KUWADRO NUMERO UNO (Frame Number One). Published 1996. Author, Benilda S. Santos. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 108 pp.
The poet’s writing is much influenced by the bagay movement, as can be seen in the use of concrete images, clean lines, and the philosophical bent of some of the book’s major subjects. Santos employs these literary devices very well in the collection.
The seventy one (71) poems in Kuwadro are subdivided into seven sections categorized according to topics aptly titled “Pitak at Larawan,” or “ Rekwerdo ng Buwan.” The orderly presentation of subjects from women issues, individual concerns, to the beauty of nature facilitate understanding of the themes of spiritual awareness and human freedom. Santos’s poetry is of the lyrical and analogical kind that encourage readers to think about the common symbols used and think about their significant meanings.
Eight poems are in the moon section which center on the life-renewing powers of the celestial body. Ecstatic in tone, these pieces sound like prayers for the poor and the tired, that the moon’s cool light “touch their foreheads and take away the painful memories.”
“Ritwal ng Tubig” (Water Ritual) explores the real and symbolic power of the rain in human activities, as a source of blessing and harbinger of hope. The coming of the rainy season is creatively exploited by the writer to come up with the personal and quasi-historic scenes. Some are akin to the haiku in its conciseness and vivid effect while the others are pastoral in content and style.
The short sections “Gayuma ng Hangin” (Wind’s Potion) and “Yugto-yugto” (Chapters) have themes similar to the other sections. In the first, the wind is used a main symbol and foreshadower of significant events, while the second features human activities that are likely to happen each month of the year. One of the most memorable pieces is “Sa Pagpasok ng Kuwaresma,” (As Lent Begins), the featured poem for March, about a mother who offers a mango to her child, and her inconsolable grief when the child dies in the horrific Ozone Disco fire accident.
Social commentaries and individual engagement to social issues pervade the last two sections of the book–”Komentaryo at Dokumentaryo” (Commentary and Documentary) and “Bendisyon ng Umaga” (Morning Blessing). The poet’s sense of drama and irony are shown in many of the monologues and meditations. One of the representative pieces is “Kay Tu Fu na Makauunawa Sa Hindi Ko Babanggitin sa Mga Taludtod Na Ito” (To Tu Fu Who Undestands What I Will Not Say Here) wherein a female lover talks about her affection to a rebel and the movement he represents. The poetic monologue ends in a conceit, or extraordinary image. The speaker accidentally bit the man in the lips as they kissed, wounding him, and she swallowed the blood. She swears this made her live more fully, all the more after the rebel was killed in a military encounter.
Another poem from the last section, “Kaibigang Nawaglit” (Lost Friend) is addressed to a friend who is out of the country and is sorely missed. Although this is a common subject, the piece is remarkable for its bright summer images, rendered in ecstatic diction that contrasts dramatically with the absence of the friend. This seems to be a recurring narrative in Santos’s work: the sad effect of a loved one’s absence from the persona’s life.
Kuwadro‘s contributes much to the modernist character of contemporary Filipino poetry through the foregrounding of a humane and feminine poetic voice. The pieces are conversational yet lyrical, personal yet engaged with social issues and concerns.