Poets of the people
They are the portraits sought by photographers—unassuming faces of the working class. Surrounded by broken cameras, screwdrivers, pliers and other tools of his trade, camera repairman Arcadio Jumamoy never seemed bothered by me taking snapshots of him talking to us in his makeshift workstation in his little house here in Surigao City.
When he’s not fixing cameras, Nyor Kadyo tunes up broken grammar as literary editor of the Agusan-Surigao Enquirer, a community newspaper here. Or he writes his own poems and short stories, which he publishes in the same newspaper or sends to Bisaya magazine.
I did not ask about his age, but Nyor Arcadio must be in his early 70s. Yet he beamed with a childlike smile as he recalled his days in Cebu as a member of local writers’ group Bathalad (Bathalan-ong Halad sa Dagang or Divine Gift to the Quill), of which I myself am a member.
It was in 1994 when I first encountered the group, having joined its literary workshop in Guadalupe. It was there, too, that I first met Nyor Kadyo. I had read his poem in the anthology “Lunhawng Hangin” and learned that he, too, is from Surigao. So I approached him and introduced myself.
Another Surigaonon member of Bathalad, whom I have met only this week in Surigao City, is Ricardo Tubio. Nyor Kardo is a watch repairman who writes poetry or keeps a column in the Enquirer to kill time.
After visiting Nyor Kadyo that day, we went to see Nyor Kardo also, who lives just a few blocks away from the former’s house. In fact, the two of them live in the same community where my family in Surigao belongs. So we have been long neighbors to these literary pioneers in my hometown.
You can never mistake this watch repairman for he always has his small lens sticking out on his forehead. Now already having hearing problems, the poet Nyor Kardo is literally not one who is third-eye-blind.
I have not known Nyor Kardo previously but he knows my family very well, having been my mother’s student in high school. In fact, he recognized me when he first saw me. He has been a member of Bathalad Mindanao but, unlike Nyor Kadyo, has not joined the group’s conventions in Cebu.
Still, I wanted to see him the moment he was mentioned to me by Roel Catoto, the managing editor of the Agusan-Surigao Enquirer, who himself is a member of Bathalad Mindanao.
As a young idealistic journalist who inherited his dad’s business of newspapering, Roel is one who eats death threats for breakfast. But I rode shotgun on his motorbike anyway as we tried to find these two old poets in the city.
My brother, a bike activist and also a poet writing in both English and the local dialect, joined us and trailed behind on his bicycle. It was to be a meeting “for the boys” but unlike with the Senyors in Bathalad Cebu, there was no need to pass tagay around to let the talk flow more freely.
The Bathalad bards in Surigao seemed to have stuck to the divine nature of their gift and are thus living up to the name of the group. Nyor Kardo, a Protestant evangelist, considers himself a teacher in their church. Nyor Kardo, on the other hand, prefers to write about politics and religion in his columns.
Still you can see from every scar and wrinkle on their faces that they have been there and done that. And unlike the more schooled poets who write only in borrowed language, the Bisaya poets write about experiences more familiar among ordinary people and in a language spoken by them.
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