Luis Batchoy: On Haikus and ‘Walang Forever’
“Walang forever.” [There’s no forever]
This is certainly the last line you would ever expect to hear from a multiple-time Palanca awardee for writing, but here it is: an honest-to-goodness hugot line that is typically read on Marcelo Santos memes than on, say, stories of a more literary bent. Luis Batchoy, however, is all about bucking perceptions; for one, he didn’t study literature in college but, rather, honed his style from the countless writing workshops he had attended dating back from over a decade ago. He considers himself as an “instinctive writer” and, truth be told, what can be more instinctive than dropping quotes we read almost every day on Facebook?
And before you say anything, yes, ‘Luis Batchoy’ is indeed not his real name; it’s Marcel Milliam, and he also happens to be releasing a new collection of poems this year here in Calle Real this April 12 called Human (is) Nature: A Year In Haiku under his real name. It’s a given that artists are expected to take these creative shifts, and this happens to be his.
“Ang haiku actually is wistfulness at the impermanence of things. That’s why beautiful things are sad things because they are impermanent. You cannot own the beauty forever. ‘Walang forever’, hambal sang Japanese.”
“One, I wanted to honor my parents; of course, kay siyempre ara na sa apelyido nila ang ngalan [because it’s their surname I bring to my name],” Milliam says. “And secondly, ‘Luis Batchoy’, for me, is a Hiligaynon creation. Kumbaga si Luis Batchoy, bata sang Iloilo [in other words, Luis Batchoy is a child of Iloilo]. And then the collection is (in) English. So, more like indi siya ‘Luis Batchoy’ (ang istilo), amo ina bala. [it’s not the ‘Luis Batchoy’ style, that’s why.] Plus, also the legal implications of using an assumed name for a book.”
By “legal implications”, he primarily meant royalties. For a country that has a maddeningly Byzantine legal structure, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever lived here that something as lowly prioritized as literature can even get affected by it. Still, that didn’t deter him from publishing a new book—entirely self-funded, as it turned out.
And the origins of it? He just started writing haikus on his Facebook status posts. Eventually, it came to a point where “Ang friend ko gave me a notepad, gamay nga booklet for Christmas… Hambal niya, ‘Ti kay ga-haiku-haiku ka man.’ And then didto nabuhi ang 365 Haiku Challenge [My friend gave me a notepad, a small booklet for Christmas. He said, ‘Because you’re into haikus.’ And then this was where the 365 Haiku Challenge was conceived,],” Milliam narrates. Ideally, the challenge was for him to write one haiku a day. However, he said, “May ara ka ya gasulod sa mind mo ya nga more than one, alangan mo punggan. Pero may mga days man nga waay guid. So ang end-all sang Haiku Challenge is… it was so successful that I was able to write around 380 haikus for last year.”
[There were some haikus that were coming into my mind that were more than one, and I really can’t help it. There were also some days that there was nothing. So the end-all of the Haiku Challenge is… it was so successful that I was able to write around 380 haikus for last year.]
The whole thing was not completely experimental to him, though; one of the first lessons taught to him when he was attending his first sets of workshops was on the construction of the haiku. He began to seriously fall in love with it when he realized why the Japanese chose to invent such a rigid way of writing poetry.
“For the Japanese, everything that is beautiful is sad; there is beauty in sadness… Ang haiku actually is wistfulness at the impermanence of things. That’s why beautiful things are sad things because they are impermanent. You cannot own the beauty forever. ‘Walang forever’, hambal sang [says the] Japanese (laughs).”
“Art belongs to the people. Actually, it’s the masses that need art most. The rich ones don’t need art.”
If all of those lines above did not convince you that there’s nothing Pinoy about haikus, then here’s the kicker: “Even the sunset is sad. It’s sad because it’s beautiful because it cannot last. Even love; it cannot last. Even if you own the person, even if you fall in love and marry each other, it cannot last because you’ll die. Amo na sila ka-emo [That is how emo they can be]. And the very fact that nothing is permanent makes it sad, and that sadness is a beautiful sadness.” Seriously, it’s hugot in all the right ways.
Just because he funded his book out of his own pockets did not mean that he did all the legwork on his own, though. He asked help from his artist friends from Facebook like it was the most natural thing in the world to do except, unlike the rest of us mere mortals, many actually responded to his request. “I contacted my friends from Facebook to provide a sketch, doodle, paper and ink lang, to become ‘chapter separators’. And the result was amazing because nag-mix siya.” Twelve local visual artists eventually signed on to contribute, including names like PG Zoluaga, Pierre Patricio, and even Project Iloilo photographer and writer Christian Lozañes (and you can see him here writing about Sketchcrawl).
Of course, that is not to say that Milliam is entirely unconcerned about recouping the costs he had spent on publishing the book. “So, the plan is to recover enough the costs to bankroll the next book. It’s not much kung may kita [if there’s profit]; it’s icing on the cake. The important thing is to put it out there. If it gets enough sales to finance the next book, then it’s a good thing. And maybe a little extra for helping those who would like to [he then trails off]… why not? It can be done. If something needs help financially, why not?”
At this point, I then began to ask him how Iloilo City now fares as a hub for the arts. And boy, does the dude have a lot to say about it: “I’m happy with the way things are lately. I’d like to believe that as for the rest of the country, art has always been viewed as something elitist. And you know, we can’t help it because really, if you come to think of it, in the marketing sense of buying and selling art, the only people who can really afford art are the rich ones, sadly. But I like the shift to noncommercial art, where artists are not really concerned of tagged prices, more of expression of the self. Kumbaga kung may maibaligya, bonus na lang, icing na lang [It’s like if one can sell art, then that’s only a bonus, only an icing]. The sad thing is when artists start to create art for money, which is sad.”
“Anhon mo man lang ang dako nga establisyimento kung wala kabuhi?”
“Art belongs to the people. Actually, it’s the masses that need art most. The rich ones don’t need art; I mean, not as much as the poor ones, kay ti, really, they can afford their Rembrandts and their da Vincis. Pero ang kinahanlan guid ya [But what is needed is] art (is for the) masses as a whole. And talent is everywhere; talent is cheap actually, when you come to think of it. What distinguishes the artist from the rest of the [using both hands to signal air quotes] ‘artists’ is discipline. Damo talented, pero kinahanlan guid ya [There are a lot of talented people, but they need] dedication, pursuing a career of excellence.”
”I believe that the past few months have seen the arts really soar,” Milliam says. However, he’s tempering his optimism with what he sees as a real danger to the local movement. “For someone (like me) who has been working more than ten years to expose art and literature, I hope nga indi siya [it’s not] ‘ningas cogon’. ‘Cause the problem with a sudden outburst of artistic movement is sustainability. People do it for the novelty of it. But then, people get busy, people get the ‘itch’ to get employed and earn because it is a need. And I hope the fresh batch of artists who are starting a revolution here in Iloilo (are serious). Hopefully, for a long-term plan. Happy ako ti kay may movement, may gakatabo… though damo pa kilanlan nga i-improve [I am happy because there is a movement, there are things happening… though there are also a lot to improve here],” he advises.
While he’s certainly amazed at the developments Iloilo City had achieved within the span of a decade, he still hopes “the city would begin realize that in a dynamic, young, booming economy such as Iloilo, the artists are indispensable, and they are partners in making the city grow. ‘Cause anhon mo man lang ang dako nga establisyimento kung wala kabuhi? [‘Cause what will you do with these big establishments if there is no life here?] So I hope we’re working towards that direction. We’ll see (laughs).”
We have contributors here in Project Iloilo that are closely tied to the “scene” that Milliam constantly alluded to, so I can definitely see why he’s not exactly all-out on his optimism; heck, even I am of the same mindset, too. Of course, what would that speak of us when we choose to end a story on such a depressing-as-hell note? Well, it’s a good thing that he certainly had a lot of soundbites to pull out from the interview, and this last one—though ostensibly about haiku—can be applied to life itself, as well:
“There are two sides (to every sadness): puwede ka ma-depress because walang forever, or puwede ka man mag-do sang best mo because you are in the presence or in the possession of this beauty. Kilanlan i-cherish mo. So, puwede ka ma-depress or puwede ka ma-impress. Kay ‘di ba, it’s a way of living life to the fullest, knowing that life is too short, beauty fades. So you do everything you can while you still can.”
[There are two sides to every sadness: you can be depressed because there is no forever, or you can do your best because you are in the presence or in the possession of this beauty. You need to cherish it. So, you can either be depressed or you can be impressed. Because you have to agree that it’s a way of living life to the fullest, knowing that life is too short, beauty fades. So you do everything you can while you still can.]
That is some Marcelo Santos-worthy line right there, folks.
Top photo by Xtian Lozañes. Photo of book courtesy of Marcel Milliam/Luis Batchoy.