Philippine Literatures in a Derridean Sense: A Problem of (Re)versing the Region?

To sever the conundrums of a decentered regional literature speculated around and astride the national sympathies of culture bearers stemming from the notional question that pushes literature as literatures, or literatures as but a primal instance of the literary experience of the literati, albeit a centrality of its systemic coming together of telescopic hierarchies is being charged with folkloric origins, such a hierarchy of voices circulating in and from the regions should be reformed, or like a myth formally demythicized, in a structuring that is both theoretically violent and, as far as the Derridean discourse is concerned, forgiving. The presuppositions of the confused yet convivial acceptance that regional literature yields to the asperities of national, if not nationalist and patriotic,literacy example that mainly engages works in the collective struggle of the nation. Or, if concentrating on the condition of regional literature to be place-based, highly traditional, and co-centric with that of the national literary expression, the literature of the regions, most especially Kapampangan literature, could possibly be the narrative of almost always splintered realities (sometimes identities) skewered on a logos that is once and for all central and fixed.

Even Pampanga, as a province rich with natural resources and literacy harvest, prefers a language uniquely eliciting a multivocal set of meaning though land-locking a folk character in the reading and understanding of its literary text. I further aim at the articulated sensibility of the problematic status of Poesiang Kapampangan with the message disclosed hereunder,

Buri mu akit mo ding kanakaung bersu
tuki lang makyagum karing bayung usu;
ngening ing tutu na alang usung bayu… 1

In Alang Bayung Usu (Nothing New), Ari ning Parnaso 2 (King of Pasnassus) Renato B. Alzadon solicits the uncommon sentiments of contemporary Kapampangan poets about the centeredness or the Crissotan-esque culture of Poesiang Kapampangan in rendering the strict rules of prosody mastered by past poet laureates in their ceremonial staging of ligligan kawatasan (poetry contest), which today sees no wearing limelight for new poets still basking in the shadow of their masters. For Alzadon and contemporaries, the hierarchy projected in Kapampangan letters, a literature most excited by auditory presentations, has to be a widespread concern among the current local and international collectives 3 promoting the Amanung Sisuan 4 and Kapampangan culture in general. As a result, the argument on the trajectory of the new—for example, Zoilo Hilario’s Bayung Sunis, the exposure of emerging Kapampang poets to western avant-gardism, Jose Gallardo’s malikwatas 5—confronting Poesiang Kapampangan as a cultural text, in the interest of reversing the hierarchy of poetic practice and current institutions, will ignite the literary servo of folk imagination about to be washed ashore the old Pampanga River. Such indifference to the changing style and identity of Kapampangan poetry, therefore, should never turn an evolving literary history into a mere apologia of repeating consequences.

In the event that the hierarchy tradition/modernity is to be reversed, this paper examines the place of modern Poesiang Kapampangan “under erasure” not as emphatically a condition of repression but as an attempt to elaborate a positionality that is erratically differential or schizoid. However, I prescind from the premise that this paper with all its critical potentiality would be able to support the determination of a new hierarchy, modernity/tradition, such that the structurality of the Amanung Sisuan is undermined due to its lack of recognition of the elements of play and poeticity. It comes with a prescient suggestion that this paper speaks of an imagined dialogue between the political couplet of tradition and modernity making Poesiang Kapampangan articulate, as it were the exact thing to do, neither a displacement of the center nor a supplementarity by the other. Nor is there an informed hope of reversal to confront the Derridean sense of “violent hierarchy.” I deliver theoretical observations in order to make sense of the violent hierarchy in question—by means either of evoking representations of Kapampangan poetry in the new serialized journal of the Parnasong Kapampangan, Kasapunggul a Sampaga, or by accounting for the reductive, often Romatic features of traditional Poesiang Kapampangan in literary history; hence the Derridean discourse underlines the problematic of such a reversal: can contemporary Western literary expressions be put under erasure and therefore remain minoritarian, a supplement, or an other? And if such dominant hierarchy prevails, will modern Kapampangan poetry, that is now a becoming-molecular discourse, be displaced from its position of superiority? Is it possible to rethink that Poesiang Kapampangan is reduced into a myth which the Kapampangan sometimes desire to promote?

What is Poesiang Kapampangan?

Poetry in the Kapampangan sense of the word is very particular with the mathematical or scientific cosmology of rhyme and meter, its sonic auralities as an aesthetic priority more than the order of diction cognizant of the textualities of the text. Scansion: a texturally western province of poetic arrangement, before the Saussurean sign-system approaches the extra-linguistic properties of poetic language, is carefully the business of even the young poets who visit the masters from the then Pampanga’s capital town and cultural center, Bacolor 6, and from other towns like Magalang and Sasmuan. The temper of the time is imitation—with the reductive, often linear versification in monorima fashion. This aesthetic principle goes as far back the Romantic influence on Kapampangans’ versions of metrical romances in their kurirus (korido) and kumidya (komedya). In today’s Poesiang Kapampangan, younger poets are obliged to follow the style of the masters, their thematic concerns, materials, even their voice in drawing the crowd during town celebrations, special gatherings of influential families, and of course during the much-awaited Aldo Ning Amanung Sisuan (Day of Kapampangan Language). In her research made concrete in Kapampangan Writing, Evangelina Hilario-Lacson has presumptively observed that major Kapampangan poets have trained emerging poetic wards by prescribing models for each literary genre: “Zoilo Hilario lived up to June 13, 1963, Monico Mercado to 1952, Sergio Navarro to 1972, and Amado Yuzon to 1979.” 7

Even the politics of space in the consummation of culture as well as the centering of literary prestige, is highly acknowledged by Kapampangan poets themselves, and by scholars who push Kapampanga studies as an important cultural link to the study of regional literature. As was disputed and proven by Hilario-Lacson, “Bacolor poets were anxious to prove themselves worthy of the literary mantle from Juan Crisostomo Soto, Felix Galura, and Mariano Pabalan Byron. Magalang poets appeared and added variety to the theme, philosophy, and craftsmanship of poetry…” 8 This spatialization of time for each respective genre led me to rethink the utopia of centering Kapampangans had so crystallized over again. What is it about the poetic tradition in Bacolor that centers Kapampangan literature upon the cultural map of Central Luzon? What about the coastal towns of Macabebe, Masantol, and San Simon? Will the center/margin perspective pull through a case of othering and decentering? I denounce the categorical procedure here as it seems illogical to present what is already known and existing. The possibility of a reversal is all the more welcome, but only as a textual possibility and not as an accepted reality as though to introduce a new structure. What I am trying to underscore is the imagined dialogue of cultural texts through which a clearer if not forthright understanding can be achieved.

To render Poesiang Kapampangan in an outmoded channel of expression is to risk diminishing its folk character which the old masters detest and consider alien. There are basically two significant materials that the masters practically heed in the writing of their poems, namely love of country and love of woman. Edna Manlapaz, a premier Kapampangan scholar, notes that the capacity of Kapampangan poets to become wordy and redundant makes them oblivious of both the semiotic and semantic appeal of the poetic text. It shows only that the oral presentation of Poesiang Kapampangan seems dedicated to charm the ear and pacify the written word waltzing on the page. Derrida’s privileging of writing over speech can after all distract the auditory concentration of conventional Kapampangan poetry, such as this rain-inspired concrete stanza titled Kauran (Rain);

Papatik, lintik
Utik-utik, tik patik
Lintik-lintik papatik titikatik

Pasikan nang pasikan, masikan
Uran lalung mesikan
Uran kasikan
Mesikan 9

The light thematic expression is apparent in the works of Kapampangan poets exposed to the western invention of free verse and extreme experimental versification. Derrida’s violent hierarchy, say that between young and mature poets, can take shape in the message writers want to convey. Whether love of woman and of the everyday life, or love of country and political katimawan (freedom), young and old Kapampangan poets alike still preoccupy themselves with the national problem at hand,

Uling balang panaun ating bining lalsut
a pamamasala karing sablang sulik.” 10

Because in every period [of history] there have sprung froth seeds
bringing light to every corner [of our country]. 11

With the humbling introduction of Amado Yuzon’s version of free verse or timawang kawatasan in Kapampangan, the poetic landscape has all of a sudden been moistened with scented breeze of difference and a foreign feeling not too foreign as anyone close to home would apprehend. In Yuzon’s Palsintan Daca (I Love You), a free verse of thirty-three stanzas, the typical Kapampangan versification is seeing magic on the page for the first time. The common typographical features of free verse, however, bring Yuzon’s personal aesthetics only far and away since “free verse,” Manlapaz avers, “has not gained widespread popularity. A probable reason is the fact that free verse, lacking a marked rhythmic beat, does not lend itself to oral delivery. For most Kapampangans, especially the barrio folks, poetry remains an art form to be heard rather than read.” 12 Yuzon’s Palsintan Daca is thus written in free verse by omitting capital letters and punctuation marks, using a narrative voice, among many other stylistic feats;

neng minsan buri queng masala ing bulan
at neng minsan naman buri queng maralundum
ing bengi 13

at times i want there to be
moonlight & at other times
i want the darkness of night. 14

To the degree that language in vernacularized regions of cultural expressions is representational it cannot purportedly put the pluralistic triviliaties of the modern “under erasure”: a critically celebrated closure the Amanung Sisuan promotes, as a signifying practice of the preservation of its local signifiers through Poesiang Kapampangan, for a peremptorily preconditioned tradition of the “full-present” yet reductive presentation of the language of culture. It might traumatize language as depicting a culture in reverse or, for this study’s venture into Derrida’s violent hierarchy, promoting Poesiang Kapampangan as a culture-in-(re)verse.

Derrida’s Violent Hierarchy and Poesiang Kapampangan as Culture-in-(Re)verse

Let me clarify Derrida’s desire for deconstructing closure or, in my own critical account of the text, the ‘verse’ with all its essential trappings. There is a given genesis in Kapampangan poetry that adheres to the widespread popularity of the Pasion performed during Holy Week. The Spanish colonial reference of Poesiang Kapampangan can be further interpreted as a repeated context or an instance of (re)verse in such that closure becomes the instrumentality of repression. Although culture is confronted, as it were, by other textualities, given that the modern culture of Poesiang Kapampangan struggles too with its literary identity and structurality, I bring Derrida’s violent hierarchy to the fore to present the problematic of structure as itself a structure. The indeterminate colonial character of modern western poetics contaminates in fact the normative features of Amanuang Sisuan, but only through its contextual utterance that the Kapampangan experience itself seems to fade in the shadows of discontent and indifference. The wealth of Spanish orthography, however, lodges in the Kapampangan textual memory as poets and writers find comfort in writing in the vernacular heavily dependent on a syllabary too Hispanized in its oral delivery. But this is not the case for Zoila Hilario due to his indefatigable effort to inseminate indigenous orthography and make it the official system of writing in Kapampangan letters.

The logic behind Derrida’s violent hierarchy is that it suggests the displacement of such modern records or system of writing in favor of speech, that is, the former being “removed as the representation of speech.” 15 The contested displacement of signifiers moreover attests to the mechanics of repression, namely the cruel positioning of the subject that foregoes a positive ontology, its “under erasure” status, and its being a supplement. In the case of Poesiang Kapampangan, I have to say that the promotion of writing and its verbal calisthenics, moments of silence, experimentation, and recovery from repressed expressivity does not put writing or modern Kapampangan poetics in the position of being the primary evidence of logos, from which speech is implicitly derived. To reinscribe the notion of difference, Derrida assumes a blank in time and space, the conceptuality of distinction and opposition, which upon careful analysis leads my critical questioning of Poesiang Kapampanga’s status to sever the temporizing mediation between regional literature and western aesthetics. If such interval or mediation risk- disputing the existence of the logos and all its referentiality toward the center, the condition of supplementarity deferring the ontological centeredness of Poesiang Kapampangan would consequently suspend the fulfillment of desire presupposing repression.

Although viewed only as secondary in the logocentric cosmos, writing does not need the poet’s presence. Modern Kapampangan poetic messages can be extremely expressionistic, such as Renato Alzadon in Kareng Poeta na ning Amanung Kapampangan which effortlessly reveals an arm that holds the kaleidoscopic view of unfair reality,

Pablasang keng Telebisyon, Radio, ampon Pahayagan
Ikayung makalto lagyu Poeta ning Kapampangan.
Inya nanu? Magkanu ya ing abli yung tatanggapan…
Atlung pulung pilak kaya, karing balang kataksilan? 16

Kapampangn didacticism is one of the reasons why poets continue to moralize and teach on stage—or the constructed page in many ligligan kawatasan simply put. Derrida, in defending the place of the modern, shows that modernity does not only supplement but it also takes the place of tradition, because tradition is critically read as a text and can therefore be read in (re)verse, as in a repeated versification of its being a text. Furthermore, the nature of Poesiang Kampangan as a central signifying practice is definitely a repeated case of versification because of the myth it spins over again in human memory. But an assertion that a new hiararchy exists is another narrative to be picked up by Derrida. Such hierarchical design becomes violent if a new hieararchy is exposed and immediately accepted; in fact there is “no ‘original’ nature, only a myth which we desire to promote.” 17 Like all apparent speeh acts and performances, Poesiang Kapampangan is already contaminated with modern ecriture and its looming materiality.

Lawdenmarc Decamora
Lawdenmarc Decamora is a faculty researcher at the Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities, University of Santo Tomas. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is now an MA Literary and Cultural Studies candidate at the Ateneo de Manila University. His research works have appeared or are forthcoming in Humanities Diliman, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia, Mabini Review, among other places. /


Adams, Hazard and Leroy Searle, eds. (1986). Critical Theory Since 1965. Florida: University Press Florida.
Alzadon, Renato, ed. (2008). Kasapunggul a Sampaga: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan. Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press.
____________, ed. (2009). Kasapunggul a Sampaga II: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan. Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press.
____________, ed. (2012). Kasapunggul a Sampaga 3: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan. Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press.
Hilario-Lacson, Evangelina. (1984). Kapampangan Writing: A Selected Compendium and Critique. Manila: National Historical Institute.
Icban-Castro, Rosalina. Literature of the Pampangos. Manila: University of the East Press, 1981.
Manlapaz, Edna. (1981). Kapampangan Literature: A Historical Survey and Anthology. Quezon City: ADMU Press.
Selden, Raman, (2013). A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. New York: Routledge.


  1. Renato Alzadon, ed., Kasapunggul a Sampaga 3: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan (Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press, 2012), 3.
  2. Pampanga’s version of a poet laureate
  3. Academia Ning Amanung Sisuan Int’l (ANASI) in the United States
  4. Kapampangan language
  5. Jose Gallardo’s poetic invention of a four-in-one poem that conforms to his innovative prosodic rules
  6. Rosalina Icban-Castro, Literature of the Pampangos (Manila: University of the East Press, 1981), 7.
  7. Evangelina Hilario-Lacson, Kapampangan Writing: A Selected Compendium and Critique (Manila: National Historical Institute, 1984), 246.
  8. Ibid., 55.
  9. Renato Alzadon, ed., Kasapunggul a Sampaga II: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan (Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press, 2009), 283.
  10. Edna Manlapaz, Kapampangan Literature: A Historical Survey and Anthology (Quezon City: AdMU Press, 1981), 9.
  11. Translation by Edna Manlapaz
  12. Ibid., 38.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Translation by Edna Manlapaz
  15. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle, Critical Theory Since 1965 (Florida: Uniersity Press of Florida, 1986), 81.
  16. Renato Alzadon, ed., Kasapunggul a Sampaga: Katipunan ding Poesya at Prosang Kapampangan (Angeles City: Holy Angel University Press, 2008), 52.
  17. Raman Selden,, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (New York: Routledge, 2013), 166.