by John Andrew M. Del Prado
Where on the body indeed? Louie Jon A. Sanchez’s latest poetry collection aptly titled Kung Saan sa Katawan (2013, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House) presents this question. The title itself is a resounding echo of another book, Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, albeit foreign and fiction. In this dense collection, we encounter the poet’s search that transgresses the body—his discovery of the self as he looks at (and touches) spaces (rural or urban). The poet also presents us the individual’s understanding of the quotidian existence, the briefness of time, and the measure of love found, lost, and found again (again, echoing Winterson).
Time is a factor in how the poet writes, as seen in his poem, “Ang Tagal Ko na Palang Hindi Tumutula.” The poem reflects the English poet William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry in his “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads”: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” In the words of Sanchez, going back to an old or unfinished poem reflects something different: “Mauunawaan mo rin na hindi na ikaw ang sumulat ng tula, / Sapagkat nasaan ka man sa iyong búhay, sa muling pagsalat / Ng iyong mga mata sa mga titik na iyo noong itinipa, / Umiibig ka man o naglalakbay, tiyak na may nag-iba na / Sa iyong málay, na maghahatid sa iyo ng panibagong tingin.//”
Sanchez also plays with politics by writing poems about Filipino heroes (“Rizal” and “Emilio”) and tragic events like death (“Back Hose,” a poem about and dedicated to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre) and natural disasters (“Pagdayo ng Monghe sa Tea House Kinabukasan ng Lindol at Tsunami sa Japan,” a minimalist portrayal of the Japanese disaster).
Two poems of epic scale also talk about how a place can affect the self-identity of an individual or a community. In the poem “Ever Gotesco Grand Central,” we can see how a place changes from a site of innocent discovery and childhood to a sexualized space: “Kaibigan ko ang pook na ito sa aking kawalang-muwang, / At naging mangingibig ko ito sa mga panahon ng kapusukan.//” Fire is even used as a metaphor for sex and destruction.
Like other poets, Sanchez also has poems that revolve around romance. “Gaan” is about how love can make things brief and light. The poem “Ikaw, sa Iyong Antok” is more pessimistic, in the sense that the persona seems to believe that the beautiful things in love are momentary.
Another sad love poem, “Dreaming with a Broken Heart,” talks about love lost and the persona’s wish to bring the light back: “Gusto ko lámang ipabatid sa iyo, na kahit / Sa ganitong tanging kaikling panahon, takót / Akong bakâ hindi na ito maulit, hindi na kita / Matabihan, maari, sa kung ano mang dahilan. / Gusto ko lámang ang sandaling ito, gustong- / Gusto ko, at sakaling sandali lámang talaga, / Babaunin ko ang aninag ng iyong pagpanatag.//”
Different aspects of life are also the issues of several other poems in this collection. “Dancing Queen” is a queer poem about the individual’s dance with freedom and sexuality: “At pilit niyang tinitiyak ang sarili—di bale / Nang mapagod—na nása pagiging Reyna / Ng sayawan ang sagot sa mga paninimdim. / Bibigkasin niya itong lahat nang paulit-ulit / Hanggang sa maglaho, mamatay ang tinig.//”
In Sanchez’s first poetry collection, At sa Tahanan ng Alabok (2010, UST Publishing House), he proves that he is one of the best upcoming Catholic poets of his generation. This is again evident in Kung Saan sa Katawan. Sanchez’s obvious Catholic roots can be seen in poems like “Ang mga Banal na Oras” (divided into seven parts: Laudes, Prime, Terciam, Sexto, Nonam, Vesperas, and Completorium), “Vita Sancti,” “Lumina,” “Summa Theologica,” “Lazaro,” “Hagiograpiya,” “Matapos,” “Stabat Mater,” “Asuncion,” “Miyerkoles de Senisa,” “Martes Santo,” “Mata,” and the five similarly-titled poems, “Pagkabuhay.”
One of the standout poems with a religious theme is “Sa Harap ng Imáhen ni San Ignacio de Loyola,” which is about the persona’s state of unrest in comparison with the saint’s ambience. Sanchez’s collection takes its title from the poem “Santo Entierro”: “Walang makatiyak kung anong bahagi—hindi maiguhit / Sa isip kung saan sa katawan. Kung saan ang katawan.//”
Sanchez’s Kung Saan sa Katawan is a terrifyingly beautiful poetry collection because of its poetic density and depth. Readers will definitely enjoy reading this collection on different perceptions of the body, literal, metaphorical, and even allegorical—the Body of Christ, of City, of Love, of Memory, of the Self. In this collection, Sanchez goes deeper into his poetic self, a huge leap from his first collection. This book only proves that Sanchez is a poet who searches for his literary identity and brings his readers with him.
Going back to Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, let’s end this review with a quote from her novel, which may define Sanchez’s book: “Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gathered there.”