This is my introduction to the lecture on “Learning the Lesson of Meaningful Silence” by Marjorie Evasco, held on 21 March 2014 at De La Salle University in Manila:
How tell the singer from the song? How capture, in 300 seconds, a human existence that, even on the surface, in the words of Myrna Peña-Reyes in her review entitled “Reality of the exquisite in Marjorie Evasco’s Skin of Water,” “hides essences”? The word “exquisite” might even be too gross to describe the poetry of our speaker’s life or the scrutable life of her poetry. We might do better parodying her ars poetica, by stating that our speaker is a crane, whose poems, when they unfold, are always both, at the same time, empty and full. An introduction to her life would be a real garden with imaginary toads in them, even if the toads protest that they are nobodies in a life fully lived.
Having been born in Bohol, a province now better known for its earthquake than for its previously symmetrical limestone hills, having graduated magna cum laude as an undergraduate in Divine Word College in Tagbilaran, having been honed in the English poetic register by the Tiempos during and after her graduate work in Silliman University, having returned to her vernacular roots first in her dissertation on Cebuano poetry at La Salle and later in her own poems, our speaker has written her own life as a poem, whose meanings may be unearthed on several existential, essential, geologic levels.
One level would be the numerous awards she has gathered casually, almost routinely, such as the Carlos P. Garcia Award, the Ani ng Dangal Award, the Metrobank Outstanding Teacher and ACES Awards, the National Book Awards, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas, and the SEAWRITE.
Another level would be a journey that, on the earth’s surface, traverses Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK, and the USA to read or to discuss poetry; on literature’s surface, poetry of course, but also creative nonfiction and screenwriting; and on academe’s surface, department head, journal editor, workshop director, and competition judge.
Gather her books and scholarly articles, add the translations of her poems into Filipino, Estonian, German, Japanese, Kannada, Mandarin, Romanian, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and you might have a literal jade mountain as green as La Salle and the environment, two of her so many passions.
No, there is no way to introduce such a life, lived in silence punctuated by words, or words punctuated by silence. In her case, George Bernard Shaw was wrong: “the poetry that lies too deep for words” does not lie too deep for the words of our speaker today. For her life as poetry speaks as much as her poetry as life. There is only one possible answer to the conundrum of which comes first, the life or the poetry, and that is meaningful silence.
Silent we have to be as we learn the lesson of meaningful silence from our speaker, University Fellow, Professor, Doctor, Poet Marjorie Evasco.