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‘I was already His poem’: An Interview With the Author of Ten Thousand Lines Project for World Peace

Poet Edwin Cordevilla talks about the idea, the process and the completion of his monumental work, as well as of Osama bin Laden, Rumi, Eliot and Blake.

Alvin dela Serna Lopez

Ten years and two poetry collec- tions later, Edwin Cordevilla began penning what would become so far his most challenging work – an epic that the Filipino poet describes as his “pitch to global peace-building and personal contribution for the construction of international culture of peace.” Completed in 2012, the Ten Thousand Lines Project for World Peace goes past what every poet has sung about war and peace: the poem finds it unnecessary to dwell on the physical struggle between individual interests and intentions but instead asserts itself as a mystic depiction of our internal conflicts and the passions that cause us to confuse ambition with aspiration.

The poem begins with an attempt to reach out to the darkness belea- guering and controlling the poetic, examining the universe of the terror and seeking to understand the wis- doms of its waging, only to meet an answer far different from those trum- peted by its victors and advocates.

Without moralizing on his themes Cordevilla pulls the reader’s con- sciousness into his own but does not necessarily impose his personal world-view. Instead, he lets the reader wander freely in the space created by his tenets until the reader ponders on the various why’s of his tragedies. Lines such as the follow- ing illustrate a cornering jab in our misconception of the glories of the battlefield:

“And today same wars happen Where the pawns no longer remember How they all started.”

We have known of our prolonged conflicts, those which causes have been blurred by the rhetoric of dreams and dread, which kernel has been blanketed with a coat of obsession instead of fervor, of fallacy instead of philosophy.

In contrast to the later parts, the PAGE 39∙ Year I ∙ Issue #1

epic’s earlier episodes are epistles sent to the being outside the poet. In several lines Cordevilla addresses a particular adversary, a warrior- poet who controlled half the world’s fear for two decades. Yet instead of a frontal assault on the culprit, he speaks of the spiritual cohesion among us, being borne out of one flesh capable of feeling the same degree of pain, the same degree of happiness, and the same degree of love. We are then asked why, despite this connection, do we throw ourselves into strengthening and glorifying a machinery built to tear humanity apart through physi- cal and moral attrition.

Cordevilla would write to the being outside himself for a lengthy period of time, until one day he discovered the end of the warrior-poet whom he intended to address. Out of the confusion that followed, the epicist found himself answering the riddle of the Theban sphinx, suddenly uttering a revelation condensed into a single word–Man. Such would occupy the next of the Ten Thousand Lines as he whose work once sought to confront evil in the hearts of others discov- ered that the same evil lay present in himself as it lies dormant with all men. At this point he knew that he had to face not the mortal enemy of man but the immortal enemy of mankind; not the conscience without, but the conscience within in order to understand the moral and philosophical ills that brought up societies’ self-inflicted tragedies.

It is in this inward journey where the epic takes its most beautiful turn. The poet seeks to “Humble the hand that writes these words,” a strug- gle that echoes Alexander Pope’s famous heroic couplet: “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan/ The proper study of Mankind is Man.”

Cordevilla is a master of molding powerful metaphors out of clear and simple phrases. His poem issues

Edwin Cordevilla

swarms of powerful images and symbolisms from the familiar, where they burst out in the open like fireflies in the evening. And while in some aspects he is an admirer of T. S. Eliot, one can say that in the epic Cordevilla’s approach to poetry is a direct revolt against Eliot's dictum that poetry must be difficult in order to digest the growing complexities of society. Cordevilla’s symbolisms are spare of the massive literary conceits and pretentions which characterize the agitated ambitions of modernist poetry. Yet do not mistake him for a traditionalist; his avant-gardism takes the shape of taking simple language into a hundred combinations and permutations to produce a vivid art of truth and beauty without compro- mising its intelligibility on one hand or resulting to truisms on the other. Such skill requires not a lifelong study of the great literatures of the world but an introspection into the universe of one’s inner knowledge.

While his piece agrees that the poet’s ever larger task is to break through these complexities, Cordevilla takes it further by mel- lowing their shattered fragments down to melodious bits so that, in his own words, a poem "can be read and understood by even an

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