Bikolano poet wins Best First Book award
by Arvin Abejo Mangohig
By the time Kristian Cordero’s name was announced as 2006 Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award winner, everyone at the Claro M. Recto Hall knew that the awarding was to be an event of many firsts. It was the first time a volume of poetry won. It was the first time a trilingual book won. It was the first time a book published by a small press won.
It was also the first time the winner was not known beforehand. Instead, the UP Institute of Creative Writing gathered together the five nominees whose first books were shortlisted by the panel of judges. Cordero, Manolito Sulit, Allan Derain, Jimmuel C. Naval and Jaime Dasca Doble participated in the forum “Breaking into Print.” Each author related how his first book took form. Sulit was wryly comedic; Derain emphasized the importance of learning, Naval felt belatedness and elation and Doble discussed nominative integrity, truthfulness to one’s self.
But it was Cordero’s sincere portrayal of writing his poems amidst the destruction of Bikol that won over the audience which included National Artists for Literature Virgilio Almario and Bienvenido Lumbera and ICW Associates J. Neil Garcia, Lilia Quindoza Santiago and Charlson Ong. A hush fell over the Recto Hall as Cordero related moments of creativity in the face of the storm battering the region. Mga Tulang Tulala: Piling Tula sa Filipino, Bikol at Rinconada, then, is a testament not only to the emerging success of Bikol literature but also to the artist’s ability to triumph over the external life in the face of the most heart-wrenching of circumstances.
This year’s panel of judges consisted of Rene Villanueva, Malou Jacob and Luna Sicat Cleto, herself a winner of the Best First Book Award in 2004. The first ever winner, Sarg Lacuesta also gamely participated in the forum, observing that the award somehow shortened the gestation period for his second book. ICW Director Vim Nadera and Likhaan Foundation treasurer Linda Panlilio were on hand to award the P50,000 check to the pleasantly stunned Cordero. Lumbera read the Madrigal-Gonzalez family’s congratulatory message.
The unanimous decision of the 2006 judges bodes well for Bikol literature and writing from the regions in general. The Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award and its like are essential to the renaissance of Philippine literatures. A little fame and a little fortune are nice but recognition and respect are what artists deserve. As Lacuesta seriously joked, a Best Second Book Award was not such a bad idea at all.