Book Feature: This Craft, As With a Woman Loved by Artemio Tadena
Artemio Tadena’s This Craft, as With a Woman Loved: Selected Poems (2016, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House), edited by Gemino H. Abad and Myrna Peña-Reyes, is selection of Artemio Tadena’s poetry honors him as a poet par excellence. A first encounter with his poems might immediately remark certain distinctive features of his own way with that “imperial tongue” called English from which he forges “the language of our blood” — such features as a mazy, interstitial syntax and unusual words and word-formations which simulate a dramatic performance: that is, the flow and rhythm of the verses enforce the pulse of thought and feeling of the imagined lyric speaker’s action. We see this, for instance, in one of his finest historical narratives, Two Days in October, where “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro converse and affirm two opposing yet noncontradictory views of a fellow revolutionary’s cause.
The tone of the lyric speaker’s voice, as in most of the poems, is seemingly colloquial, matter-of-fact, and yet, quite rich and robust. Yes, Tadena’s poems aren’t easy reading; “California and the Stallion, Leda and the Swan,” which conflates Robinson Jeffers’ and William Butler Yeats’ poems, and speaks to women’s sexual liberation, is probably his most difficult, most challenging.
The power of his craft lies in the narrative thread and dramatic mode that construct his verses — e.g., the story line of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s flight to Palanan (in “Northward into Noon”), or the inner narrative of a young girl’s sexual awakening (“Seventeen,” probably the poet’s favorite), or that of Pontius Pilate’s monologue (“In What Wake of Which Bureaucratic Burden”): through all these, the intensity of his imagery, the rich ambiguity of his diction, the sturdy musculature of his verses. Tadena’s own poetics may also be inferred from such poems as “This Craft, As with a Woman Loved,” and his tributes to favorite poets like Carlos A. Angeles and Carlos Bulosan, Rilke and Hopkins. Truly, Tadena’s death in 1977 remains a great loss to our archipelago of letters.