H. FRANCISCO V. PENONES, JR. Reviews
Amigo Warfare by Eric Gamalinda
(Cherry Grove Collections, 2007)
Poetry as the Canary at the End of a Mine Shaft
Eric Gamalinda's recent poetry collection, Amigo Warfare, is an act of faith on the survival of the poet's voice amidst the mad march of humanity towards annihilation. The book's title, culled from guerilla-tactics employed by Filipinos who appear as friendly farmers at daylight but carry their guns at night in their resistance against American occupation of their country, also carries this duality in the 39 poems which teeter on the poles of war and healing, memory and forgiveness, apocalyptic metaphysics and Christian hope.
In this collection, Gamalinda, a recipient of an American Literary Award for a previous poetry book, Zero Gravity, and a New York Foundation for the Arts grant for fiction, continues the re-examination of a post-911 world. Only here he poses the question, if not the blame, on America itself. "Because you send a shining fleet/of your youngest men,/lust still forming in their bones," the persona in the title poem tells a personified America. This doesn't make the poems, however, less American-friendly. It is more echoing the call not to let go of the light amidst the dark reality that "...war is inescapable. You must bomb/ a few towns if you want peace. If we have children,/ they will be among the nine out of ten/ who will never speak in the future tense."(“Two Nudes”); and where, "The world's great wars/ are fought on prime time TV." (“Ego>Lust>Guilt”); and therefore, " ..the nights we dreaded/ surfing the channels for comfort are here/ at last, all that cinema dreamed for us/ has come to pass," (“9/12”).
It is clearly a vision of the apocalypse, now, where the end of the world is seen as coming, "...slowly, like madness, like a boat/ cruising the Seine."(“Melting City”)
Amidst and despite this pessimism, however, is a voice that refuses the dying of the human light and existence, clutching on the last straws of hope. "...but there must be a season/ no one has weapons or currency for,/ in which smallest voices/still give praise to rain." (“The Remembered World”); and, "Through all the wars of our two centuries/ there must have been at least one soul/ that remained unbroken." (“Tektite”).
It is the poet's voice: "And I became a poet/ so I would have nothing to do/ with the government of humans,/ only to carry like river water/ in pails on two ends of a stick/ the weight of remembering/ and the weight of forgiving." (“My Generation”); for "Grief is a nation of everyone/ a country without borders," and; "We are so many bodies, my friends/ We all move in the same direction.(“DMZ”).
Amigo Warfare then plays the role that Galway Kinnell sees of poetry in our age, that is, as a canary at the end of a mine shaft. It makes us see our salvation and common route. Such affirmation makes Amigo Warfare really, a friendly reminder in an age of warfare.
H. Francisco V. Penones Jr.'s recent works have been included in Field of Mirrors: An Anthology of Philippine American Writers; and Reed Magazine of San Jose State University where he is an MFA Creative Writing student on a fellowship grant from the International Ford Foundation.