Six Questions for Simeon Dumdum, Jr.
Just out, Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely And Why The World Goes On As It Does is a collection of 61 poems that observe the world in its current "beauty and woundedness," the poems flow with the undercurrents of grief, anger, worship, wonder, and loneliness, while displaying the breath of Dumdum's poetic sensibility.
1. How is the process of poetry for you? Is there an image, a moment, an emotion that triggers the urge to write a poem?
I came into poetry because of a debate I had with a friend, a fellow student in a seminary in Ireland. During a post-prandial walk I casually told him poetry was useless. This engaged us in a long exchange, the details of which I have forgotten, but not the consequence. Not long after that, the sight of a cairn on a sandbar on Galway Bay moved me to do the unthinkable, write a poem, which I sent to Hibernia, a magazine in Dublin. Hibernia published it and paid me a guinea. After that the idea of writing a poem never left my head.
An image or a phrase or line usually starts me off. One poem grew out of a comment I overheard from one of the workers who were making a coffin, who said that there was no need for it to have a good design. This pushed me to write a poem with this ending -- "No coffin is ever a work of art."
2. In her introduction, the poet Marj Evasco is amazed at your prolific output. Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely And Why The World Goes On As It Does is your twelfth book of poems. Krip Yuson expressed the same amazement. This would be your 15th book if we count your nonfiction. How do you do it?
When I was recovering from cancer I did nothing but write, in obedience to the advice of my oncologist that I should be kept busy. I came up with two poems a day--one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Upon my retirement from the judiciary, I turned my back on law and concentrated on writing poems. Thus, I would end the year with enough output for a book.
The pandemic has kept my wife Gingging and I at home, spending the time praying and writing. This gave me more than time to finish a 1,377-line poem about the Eucharist, my tribute to the quincentennial anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, which is now blindly searching for a publisher. A collection of essays, "Is There Sex in Heaven," is with Ateneo Press and hopefully will come out soon. The Holy Spirit has been generous.
3. You are a retired regional trial court judge, I see the confluence of your life in law and your life in poetry in one of the poems in the collection, “The Ballad of Pleading Jail”, where two inmate-lovers would be separated by a decision of the judge; the dilemma whether to send the guilty lover to jail to begin his sentence, an
d to let the innocent one go free resulting in their separation weighs heavily. Does your practice of law and poetry feed each other?
It does. When I was on the bench I had plenty of time to daydream, especially when the cross examination was pointless. In fact my experience as a judge resulted in no less than four courtroom poems. What I do necessarily impinges on my poems. Law, a very prosaic field, actually yields a lot of drama which to someone with a poetic bent can be fodder for verse.
"The Ballad of Pleading Jail" (a takeoff of Wilde's "Reading Gaol") is based on an actual incident in my courtroom.
4. Aside from your poems on family and travel, noteworthy in this collection is its observation of the world and its troubles, such as in the poems “Did I Hear Woman or Wuhan”, “Lockdown”, “Gretha Thunberg Addresses the United Nations”, even your awareness of the viral photograph of Keanu Reeves in the title poem “Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely And Why The World Goes On As It Does”, and “The Poet Passes Through Airport Security”, among others. It lends an almost commentary-like feature to the collection. What do you know to be true of the world today—and how do you think poetry expresses that truth?
Poetry has opened my eyes to both the beauty and woundedness of the world. Nothing human is alien to me, wrote Terence. The horrors that afflict peoples and their communities hurt the poet too, human as he or she is, and it is but natural that he or she responds through the instrument at hand - - poems. Czeslaw Milosz requires, however, that poems that protest should be artistically justified.
Writing to be true requires an x-ray vision that penetrates appearances which deflect casual thought but yields to a sustained and compassionate reflection. Of the latter is born the poem that brings out a fresh and vibrant understanding of reality.
5. You’re from Cebu. Can you describe your experience of fin
ding your place within the literary landscape of the country being a writer from the regions? Is it more difficult to be a poet from where you are?
Although I am from Cebu I write in English and my work, I believe, has gained a little recognition on the national level. I admit that writers from the regions find themselves fenced in by reason of the limited reach of their birth language, unless their work gets translated into English or Tagalog and published and given a country-wide circulation. Clearly regional writers do not have the advantages of their counterparts in Manila, who have greater access to publication and travel opportunities.
6. Could you talk about a development or experience in your life as a poet that, after 12 poetry collections, might have brought you to a particular mindset or may be considered art or life changing?
I consider writing my long poem on the Eucharist (title--"Sacrifice" ) as both art- and life-changing. Nobody writes a poem on religious themes unless in an ironic vein, and by no means in metrical verse, in rhymed couplets and quatrains. I had written on many topics but not on religion. In the process of writing "Sacrifice", I was beset by doubts arising from the fact that in the world is a rising anti-Christian culture. Somehow I was led to and came face to face with what I thought was the true nature of poetry - - which is as hymn, as prayer, as praise and thanksgiving. I think that Dante, John of the Cross, Manley Hopkins, and even, got it right. Perhaps naughty Jose Garcia Villa too? ("And over all I would like to hover/ God, smiling from the poem's cover." )