I never took course in poetry writing, other than the prescribed courses in American and English Literature in high school and college. But I had written my early poems years before I took my college courses. By reading poems by Filipinos and by English, American and European poets, I learned to get the feel of poetry. I read poetry because I like it and also because in 1924 when brother, Rodolfo, was working on his “Filipino Poetry,” an anthology of Filipino poetry in English from 1911 to 1924, he had no time to over hundreds of poems in the file of the Old Filipiniana Division of the National Library in Intramuros, manila. As younger brother I could not disobey his assignment to go over all these poems, giving me discretion to select those to be considered for his anthology. By the time I had finished my stint, I had written one poem, “Among the Hills,” which my brother thought good enough to be included in his anthology.
Another reason why I learned to write poetry is inspirational. I fell in love more than half a dozen of times between 1920 and 1924, and more than a dozen times between 1924 and 1974. My loves gave me inspiration to compose – Rosario, my first love; Purita, my tragic Inday love, for whom I had a breakdown, who died of anemia pernicosa (leukemia I think medical science calls it today); Juliana, a rural maid; Felicidad, another unhappy love; Andrea, also a muse of Camarines Sur high school days; Virginia, a Manileña; Vicenta, my Spanish mestiza flame; Rosa, still another tragic love; Mely, my most recent and probably the last of my muses; not to mention more than a dozen puppy loves and minor liaisons, excluding others for whom I lusted with more than a momentary, dance-partner fascination, in an age when mini skirts and see-throughs were not needed for the pull of infatuation; and still others, married, unmarried or estranged from their husbands, about each of whom I could well write a full-length novel in reminiscence, had I have the time, the will, the creativity and the documentation.
And lastly, singled out of all, down the cavalcade of the years, and my climacteric in the 1930’s, Pacita, my national beauty, of remote Chinese descent I lost because I did not play my cards well, like the dolt that I was in my green, obsessive years, who caused me to defer my law course almost 20 years, my glory and despair of a lifetime.
In brief, to those who want to write poetry, who ask me how and why I wrote poetry as well as the question, “Is poet born or made?” my answer is:
Read poetry, the best in world literature, especially English, European, South American and Asian poetry. Imitate the way they think, the way they write.
Also, fall in love. Look around at our girls who, I think, are among the loveliest in the world. Break your heart with the pain, the anguish of unrequited love. Indulge in self-pity, if it cannot helped. But sublimate your frustrations. You are then in condition to write poetry, poetry from the depths of the soul.