BPSS first featured “Dead Stars” by Paz Marquez Benitez five issues ago. To this day, it continues to be the top drawer on this web site and deservedly so. It gets almost twice as many accesses for any given period as the next story on the hit list which happens to be Loreto Paras Sulit’s “Harvest.”
In this issue is the only other published short story by Benitez, “A Night in the Hills.” Need I say more to get you to read it?
Manuel A. Viray is probably better known for his poetry but he wrote great short stories, as well. He is not too well-known because he spent many years abroad working in the foreign service of the Philippine government. His “Portrait of a Great Man” shows that he is a keen observer and that uninspired bureaucratic behavior is not a recent phenomenon. Stories like this let future generations look back at social behavior during the writer’s time.
I’m sure you haven’t read “The Devil in the Details” by Carlos Cortés because it is a new story, another BPSS original. It is a well-written story, one that you’ll find easy to read, and has a twist in the ending.
We feature a new artist this issue. Jill A. Posadas illustrated Benitez’s story. Another of her illustrations is featured in the Images section, too.
This issue (and probably the next one, too) has been impacted by my travel plans. The article I promised regarding New Yorker stories has been delayed. I hope everything will be back to normal after the next one.
BY the time this issue comes out, many of you will already know who the Palanca winners for this year are. Never mind that the results are supposed to be kept confidential until announced by the Palanca Foundation, they seem to leak to favored people every year. From there, they spread out.
The Palanca Foundation attempts to keep authors’ identities hidden from the judges. How this is possible in a tiny literary community such as the Philippines stretches my imagination. But that’s not all. While the author’s real name and pen name are put in a sealed envelope for whatever reason they think it contributes to secrecy, the required affidavit which contains one’s real name and the title of his entry is not sealed and is there for everyone to see.
Maybe some day the board of trustees will do away with this ineffective ritual. Putting real names out in the open will remove a judge’s tempting shield that he didn’t know who wrote the story he was bad mouthing, or that the piece he was telling the others came down from heaven was written by his friend. Removing “secrecy” will contribute to more transparency in judging.
Eventually, I hope the Palanca can evolve from a contest to a real award system. By this, I mean writers shouldn’t have to submit an entry. A permanent editorial board should be looking at all literary work published in the Philippines and select, say, twenty finalists from which the board of judges will make their final selection. This is the way Pulitzer, Nobel, and Magsaysay work. The NVM Gonzalez Award is getting close to this—if they can only do away with the requirement for the writer to send an application to enter the competition, they would be like the big ones.
Enough. I think I have roused enough rabble for one issue. Let’s go to the stories.
After looking at the list of winners for the first half century of Palanca, I have come to the conclusion that winning a Palanca often means oblivion for that particular short story. Its author goes on, attaching “Palanca Awardee” to his CV, and becomes famous. His story, meanwhile, disappears and doesn’t get read.
Well, I can do a little to alleviate that unfortunate situation. In this issue are the first place winners from the 2001 Palanca Short Story and Future Fiction categories. First we have Rosario Cruz Lucero’s “The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros,” the Short Story winner. Lucero teaches at U.P. Diliman.
Next, we have Timothy R. Montes’s “Turtle Season,” the Future Fiction winner. He teaches at U.P. Mindanao.
These two stories represent the very best in Philippine writing according to the judges. The 2001 judges for Short Story were: Neil Garcia, Susan Lara, and Clinton Palanca. For Future Fiction: Emily Abrera, Cirilo R. Bautista, and Oscar Campomanes.
WE have two more stories in this issue: “Servant Girl” by Estrella D. Alfon and “The Bus Driver’s Daughter” by myself.
Over the years, “Servant Girl” has come to be one of my favorite Philippine classics. Every time I read it, I cannot help but be touched by Alfon’s account of how a poor girl creates an imaginary world of romance and dreams of a hero who will come and take her away to a better life. Well, it’s not only poor, mistreated servants who do this. People in all walks of life resort to escapism like hers when the world becomes intolerable. It helps one retire to a private world where he can regain his strength to better cope with the real world again.
Featuring “The Bus Driver’s Daughter” the way it appears in this issue is an opportunity for me to go back to the way stories were presented more than a century ago. They were accompanied by drawings from renowned illustrators. Book publishers gave up this practice to save money.
Today, we routinely use color pictures to accompany and enhance magazine articles. We demand it—we refuse to read articles that don’t have them. Yet we still have only one picture accompanying short stories as a rule. Go ahead, tell me literary works are supposed to develop the imagination, improve the reader’s ability to form images in his mind, and all that stuff we have come to accept without asking why. What if the pictures enhance the story? Don’t pictures make it less necessary for the author to describe the scenes in detail? And why was the technique used in the early days before people got exposed to images on television and picture magazines and became used to them?
The non-purist in me jumped at the chance to lavishly illustrate “The Bus Driver’s Daughter” because pictures were available for many of the key scenes. I only wish I had more pictures because a few scenes aren’t illustrated. Check it out and decide for yourself whether pictures help or not.
I RECEIVED a couple of emails about “The Summer of My 17th Year” from the previous issue. One asked if the story was connected in any way to a recent Philippine headline. The other asked why the connection wasn’t made more explicit.
Yes, the story has a veiled reference to a recent Philippine event. I didn’t make the connection explicit because I didn’t want to exploit the tragedy. And by not relying on the reader’s knowledge of that news event, the story can be understood even by those who haven’t heard about it.
Of course, the feel of the ending will be different for those who can connect the story to the tragedy and those who can’t. For those who can, it will be gut wrenching because they know what Minda will hear when she turns the radio on. For the others, it will simply be a gentle, poignant ending.
I PLAN to write another article where I will analyze why New Yorker stories (this term has become a metaphor for contemporary, non-journal North American short stories) read the way they do, and why they are so different from Philippine fiction. I will only comment on their difference in structure to keep the article short.
AS promised, I have another classic for you in this issue. It is “Harvest” by Loreto Paras Sulit. It is a good story and deserves its rightful place in anthologies. Nevertheless, it has a serious point of view problem, and that makes it an excellent teaching tool for English literature. It is also an example of a short story with a rare attribute which I shall not disclose at this time because it will take too long to explain. Let’s talk about it in another issue.
First, let me introduce you to an excellent book on narrative technique: Points of View, by James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny, editors. You can consider this an advanced course in point of view analysis. The editors discuss eleven narrative points of view, perhaps a finer classification than is traditionally taught in writing classes. Their definitions of the classifications are short and concise for they rely mostly on examples to illustrate the different POVs. They provide several short stories to illustrate each class of POV.
One criticism I can make about the book is that the terms the editors use are not self-explanatory. For instance, would you know offhand that the POV they call “detached autobiography” is the same as what is commonly known as first-person POV with a reliable or objective narrator? I have to admit, though, that their classifications are logical and precise. Once you read their definitions, they become clear.
If you teach or write, or even if you only read short stories, do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book. It’s an inexpensive pulp paperback—it’s not even a trade paperback—and contains 44 great short stories to boot. Even if you don’t care (sigh) about POVs, it’s a great collection of short stories.
“Harvest” is an “anonymous narration—dual character point of view” story. Sulit goes back and forth between the character POVs of Fabian and Vidal. She goes into each one’s mind as the POV shifts. She doesn’t do this very well, resulting in confusion for the reader especially in the early part of the story. When she says “he” or “his brother,” you can’t always be sure whether she means Fabian or Vidal without rereading. Compare this with Rotor’s skillful use of “anonymous narration—multiple character point of view” (called “omniscient” in the old days) in “Zita” where he goes at will into the minds of various characters at different points in the story without leaving you wondering.
Points of View includes the following examples of “anonymous narration—dual character point of view” stories that you may want to check out to see how good stories in this category should be done: “Sinking House” by T. Coraghessan Boyle, “The Only Rose” by Sarah Orne Jewett, “Strong Horse Tea” by Alice Walker, and “Uglypuss” by Margaret Atwood.
The next story is from Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, one Filipino writer who has a very distinctive style. I think I can pick a Sarmiento story from a pile of Philippine short stories even if no bylines were provided. I am proud to present “Meditations of a Piss Artist” from this multi-awarded writer (Graphics, Free Press, NVM Gonzalez) in this issue. It’s a story about crazy, mixed-up people in the College of Fine Arts at U.P. Diliman. (Story POV: anonymous narration—multiple character point of view.)
Then, we have May M. Tobias’s “Tether.” She has previously written and illustrated children’s books. This is her first short story to be published as far as I know. I am delighted to be able to use her own illustration for the story—she is a trained artist after all. Most of all, I’m glad that Tobias uses characters culled from the masa (the protagonist is a lowly security guard). Frankly, I’m tired of reading self-indulgent prose that feature Makati yuppies and other “beautiful Filipinos”—they’re getting to be a bore. After reading “Tether,” I’m sure you’ll agree with me that we need to see more stories from Tobias. (Story POV: anonymous narration—single character point of view.)
I included my own story, “The Summer of My 17th Year,” in this issue to give you more variety. It is about a sixteen-year-old who is beginning to learn how to cope with her emotions. Adults call it “puppy love,” a mean term as far as I am concerned. To a young person, such strange feelings are as real as anything they have ever experienced. (Story POV: subjective narration.)
The four stories in this issue are widely divergent in their subject matter, style, and tone—they show you different ways of telling a story.
Our anonymous contributor says “Mosquito Coil” comes from someone else’s discarded poem. He changed the theme and rewrote everything, keeping only the metaphor of the mosquito coil smoke.
MY other promise in the previous issue was to write an article about how someone with no connection to the literary establishment sees the state of Philippine writing today. It is in this issue, as well.
In the same article, I discuss one very common grammatical mistake almost all Filipinos, including English professors, editors, contest judges, and Palanca winners, make.
This issue is the biggest from us so far. Until next issue, Happy Reading!
NO classics this time. Instead, I give you two great contemporary Philippine stories from writers who differ in age, writing experience, and writing style. Their differences show in the way they choose their themes and in how they tell their stories.
“At War’s End: An Elegy” is from Rony V. Diaz who first started writing about five decades ago. It's a great feeling to know he continues to write when he can and that time hasn’t dulled his ability to show us a clear picture of a certain time and place we may not be familiar with, a time and place we may have heard about but haven’t personally seen.
The other story is “The Tale of Tonyo the Brave” by Maria Aleah G. Taboclaon. While she may not be as well known or as bemedaled as our other contributors, she knows how to weave a tale. Her story reminds me of the fantastic stories my father used to concoct and tell me when I was a toddler. Our ancestors used to tell stories like this. Perhaps, it is because such stories have stayed in the collective memory of our people that we continue to be fascinated by them.
Don’t forget the poems and the images. I admit I haven’t been as diligent in searching for new material for these sections as I have been with short stories. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not important to BPSS. It only means I need to devote more time to seek them out.
New to this issue are pages showing our previous BPSS introductions. You may find some of them interesting. Also, don’t forget to click on “Index” to see a complete list of past BPSS material.
I’ll have at least one classic story for you next issue. That’s a promise. Let this be a short intro so you can go to the stories, poems, and images right away.
FOR the next issue, I will write an essay on how I perceive the state of Philippine literature to be today. I have read more Philippine short stories in the last two years than in all the earlier years of my life. I have noticed certain characteristics that are different from what I have been used to and will discuss them. I think I am able to see these traits clearly because I have had no previous connection with Philippine literature.
And to make it interesting, I will reveal in the same article a very common grammatical mistake almost ALL Filipinos, including English professors, editors, contest judges, and Palanca winners, make. This will surprise you because I don’t think Filipinos have a clue that they are making a mistake when they do this.
ALTHOUGH only one month has gone by since the last issue (the nominal update cycle for this site is two months), I still have lots of good material on hand so I guess it’s time for another update.
As BPSS matures and I find more good material, this web site will become a resource where you can get a balance of classic short stories, the best of stories that have recently appeared in print, and outstanding original material. I don’t intend to neglect poetry but good poems are really hard to find and the balance will take longer. In this issue, you will find two classic short stories and a new story from one of the best new Philippine-based writers I have come across in a while.
One thing I can promise you is that the classic stories you’ll find here are reproduced more accurately than in most print anthologies. I have read stories in some anthologies that had whole paragraphs missing. I will also try to feature stories that are not as easy to find. I notice that many Philippine anthologies are beginning to feature the same material between their covers. This trend has to be reversed because there are many other older stories that are relatively unknown but just as good.
“Clay” by Juan T. Gatbonton was the first short story to ever win a Palanca Award (1951). To this day, it remains as one of the best ever to come out of the annual Palanca contest. As the Palanca is primarily a contest where judges have to pick winners out of a hundred or so entries within a short time frame, “contest-type” stories stand a better chance of winning because they stick better in the judges’ minds. Harried judges don’t have the luxury to ruminate on the subtler stories which often require rereading to fully appreciate what the author is trying to convey. Fortunately, some really good stories have made it to the top and this is one of them.
The next story is “The Centipede” by Rony V. Diaz. It is another early Palanca winner (1953) and one that I love well. I had originally intended to use his other Palanca winner, “Death in a Sawmill,” but chose this instead. It hasn’t had the same exposure as “Death in a Sawmill” which has been anthologized to death but is even a better story as far as I’m concerned. Diaz’s description of the cruelty of the protagonist’s sister never fails to make me shiver.
Finally, we have “Sinigang” by Marby Villaceran. I’m surprised Philippine editors haven’t discovered and gone crazy over her yet since she is one terrific Philippine-based writer. In “Sinigang,” Villaceran masterfully weaves into the narrative of preparing a meal a parallel story, resulting is layers of symbols which you can choose to ignore and still enjoy the story. I won’t spoil for you the delight of reading the story by describing it more fully. It is bravura material from a young Filipina writer.
To all writers out there, keep sending those contributions in. I assure you that if I use your material, it would be because of its quality, not because I didn’t have enough good material for that issue. I will delay putting out an update rather than come up with one I’m not happy with—this flexibility is one of the advantages of this new perpetual anthology format over the old bimonthly ezine format.
P.S. Fireworks (click) is back on this site. I pulled it out temporarily after it first came out.
In this issue is another story by Consorcio Borje. He was one of the brightest stars in the pre-World War II Philippine literary world. He won the prestigious Commonwealth Award in 1941 for his collection of 47 short stories, The Automobile Comes to Town. However, he disappeared from the literary world after the war.
Just as his landmark book was about to be published, WWII came. Depending on whom you ask, the manuscript for his book was either lost or stolen from the government office handling the publication when war started. Copies of his short stories in the offices of Kislap Graphic and other magazines where they originally appeared were burned or lost. Neither he nor his family had copies.
Borje was heartbroken. His whole life's work was gone. He never seriously ventured into the literary world again but went on to raise his family in relative obscurity.
Fate was kind in a perverse way, however. An American soldier found a hand-bound manuscript of short stories during the liberation of the Philippines--it is not clear where and how he did--and took it home with him. It laid in his attic for more than 50 years until he died. There was no name on the manuscript.
The soldier's son found it and let me read some of the stories. I liked the stories so much I bought the manuscript. I thought the stories were good enough to be published even if the author was unknown. Later on, I learned the stories were written by Consorcio Borje. Sad to say, I didn't know who he was at that time.
His name will shine again in the Philippine literary world if my plans go through.
Still I'm sad he died without knowing that a copy of his manuscript had been found.
The most requests for a short story BPSS receives is unequivocally for "Dead Stars" by Paz Marquez Benitez. The requests come from readers of all ages--it seems to have a universal appeal even if conventional logic tells us it should appeal mainly to mature readers.
The more I think about why it is so appealing, the more I find the answer elusive. Granted it is a landmark short story, the one that ushered in modern Philippine literary writing, but readers don't think of such matters when they decide a story is good. There are even strange and questionable words used in the story but people don't care--they understand that the story was written by one who belonged to the first generation of Filipinos who spoke English.
The story appeals to our sense of "what could have been," for it is the things we didn't do that haunt us later in life. Could this be the key to its universal appeal?
I liked the story so much I wrote a poem of the same title done in the style of the 1920s. It is in this issue as well.
Classic Philippine short stories, Palanca winning stories, new stories from Palanca winners (some of them unpublished), and contemporary short stories.