[Opening Address. First Banaag Diwa Awards sponsored by ADDU’s Atenews, SALEM and SINIKOM, Mar 22, 1014]
To the Atenews Editorial Board and Staff, members of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM) and Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sining at Komunikasyon (SINIKOM), faculty and students of the Ateneo de Davao University, a pleasant evening.
It is my pleasure to offer my congratulations to all the awardees and organizers of this first Banaag Diwa Awards event! We celebrate tonight your achievements and the joys of writing.
The creative process of writing poetry or prose is always and everywhere an immersion into the human situation: For instance, there is William Blake extolling the emotions of joy and happiness at childbirth: “O the mother’s joys! / The watching, the endurance, the precious love, the anguish, the / patiently yielded life.”
Or the misery and anxiety in John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “The nights were comfortless and chill, and they did not dare sing or talk too loud, for the echoes were uncanny, and silence seemed to dislike being broken – except by the noise of water and the wail of wind and the crack of stone.”
The Nigerian Chinua Achebe describes sorrow and pain in colonial Africa: “the faint and distant wailing of women settled like a sediment of sorrow on the earth.”
Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish romantic, speaks wryly of the terror of torture: “Nothing has changed. / Except for the course of boundaries, / the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers. / Amid these landscapes traipses the soul, / disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away, / alien to itself, elusive, at times certain, at others uncertain of its own existence, / while the body is and is and is / and has no place of its own.”
Or the so very human attribute of elation and doubt in the Danish author Karen Blixen, also known as Isak Dinesen, whe she wrote: “‘How wonderful to be alive,’ she thought. ‘But why does it always hurt? God exists, of course. But if He exists, then it’s me.’”
You see, we are storytellers – immersed in the human condition and situation. We love, we hate, we feel awed, we despair, we hope. To write is therefore to share in divine creativity as only the human can. To be a writer is to be filled with a certain Sacred Awe of this world. It is by being inspired by a moment, by an idea, by a word, by a person, by a daydream or perhaps the confluences of diverse things coming together, that we are moved to write – a “moving in our entrails”, as if that moment or that word has suddenly impregnated our bodies.
A poem or a story starts in Sacred Awe or in any soul-stirring moment. From there it proceeds to the art of the pause. We stop, we marvel, we chew and digest. We reflect and contemplate. Silence becomes an ally. In silence, we listen to the poem taking shape or the story sinking roots. The story becomes a lover and the writing process becomes a love affair. And so the Persian mystic sage, Rumi, perhaps not exactly talking about this same love affair, but approximating it, said: “When I am with you, we stay up all night, / When you’re not here, I can’t get to sleep. / Praise God for these two insomnias! / And the difference between them.“
Allow me to share with you a passage from Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Zorba the Greek”. Here he describes Sacred Awe and the beginnings of literature:
“I tried to make my companion understand what I meant by Sacred Awe. ‘We are little grubs, Zorba, minute grubs on the small leaf of a tremendous tree. This small leaf is the earth. The other leaves are the stars that you see moving at night. We make our way on this little leaf examining it anxiously and carefully. We smell it; it smells good or bad to us. We taste it and find it eatable. We beat on it and it cries out like a living thing. Some men – the more intrepid ones – reach the edge of the leaf. From there we stretch out, gazing into chaos. We tremble. We guess what a frightening abyss lies beneath us. In the distance we can hear the noise of the other leaves of the tremendous tree, we feel the sap rising from the roots to our leaf and our hearts swell. Bent thus over the awe-inspiring abyss, with all our bodies and all our souls, we tremble with terror. From that moment begins…’ I stopped. I wanted to say, ‘…from that moment begins poetry,’ but Zorba would not have understood. I stopped.”
You are those intrepid ones gazing out over the edge of the leaf. You tremble at all the possibilities of the imagination. You feel the tremendum et fascinans waiting to be written, waiting to be told.
Some advise for you young writers. In this fast-paced age, exercise the art of the pause. Observe your surroundings with the eyes of a child. Observe with the eyes of a sage. Relish in awe. Read books! Persist in your creative projects. Never let the sound of a closing door distract you from a beautiful line.
May you have more stories and poems to tell! I urge you to find your inspiration in our Mindanao. May she be your Muse, with all her beauty, all her flaws, each story a revelation. Find her in our peoples’ struggles, in the mysteries of her forests, in the song of her rivers, in the dreams of her children.
My warmest congratulations to all the winners and organizers of these Banaag Diwa Awards!