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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Remembering my homeland in poetry*

On October 9, the spoken word was powerful and amazingly inspiring. That occasion gave me a rare opportunity to spend a Friday night in the company of friends, family and acquaintances, while enjoying prose, poetry and free pizza.

Poetry lovers like me gathered together that night at Russell memorial Library in Chesapeake for the quarterly "Open Mic Night: Prose, Poetry & Pizza" hosted by Suffolk native, poet and author Nathan Richardson. He is the one of the marketing consultants of the Suffolk News-Herald.

Though I have had poems published in my native country, the Philippines, and in the United States, I still consider myself a budding poet. I have much more to learn and experience before I can humbly say I'm a published poet. Perhaps, I will forever be a budding poet, which I don't mind at all. I kind of like the word "budding" as in "emerging, growing and developing."

During the event, I read three of five of my Ilokano poems included in the poetry anthology, "Rekuerdo/Memento: Estrangement and Homing in Ilokano Poetics," published in Hawaii in 2009. It was edited and translated into English, with critical introduction by Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD.

The book presents the works of Ilokano poets writing from exile and diaspora. It articulates the sense of home and homelessness that marks the life of many people of the Philippines who have chosen---or have been chosen by life's circumstances---to leave the homeland and eke out a life in new places.

Agcaoili is the coordinator and associate professor at University of Hawaii's Ilokano Language and Literature Program, the only Ilokano-degree granting program in the world. As creative writer, he has also authored English-Ilokano/Ilokano-English dictionaries for schools and academia.

I was compelled to share my thoughts via my poems dealing with the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other migrants and refugees fleeing their country because of poverty, violence or civil war to find freedom, peace and prosperity for their families. Refugee crises in Europe and elsewhere were also on my mind.

Prior to reading my poems, I spoke briefly about my mother tongue, Ilokano, and the proper pronunciation of the vowels, like those of Japanese and Spanish.

Here's one of my Ilokano poems, "Rekuerdo iti Ipapanaw":

"Adda amak
idi pumanawak
nupay napingetak
iti panagkunak.

Adda duaduak
no agballigiak:
napigsa't pammatik
a makalung-awak.


Itan, makaisemak
pimmudno parparmatak
agpayso a nagbalbaliwak
biagko itan nawayaak.

Iti panagkalkallautangko
nabirokak gasatko
ngem daytoy iliwko
iti lugarko napalalo.

Ilik, dikanto malipatan
uray kaano man
sikat' laglagipen
aginggana't tanem."

Here is the English translation to one of my poems, "Memento of Leaving."

"I know I could do it
but there was this
fear that gnawed at me
as I was leaving.

I had those doubts
whether I could make it
but I believed in one thing:
I surely would succeed.

I went away
I went wherever life led me
I went through all the hardships
I took them all in patiently...

I prayed hard
I gave my thanks
I saved up
scrimped a lot.

Now, I smile in gladness
What I dreamed of came true
Verily I changed for the better
Now I am free.

In my going away
I found my good fate
but this missing my homeland
has gripped me so bad.

My birth-land, I will never forget:
I remember you each time
In my mind you are here
And on my grave forever."

-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at

*Appeared in the Opinion page of the award-winning Suffolk News-Herald, Saturday, October 24, 2015. For more information, visit

Post Script: My Ilokano poem, Rekuerdo iti Ipapanaw, didn't make it to the final editing in the above-mentioned newspaper. Also, when I submitted my original essay to the editor, Mr. Spears, I didn't include two stanzas (#4 and #5) of the original Ilokano poem because of word count. I should limit up to 500-word essay, but I exceeded it to a total of 700 words (as I always used to do), including my brief bio.

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