and, with its "too many memories," he has yet to venture back to visit it. The poem can stand on its own without Gendrano's (albeit moving) note. How much information is too much information?
In some cases, the comments detract from the poems themselves. Much of the feedback from internet forums fail to add significant insight regarding the poems, even as they might remind Gendrano of the pleasures of their engagements. For instance, this senryu
she rips the model’s face
from the magazine
was burdened with the baggage of this comment from an’ya Petrovic, a reader in Oregon: “Speaking of sense of humor, this is terrifically funny.”
While Gendrano says in his Foreword that he wanted to acknowledge that he “writes for an audience,” the selected comments could have used some editing so that they don’t get in the way of a new reader’s--the book reader’s-- own path of interaction, hopefully enjoyment.
This is not to say that there aren't some poem/commentary combinations that work effectively. For instance, this pleasing haiku
black ants cover
a white rosebud
was presented with the author’s note that it is a “common occurrence in nature especially after the first rain following a dry spell when insects climb to high dry places to avoid the water drenching them below.” I didn’t mind learning this fact which did not dilute my unmediated read of the poem.
On the other hand, if, ultimately, this book is intended to show not just a collection of poems but reveal a poet’s life, then one can see that Gendrano has been and is a blessed man with a loving family and many friends. That, surely, is more important than any critic’s review of his poems. Indeed, this book reminds me of this excerpt from Eric Gamalinda's fabulous poetics essay, "+ H e . L ^ N G u A 9 E . o F . L / 9 h +" (from PINOY POETICS, Ed. Nick Carbo):
The most difficult part about writing a poem is not the writing but the process that leads to it, the process that demands belief, compassion, a sense of hope -- all virtually impossible challenges. All of this takes a lifetime. And at the end of our lifetime, what matters is not what we have written, but what we have become.
On this basis, based on the revelations from his poetry collection and personal album, Gendrano deserves much respect as a poet.
Eileen Tabios just released a new poetry collection: THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I (xPress(ed), 2006). Available at SPD, Amazon.com and booksellers with excellent taste.