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Bohol’s Agi writing workshop: The pathways for our literature

June 09, 2019

The panelists and fellows of the first Agi Creative Writing Workshop at the Provincial Capitol of Bohol, Tagbilaran City. (Contributed photo)

WORDS are among our simplest of comforts, but when wielded differently, these are also a source of division and displeasure. That is why, in the recent Agi Creative Writing Workshop — organized by Kaliwat ni Karyapa (KaKa) writers collective, with the support of the Center for Culture and Arts Development of the provincial government of Bohol — these things were held to a higher standard, handled with a master’s care.

Patterned after the country’s major writers’ workshops, where a panel of distinguished literary artists dissects and studies the participants’ submitted works, Agi is the first of its kind in the province, gathering practicing and emerging writers from different parts of Bohol. The term agi is a Bol-anon word for “handwriting” and “to get through.”

The writing fellows are Cathleen Grace B. Dahiroc, Marlene G. Estorosas, Mae Tiffany O. Gallendez, Donita Jeanne Gervacio, Karla Jane Gonser, Anne Genelou D. Hangad, Vanessa Jane Jumoc, Lucell Larawan, Carlo Christopher A. Lelis, Karen Lara M. Libot, Ariel B. Logroño, Mary Rose D. Morales, Ruvyne Gayle A. Nagal, Ruby Angeline A. Pring, John Harvey Reforeal, Ronald T. Salada, and Venice Alyzza L. Ugay, along with two members of KaKa, Dandreb James Arro and Amor Maria J. Vistal.

The workshop sessions began on May 25 at Reyna’s The Haven and Gardens Hotel, where the first order of business was poetry. The panelists for the day were poets F. Jordan Carnice, Paul Joseph Vistal, and Palanca award winners Rene Eune “Coy” P. Ponte and Noel “Roy” P. Tuazon.

Since the fellows were a mix of high school students, working millennials and long-employed professionals who reacquainted themselves with their love for writing, the panelists balanced their critiques by pulling the hardest punches, but still aiming for sharp but necessary tough-love advice.

Criticism is never meant to discourage, but everyone needs to know what can be improved and what should be disposed. For poetry, this includes growing out of comfort zones: to kill your darlings when lines sounded beautiful but gratuitous; to break out of traditional rhyming schemes that constrict, rather than uplift, the poem’s intent; to stop mimicking Hallmark greeting card poetry and Instagram aphorisms by setting aside Lang Leav, Rupi Kaur or Wattpad and then venturing to other literatures; and above all, to read, read, read more works, especially by local writers.

There was also the dialogue on allusions and central metaphors, heightened language that ushers the reader to insight, ekphrastic poetry, sexism in writing in the 21st century, enjambments and caesura, brevity versus excess, and many others. The standout that day was some of the balak, Visayan works of poetry that were clearly more Bol-anon than Cebuano, capturing the sensibilities of one’s culture and strength of the native tongue.

May 26 was dedicated to prose works, covering both fiction and creative nonfiction. The workshop was moved to the new Bohol Provincial Capitol near CPG Park, where everybody endured the indoor heat due to the absence of electricity in the building. This only added to the unease of the writing fellows who were at the receiving end of more heated discussions. Luckily, power returned just before lunch. The main panelists for this day were overall workshop coordinator Liza Macalandag and Bonifacio Quirog Jr., along with Carnice, Vistal, Ponte and Tuazon.

Although nothing is truly original, since an idea is a reflection of reality or response to another idea, the critiques still touched on inventiveness and demands of narrative, requiring the fellows to ask themselves these: What does “show, don’t tell” mean? What makes this narrator’s point of view distinctive, but still relatable? How do I avoid becoming didactic, but still driving home the point?

The temptations of purple prose, the wasted opportunities of going back to heritage for story material, and the phallic undertones (or overreadings?) of some of the pieces were among those that animated the discussions. In the end, whether the story is sci-fi, horror, a recording of personal angst or an excerpt of a longer memoir, the consensus for any literary work is that substance should always trump form. The skeleton needs organs and muscles for the body to move.

After the workshop sessions, the panelists were impressed that, despite of the unsavory words that came with the praises, nobody among the fellows cried or left the room in a fury, unlike many of the panelists’ past workshop experiences. But when they were asked to share their thoughts about the workshop, tears were shed. They agreed that this two-day fellowship was an opportunity too rare for anyone to pass, especially in Bohol, and they were beyond grateful that they were gifted with the space to identify themselves with another writer, to unload questions they were fearful to ask (ironically) in classrooms, and to refine their craft while getting the chance to connect with other literary artists in the province.

This response proves that there is a desire for a community of writers in Bohol, that there is passion for writing and critical thinking despite the constant assault of misinformation these days. There are already several writers workshops held annually in the country, serving as major rites of passage for aspiring writers, but they are mostly outside of Bohol — the Silliman University National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, the IYAS Creative Writing Workshop in Bacolod City, the Iligan National Writers Workshop and the many university-led workshops in Manila, to name a few.

Finally, Bohol has the Agi Creative Writing Workshop, a gathering everybody hopes would be institutionalized and reach its golden anniversary in the future. Because, like reading, writing must never end. Writing our literatures is fundamental because, no matter the place, it is a way of memorializing (and learning from) our nation’s traumas and triumphs.

But Agi is not just about writing and establishing one’s penmanship in the country’s many literary expressions. It is about creating pathways for new writers and tirelessly following the journey of history and heritage of a people. And based on the direction this workshop is going, it is on the right track.

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