Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dragonfly (page 14) ... Ferdinand Marcos


Another installment of Dragonfly. This time, a sonnetina in the voice of Ferdinand Marcos. More on the sonnetina form below, but first some background on Marcos . . . his fame in the US, the fodder of front-page headlines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has greatly deteriorated of late.

Ferdinand Marcos, a self-proclaimed guerrilla war hero from WWII, was elected first a Congressman and then a Senator and eventually President of the Philippines in 1965. He is most well-known for his martial-law declaration in 1972 that eventually led to his being nominally a president but effectively a dictator, with the support of the US government, until 1986. The People Power Revolution of that year resulted in the end of the Marcos regime, with the ousted president and his wife Imelda Marcos going into exile in Hawaii. By the time they left the Philippines, the Marcos family had amassed a fortune said to be in the hundreds of billions. In 1988, Mrs. Marcos was indicted and arraigned by the US, accused of embezzlement.

Two real-life incidents are referred to in the poem: first, the news release of a video in which the gravely ill Marcos showed himself shadowboxing in front of a full-length mirror (to prove his continued manliness despite his kidney disease), and second, Mrs. Marcos showing up for her US arraignment wearing ballroom attire. Marcos died less than a year after that video appeared in the news, and Mrs. Marcos was acquitted of the embezzlement charges in 1990, eventually returning to the Philippines in 1991. More on that in the next post. When the poem's Marcos character refers to "that lemon housewife" he is speaking of President Cory Aquino, Marcos's successor, who ran for office wearing yellow as her signature color (as did her campaigners and supporters). "Malacañang" is the White House equivalent of the Philippines, where the president resides; when the Marcoses left the Philippines in 1986, Mrs. Marcos left some 3,000 pairs of shoes in Malacañang Palace. The shoe thing — for which Imelda is primarily well-known, I think — is also referred to in the poem.


Ferdinand Marcos at His Mirror, on the Occasion
of His Wife Imelda's Arraignment in New York City,
November 1988, Where She Wore a Ballroom Gown

— A sonnetina, after Michael Heffernan
Here I am again, the Great Brown Hope:
Jab, jab, fake, roundhouse from the right,
Knockout. I can take anything that lemon housewife
Sends me from Malacañang. I'm Ferdinand Marcos,

After all. And now they're after the Marcos
Millions. The goddamn U.S.A. is hoping
For billions, but Imelda's got more brains in her right
Shoe than any federal judge — let the wife

Show them. "Wear the blue terno, my darling wife,"
I told her. "Give them the famous Meldy Marcos
Style." Knockout. We'll be King next time, I hope.
Head fake, left jab, shuffle, then shoot them the right.

They better all hope they don’t come up against this right.
Because I've got a gorgeous wife — and I am Marcos.




Page 14


I couldn't find Marcos's shadowboxing video on the internet; I thought for sure it would be on YouTube. However, here's something else that will dramatize Marcos's cult of personality. During his presidency, Marcos commissioned a Mt. Rushmore-style statue of himself. On the left below I've included a wide shot of this 99-foot tall concrete sculpture on a mountainside to give you a sense of the magnitude of the thing. The statue was bombed in 2002 and the picture on the right shows how it looks today, compared to its appearance during Marcos's regime in the center picture.


This situation reminds me of Percy Bysshe Shelley's famous sonnet "Ozymandias," which focuses on the decline of the fame of great leaders who thought their reputations immortal during their own lives. Certainly Marcos felt that way, and I hope the poem demonstrates how Marcos felt about himself, his fame, and particularly his manhood.

On the sonnetina form: in the early 1980s the poet Michael Heffernan invented a sonnet variation that melded the sestina and the sonnet. I am almost certain he called his new form a "sonnetina" but I can't seem to confirm that on the internet at present. Nonetheless, when my poem was originally published in the journal Asian America, I used the epigraph shown above claiming the poem to be a Heffernan-style sonnetina. The most commonly cited example of this form is Heffernan's poem "A Colloquy of Silences" from his collection To the Wreakers of Havoc (mistakenly cited by Amazon.com as "Wreckers").

In his hybrid of the sonnet and the sestina, Heffernan used a sestina-style recycling of repetons or repeated words: bottom, top, next to the bottom, next to the top, etc. (For a review of the sestina, see my blog post on it.) This pattern of repetition results in the third repeton always ending up in the third slot; to correct this problem, I've used a different pattern: instead of the last repeton in a quatrain becoming the first repeton in the following quatrain, then the first repeton in the earlier quatrain becoming the second repeton in the following quatrain — that is, 4-1-3-2 — my pattern is 4-1-2-3. (The sestina's equivalent pattern is 6-1-5-2-4-3.) This might be clearer with this visual matrix, the repetons color-coded.

      Quatrain 1........

Hope 
right 
housewife 
Marcos 
Quatrain 2........

Marcos 
hope 
right 
wife 
Quatrain 3........

wife 
Marcos 
hope 
right 
Envoi

hope right 
wife Marcos 

One difference between the sestina and the sonnetina is that the sestina has six repetons and six sestets, whereas the sonnetina has four repetons but only three quatrains . . . Heffernan left out the fourth quatrain to constrain the form overall to the sonnet's 14 lines.

I think my explanation of the sonnetina here may be the first time that the "rules" of the Heffernan sonnetina have been explained on the internet. I hope this is useful to poets overall. And that my correction of Heffernan's pattern will also see wide use.

This Ferdinand Marcos sonnetina is part of a three-sonnetina sequence: the second one features Imelda Marcos (the next poem in Dragonfly) and the third one (a more recent poem) stars Bongbong Marcos, Ferdinand and Imelda's son. This third sonnetina is forthcoming in an anthology currently in press in the Philippines; that should be done quite soon, I understand. I'll let you know when that poem and book appear.
NOTE: The pictures shown above came from the Artificial Owl website, which showcases abandoned human-made structures around the world. Many thanks!

DRAGONFLYFIRSTCONTENTSPREVIOUSNEXTLAST
   

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi Vince. Nice poem!
When you say the statue was "bombed," what does that mean? Terrorist? Political? or just kids being kids? or perhaps it was a mystery?

The other obvious connection would be to Saddam's fall and his own monumental concrete idols.

best,
mike white
ps: happy early birthday!

Vince Gotera said...

Mike, good to hear from you, buddy. Hey, you found the gap in my post. When I was doing the research about the statue, I read (online) that a group had claimed responsibility for the bombing. But now, I can't find that reference. At the time the bombing happened, there was speculation that the culprits could have been treasure hunters seeking the Marcos billions, or a left-wing militia group, or else members of the tribe from whom land for the statue had been taken. Just now I found a source online that said he thought he remembered that the New People's Army claimed to have done the bombing. I'll keep looking for the reference and update my blog post. Take care, Mike! Hope you're well.

Anonymous said...

hahahahhha...wala nay ayo c marcos ehhehhehe

Anonymous said...

So stupid destroying it! It's part of history!

Anonymous said...

Usually I do not learn article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so!
Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice post.


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