Filipino-Language Writer Wins in International Poetry Competition

Enrique Villasis' "Birds in Flight, 1965" was inspired by a Manansala painting.

( In his acceptance speech during the Golden Globe Awards in January 2020, Parasite director Bong Joon Ho said: "Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films." The Korean-language film relied on translation and subtitles to bring the amazing story to a global audience. It is also through translations that beautiful pieces of literature get read across the world—take for example Enrique S. Villasis' "Birds in Flight, 1965," which won in Words Without Border's Poems in Translation Contest 2020. It is translated from Filipino to English by Bernard Capinpin.

"Birds in Flight, 1965" is an ekphrastic piece about Vicente S. Manansala's oil on canvas painting, which is currently at the National Museum of the Philippines. It is the first poem in Villasis' growing poetry collection Manansala, a part of which won first prize in the Filipino poetry category of Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in 2013. It was also his work-in-progress manuscript at the UP National Writers Workshop in 2016. 

PHOTO BY Facebook/En Villasis

"Dumating ang balitang ito matapos ma-deny ng Congress ang franchise ng ABS-CBN kung saan ako nagsusulat bilang writer ng mga teleserye. Kasabay ng uncertainty ng trabaho, may magandang balitang dumating din para sa akin. Consolation ng universe. Muli ko ding binalikan ang naantalang proyekto ng pagsusulat ng mga tulang ekphrasis na nakabatay sa mga obra ni Manansala," Villasis tells in an online exchange.

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The poet, who hails from Milagros, Masbate, graduated with a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology. His first book of poems, Agua, was a finalist for the National Book Awards in 2015. Villasis' works earned recognition at the Palanca Awards in 2011, 2012, and 2013; and Maningning Miclat Poetry Awards in 2011. He is an active member of Filipino poetry organization Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo.

"Malaking boost ang pagkapanalo ng translation sa tula ko para sa sining ng pagsasalin sa bansa. Masasabi din kasi na ngayon pa lamang talaga nagkakaroon ng momentum o impetus ang translation ng mga akdang nakasulat sa Filipino at iba pang rehiyonal na wika, at ang pagpapalimbag sa mga ito sa mga international publication tulad ng Words Without Borders, Anomaly, at iba pa. Salamat din sa sipag at sigasig ng mga editor at tagasalin katulad nina Bernard Capinpin, Kristine Ong Muslim (na maglalabas din ng mga aklat ng translation ng mga tula ni Ayer Arguelles at Marlon Hacla mula sa mga international publisher), Kristian Cordero (ang isa sa mga naging editor para sa Filipino issue ng Words Without Borders noong nakaraang taon), John Bengan, at Scott Lee Chua (na isa din sa mga nagsalin sa mga tula ko na nagwagi naman last year para sa Lunch Ticket Gabo Prize) para ma-highlight ang panitikang Filipino sa international publication. I am hoping na marami pang mga translation at translator na Filipino ang magbabandera sa panitikan ng ating bansa," Villasis adds.


Words Without Borders, which was founded in 2003, is on a mission to "expand cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature." It has so far published over 2,200 writers from 134 countries translated from 114 languages, in an effort to "open doors for readers of English around the world to the multiplicity of viewpoints, richness of experience, and literary perspective on world events offered by writers in other languages," according to their website.

The second edition of Poems in Translation Contest, where Villasis and Capinpin were recognized, gathered a total of 935 poetry submissions across 87 countries and 58 languages. This year's four winners were selected by Pushcart prizewinner David Tomas Martinez, and the winning poems will be published in the Academy of American Poets' daily poetry series called Poem-a-day and in Words Without Borders every Saturday throughout September and October.

PHOTO BY website/words without borders

There will be a virtual poetry reading on October 7, 8 p.m. (EDT) featuring the four winning pieces: “Learning Late Letters" by Nguyen Hoang Quyen, translated from Vietnamese by the author; "Pegasus Autopsy" by Julio Pazos Barrera, translated from Spanish by Bryan Mendoza; "Trial Run" by Yau Ching, translated from Chinese by Chenxin Jiang; and "Birds in Flight, 1965" by Enrique Villasis, translated from Filipino by Bernard Capinpin.

Main photo: (L) Facebook/En Villasis; (R) Instagram/National Commission for Culture and the Arts

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