Note : This article was published on the first edition of LAWIG. On March 2021, LAWIG was re-launched underlining photography and design talents from the provinces of the Philippines.
Rawitdawit is Bicol poetry. As an art form, it is full of beauty and mystery and reflects the colorful Bicolano culture. I talked to the talented contemporary Bicolano writer and four-time Palanca Award winner, Niles Jordan Bries, about this creative expression.
I had my first encounter with Rawitdawit when I was in the seminary in Naga City. I joined a contest wherein I was asked to read and write a short reaction or reflection on a Rawitdawit piece. Luckily, I won, and as a prize, I was asked to attend an inhouse three-day literary workshop for free. That is how I fell in love and had a clear grasp of what Rawitdawit is.
If only it could be a bite
Or a mere nibbling–
It would be
Through clenched teeth
As to your crisp,
But if such would be
Lo and what a pleasure
Like one’s suction noise
Over a shrimp paste
From the towns of
And what a dizzying
As one travels off the city
Of Iriga and of Baao.
Please tell us how you got interested in writing Rawitdawit?
Rawitdawit is poetry. Poetry is akin to a gift of brevity. I got interested in the short religious poem-prayers I heard then in churches because it says a lot in a few words.
How did you start as a writer and poet?
I was a precocious child of some sort, with a frightening power: a photographic memory. Its spillover was that I read more and ferociously, and then I ended up writing verses. That said power remains and, partly, poetry has been a way of coping.
How would you generally describe your Rawitdawit style?
My style is predominantly dark and touches on fragile things, cracks, and shadows. It’s also a mix of the cerebral and the emotive – each poem attempts to marry the unsteadiness of intellect and affection. A thinking heart, simply put.
Personally, how would you describe a Rawitdawit? What is its deeper meaning for you?
Personally, Rawitdawit is a rare optimism. It’s like a glint of light in a dark nook. But the deeper meaning of Rawitdawit for me is this: it’s anything that went stray, perhaps off to outer space or deep down the great below, but in reality, it’s just hiding here on the earth’s surface, waiting to be discovered.
What are the inspirations of your writings? How do you write your masterpieces?
Personal memory, local history, myths, stories of lies, truths, and the complexities of the human condition inspire me.
Writing a masterpiece means having a strong material. I did research about it if need be and decide on the appropriate structure. It’s a combination of content and craft. Writing a Rawitdawit or poetry as a masterpiece is like a wind asking an imaginary stone to become an actual dewdrop.
THE VEILED ONE
OR, THE UNSEEN
A feathered eyelash
It softens, it hardens.
How does your being a Bicolano influence your works/Rawitdawit?
The Bicolano in me provides the so-called “nuance” in my works. A nuance, usually subtle, is a distinction or variation on a specific meaning or expression. It is that which makes a piece peculiar or different, more on what a word means to say and not just what it says. For example, only an authentic Bicolano would know that even if one is cursing or uttering a swear word, the real action may be not of hatred at all but an act of endearment. An angry register of a Bicolano could be the sweetest way of saying, “I care.”
Do you think that Rawitdawit as a Bikol form/style of poetry is still relevant in today’s modern time? If yes, why do you say so? If no, how can we make it relevant to all the people of today who are branded as digital natives?
Yes, it is. It’s poetry, after all, except it’s in Bikol (the language), but a brilliant and suitable translation is always possible. Even poems or Rawitdawit have been posted online or by way of Instagram and Facebook. Have you ever heard of twaiku? A haiku in twitter? Same can be done with Rawitdawit and can be realized in only 140 to 280 characters.
Finally, what particular Rawitdawit masterpiece that you have written was purely inspired by the culture, ways of life, philosophy, and beliefs of Bicolanos?
Not a masterpiece but more as representative work. It’s my Rawitdawit called “Paligsok,” which means “a portent of death.” Many Bicolanos still believe, for instance, that a “funeral” done merely as children’s game could be a sign of impending death in the family. A superstition, yes, but it speaks volumes about a Bicolano’s world-view.
My conversation with Niles Jordan Breis inspired me to share the beauty of Bicolano culture as a writer. It also dawned on me that, yes, Rawitdawit is still relevant in today’s modern time. In the upcoming edition of LAWIG, I will trace back its history.
The mouth frothed
Before the entire body
Like one whose jaws did
Firmly lock together
For he refused, decidedly,
To believe this:
One who picked anything
Up a mistress spitted out
Might end up
With flesh so brittle
As every bone could.
Words by Owen del Castillo. Rawitdawit by Niles Jordan Bries
Owen del Castillo is LAWIG’s contributing writer for July. He is currently the school paper adviser of Saint Agnes Academy’s publication, The Agnesian.
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