Dee Dicen Hunt reviews the launch at the 1998 Brisbane Writers Festival of a new poetry collection "Summer was a Fast Train Without Terminals"
Springtime by the Brisbane River — a perfect setting for a writers festival — and an audience rapt in tales of yesterday and tomorrow. I was spoiled for choice between forums and presentations with intriguing themes and titles: Wild Imaginings; Former Lives; history; identity; longing; the Reconciliation journey — maybe with the promise of a fast summer train.
I had seen Merlinda perform her epic Cantata three years ago at the Australia Centre in Manila, so I knew I was in for a delicious piece of performance art crafted in sensuously passionate language.
In "Summer was a Fast Train Without Terminals" Merlinda presents her poems in three portions.
First, there is Word Gifts where the themes of love, loss and longing interplay in 33 short poems.
Followed by Promenade, a performance poem in three scenes originally written as a poetry-dance drama for four actors. It traces the cause of war to our sad inability ‘to dance’ with anyone who belongs to ‘the Other camp’.
Finally, Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon, a truly epic poem, makes up more than half the text of this collection. Cantata is a re-worked telling of the myth of Mount Mayon, an active volcano in the Bikol region of the Philippines, said to be the tomb of Magayon. In Merlinda’s version, the mountain of fire is ‘the ascent of rage and grief of a whole tribe’ during a war.
Be careful when you read these poems. If you chant and speak them aloud and let them take you to your feet, you might just find yourself dancing — with the Other.
Merlinda shares her time between writing, performance, and lecturing at Wollongong University.