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EC: Bin Laden was a major component of the original challenge. His poetry was part of his charisma in winning faithful followers. The desert has its own magic in bring- ing out the metaphors from poets who embrace and kiss its sands. When his death filled the news, I was at a loss for sometime for want of a new challenge, a new mountain to climb; until I realized that the true enemy was residing within me, as Bin Laden’s true enemy really resided within his own self. It proved that to conquer that particular enemy was no less a challenge. Then I resumed writing the epic with that rare opportunity to defeat the enemy within.

Q: It is worth noting that Set 13 is directly addressed to Bin Laden, whom you describe as "Petal-adorned, decorated with the most/Beautiful of lyrics" but whose breath sprays of death with "Fire that terrifies every soul." This was written years before his death, but later on in the same set there is that remarkable and somehow prophetic sign of the "last rose" which the peace poet hands over to the warrior-poet. In the other segments is there a part where the epic dwells on him again, this time after his death, and how does the approach differ from this time on?

EC: Actually, it was a little over a year later after writing those “prophetic words” that Osama bin Laden was finally killed by American anti-terrorist teams in a covert operation in Pakistan. It was a sad turnout, as there was no transformation, nothing to that effect, he was killed only to be replaced by another, who, for all you know, might be more ruthless.

You’re right, it was in Set 13 when the narrator of the epic seemingly addresses Bin Laden directly. I even- tually changed the word “set” to “episode” to mark each entry. It was after I finished writing more than sixty episodes later that the news of his death broke out. It inspired me to write the episode entitled, “For You Who Are Dead By Assassins’ Bullets,” which belonged in the chapter entitled, “Into the Unknown.”

Q: What were those extreme contrasts between your and Osama Bin Laden's philosophies which you could have further used as elements in the development of the epic, had he lived long enough to see its completion?

EC: I don’t subscribe to the idea of using physical vio- lence to achieve one’s purpose. I believe in the way of peace as having a more lasting transformative effect to an individual and to society as a whole. Violence breeds more violence. Our universe is subject to karmic laws. I teach myself to plant seeds of love, not hate. Love leads to understanding, while hate to numbness. Love gives way to the flower of humility. Humility leads to the respect of the life of another; it leads to the belief of the potential of another for goodness. Behind the surface of things is a pattern that is good, a beautiful pattern that sets our individual roles towards the sym- phony of life.

The death of Bin Laden only elevated the artistry of the epic; it only ushered me to the next grade of my education -- that there is more to life and poetry than transforming the Bin Ladens of this world.

That level was the phase when I had to confront my own demons.

Q: Often one of the biggest challenges in writing an epic is sustaining that enthusiasm, that philosophical

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energy and devotion to the subject. For you everything seems to come with spontaneity and freedom. How hard was it to determine whether an epic such as this had to be ended?

EC: I have attempted to end the epic at least a couple of times. The last time, I even submitted a raw manu- script to a former professor of mine believing the epic was already complete. But, it was not the case. At that time, the epic simply refused to end. I got tired as I have a life to live, with so many things to attend to; missed out on too many things for more than two years of writ- ing the poem. The epic has its own life; it was telling me that I could not yet stop, that I still had a long way to go before I could cross the finish line. That’s why I relished the chance to finally announce its completion in public during the launch of my other book, The Occasions of Air, Fire, Water, Earth, at the Solidaridad Bookshop in Manila. In truth, it was the epic that told me how to start, it told me how to proceed, and it told me that it was already satisfied with my labor.

Q: Like other writers do you have rituals before, during or after your writing?

EC: I meditate a lot. I know I am in a state of creativity when I can already see my own thoughts, observe my own mind and when I can already put a rein and ride on my own emotions. It’s the moment when I cease from being just the body.

Q: Who are the poets or writers who influenced your writing style?

EC: On top of them are the writers of the Holy Bible, especially the Book of John in the New Testament and writings of King David and prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament. From the classics, I adore William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and Dylan Thomas. The lesser literary gods for me that I admired are W.B. Yeats, Wolfgang von Goethe and e.e. cummings.

Of course, there are other epics, as Beowulf and the Mindanao epic Darangen that have inspired me. Other writers who influenced me one way or the other were Alexander Dumas and Antoine de Saint Exupery.

Meanwhile, Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī [Rumi] is like a brother, a poetic twin.

Q: To which extent do you consider yourself a poetic twin to Rumi?

EC: I was already using certain metaphors that when I finally discovered Rumi I was amazed at how he used the same metaphors. There are striking similarities in how he saw writing as an art to mine. It was magic, it’s as if he knew me even before I discovered him. My ideal poem is a poem that can be read and under- stood by even an eight-year-old. That’s the case in Rumi’s poems; they can speak even to an eight-year- old. Although born 760 years ahead of me, when he speaks on the page it is as if it’s my own spirit speak- ing. Perhaps, it’s his common effect on his readers. It is another happy coincidence that we were both born on same date: September 30.

Q: Don't you think more of yourself as a philosopher than a poet?

EC: A philosophic mind is another phase in one’s

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