The Art of Healing and Poetry Marjorie Evasco, Ph.D. Posted online 10:18 PM, November 20, 2017; First published in September 2017 Share As a young person, I had wanted to become a physician, but I became a doctor of philosophy in literature instead, a meta-physician, if you will, working with the body-mind of words. As a writer who teaches, I am currently developing a seminar course on “Literature and Medicine,” which allows human biology students and students in creative writing to explore the healing arts, focusing on areas that physicians and poets share. In the light of this project, I would like to explore the powerful language of poetry, the finest and most precise language of compassion. I believe that the best doctors practice healing as an art and therefore find in poetry the language that can restore and renew the quality of human life. After all, as one of my favorite poet-physicians, William Carlos Williams says: It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. -- from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower Medical Humanities In the pantheon of the Greek gods, Apollo, the powerful god of healing and poetry held the caduceus on one hand and the lyre on the other. This symbolized the intrinsic bond between healing the body and nourishing the imagination. Aesculapius, the god who invented the art of medicine, was Apollo’s son. And the seven goddesses who inspired poets, musicians and artists, were his daughters with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. This close relationship between healing and the arts can be seen in the architectural layout of the temple of Delphi, for instance, where the chamber called the abaton, is located beside the theatre where the works of the great dramatists were performed in the spring rites. The supplicant who had some illness slept overnight in the abaton, expecting a visitation from the god through a healing dream or vision, which the priest later divined or interpreted. In the wake of modernization and the subsequent split between the way science and the arts represented the body and the spirit, there seems to have been in the development of modern medicine, an inordinate emphasis on the discourse and temperament of medicine as a “hard” science, thus privileging the science and relegating the so-called “softer” arts to the margins. However, the upsurge of contemporary Medical Humanities programs in leading university hospitals—like Harvard, St. Johns Hopkins, and the New York University School of Medicine, among others in North America—has brought forth courses in their curriculum where medical students are taught, not only in the arts of medicine, but also in actively recuperating the language of empathy in their training. These courses enable future doctors to learn from the work of the masters in the Arts—the work of human hands propelled by the compassionate imagination. Some of these masters, like poet-doctor William Carlos Williams and poet-nurse Walt Whitman have written poems which embody “the news that always remains news”: that we can leap across the abyss of anxiety and debilitating despair on the strength of our imagination, our spirit shaping in our minds that which we know to be a meaningful life, a kinder humanity, or a truly life-preserving and life-enhancing world. Art as Transformative Absorption In the mid-seventies, American poet Denise Levertov participated in a series of symposia on “Literature and Medicine” organized by the American Society for Health and Human Values. In her essay titled ‘Talking to Doctors,’ (1981) Levertov set the framework of her dialogue by identifying and debunking the popular concept of mis-identifying Art with mere self-expression: The arts are, indeed, modes of articulation; but though I deplore deliberate, exclusionary elitism, my experience as an artist and as a receiver of art causes me to doubt that the doing of art can be part of everyone’s experience; and I certainly object to the commandeering of the arts as utile means of self-expression, for it mistakes the nature of art and takes a part for the whole. This synecdochic mis-identification is also something I wish to avoid here, as I am, like Levertov, wary of the commonplace logic which justifies such misconception, to wit: 1) that everybody has feelings, 2) that feelings demand expression, 3) that failure to express feelings is akin to constipation—blockage and toxicity of the system results, 4) that the means of expressing feelings are common to everyone, and among the most useful are the arts, 5) that the arts are not, or should not be, the exclusive possession of an elite, and 6) that the arts must be enlisted for social use as mild laxatives. (Talking to Doctors 1) I wish to foreground Levertov’s concept that the aim of Art, in this case the Art of Poetry as empathic language, “is not elimination but absorption” in the way the reception of Art stimulates in us “empathic realizations” of our shared humanity. She states: The great power of art is to transform, renovate, activate. If there is a relationship between art and healing it is that. But its power cannot manifest itself if the arts are pressed into servitude and reduced to mere means to an end. The more clearly the self-expressive is defined as usefully that and no more, and the less confusion there is between expulsion and transformative absorption, the more can Art act in human lives, making them fuller, more active, more human. (4) In his book “The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry,” Dr. Rafael Campo of the Harvard Medical School, an internist and a poet, shows doctors and patients alike “how poetry locates us inside the experience of illness, demanding that we consider it from within as attentively as we do from without.” (25-29). Campo recalls in his introduction: Though dissecting my cadaver in medical school may have helped me to better understand the fine point of anatomy, I also remember how the exposed vascular networks and delicate neural webs and isolated organs, even as I appreciated their glistening beauty, became less and less a whole human being beneath my scalpel’s sharp blade…Doctors are notorious for speaking over our patients, preempting their narratives with torrents of medicalese, interrupting even their answers to our own questions with our appropriated, preconceived version of what is happening to them.(26) Furthermore, he proposes that poetry “does get essentially at the more complex and mystifying process of healing. That is, curing and healing are not the same, and it is possible to achieve the latter without succeeding in the former…. The poems…suggest a larger formulation of, or movement through, the experience of illness—one that interrogates the overly reductive postmodern model, and at the same time reforms the argumentative, rigidly science-driven biomedical discourse postmodernist thinking alone cannot derail—without resorting to the hysterical or the unreal.” (27-28) In our world today, where we know the painful reality that “things fall apart” and that “the center does not hold,” we are confronted with human knowledge which divides our sensibilities and our bodies into parts, and we are affronted with language not anymore used in the sense of the sensuous, aesthetic, instinctive and emotional roots of words. Most often, words are cultivated for their generalized abstractions and jargon. Poetry remains the one language that insists on embodying the specific human experience in and through the senses. One of the best ways of thinking about Poetry is that it presents “a real voice in a real body in a real world.” (Mason & Nims 327) How does a doctor imagine the implications of the word “patient” to refer to the one whose illness he or she is attending to? The root of the word “patient” from the Latin patientia, from pati, which means ‘suffer’ suggests the human capacity to endure pain, and the virtue of forbearance when one is subjected to the actions of others. Should a doctor actively subject each patient to his or her own actions, or should he or she encourage the patient to participate imaginatively in the healing process? How does the doctor’s language in his assessment of the symptoms of illness, the diagnosis, the treatment, its side effects, the necessity of care-giving and the possibility of death and even its transcendence, affect the patient on the receiving end of the communicative process? Levertov cites two examples of the use of words in their curious specialized abstractions in medicine: the implications of the words “negative” and “positive” in diagnostic tests. The results that prove “negative” bring relief, while those that prove “positive” bring distress! This contrariness of language fixed in the practice is alien to poetry, whose very vitality depends on the poet’s constant and over-riding awareness of “verbal interconnections and enough concern to investigate and verify the history of relationships intuited by the ear.” (5). Levertov posits that “for a doctor…greater sensitivity to language might well mean the development of a keener ear for the emotions and sensations which patients, however restricted their means of articulation, may be trying to express. By the same token, language-sensitive physicians…might be enabled, by careful and imaginative word-choice, to impart more efficiently to patients and their families and to co-workers the information they need. This more accurate and flexible comprehension and utilization of language is not separable from the awakened and functioning imagination. Empathy and compassion, functions of the imagination, lead to the ‘inspired’ word or phrase, the verbal accuracy, ‘hitting the nail on the head,’ which leads to further enlightenment, and in turn to a deeper comprehension of the situation.” (6) The Language of Empathy One of my favorite contemporary poet-doctors is Dannie Abse’s poem “The Doctor,” (Belli & Coulehan 1998: 5). The poem begins with a cold assessment of the all-to-human incapacity to like everybody, from which the doctor is not exempt. The distance between doctor and patient is exacerbated by the fact that the former does not like the latter, or his family. In the poem, the patient is likened by the speaker (who is looking at things from the angle of the doctor) to the three-headed hound that stands guard at the gates of Hades, the land of the dead. The patient “barks barks at the invisible…” and yet expects from the doctor the “unjudged lie” that would “transform tremblings, gigantic unease” – the very threat to life – “by naming like a pet some small disease/ with a known aetiology, certain cure.” Guilty, he does not always like his patients. But here, black fur raised, their yellow-eyed dog mimics Cerberus, barks barks at the invisible, … The entire process of diagnosis rests on the concept that even if the doctor may not like his patient, “a doctor must care” and be able to feel for the patient’s and his family’s distress. … so this man’s politics, how he may crawl to superiors does not matter. A doctor must care and the wife’s on her knees in useless prayer, the young daughter’s like a waterfall. In the last stanza of the poem the doctor does name the illness and prescribe the cure, but with the “usual” things that surprise us into the unusual or imaginative way of looking at the natural world that includes “…dew from a banana leaf; poppies and/ honey too; ten snowflakes or something whiter/ from the bole of a tree; the clearest water/ ever, melting ice from a mountain lake;/ sunlight from waterfall’s edge, rainbow smoke;/ tears from eyelashes of the daughter. Such language heals not only the patient, but perhaps even medicine itself! Filipino Doctor-Writers As a professor in the Literature Department of De La Salle University, I teach in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, and I have had students in my Poetry classes who are medical doctors. One of them, Dr. Alice Sun-Cua, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the San Juan De Dios Hospital, finished her MFA in Poetry and published her first volume of poems, “Charted Prophecies,” which was given the 2002 Manila Critics’ National Book Award for Poetry. Of the 45 poems in the collection, four are inspired by Dr. Sun-Cua’s profession as a doctor. My favorite is “Midwife” because the doctor-persona imagines her position at the threshold of life and death in the tradition of the old curandera. … I am an accoucheur: a figure as old as the strange words I chant, holding the hands of women keening, singing through their tears. Dr. Sun-Cua believes that a doctor’s capacity for empathy is not only in communicating sensitively with her patients, but also in listening astutely to the patient’s words and silences. … There is timelessness in what I do. To be midwife is to be “woman, with woman assisting,” witness to a daily renewal. In one of her memorable cases, a 17-year-old going through a psychologically difficult pregnancy due to various social pressures, spent a total of 16 hours in the delivery room! And it was only the presence of Dr. Sun-Cua that constantly reassured the young woman, more than the epidural administered, that she would be able to endure the pain of giving birth. At the end of the long ordeal, Dr. Sun-Cua witnessed the wondrous way the newly-delivered baby changed the hearts of the young woman’s grandmother and mother for the errant 17-year-old. … It is to stand alone in an inescapable, intangible, interminable landscape. It is to wait until the birth of a song. The other doctor who had been my student in poetry is Dr. Susano ‘Yves’ Tanael, a medical oncologist and associate professor at the U.P. College of Medicine. Dr. Tanael’s thesis, which was a collection of poems and creative nonfiction essays is now a published book called “Ambiguities of the Body: On Illness and Healing,” (2013). The book embodies the physician’s clinical experiences. In preparation for his MFA thesis, he searched for works by poet-doctors who belong to the long line of physician – writers that include Anton Chekov, Oliver Goldsmith, Rabelais, John Keats and Somerset Maugham, among many others. Two of the anthologies Dr. Tanael found were “Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians” and “Primary Care: More Poems by Physicians” (Belli & Coulehan 1998, 2006). In my graduate course in Literary Translation, Dr. Tanael chose to translate from English into Filipino the poem “The Pain” by Dr. John Graham Pole titled “Ang Kirot”: Mula sa kung saan ay di malirip Sa mga malupit na ugnayan Ng aking buhay, ang kirot ay nagpakilalang pilit, pumili ng Libangan, pumugad sa likuran, Sa kailaliman ng aking mga buto. Banayad halos, di pumapasok Sa aking salas at silid tulugan Ngunit nadarama kong umaaligid sa dako roon, Sa mainit na likod dumapo, nakayukong naghihintay. Kaya ng dumating mga kasambahay, palihim uminom Ng gamut sa hapunan, at pansamantala Hindi iyon nangambala. At ako’y Nagsimula bahagyang mangahas umasa Sa wakas ito ay kumubli-kubli Sa likuran palabas sa aking tirahan,naghahanap Ng mas maraming kauring silid. At sa Huni ng ibong bukang liwayway, ako’y gigising Sa mahinang katok sa madilim Na pinto at, kung sakaling lakas-loob ay baliwalain, Mapaurong sa sunud-sunod na katok Sa aking taluktok, maramdaman hanggang Aking bungo. Sa panahong iyon batid kong ilatag muli sa nauukol na luklok ng hapag. Dr. Tanael explains in his translator’s notes that cancer pain is viewed by the doctor-persona in the poem as a guest or stranger lurking in the dark. He says: “Cancer, as a disease is still not well understood. Many do not know what it is.” The medical team of experts treating a cancer patient may consist of a medical oncologist, an oncology surgeon, and an anaesthesiologist or pain specialist. Of the three, it is the medical oncologist who helps the patient understand the condition and the complexities of cancer, even the fact that many things about it are still unknown and awaiting more advanced medical discoveries. Other information that need to be communicated would be which treatment options are available and which one is best suited for the patient, the possible side effects of the treatment and the necessary changes in lifestyle that comes with coping with cancer. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer Lifestyle Exclusive issue, Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan writes that “cancer has been among the top five leading causes of deaths among Filipinos for the past decade.” He asserts as head of the Philippine General Hospital Traditional and Integrative Medicine Clinic that “the current prevention and management of cancer have mainly focused on the dimensions of body, mind and spirit.” And I saw this to be true in the clinical practice of Dr. Noel Pingoy, a medical oncologist I met in May 2005, when I served in the panel of readers in the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City. Dr. Pingoy is based in General Santos City, Mindanao. I remember having asked him why he had taken three weeks out of his busy practice to come to Dumaguete for the workshop. And his answer, which provoked us into thinking of the urgencies of language, was that he wanted to learn how to write better to deal with the constancy of illness and death in his practice. One of his creative nonfiction narratives called “Mr. Basilio, the Sunlight and the Birds,” which went deep into his clinical experience carried the subtitle “Some Personal Notes on Breaking Bad News.” It begins with the doctor-narrator trying to understand the stunned silence of his patient, after having just given the bad news. The doctor-narrator doesn’t intrude into Mr. Basilio’s silence but enters its space and imagines what it must feel like: Mr. Basilio must have momentarily passed out. In the humdrum bleakness of the cream-colored walls of this clinic, he must have been wishing he were somewhere else, somewhere loud and rowdy, where life throbbed with every color, sound and texture imaginable. The local cockpit evoked an image of paradise. But not this antiseptic environment that reeked of an odd mixture of ethyl alcohol and a faint pungent-sweet whiff of some unfamiliar drugs… Outside the sky was a cerulean shade of warm March and the street was a frenzied jumble of animated schoolchildren traipsing some uneasy strides from school, of perked up office workers with diverse agenda in their minds and of peripatetic strangers in search of their fortunes amidst the chaotic rhythms of the city. But Mr. Basilio was strangely cold and numb. The only sounds audible were the strident thump-thumping of his heart and the restrained sobs of his wife. I had just told him that he has metastatic lung cancer. The auto/biographical narrative continues to say that after recovering from the shock of the disclosure, Mr. Basilio responded to Dr. Pingoy in a manner “at once confrontational, condescending and cynical.” And Dr. Pingoy says of his own human responses: “I was on the verge of giving up; his obstinacy exasperated me. My patience had never been challenged as relentlessly as this case. It also did not help that he refused to see another oncologist as it meant traveling to another city 70 kilometers away over a mountainous terrain. Shall I remain silent? Shall I simply ignore his apathy and pretend that his sarcasm does not upset me at all? Left with very limited choice other than to appeal to his better judgment, I proceeded to conduct a series of heart-to-heart dialogues with Mr. Basilio and his family.” Dr. Pingoy explores the doctor-patient relationship in our times, which has been informed by the patient’s increasing autonomy and need for full disclosure, unlike the notion of Hippocrates of concealing the bad news from the patient so as not to distress the latter. Doc Noel, as we fondly call him, harkens back to how his own skills as a doctor had been shaped: “I am…fortunate to have been taught by some of the most compassionate and benevolent practitioners in the country. Most medical undergraduate and graduate programs do not usually offer specific training in breaking bad news and most oncologists learn to break bad news by observing more experienced colleagues...Not only are postgraduate interns and residents in most teaching hospitals encumbered by obvious demands of training; most of them come to the workplace unprepared for the myriad responses patients and their relatives exhibit upon hearing bad news.” Of his own research into effective ways of medical disclosure vis-à-vis his experience, he says: “I have learned that there is simply no procedure that will work for all kinds of patients, a sort of magic formula that shall address this problem. Each individual patient (and even every relative) will require a distinct approach and a particular strategy considering each patient’s uniqueness.” This respect for “each patient’s uniqueness” is contrary to the studies that have found that “most physicians tend to be invariate in their information-giving.” In his conclusion, Dr. Pingoy argues as ardently as a poet would about the doctor’s sublime human duty to tell the truth “despite the obvious ambivalence of the human heart”: “It is the doctor’s duty to recognize that what he says to a patient matters a lot, and it is a choice between allowing words to come across as scalpels that pierce and hurt or as salves that comfort and soothe.” The last part of Dr. Pingoy’s essay on Mr. Basilio makes it clear that the doctor-patient relationship had, indeed, brought out the healing process in spite of the fact that Mr. Basilio’s body eventually gave way to the cancer. In a lyrical final paragraph, Dr. Pingoy narrates how Mr. Basilio, an avid birdwatcher who annually awaits the passage of migratory birds, “did get to see the birds perch on the long stretch of kapok trees in the nearby farm, thousands of them, more numerous than in previous years, in orange and gold, in teal and crimson, and silver and black, and Mr. Basilio had never been in so much awe of his life and the world he’s seen. On the last day of the hottest month of the year, with his wife and children beside him, Mr. Basilio marveled at the sunlight that seeped through his window and he basked in its warmth…and closed his eyes forever.” Like Dr. Pingoy, Dr. Alfred Tan, a neurosurgeon and fellow Sillimanian, believes that the doctor’s power to heal is in the “alleviation of human suffering,” which is necessarily of the body and the human spirit. In his own clinical practice, Dr. Tan is careful about the language he uses with his patients, aware that his words carry the weight of authority as well as the lightness of what the poet Emily Dickinson calls Hope, “that thing with feathers.” He says: “There are doctors who pass judgment in terms of evidences from medical statistics, and who do not have qualms in withholding hope from patients who embody difficult medical cases. But every doctor should hold on to this hope and communicate it to his patient.” This principle rests on the idea that one cannot give what one doesn’t have. Of course, this positive stance does not preclude the doctor’s awareness of the patient’s capacity to be afraid. Thus, instead of giving detailed information that might inspire fear in the patient or family members about a forthcoming craniotomy procedure, for instance, Dr. Tan opts for using simple and precise language to describe the procedure as a way of accessing the mass or tumor in the brain to remove it and relieve the pain. One of his protocols in preparing a patient and giving some hope is by narrating cases of previous patients who had pulled through the neurosurgery and exceeded medical expectations. This is his subtle way of acknowledging the seriousness of the case and possible death on the operating table, without sacrificing the patient’s need to counter fear with the equally possible chance of recovery. And depending on his intuitive assessment of the psychological maturity of his patient to receive information, he calibrates the disclosure to ensure that that proverbial “ray of hope” in the patient is not compromised. Let me tell a last story from Dr. Charito Cloma, who is an anesthesiologist at the Makati Medical Center. She recounted to me her experience with a 72-year old male patient who had cholecystectomy a few years back. She met him when he had to undergo yet again another surgery because of abdominal pain secondary to an infection in his biliary tree. He was a very angry and unapproachable patient and anyone who entered his hospital room had to bear the brunt of his anger. With this unpleasantness, the residents and nurses in the operating room remained distant to the angry patient. Dr. Cloma had been warned about the patient’s attitude but when she looked at him on the operating table staring at the ceiling and looking impatient but helpless, she decided to risk greeting him with a smile. And when she stood near him, she took his hand and held it tight, saying: “Good morning, Sir, I’m your anesthesiologist and I’ll take care of you during surgery. Do you pray?” The patient looked at her, surprised at the question but quickly replied with a curt: “I always do.” Dr. Cloma took this as a cue and she led both of them in a short prayer. After that, the patient told Dr. Cloma that he did not want to feel any pain from the surgery and that he wanted to be totally asleep. Dr. Cloma assured him of total care anesthesia and at the end of the surgical procedure when the patient woke up, he smiled at Dr. Cloma and whispered: “Thank you, Doctor.” The day after his surgery, the nurses and doctors who visited him noted the change in his demeanor and spirit. Filipino physicians like Drs. Cloma, Tan, Pingoy, Tanael and Sun-Cua who have used in their clinical practice the “magical instrumentality of the voice” to communicate to their patients that they care, are surely not rare in the field. It is through their example that we see the critical importance for each of us to “examine the link between the healing and the imagination, to reawaken the bond between body and soul, to explore this territory not merely as some wasted battleground on which science and culture duel but as a living garden of what the humane mind might be able to accomplish.” (Campo 16). Dr. Sun-Cua, to shed light on the seeming opposition between the language of metaphoric thinking and that of medical science writes in the conclusion of her poem called “Validation”: … As if chance brought us here. Is it perhaps because we wanted not only to validate treatment effects—were they large enough? will the results help us in caring for our patients? —verify the truth about medical harm and prognosis, even as we want to play gods—should we not? —but to validate our lives instead, confirm the shortness of it, the urgency of it, the needfulness of it. to see beyond what is here, this scurrying to and fro, this ceaseless groping for what, after the day is done, becomes as useless as an odds ratio formula force-learned by rote. We wrestle with incalculables, with immeasurables: kappas, relative risks, numbers needed to treat, likelihood ratios melding seamlessly with the mauve of dusk, seeking certainty in this state of equipoise. It is the humane doctor who understands that all of us, without exception, are “future patients all,” and who will, at some point demand from ourselves as well as from our healers the salve of precise and imaginative language with which to speak of our illness and pain, our desire to recover and become whole again—if not in the physical sense, then in the psycho-spiritual levels of being—in order to come to terms with our mortality, and that which we believe surpasses our finite lives. This is the equipoise of the imagination, our shared compassion for what is mortal. In a memorable ending of Mary Oliver’s poem “In Blackwater Woods,” the voice rings true saying: … To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. References Cited: A. Books Belli, Angela and Jack Coulehan. Eds. Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998. ______________________________. Primary Care: More Poems by Physicians. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006. Campo, Rafael. The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003. Gustavson, Cynthia Blomquist. Re-Versing Your Pain: A Poetry Workbook for Those Living with Chronic Pain. New York: Blooming Twig Books, 2001. Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2008. Levertov, Denise. Light Up the Cave. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1981. Mason, David and John Frederick Nims. Eds. Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry. 5th Ed. Boston: McGraw HillCompanies, Inc., 2006. Oliver, Mary. New and Selected Poems. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978. Sun-Cua, Alice. Charted Prophecies and Other Poems. Manila: DLSU Press, Inc. 2002. Tanael, Susano. Ambiguities of the Body: On Illness and Healing. USA: np, 2013. B. Periodicals Evasco, Marjorie, Anthony Tan and Grace Monte de Ramos. Special Issue Eds. The Silliman Journal: Special Literary Issue dedicated to Edilberto K. Tiempo and Edith L. Tiempo. (54: 2) Dumaguete City: Silliman University, July-Dec. 2013. Galvez-Tan, Jaime. “Use the Heart to Fight Cancer,” in Philippine Daily Inquirer. (Sunday, March 9, 2008: 1) C. Interviews Dr. Rosario Mendoza-Cloma (Feb. 3, 2008) Dr. Alice Sun-Cua (March 10, 2008) Dr. Alfred Tan (March 8, 2008) D. Unpublished Manuscript Tanael, Susano. “Ang Kirot,” translation in Filipino of “The Pain” by Dr. John Graham Pole. Submitted as Course Requirement for Literary Translation, DLSU-CLA, MFA Program, Term 1, 2005-06. Share Marjorie Evasco, Ph.D. is the SEAWRITE 2010 awardee for the Philippines and NCCA Ani ng Dangal awardee. Her books have won the National Book Awards for poetry (Dreamweavers: Selected Poems 1976-1986 and Ochre Tones: Poems in English and Cebuano); oral history (Six Women Poets: nter/views, co-authored by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz); biography (A Life Shaped by Music: Andrea O. Veneracion and the Philippine Madrigal Singers); and art (Ani: The Life and Art of Hermogena Borja Lungay, Boholano Painter). The most recent book she edited is an anthology of memoirs called The Bohol We Love (2017), which is the 7th in the “Place and Memory” book series of Anvil Publishing, Inc. Her poems are published in A Habit of Shores: Philippine Poetry in English edited by Gemino H. Abad, in the Norton anthology Language for a New Century: Poems from Asia, the Middle East and Beyond edited by Ravi Shankar et al; and in The World Record: International Voices from Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus, edited by Anne Selby et al. She received the Gawad Pambansang Alagad Balagtas for Poetry from UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas or Writers’ Union of the Philippines) in 2004, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan from the City of Manila in 2005, the Outstanding Silliman University alumna for creative writing in 2008, the Carlos P. Garcia award for literature from the province of Bohol in 2011, and the 2013 Taboan Literature Festival award for her achievements as a writer and for promoting the growth of literature in the Central Visayas. She has enjoyed grants to participate in prestigious poetry festivals in North America (Vancouver and Winnipeg Writers and Readers Festival), Latin America (Medellin Festival Internacional de Poesia and Granada Festival Internacional de Poesia), and the Asia-Pacific (Sydney Writers’ Festival, Singapore Poetry Wordfeast, Hong Kong Literary Festival, Vietnam International Poetry Festival). She also represented the Philippines in the Poetry Parnassus International Festival of Southbank Centre as part of the London Cultural Olympics in 2012. Various writing residencies have been awarded to her like the Spring 1991 residency in Scotland’s Hawthornden Castle Writers’ Retreat; the Spring 1992 residency in Villa Serbelloni, in Bellagio, Italy from the Rockefeller Foundation; the 2002 International Writers’ Program of the University of Iowa; the 2013 International Writers’ Program of the Hong Kong Baptist University; and the Visiting Literary Artist of the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo City in March 2015. She lives in Manila in a townhouse with a bamboo garden and two cats.