By Nancy T. Lu
An alma mater always welcomes back with enormous pride the visiting alumni especially graduates who have gone on to become great achievers in their chosen careers.
Last July 9, the Chiang Kai-shek College in Manila warmly celebrated the return in spirit of the award-winning poet Yue Qu Liao 月典了 (Bartolome Tan Chua 蔡景龍). The occasion with local and foreign Chinese language poets in full attendance proved that the late Philippine-born talent in Chinese verse writing has continued to live in the hearts and minds of his many friends and admirers, including his well-known contemporary poets as well as fans and followers from the younger generation.
The awarding of the third batch of winners of the Yue Qu Liao Youth Modern Chinese Poetry Competition dominated the event which unfolded only two days before his 5th death anniversary.
The Yue Qu Liao Foundation which was established after the death of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awardee of the Writers Union of the Philippines five years ago launched the poetry contest, attracting once every two years young poets to submit entries and learn from the critiques and evaluations of older and experienced members of the local Chinese literati.
Zhi Shui (real name Yan Xu) led this year’s winners at the Yue Qu Liao Youth Poetry Awards with his poem, “Old House.” “Dream Searching” by An Ran (Shih Ya Wen) garnered second place and “Straw Rope” by Shi Nai Pan picked up third honor.．
Honorable mention went to “Mountain Peak” by Zhang Mu Hui (Wang Li Jiao), “Mahal Kita” by Hong Zhong (Qiu Hong Zhong), “Nostalgia for the Past” by Liu Yun (Zheng Zhi Qin), and “Growing Up” by Ru Guo (Nian Yen Xin).
Thirty-nine aspiring young writers submitted 111 poems in this year’s contest. Each contestant was encouraged to enter at least five poems. The final winners were 21 to 31 years of age.
Dr. William Chua, Yue Qu Liao’s cardiologist brother who happens to be a painter and sculptor by avocation, designed the stainless trophy handed out to the top three awardees this year. The late poet’s Chinese nom de plume meaning “the moon in a waxing or waning crescent stage” inspired the design.
Yue Qu Liao, renowned for his published writings, co-founded with his close poet friends the Thousand Island Poetry Association in 1985, going on to help organize poetry forums as well as invite famous poets from China and Taiwan to share insights on poetry writing and reading at lectures to keep alive interest in creating modern Chinese poems.
The Thousand Island Poetry Association publishes on the first Wednesday of every month an entire page of poems in the widely-circulated newspaper World News to encourage local poets to write. Members of this leading group of poets in Metro Manila gather also in the evening on this day for poetry appreciation activities like reading of selected works as well as exchanges of ideas on poetry style and technique.
Yue Qu Liao’s Chinese verses and stanzas in his inimitable style have moved and excited countless readers, even intriguing them to pause and reflect on his amazing creative imagery and great sensitivity to nuances of life and living. His emotional outpourings have time and again revealed a depth of feelings so powerful as proven by the tears that flow down the cheeks of his touched readers.
Rosalinda Ong Chua, his essayist wife, confessed that getting acquainted with upperclassman Yue Qu Liao and responding to his electrifying approach and offer of friendship one fine day 50 years ago at the CKS College campus opened up the beginning of truly exhilarating episodes in her life. He looted her heart with his very romantic way with words.
Memories of this marriage partner of 45 years have inspired her to write revealing and moving essays. Life without him at her side in the last five years has made her more determined than ever to work and pass on his legacy in promoting interest in the literary field primarily through meaningful activities of the Yue Qu Liao Foundation and the Thousand Island Poetry Association.
The loving pair published together “Different Dreams, Same Bed” in 2007. He suggested at that time coming out with “Different Dreams, Same Bed (Part 2)” on their 50th wedding anniversary this year. With him gone, she still managed to launch a back-to-back expanded edition of his poems and her essays last July 9.
A mini memorabilia of Yue Qu Liao which was part of a poetry exhibit by senior members of the Thousand Island Poetry Association included one last love poem penned by the poet for his beloved bedfellow. He described love as cutting a finger and turning it into a branch to burn and keep her warm in the deep recess of her heart on a cold winter day. Dr. William Chua painstakingly created for the exhibit a diorama of his eldest brother as calligrapher working on this classic Yue Qu Liao poem.
“Poem Draft for Father,” another exhibited poem by Yue Qu Liao, described a first draft of poetry that was read carefully by his father. With his parent gone, noted the writer, the piece of paper was taken and folded by an unappreciative child into a boat and a plane. The verses could be paraphrased to mean that the beautiful culture of Chinese poetry was lost on the young, perhaps hinting a generation gap.
Words, words, words moved and warmed hearts at the memorable gathering of poets. Definitely a strong presence was the spirit of Yue Qu Liao. His little granddaughter Martina Bernice Chua even overcame earlier stage fright to sing ardently his verses on self-reflection.