Monday, May 12, 2003

lost opportunity

The 4th UST National Writers Workshop in Baguio looks like it was a hit, joining the other respected summer writing workshops like those of Silliman University and the University of the Philippines in terms of providing a venue for a select number of new writers to learn from intense critique and analysis.

This one had perennial Palanca poets Cirilo Bautista and Ophelia Dimalanta and National Artist F. Sionel Jose - three names that the educated Filipino would recognize immediately as giants in world of the Philippine letters - providing lessons, opinions and access to their skills, talents and experience. A great opportunity for those who made the cut and attended the sessions.

There is great value in winning a fellowship at one of these things. Apart from what you learn about craft and technique, your work gets analyzed and scrutinized, you meet great writers, become part of the network of men of letters, see what other people are writing about and how they are expressing themselves, hang out with people who care for writing as much as you do. Invariably, a vast majority of fellows go on to literary acclaim (during my two fellowships almost everyone there went on to win and publish in various genres and categories).

But read this little bit, written by Eric Melendez, one of the panelists:

"Oh, and to the successful applicants who chickened out or didn't turn up: it's not as if we scribbled your names down on strips of toilet paper, crammed them into a chicken wire tambiolo and picked out fellows at random. We took your sorry manuscripts seriously, spent scarce resources taking you in, and ended up wasting slots that could have gone to more earnest applicants. You're the reason workshops are a waste of funds, for the flighty-nuts image people conjure up when they think of writers. You could have traipsed to UST in bright orange bell-hop clothes, pulled out a cheapo imitation Sony boom box, done a Romany organ-grinder jig and gotten the same spit bucket regard we have for you now. What's worse, you guys stood up two premiere poets and a National Artist. Hell hath no fury, folks. Better drop the writing dream and take up Malacology instead."

And I agree with Eric's sentiment. Many many young writers with dreams of learning send out manuscripts for consideration to all the important workshops. But given the nature of these things, slots are limited (to keep the sessions intimate and to provide as much time as possible for each person's work) and intense competition to be named a fellow is the name of the game. If you made the cut, it means that on the basis of your work the organizers have seen great potential - but it also means that many other people will be denied the opportunity.

So to win a slot and then not attend is like a bitch slap - to the organizers and to the person next in line who could have attended instead.


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