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An online literary lighthouse dedicated to Cebuano poetry


By Hope Yu


Over the last 100 years, theories of media and communication have explored the influence of information and communications technology (ICT) on individuals and society. Scholars have addressed two broad themes—the influence of the typology of the medium (digital, electronic, print, oral) on psychology, culture, and society, and the role of communications media in conveying information and shaping public opinion and politics. Studies on the influence of communications technology on public opinion has vacillated between the belief in powerful effects and limited effects—between those who believe media effects are “powerful” in shaping mind sets and opinions, and those who believe these effects are “limited” by the power of society to filter and otherwise influence media reception.3

The Internet has unsettled the conventional system of information production and exchange, breaking the traditional dichotomy of producers and audience and empowering new modes of management and organization for social movements.

Manuel Castells observes that digital communication networks have brought about the “diffusion of networking in all realms of activity”—causing not only media ecology but economics, work and employment, culture, and politics—resulting in a “network society,” whose “technical and organizational infrastructure” is built on ICT. Castell describes the network society to emerge as the dominant medium for social organization, creating a “new technological paradigm” in which “social structure is determined by networks powered by microelectronics and software based ICTs.” While the communication system of the industrial society was mass media, today we are witness to the rise of a new communication realm in a new medium whose strength is made of computer networks, whose language is digital, and whose users are globally distributed and globally interactive.

Kabisdak (www.balaybalakasoy.blogspot.com/) is the first and longest-running Cebuano poetry blog since its establishment in 2007. Designed to be an online literary lighthouse by moderator Michael Obenieta, it has been consistent in its objective to post poetry, and occasionally fiction, on a regular basis. Without fail, the site posts at least 30 poems every month with not a single poet, regardless of the quantity/quality of his/her contributions will have more than a poem a week. Two other blogs following in the footsteps of Kabisdak have gone online—Baybayon and Balakista—though these tend to have one poet dominating other contributors in a given week’s worth of contribution and its posting is irregular, sometimes a week or even months would pass before another posting is made. There are also other personal Cebuano poetry blogs whose administrators are occasionally published in Kabisdak—My Secret Pond by Ric S. Bastasa and Pobreng Panglantaw by Hazel Cobol. Blogs with more polished poetry like Mga Balak ni Butch Bandillo and Babayesa Balod rarely do updates on their posts or have even stopped posting. In other words, the blogs do not have the regularity and vibrancy characterized by Kabisdak’s steady stream of contributions.

Kabisdak is largely Visayan-centered in its ethnolinguistic sense with most of its contributors based in Cebu, other parts of the Visayas as well as Mindanao, although according to Obenieta, there are a few Manila-based poets who send in pieces every now and then. The bulk of the contributions, however, come from poets from Cebu who are now “dis/located in diverse places of the diaspora”. Four of the top contributors are based abroad: two in the United States—Michael Obenieta and Melquiadito Allego, and one in Bangladesh—Vicente Vivencio Bandillo. There are women poets who have made their voices heard in the site and some of them are members of the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu, Inc. That the bulk of contributions come from poets of the diaspora speaks of the site’s off-centered status as well as location for raising the stake against displacement in a psychic sense that creative use of language can provide. As Obenieta states, “Kabisdak keeps me oriented to my roots as a Cebuano poet who needs to be perennially nurtured with a sense of home that my mother tongue provides on a psychic level. It also sustains my kinship with fellow poets, especially the hardy souls who persist to reaffirm their native heritage of language regardless of their place in the global diaspora.”

More than serving as a literary lighthouse is the joy it brings to touch base with old masters of the craft as well as neophytes who have been encouraged to participate in the communion of Cebuano poetry.

Poetry’s entrance into digital culture, according to Loss Pequeño Glazier, has been in fits and starts, at times stunted by technology itself. Contrary to signalling any advance into a digital poetics, technology was used to “Xerox” thousands of home pages of what was sentimental, personalized poetry. Thematically, the submissions to Kabisdak are middle-of-the-road and stylistically in the sense that there is no obvious attempt to steer away from the traditional or to hew closer to more adventurous experimentation. Cebuano poetry as published, whether in print or online, is still young compared to the publishing and academic exposures that nurtured Filipino poets writing in English or in Filipino (Tagalog). There is no clear-cut demarcation regarding the thematic or stylistic stance of poets in Kabisdak vis-à-vis what one reads in mainstream Cebuano publications such as Bisaya or in recent Cebuano anthologies published by university presses or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Most of Kabisdak’s readers are poets, if not in actual deed, then in spirit at least. There are students and scholars, however, who search the site for answers to assignments or researches. Given the market forces as well as other limitations (read: imperial) in the publication industry inexorably imposed on the writers in the margins, the resources of digital technology certainly offers a leverage for anybody displaced by the mainstream scheme of publishing. Distrust may reflect the condescending attitude of the status quo—the gatekeepers who think that their purview is worth poring over.

Kabisdak has yet to include audio and video links that will enhance the experience of partaking of Cebuano literature. Though the Internet can be characterized as predominantly commercial, it is also a site where online poety can begin to incorporate multiple practices into a more generally accessible on-screen performance, extending the reach and impact of those practices. Cebuano audio materials like poetry readings and recordings in Cebuano are hardly accessible for the moderator and so are on screen recordings.

Promoting Cebuano as well as other regional poetry, for that matter, long relegated to the margins of the establishment, will never make a dent on the most impregnable fortress of the English language and its whole cultural architectonics in the Philippine’s psyche where the colonial foundation of the West is so irrevocably entrenched. The long-overdue thrust of appreciating and nurturing the legacy and identity as Cebuanos—by means of the mother tongue with which one articulates what she/he thinks or how she/he deals with the immediate world since birth—is never to be misconstrued as a threat to the dominance of English in our mindsets and attitudes. In this technologically-permeable world where English is an overarching monolith toward a globalized territory of trade and commerce, it will continue to be resonant regardless of its bastardization and its variety of metamorphosis that mirrors the world’s diversity. Within the Cebuano purview too glaring with colonially-colored perspective and priorities, the spaces of affiliation and obsession with English is too vast to accommodate the little but significant inroads of a few regional languages that now assume the emergency of timely attention—in the midst of something like an ethnic purge of native tongues whose extinction has become no less a global epidemic. Indeed, recognizing the importance of Cebuano is an either-or proposition at the expense of English language. At the very least, our “native clearing” as Gemino Abad observed is too rich for cultivating a garden variety of expressing our dynamism as a people.

Against the tides of diaspora that continue to drive Cebuanos across and around the world due to the tidal crosscurrents of socio-economic forces, it is heartwarming to note that something so fragile and so disposable as poetry can provide a compass or become portable points of reference—as lighthouses are—against the shifting landscape of departures and arrivals that characterize the borderless world in the age of Facebook. Through Kabisdak, fellowship with poets, through the works they share in the blog over the years, have kept Cebuanos both figuratively and literally grounded. Indeed, it’s nothing short of magical how the words of Kabisdak contributors, and how their evocation of sights and sounds (a way of perceiving, a way of being), could restore one back to one’s place of origin and foster a continuum of community no matter where one is placed or displaced. Kabisdak keeps each Cebuano abreast with what it can offer next, whether it’s an ode or a dirge, or the usual stance of measuring up to the so-called “posturing of the soul” that poetry can sometimes mime.

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