Allan Pastrana

A poet's journey in lines and notes

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CONSERVATORY of Music student Allan Pastrana didn't realize that he had what it took to be a new voice in Philippine poetry until he won first place twice in the Varsitarian's USTetika Annual Award for Literature.
Pastrana won the first prize for two consecutive years--for Era of the Sevenfold (1998) and The Prayer of a Letter from Home (1999). The latter won him the prestigious Rector's Literary Award, which is given to the entry that best reflects the Christian vision of a redeemed humanity and exemplifies Thomasian values and ideals.
Growing up in a family of musicians, Pastrana's parents saw to it that all their children grew up learning how to play a musical instrument. At the age of nine, he learned to play the piano while his younger brothers and sisters dabbled on other instruments like the violin. If he was not playing the piano, Pastrana would read any book he would come across with.
It was Pastrana's passion for reading books that inspired him to write his own stories. But he initially did not take writing seriously, dismissing it as a child's passing fancy.
"The young ordinarily have the urge to write and tell a story so I really didn't find anything extraordinary about my temporary inclinations to write short stories," Pastrana told the Varsitarian.
In college, he decided to continue the family's legacy on music, quitting his Chemical Engineering course at the University of the Philippines and opting to study at the UST-Conservatory of Music for a degree in Piano and Conventional Literature.

Playing Imagism
Pastrana said that his grandmother constantly reminds him to continue enriching his craft as a writer.
"Although she did not directly encourage me to become a poet, she has been very supportive of my endeavor as a writer," he said. Pastrana's grandmother was a contributor of short stories to Liwayway and Bulaklak.
In his sophomore year in high school, Pastrana started to be fascinated with the concept of Imagism, which rejects the sentiments and artificialities of Romantic and Victorian poetry and goes for very concrete images without any discourse or explanation to express an idea or sentiment. Amy Lowell and Ezra Pound are two of the most notable imagists who inspired him.
"The rejected American text books with compilation of poems and short stories about pre-war and contemporary America fascinated me," he said. "Back then, I have no idea that the book was considered ‘adult' because of the seriousness of the topics."
Pastrana's interest in poetry motivates him to imitate the style of writing of the Imagists.
"Imagism is only about simple, straightforward and ordinary language that is free from the constraint of a poetic meter," he said.
From Imagism, Pastrana has discovered a more convenient and effective way of getting his message across through the use of narratives. But he later diverted to various styles, depending on the poem's theme.
"I don't stick to a specific structure for my poetry," Pastrana said. "Sometimes, I follow certain rhymes but there are times when I use resonating language. It actually depends on what I feel that the subject requires."
According to him, most of his contemporaries compliment his poems for their profundity but also tell him their arcane references might only appeal to the bourgeoisie.
"Before, I made a poem with allusions about classical music. My fellow Thomasian writers told me that only few Filipinos can understand it because the language is something special, but I just try not to be pretentious. I do not want to write poems with subjects that do not appeal to me," he said.
Though Pastrana does not follow a structure and does not stick to a specific theme when writing a poem, the aim of any writer, according to Pastrana, is to make readers understand the poem's message.
Pastrana, who had first successfully published his poem titled "Voyeur" at Free Press at the age of 18, is now one of the more celebrated Thomasian young poets. His works have been published in major weeklies and journals and have won major literary competitions.
Aside from the USTetika awards, Pastrana won the 2005 Maningning Miclat Award for his entry, Before Talkies. (The winner for the tula category was also a Thomasian, Joseph Luna Saguid.)
"The subjects of my poems usually come to me naturally. I don't force myself to think hard how I want my poems to start and end," Pastrana said. "There are times when I just allow my mind to do the writing for me. It's as if I am writing them 'blindly'".
Pastrana believes that poems are the result of one's faith in one's poetic subconscious, by trusting the instinct more than forcing oneself to write. What attracts him most to poetry, he said, is its nature as an artificial language that can be twisted based on the poet's purposes and motivations.
"Poetry is a challenging genre because it forces one to relay one's message in few words as possible," Pastrana said. J. L. G. Aguilar and K. J. R. Liu

Montage Vol. 10 • December 2006