When the moon is at its fullest or roundest, modern-day Chinese poets, including local talents in Chinese verse writing, like to meet for exchanges in poetic musings and emotional outpourings in a manner reminiscent of the moonlit night practice of the ancient Chinese literati.
Much-admired classic Chinese verses, quatrains and stanzas on the August moon like the often-quoted Li Bai’s “Quiet Night Thought” and Yu Guangzhong’s “Nostalgia” gave way to original local Chinese modern poetry at the advanced Mid-Autumn Festival reunion of local old hands as well as fresh young talents in Chinese poetry writing at the Century Park Hotel last September 18.
The Manila event complete with poetry reading and singing as well as artistic exhibit of selected poems proved particularly meaningful because the Thousand Island Poetry Association, the most active group of Chinese-language poets in the Philippines, marked a 30th year milestone on this occasion.
Ten outstanding writers of the older generation including the fondly remembered Philippine-born poet Bartolome Chua – better known as Yue Qu Liao (pen name means “moon in a waxing or waning crescent stage”) in the Chinese literati circle – founded the Thousand Island Poetry Association on Valentine’s Day in 1985.
Philip Tan, the new president who formally joined the association back in 1988, warmly welcomed a number of young poets as new members at the Eighth Induction Ceremony this year.
The association, a virtual cradle of Chinese modern poetry development in the Philippines, has 54 active members who are all Philippine residents. A number are alumni of local schools like the Chiang Kai-shek College and the Philippine Cultural College. Their selected poems are published in a whole page section of the local Chinese-language daily newspaper World News once a month.
Back in 2009, the Unyon ng Mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) or the Writers Union of the Philippines headed by Virgilio Almario honored Bartolome Chua with the very prestigious Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas award, citing his lifetime advancement and propagation of modern Chinese poetry in the Philippines as well as his substantial influence on the country’s young writers in the Chinese language. Chua’s Chinese poetry collections, some of which have been beautifully translated into Pilipino by Joaquin Sy, are highly regarded and greatly appreciated here and abroad.
After Chua passed away in 2011, his very active essayist wife Rosalinda Ong Chua decided to carry on his dreams and ideals through a foundation bearing his Chinese nom de plume Yue Qu Liao. The foundation’s Chinese poetry writing competition for young poets, which is organized in cooperation with the Thousand Island Poetry Association once every two years, has succeeded in attracting a bumper harvest of entries from budding poets.
Lecture series have likewise been sponsored by the foundation to help improve the young poets’ way with words. Prominent writers and critics from China and Taiwan have been invited from time to time to give lectures. Renowned Taiwanese poet Hsu Wen-wei opened this year’s Modern Poetry Lecture Series during the August Moon Festival gathering.
During his tenure as third president of the association years ago, Bartolome Chua initiated the First Philippine Chinese Modern Poetry Exhibition. The creative presentation of the much-appreciated poems of famous members of the association was held for the second time this year.
Chua penned about 13 Chinese love poems when he was courting his wife many years ago. These romantic works, however, were all sadly destroyed in a fire. Chua’s “Love (Pag-ibig)” written after marriage became his personal favorite composition. He even painstakingly reproduced the original Chinese version for decorative display at his home. William Chua, his cardiologist and artist brother, created a sculpture showing the poet as calligrapher working on this love poem for this year’s exhibit.
The Thousand Island members proudly brought out their published volumes and compilations of poetry in the exhibit on a very memorable night that probably made the Chinese writers’ Tang Dynasty poet idol Li Bai smile with approval from above.