“Manhood is not the question, but memory – the continuum of experiences enriching the years of loyalty, partnership, camaraderie.”-- Krip Yuson, from the book “Lush Life”
MANILA, Philippines -- Some lesser known or unknown artists, literary writers, poets, philosophers, and musicians may not be given due recognition while they are still alive. When they die, some of them will suddenly be remembered, their body of works recognized, and their private lives either mythologized or romanticized.
But whether famous or not – to hang out and talk to them in person or get an autograph from their fervent hands or by just watching them from a distance – one could feel that sublime feeling of gratefulness to have been born in their time.
One well-known iconic figure in the Philippine contemporary literature that this writer occasionally encounters is Alfred “Krip” Yuson – a poet, fictionist, and essayist par excellence. Despite his celebrity stature in both literary and art scenes, one would not feel constrained or intimidated by his unassuming presence. His propitious charisma is reminiscent of a literary giant in Philippine history, the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.
Krip, as friends and colleagues fondly call him, never talks about his works or other writers’ in an egotistical manner. Instead, he always seizes the moment in any art or literary gatherings as a “celebration of encounter” among his friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. The encounter, of course, is incomplete without the hovering spirits of beer, whisky, or wine.
Or to put it mildly, Krip’s presence, sober or inebriated, is impishly bubbly, whose wit and humor can slacken the garters of colegialas, in a manner of speaking. He is predisposed to laugh over his own antic and humor, his quarter moon smile contagious, his gag line intellectually orgasmic. To label him, though, as a comedian is an understatement. He is simply a man who lives “now,” and the now converges the past and the future to give birth the present that he blissfully embraces to live.
His recently published book titled “Lush Life,” a sequel to his 2001 collection of essays “The Word on Paradise,” is a concrete proof of that feisty existence. It is a celebration of a decade-long fully lived and shared life, trudging on different themes from fatherhood to friendship, from Tita Cory to Noynoy, from the champ Manny Pacquiao to the late poet Ophelia Dimalanata, from academic papers to paper boats, from Jejemon to an aging striptease dancer.
Lush Life, a collection of 2001-2010 essays by Krip Yuson (UST Publishing House).
One poignant essay, for instance, which is dashed with wry humor yet compassionate and lyrical, is “The Long Night of the Mama-san.”
In this particular essay, Krip delicately treads on literary journalism with a compelling account of an aging striptease dancer turned Mama-san. Bereft of journalistic cliché and literary blandishment, the story elegantly unfolds as if the voice of the author was seducing the readers to fall in love with the seemingly dreary character of Connie, the Mama-san, contrary to the showbiz personalities and the gossips or rumors about them.
He portrays the character of Mama-san with blatant realism, drawing out slowly her struggle as a striptease dancer at the age of 13 or 14, a G.R.O., and later a floor manager in a nightclub. Connie’s inconsistency of reasoning during the interview adds tension and texture to the author’s narrative. Then, the essay closes with an open-ended trenchant line: “Such is life, such are long nights, for a Mama-san.”
In another essay “A Lifetime of a Jeepney Ride with Nick Joaquin,” Krip recounts how he and Nick Joaquin first met by accident on a jeepney in 1968; how he stammered, as a fledgling writer, to introduce himself to a literary legend; how they got out from the jeepney and ended up at Pelican Night Club for a beer; how Nick Joaquin mistakenly heard his name as “Creep” or creepy, for that matter; how they conversed and laughed over a countless bottles of beer; how he submitted his early short story to the Philippines Free Press edited at that time by Nick Joaquin; how he subsequently won the first prize in the same year on the same magazine; how the accidental meeting on a jeepney turned into a 35-year of friendship; how he mourned deeply over the loss of his friend, idol and beer buddy, when Nick Joaquin passed away in 2004.
Friendship, loyalty and camaraderie for Krip are a measure of manhood. These themes recurrently gleam throughout the pages of his book.
Published under the UST Publishing House, “Lush Life” is a compendium of 75 essays written from the perspective of a chronicler or a diarist of history and culture about change and transition, separation and reconciliation, birthing and dying. But “Lush Life” is not just a chronicle of personal experience or observation of people, event, culture or history. It is primarily a tale of human relationship, friendship, loyalty, compassion, transformation, reconciliation, and spirituality.
Within a narrative structure, Krip can bring the past and the future as if they were in the present, sophisticatedly woven with linguistic expression unique to his own literary acumen. At times, the stylistic form is predictable yet it is always balanced by the unpredictability of substance, latitude of voice, rhythms of mood and language, ironic humor, and the lushness of idioms.
Beyond the form and structure, Krip exudes the character of an existentialist literary writer who is firmly grounded on his own reality. The diversity of his opulent writings is an example of a tangible and fully lived existence. His personal narrative exemplifies human freedom, commitment, responsibility, and individual perspective of the truth, resonating Søren Kierkegaard’s emphasis on concrete individual existence rather than idealism or quixotic ideology.
His essays in “Lush Life” can attest to the grounding of his being, his own humanity, and his uncomplicated yet profound understanding of social, political, and cultural realities as a writer and as a person. Or as Christina Pantoja Hidalgo aptly puts it, “It demonstrates how a life fully lived – its dizzying heights scaled, its dark depths plumbed – combined with a large soul, an ironic vision, an unfailingly playful sense of humor and the gift of bending the language to his every whim, are what lead to great writing.”
As a poet, fictionist, and essayist, his strong sense of history, traditional values, and cultural idiosyncrasies is what gives the body of his works an epistemic value and three-dimensional portrayal of truth and social reality, neither overtly romanticized nor sentimentalized.
At the core of Alfred “Krip” Yuson’s “Lush Life” is a conceived, lived, and shared existence within a historical society – a précis version of his poetry and poetic life, paradoxically speaking.
Published in Manila Bulletin, Arts & Culture (P. E1-2), November 14, 2011.