poet's sanctum Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday – Gemino Abad, an Introduction

We are excited to once again join Poetry Friday in the coming weeks (having been ‘absent’ for the past two Fridays). This week’s host is The Poem Farm – so drop by and share a bit of love to other Poetry Friday contributors. We are also very honored to introduce our featured poet for September and October, Professor Gemino Abad otherwise known as Jimmy Abad to his students, friends, followers, fans.

Taken from Professor Gemino Abad's facebook page

We have a guest posting today from a former student of mine in Psychology, Dakila “Dax” Cutab, who is also a celebrated ‘balagtasero’ or ‘poet’ who performs verbal jousting.

Dakila 'Dax' Cutab - photo by: Danny Castillones Sillada

Dax was instrumental in making our feature of Prof. Abad in GatheringBooks’ Poet’s Sanctum happen. It seemed fitting, then, for him to provide the introductions.

By Dakila ‘Dax’ Cutab:

Gémino H. Abad or Jimmy will always address his colleagues and students as kaibigan (friend).

Before he became a poet, he shared that he wanted to be a farmer (his words: “Just like Robert Frost; a farmer and a poet.”). He studied at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture, now University of the Philippines in Los Baños. Unfortunately, during an operation, he accidentally killed his chicken. He then realized that agriculture was not his muse. However, I will not dwell on Sir Jimmy’s biography. I just wanted to share a little trivia about GatheringBooks’ Featured Poet (for more info about Sir Jimmy, visit this website).

In 2006, I took Contemporary Literature as one of my elective subjects in BA Psychology. Our class was tasked to read 10 novels (Rosca’s State of War, Camus’  The Stranger, Coetzee’s Disgrace, among others), 2 collections of poetry (my personal favourite, Neruda’s Extravagario) and we have to write a book review about every book we read. That semester, I met the soft-spoken and one of the pillars of Filipino Poets in English, Gémino H. Abad.

It was not in our class, though, that Sir Jimmy and I became friends. In 2009, when I started doing performance poetry and Balagtasan (Filipino verbal jousting) at Mag:Net Café (Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, Phils.), I had an opportunity to share the stage with Sir Jimmy.  That was when I learned that Sir Jimmy doesn’t just write or read poems—he performs it! He memorized every line of every poem he would be performing. He said that he read an article that memorizing poems will help prevent Alzheimer’s to aging people, and according to his colleague-poet Alfred “Krip” Yuson, “He doesn’t want to have it.”.

Last September 2, 2011, we launched the Under the Storm: An Anthology of Contemporary Philippine Poetry (edited by Joel M. Toledo and Khavn de la Cruz).

Image provided by Dakila 'Dax' Cutab

My friend, Sue Prado (indie actress who translated the poem I submitted to the anthology in English) and I hosted the book launch event. After Sir Jimmy recited the piece that he contributed to the anthology, That Space of Writing, I asked him if he can recite another poem. He willingly obliged saying, “I will take this opportunity to commemorate my dear friend, Edith Tiempo. This is her poem, Bonsai.”

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe.

All that I love?
Why, yes, but for the moment-
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a queen,
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
And life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest child.

Edith L. Tiempo

National Artist for Literature
(April 22, 1919 – August 21, 2011)

That night, I knew that Sir Jimmy will always cherish the memories of his kaibigan (‘friend’). I am grateful and privileged that I am a student and a kaibigan of Gémino H. Abad.

Dakila 'Dax' Cutab and Professor Gemino Abad

Among his collection of poems, my favourite is Sestina for the Imp (In Ordinary Time, 2004) because it is one of the most difficult and complex of the various forms of poetry and the fact that ‘sestina’ is meant for performing. But for Poetry Friday this week, we are sharing with you:

‘The Book of Embraces’

I’m vexed with myself tonight
that I, fitful tiller of words,
cannot write you a poem,
warm as your ironing-board,
well-shaped like your finest vase,
which should tell everlastingly your truth
clear like any ordinary morning
when the smog lifts to wide-open skies.
What is your truth, or what is love?
Where you move without ripple in my blood,
there the clods of deep little hurts –
oh, forgiven, nameless in memory,
and yet, without my conscious intent,
let to grow like thorny touch-me-nots
and rankly creep with tiny purple eyes
to demean me darkly in my sight.
How their bramble cut my soul
where I would not look to save myself! 
Why do I struggle toward your truth?
Where words and words swirl about,
dust in my speech, without power
to trace their meaning in my blood,
I coax like a conscientious gardener
from dead clods their hurtful bloom,
then look upon my soul’s wildness
that you had loved, and strain
from our days’ erasure of worship,
syllable by syllable,
the struck bliss and dazzle
of our secret ‘book of embraces.’

34 comments on “Poetry Friday – Gemino Abad, an Introduction

  1. according to SIr Jimmy, “The ‘muse’ is the language, kaibigan.”


  2. Great post! I will have to save it for re-reading. Glad to have you back, Myra!


    • Hi Tabatha! Never thought I’d miss posting for Poetry Friday – but I did have withdrawal symptoms the past two weeks – and have remained diligent in posting comments notwithstanding our ‘absent’ posts. Hahaha. Yes, re-read away!


  3. Thank you for all of these introductions, Myra and “Dax.” I have laughed and cried through this post. Edith L. Tiempo must have been an incredible poet and person. Looking forward to reading more of Gemino Abad’s work here in coming weeks.


    • Hi Robyn, so glad to have you come visit again. Yes, Edith Tiempo is/was also considered one of THE great pillars of poetry in the Philippines.

      We are also excited to share Sir Jimmy’s work for Poetry Friday. I’ve been reading his ‘Care of Light’ and ‘In Ordinary Time’ – such an experience immersing myself in his words.


  4. Thanks for the wonderful introduction to Jimmy’s work. What a pleasure to hear all these different voices. Edith’s poem is sublime. Sad to hear of her passing.


    • Hi Jama! We are truly inspired to feature Sir Jimmy’s poetry. It is a privilege for us to have him in our pages.

      Edith Tiempo is also a very highly respected Filipina poet – perhaps one of these months we could also share a bit of her ‘voice’ here.


  5. So much in this post to go explore! I hope to find out more about Balagtasan (“Filipino verbal jousting!”) – sounds intriguing. Thanks, Myra.


    • Hi Julie! Thanks for dropping by. ‘Balagtasan’ is indeed exciting – and it takes a certain kind of character (panache) and wit and skill with words – to be able to deliver it effectively since everything is extemporaneous – Dax seems to excel at that. 🙂


  6. I find it hard to write responses to such moving poetry. It feels like it needs to be internalized and absorbed before I can express anything of value!


    • Hi Joanna! You have just written a beautiful response. Oftentimes, it is in those breaths of silences when we feel intensely about something that we find our inner truths. We feel immensely blessed that we have found likeminded friends in you and the Poetry Friday Community. You really should join soon! 🙂


  7. You shared such a lovely story of your connection to this poet, and then his connection too to his friend. Your words made the poems even more meaningful. Thank you.


    • Hi Linda! Thanks for dropping by and for sharing such beautiful thoughts. It is our privilege and honor to be able to share these lovely things with all of you. We’re excited to do more in the coming weeks. 🙂


  8. What a great post! So much that is new and interesting. Thanks to you and Dax for expanding my world.


    • Hi Barbara, thank you dearly for dropping by. We also feel the same each time we visit other Poetry Friday posts – we do feel our world getting smaller and getting bigger too at the same time. So lovely.


  9. What a soulful post. Thank you for these words, like gifts! I loved this journey and also the idea of poetry as helping to prevent Alzheimer’s.

    “To scale all love down
    To a cupped hand’s size”

    So beautiful.


  10. What a soulful post. Thank you for these words, like gifts! I loved this journey and also the idea of memorized poems keeping Alzheimer’s at bay.

    “To scale all love down
    To a cupped hand’s size”

    So beautiful.


    • Hi Amy! Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday this week. We have a feeling that our ‘journeying’ this September and October’ would be glorious with Sir Jimmy Abad’s words. Here’s to more soulful posts!


  11. I agree with the others — there is so much to absorb and explore in this post. Thank you!


  12. “Me too” kind of sums it up! I enjoyed meeting these three Filipino poets, unknown to me; getting a taste of the Philippine poetry scene; and getting a better sense of who you are, Myra. Thank you. Would you say that balagtasa falls anywhere within the realm of slam poetry or “playing the dozens”?


    • Hi Heidi, thanks for dropping by. The Filipino balagtasan does have similarities to ‘slam poetry.’ ‘Playing the dozens’ though I have not heard of yet. There are striking differences though in ‘form’ and ‘appearance.’

      For one, the ‘balagtasero’ is usually outfitted traditionally in the ‘barong tagalog’ our national outfit for men. Kind of sets the tone and the vibe somewhat.

      Second, there is a formality to the language that is expected – the academic Filipino rather than the colloquial Tagalog is often used. However, the more recent ‘form’ the way that Dax performs it along with his other fellow-poets may be more contemporary and colloquial. I haven’t seen him perform yet 😦

      Lastly, at its very core ‘balagtasan’ is a debate/argumentation delivered in verse. With panache and style. Hahaha.


  13. Myra, thank you for introducing me to Sir Jimmy, Dakila Cutab and Edith Tiempo. I love the lines “Till seashells are broken pieces
    From God’s own bright teeth
    And life and love are real things…
    The poems are wonderful. I will contact my Filipino friends about both poets. I’m happy to find your bolg!


  14. thank you for all your comments!

    mabuhay po kayo! 😛


  15. wonderful words too worthy to interpret.. feels so good that’s all that matters.. greatness! ^^


  16. Pingback: Round up for September and Carnival of Children’s Literature |

  17. madam, just read again the comments.

    i cried. B-)


  18. Hello, po, Sir Dax!
    Thank you for posting the informative intro on Sir Gemino Abad. I am currently writing a study on his poem “The Book of Embraces” and I’ve been searching for details on his biography. Do you happen to know the year when Sir Gemino Abad studied Agriculture?

    Since, expressively, he is referring to himself as the “fitful tiller of words”. 😀

    Thank you, po. God bless!



    Hello po? What is the meaning of his poem THE BOOK OF EMBRACES


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