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The poet wants the world to experience whatever it is that his motherland is going through, and this want makes him consciously or subconsciously think of the Philippines wherever he goes.
Someone who speaks an array of foreign languages impresses us that this person must have done a lot of travelling in his lifetime, or have lived in different places, or is simply well-versed as product of a privileged education. However, the bevy use of language does not exactly celebrate the multilingualism of the poet in exile.The variety of language may as well serve as a mapping device as to the whereabouts of the poet.However, it may primarily be that, although the majority of the poems in the collection were written in Filipino, but their translation into English, Chinese, Russian, German, Italian, and French underscores the universal dimension of the struggle in the homeland of the poet.The poet might have intended to have his poems translated and transformed, to make the vernacular international, not particularly language wise, but the things addressed by his poems, the content–-his motherland.As you go along, page by page, his poems are explicitly and implicitly suggesting different places.The poet, in his exile, somehow finds himself in these places and comes to an almost nostalgic state of his homeland’s history. It almost appears like it pays (an ironic) homage to the Greek epic, Illiad, where Oddyseus sailed for a homeward journey yet ends up in a twenty-year exile.
But, instead of being lost on his way home, the poet, in his exile, meets his homeland somewhere along in his consciousness.
The diversity of language used in translation of the poet’s poems in this collection emphasizes not only the journey he is going or have gone through but also reflects him as a person.
San Juan’s poetry collection, “Balikbayang Mahal: Passages from Exile”, as suggested by the title, was birthed through the many travels of the poet.
This work is a collection of old and new poems and also includes a long essay on exile and diaspora entitled “Sa Loob at Labas ng Bayan Kong Sawi: Emergency Signals from a Filipino Exile.” It gives the impression of a travelling journal of some sort, especially with some of his poems entitled like a journal entry (Tag-sibol sa Den Haag, Nederland, 25 Marso 2007; Biyernes ng Hapon, Oktubre 1, 2005).
The author’s sweeping knowledge of geography, history, politics, religion, and literature blossoms in this poetry collection.
Most of San Juan’s work, including his poetry, is political and looks outward upon the world (most evident probably in his poem “Spring in Den Haag, Nederland, 25 March 2007”, among others).