Cirilo Bautista has ‘flown away with his magnificent wings’

Photo courtesy of Joel Pablo Salud

National Artist for Literature Cirilo F. Bautista, lovingly described by the De La Salle University as their literary “Moses, Gandalf, Nero Wolfe, Obi Wan Kenobi” and “perhaps the greatest poet in the annals of Philippine literature,” died at 76 on Sunday.

The writing community, still reeling from the death of columnist-heritage conservator-architect Augusto “Toti” Villalon Saturday, reacted with an outburst of lyrical paeans in their Facebook posts and in SMS messages at the death of Bautista, also nicknamed Toti.

DLSU’s Dr. Shirley Lua said, “Cirilo has flown away with his magnificent, luminous wings.”

Essayist Sylvia L. Mayuga wrote: “Paalam (farewell), Cirilo. You were not just a National Artist. You were/are magical. That moment in your lair —with afternoon light streaming in, enfolding you as you spoke of ‘Telex Moon’—will live forever in my heart.Retired diplomat Alejandrino A. Vicente, a master of fine arts in creative writing student of Bautista, wrote: “Doc Bau, bereft we are, but I know you’ll finally meet the Master of all poets in His own playing fields. Adieu, dear Sir!”

Virginia-based poet Luisa A. Igloria, who used to be Bautista’s colleague at DLSU, said, “Farewell, Poet. You taught so many.”

Language and literature Prof. Junley L. Lazaga of the University of the Philippines Baguio recalled, “Our Baguio Writers Group workshop with him is vivid in my memory (the venue, the drills). His encouragement was among the strongest driving forces that propelled me to pursue writing and to keep honing it.”

Fictionist Susan Lara said in her “Homage to CFB,” originally delivered in 2005 at the DLSU Department of Literature and Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center, “Cirilo’s writings give exquisite pleasure, and unwittingly show what good writing is like: through his attention to craft, clarity of vision, acuity of perception, richness of language and texture, characters who jump off the pages and share our lives and sacred spaces. With each work…he has increasingly narrowed the gap between his inner vision and its articulation.”

She rhetorically asked, “How can you really begrudge Cirilo his success? He is so generous, he shares his knowledge of the craft with younger writers. He was the moving spirit behind the Iligan National Writers Workshop, founder of the Baguio Writers Group. He has been workshop director or panelist in national and regional writers workshops in the country, and literary editor of Panorama. He co-founded the Iyas Writers Workshop with Elsie Coscolluela and Marj Evasco, and put the ‘work’ back in ‘workshop…’ He has inspired a generation of writers not just to create their own works but also to spark the creative impulse in others, thus ensuring that there will never be a dearth of literary wealth in the country.”

She praised Bautista for not being a bar hopper nor the type who crawls at his home’s doorstep at 4 a.m. She heard a rumor that “he’s asleep by 8 p.m. That’s part of his secret. Plus he has what Hemingway called the most essential gift which all great writers have: a built-in, shock-proof, shit-detector. And he can be ruthless and violent. This is how he describes the creative process: ‘to write is to wrestle with that horrible blankness, to squeeze it and to bleed it and to maul it until it surrenders to fruitfulness.’ That is the real secret: rigorous and unsparing discipline.”

Lara also disclosed that Bautista could show his lighter side by being “the videoke champion of the University of Santo Tomas Writers Workshop. Not only that—when his students cannot relate to a poem, he sings! He once sang the lyric ballad ‘On Top of Old Smokey’ in one class, and forever dispelled his students’ notion that poetry is esoteric and incomprehensible.”

She quoted Anaïs Nin who said “we write to taste life twice, and if to teach is to learn twice, then our honoree has done enough living and learning for two lifetimes. Who was it who said that if we did all the things we are capable of, we would astonish ourselves? Cirilo Bautista must be one very astonished man.”

Bautista authored more than 20 books on poetry, fiction, literary theory and cultural studies.

He seemed to have prophesied his passing in the poem “The Sea Cannot Touch” which begins: “The sea cannot touch me now / nor the sky / in this room whose arms are / your arms…”

Meanwhile, the Order of National Artist Secretariat, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts announced that his body lies in state at the Heritage Park Chapels and Crematory, Bayani Road, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Cremation is scheduled on May 8 at 7 p.m.. Final date and time for the necrological service and state funeral will be announced soon.

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