Thursday, June 26, 2008

Butch Dalisay in Sydney

Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr
Booker Man in Sydney

“Huneeee! Musta na?!” Good to see ol’ friend June Poticar at Conspiracy (folkhouse/restaurant in Quezon City). I haven’t seen her for more than 30 years! June aka Beng (and Hu-ne to me) oversaw our artists group that was so active during student activism movement in the 70’s. We serigraphed on shirts and posters anti-Marcos and anti-“ism”slogans, stencilled drawings on waxy mimeographed paper retouched with nail polish (even while the too-analogue machine was still hot and running til 6 a.m., in time for dissemination inside protest marches from Kalayaan Center to Plaza Miranda).

"Ha-ha-ha, still conspiring?" I asked her while I gazed again on her ever so beautiful and gentle face. Oh I hope Butch is not a jealous type! She’s more than a sister! For me she’s feminine face of student revolution which pulled chair off complacent academe; and initiated pettiest to most violent animosity between Marcos military and young studenst that wore fatigue jackets and sported gaze with anti-social attitude. 

“What’s that in your pocket? Pillboxes? Come Here!”

 “Run guys! F__g fascist pigs are out to crack heads again!” were just some nightmare dialogues that ran through our sleepless nights. 

Manila is a city with insomnia, but the mystery is it never ceases to wake up refreshed and steaming from a morning yawn that gapes as wide as the gap between rich and poor. The face of poverty is wearing a mascara of denial, almost challenging a public that has grown immune to a begging child’s persistent taps on glass-tempered but once gullible hearts. 

Conspiracy is a popular watering hole among intellectuals, writers and artists. It has tables all over the garden front lawn and near the entry are creative merchandise for sale (photo below).

Pareng Heber Bartolome has regular Tuesday gigs here plus some upcoming folksingers. 

Butch is married to our Hune. It was 1973 when I last saw June. I never had news from them until last April. First time I met Butch, too. My Pareng Heber Bartolome invited us to Conspiracy for his regular Tuesday gig. He also invited people who were once “subversives”(and maybe still are, LOL:) and some currently holding significant governmental posts. 

Apo Jim Paredes just breezed in from Sydney that day as we learned via email. We rang him up to join us. He did and cornered Butch all night; all along honey-tinted crystals which gleamed from bottles of San Mig Light traced an ethereal blur ala slo-mo camera from the bar to our tables. Jim and Penman Butch are both columnists for Philippine Star.

That night, I learned from Butch he’s coming to Sydney in June..and so.. welcome to Sydney, Butch! This time a special guest by annual Sydney Writers Festival. Definitely heartwarming for us Filipinos in Australia to be visited by winner of the Asia Man Booker Prize in 2007. Alas my editors were breathing down my  neck and I was unable to teletransport myself to penmen's Woodstock but we had an email exchange in Sydney (while Butch himself worked in his hotel room furiously finishing a book).

An extensive traveller you are, is this your first time in Sydney?

BD: It’s actually my second time (not counting stopovers), but the last time I was here was ten years ago when I stayed in Canberra for a month and spent a weekend in Sydney (for reasons that anyone who stays in Canberra for a month will appreciate). The Sydney Writers Festival is supposed to be the world’s third largest such gathering of writers, with over 300 writers attending, about 70 of them from overseas, like myself. I’m here with the support of the Philippine Consulate-General.

EA: You were working as a journalist when imprisoned in 1973 for being a staunch Marcos critic; did it change your perspective in life?

BD: Well, I was very young then, but I realized that principles are something you can’t just write about, and also that everyone has a threshhold of pain.

EA: What would you consider most frustrating moment of your life... and your reaction?

BD: I once spent two hours alone with (Filipino actress) Ara Mina—for an interview. I didn’t know where to look:)

EA: LOL! Err..You teach English & Creative Writing. Are kids receptive to the genre?How would you compare today's generation to boomers?

BD: Well, the kids still read, but they read different things; they seem to be more interested in fantasy than reality.

EA: Uh-huh, Will English and Creative writing free the Filipinos from political and economic oppression?

BD: Heck, no! They never saved anyone from anything, except maybe from stupidity and boredom.

EA: Am just curious in analysis, like, if in Philippine journalism, to be critical is to search for truth, are governmental threats and violence worth the writer's risk under an American paradigm of democracy but wrapped tight in feudal values?

BD: Wow, what a loaded question! The search for truth is vital under any kind of regime, whether in hardship or in comfort.

EA: Feudal and old sometimes leave traces on the planet. How many old fountain pens have you got in your collection? Which is better, a Sheaffer or a Parker?

BD: I prefer Parkers, especially the old ‘30s and ‘40s Vacumatic that look like a cityscape at night. I probably have around a hundred pens lying around. It makes me look romantic and old-fashioned—but I’m also a Mac and a gadget freak, so I have an analog and a digital side.

EA: Har-har..a well-balanced Yin-Yang then. I heard from Hune you collect beetles then later I found out you’re not into entomology at all!:-) The Volkswagen Beetle was designed for the most fearsome dictator in history...and I learned driving in Manila under a dictator's regime using my aunty's cheeky ’73 Volks. And you collect them, too? 

BD: I have a collection of exactly one—a fully restored late 70s Beetle that I drive around once a week. If you can drive one you can drive anything.

EA: Okay, back engines are cool I guess:). Any word for our young Filipino-Australian writers?

BD: Write about who and what you are—as Filipino-Australians. It’s a unique situation to be in!

EA: Thanks Butch, and with due respect, Dr. Dalisay, Jr. More power to you!

BD: Thanks, Edd!


Sydney Writers' Festival photos courtesy of Violi Calvert

Visit Butch's blog:

Dr. Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. (Butch Dalisay to readers of his “Penman” column in the Philippine STAR) was born in Romblon, Philippines in 1954.

He graduated from the Philippine Science High School in 1970. After dropping out of college to work as a journalist, followed by a period of imprisonment under martial law in 1973, he graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1984 (AB English, cum laude), and then received an MFA from the University of Michigan (1988) and a PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1991) on a Fulbright-Hays grant.

He teaches English and Creative Writing as a full professor at the University of the Philippines, where he also serves as coordinator of the creative writing program and as an Associate of the UP Institute of Creative Writing. After serving for three years as chairman of the English Department, he assumed the post of Vice President for Public Affairs of the UP System from May 2003 to February 2005.

He has published 15 books of his stories, plays, and essays, with five of those books receiving the National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle. In 1998, he was named to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Centennial Honors List as one of the 100 most accomplished Filipino artists of the past century.

His books are Oldtimer and Other Stories (Asphodel, 1984; UP Press, 2003); Sarcophagus and Other Stories (UP Press, 1992); Killing Time in a Warm Place (Anvil, 1992); Sarcophagus and Other Stories (Anvil, 1992); Madilim ang Gabi sa Laot at Iba Pang mga Dula ng Ligaw na Pag-Ibig (UP Press, 1993); Penmanship and Other Stories (Cacho, 1995); The Island (Ayala Foundation, 1996); Pagsabog ng Liwanag/Aninag, Anino (UP Press, 1996); Mac Malicsi, TNT/Ang Butihing Babae ng Timog (UP Press, 1997); The Lavas: A Filipino Family (Anvil, 1999); The Best of Barfly (Anvil, 1997); The Filipino Flag (Inquirer Publications, 2004); Man Overboard (Milflores, 2005); Journeys with Light: The Vision of Jaime Zobel (Ayala Foundation, 2005); Selected Stories (UP Press, 2005); and The Knowing Is in the Writing: Notes on the Practice of Fiction (UP Press, 2006).

He has also worked as a professional editor. He served as Executive Editor of the ten-volume Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People (Manila: Asia Publishing/Readers’ Digest Asia, 1998). His clients have included the Asian Development Bank, the Ayala Foundation, SGV & Co., the National Economic and Development Authority, the Office of the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation, among others. Aside from his column for the STAR, he also writes political and social commentary for the newsmagazine Newsbreak and the San Francisco-based Filipinas magazine.

Among his distinctions, he has won 16 Palanca Awards in five genres (entering the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2000); five Cultural Center of the Philippines awards for playwriting; and Famas, Urian, Star and Catholic Film awards and citations for his screenplays. In 1992 he chaired the ASEAN Writers Conference/Workshop, in Penang, Malaysia. He was named one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of 1993 for his creative writing. In 2005 he received the Premio Cervara di Roma in Italy for his work in promoting Philippine literature abroad.

He has been a Hawthornden Castle, British Council, David Wong, and Rockefeller (Bellagio) fellow, and has held the Henry Lee Irwin Professorial Chair at the Ateneo and the Jose Joya, Jorge Bocobo, and Elpidio Quirino professorial chairs at the UP. He has lectured on Philippine culture and politics at the University of Michigan, University of Auckland, Australia National University, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, St. Norbert College, University of East Anglia, University of Rome, and the London School of Economics, among others.

He is married to the artist June Poticar Dalisay; they have one daughter, Demi, born 1974.