An emerging voice in local literature, Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo translates his feelings into his poetry, reinterpreting his life experiences and working diligently to maintain authenticity. His poems are uniquely provocative, often sad in depicting his journey from an abusive childhood in the Philippines, through the trials of an overseas Filipino worker enduring and witnessing injustice and torture in the Middle East, to the challenges of a hard-working immigrant in 21st-century Hawai‘i. This is an important collection that offers a glimpse into a life of laboring to survive. Sometimes self-deprecating and occasionally humorous, Pizo’s distinctive poetry affirms the redemption found in the small sparks of humanity.
ELMER OMAR BASCOS PIZO comes from a family of farmers, teachers, and religious leaders in La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Pangasinan, the Philippines. After graduating from high school, he entered St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary. In his second year at the seminary, he transferred to Benguet State University, graduating with an Agriculture degree in 1981. For a time, he farmed in Asingan before going on to teach Poultry Production at a National High School in a neighboring town. He then went to Saudi Arabia to work as a Greenhouse Agriculturist. To record the cruel working conditions he and his co- workers encountered, he began writing a journal about these experiences.
On the day he returned to the Philippines, the bus he was riding back to his province was involved in a head-on collision with another bus. Six of his fellow passengers died, including an elderly woman seated next to him. Pizo suffered a concussion and, because of his injury, lost his short-term memory. His neurologist suggested that he write as part of his therapy. He referred to his journal begun in Arabia and began writing poems, some of which appear in this collection.
A resident of ‘Ewa Beach for the last twenty-two years, he now works as a handyman. Prior to this, he worked as an outreach worker for the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Tuberculosis Program and an inspector for its Vector Control Program for almost sixteen years.
Pizo was a Poetry Fellow at the 2000 Silliman National Writers Workshop in the Philippines and Poetry Fellow at the Vermont Studio Center in February 2006. His poems have been published in several print and online publications in the United States and in the Philippines.
Negros Oriental, Philippines
At the mouth of the sea
where the Ocoy River ends,
brown bodies of naked boys
pop in and out of the swirling
water, like fish gasping for air.
Foaming soapsuds stained
with dirt from clothing
women scrub on the river banks
dissolve in the green water,
like this half spoonful of sugar
I just dropped
into my cup of tea.
LEAVING OUR SHADOWS BEHIND US unveils, as time and space become fluid and malleable, the rustling of uncensored leaves of a poetic album that conjures up haunting scents, sounds, tastes, colors, and sensations of the poet’s past and present, from his childhood home in Asingan, Philippines, with undeniable Ilocano roots, to the hardships and abuses of the OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in the Middle East, and to daily scenes of life in Hawai‘i. Unexpectedly, images of violence against animals and man burst before your eyes. At times, traumatic memories reveal scars that possibly have yet to heal. And yet, the reader will encounter humor through odes dedicated to bedbugs, termites, rats, fish, and unforgettable Filipino characters that the author has created and put forth on the compelling pages of this collection.
President, Philippine American Writers and Artists
Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo’s first book celebrates an intimate regimen through rituals and ethnic peculiarities valued as his personal touchstones for being Filipino. The senses urge him back to memory’s homeland through poems that stir the belly’s hunger, summon a recollection of landscapes left behind, or make us wince because of the hand’s costly errors, as well as the cold-shouldered dismissals of the greater world. Yet these are not soft-lit poems of an alluring misty filter. The poet trades in roughness and impurities, too. Here, tone reconciles the contradictions of humor, anger, sarcasm, self-irony, and wit born out of pride and clumsiness. Pizo tackles the dismissive world for belittling all that it finds strange.
—Danilo Francisco M. Reyes
Ateneo de Manila University, School of Humanities
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” Elizabeth Bishop wrote, though she hardly meant it. The shadows that Pizo tries to leave behind in this autobiographical collection are those of country, an angry father, violence against persons and animals, guilt, racism, self-hatred. “I owned the wound, / I owned the stitches, / I owned the discomfort. / Worse, I owed him the money.” What better way to express the pain of exile and colonialism? But even in “Stitches,” Pizo surprises us with his wit, having asked for Levi’s stitches, not the Wrangler’s he got. Pizo’s poems are plain-spoken, but hardly plain. The poems are blunt, but the poet tender. A wonderful addition to Bamboo Ridge’s chorus.
—Susan M. Schultz
Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo’s “Identity” posits to be one “wiggling in the beak of a maya bird, / ... the desperate earthworm / struggling to be free.” It’s an apt metaphor for the Philippines beset by corruption, poverty, hunger, and a “common people / pining for a genuine people-serving government.” Yet the beauty of these poems makes them like “the gardenias, ylang-ylang, waling- waling, / sampaguitas, and camellias [with] coveted nectars.” With their unforgettable imagery that can elicit empathy from a wide variety of readers, these powerful poems become like bagoong “smelling like a mouse / rotting in a pool of brackish water” and yet that remains a “favorite dipping sauce.” Dip into these poems for an important read. I’ve been aware of Pizo’s poetry for years, and LEAVING OUR SHADOWS BEHIND US is a long-overdue début: “where blood / drains in its purest state.”
Author of THE IN(TER)VENTION OF THE HAY(NA)KU
This collection of biographic poetry is a confluence between art and science, a fusion of raw scientific observation to that which is creative and artistic. The death of formalism is imminent at the turn of each page giving way to new flavors of artistry that deviate from the rule of verse. A precarious sarcasm springs forth from the persona’s rich sojourn as a native Ilocano OFW whose reminiscent experiences served as catalyst to turn in a work that laments ethnocentrism, concomitant hardships, and injustices while mocking mediocrity at the peak of its arrogance. Wounded/inspired in its tone that emanates from a rough childhood, countless struggles working under the scorching heat of the Middle East towards the freezing cold and laborious journey in the West, this artwork is a sacred protest against structuralist thinking—conjuring up a fight against long-established dogmas that never question the definition of uprightness in religion, culture, and the socio- political, while bridging the gap between that which is scientific and humanistic in nature.
—Maria Christina A. Calachan
Educator/Department of Education/Region I
Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, Philippines