Monday, March 03, 2008

Book Review - Sorrows of the Chameleon

KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star - Monday, March 3, 2008
Immigrant verses

Let's continue where we left off a fortnight ago, with omnibus reviews of poetry books we received all of last year. Consider this the third part of the series. Ella Wagemakers of Holland sent her first poetry collection early enough in 2007, titled Sorrows of the Chameleon. The book was printed in the US by Xlibris Corporation (

All of 136 pages in lovely off-white paper, the collection includes poems previously published in various e-zines, such as the Philippine e-zine Dalityapi / Makata which comes out monthly.

Interesting inclusions are several haiku, senryu, tanka, and a haibun,which combines haiku with travel-bound prose. These Japanese poetic forms are always good venues for literary exercises and manifestations of discipline. Wagemakers succeeds in transposing her expatriate Filipina verses in English into exhalations of the eye, as a sigh of an insight.

In "Moon Haiku," for instance, the two-part series of 11 haiku heightens towards the end of the first part, with: "moon rising/ looking for the face/ that looks like me// bearded moon/ even your dark side sleeps/ in winter" Then the parallel culmination or closure is applied just as adeptly: "winter moon/ on a bed of clouds/ ... owl feathers// the moon/ in duckpond water/ choked by reeds// eve of the storm/ black clouds stain/ the full moon// in the park/ moon gathering/ the poets" One absorbs the imagery as reflective of a foreigner's ambivalence of inclusion in a strange new habitat, inclusive of the curious regard for a fellow habitue. Thus she also adopts the motif of the chameleon, referencing "flexibility of disguise to the ability of people to adapt to their situations."

Born in Manila, Ella moved to The Netherlands in 1988 and became a Dutch citizen in 1993. She currently teaches English full-time at the Dutch Police Academy. I first met her in Chicago in 2003, at an AWP (American Writers & Publishers) convention attended by many expatriate Filipino poets and Fil-Am writers. A year or so later, in between poetry reading gigs in Antwerp and Rotterdam, I hooked up with Ella and her husband Adrian in Leiden, and they took me on a scenic tour of windmill country.

Last August, she visited Manila with Adrian, so we had quite a pleasant reunion, marked by recollections of homegrown mutations of weed in and around Amsterdam, as well as my lament on the sorry stuff we have. Conversely, our poetry remains dynamic, bolstered by such poetry books as this debut by Ella.

Of her first book (written in Dutch) that was a tracing of the genealogy of the Wagemakers family, Ella produces a fine haibun: "I go back in time to 1611, the year the church in Meer started keeping records. Again, I move forward from year to year, and from village to village. The sun changes position several times before I stop. Her name tells me she is nobody, and she is nowhere to be found..." Then the incorporated haiku: "a woman's shadow/ walks by the well—/ there is no echo."

There are three poems in Filipino in this collection that is as much a gentle cri di coeur as a soft ululation. "Paakyat akong hinila/ ng hinihingal na hagdanan.// Bukas-palad na naghintay/ ang malinis na silid-tulugan.// Ngiting mainit ang salubong/ ng ilaw sa tabi ng higaan.//Malambing ang haplos/ ng kumot at mga unan.// Walang tutol kong hinubad/ ang sama ng loob ng araw." (from "Ikalima ng Hapon")

Ella Wagemakers' poetry is chameleon-like, indeed, a necessary stance vis-a-vis globalization. Her mild sorrows are also universal, however acutely personal, and thus charming with its many skins and colors of privacy. I look forward to more of her delicate poetry.

A review on my book, Sorrows of the Chameleon, by writer / professor / critic Alfred A. Yuson, known popularly as Krip. A very likeable character with his own sorrows. It is an honour to be mentioned by him, anywhere.

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