Remembering my homeland in poetry

Published 10:23 pm Friday, October 23, 2015

By Chris A. Quilpa

On Oct. 9, the spoken word was powerful and amazingly inspiring. That occasion gave me a rare opportunity to spend a Friday night in the company of friends, family and acquaintances, while enjoying prose, poetry and free pizza.

Poetry lovers like me gathered that night at Russell Memorial Library in Chesapeake for the quarterly “Open Mic Night: Prose, Poetry & Pizza” hosted by Suffolk native, poet and author Nathan Richardson. He is one of the marketing consultants of the Suffolk News-Herald.

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Though I have had poems published in my native country, the Philippines, and in the United States, I still consider myself a budding poet. I have much more to learn and experience before I can humbly say I’m a published poet. Perhaps, I will forever be a budding poet, which I don’t mind at all. I kind of like the word “budding,” as in “emerging, growing and developing.”

During the event, I read three of five of my Ilokano poems included in the poetry anthology, “Rekuerdo/Memento: Estrangement and Homing in Ilokano Poetics,” published in Hawaii in 2009. It was edited and translated into English, with a critical introduction by Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, Ph.D.

The book presents the works of Ilokano poets writing from exile and diaspora. It articulates the sense of home and homelessness that marks the life of many people of the Philippines who have chosen — or have been chosen by life’s circumstances — to leave the homeland and eke out a life in new places.

Agcaoili is the coordinator and associate professor at University of Hawaii’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program, the only Ilokano-degree granting program in the world. As creative writer, he has also authored English-Ilokano/Ilokano-English dictionaries for schools and academia.

I was compelled to share my thoughts via my poems dealing with the plight of overseas Filipino workers and other migrants and refugees fleeing their country because of poverty, violence or civil war to find freedom, peace and prosperity for their families. Refugee crises in Europe and elsewhere were also on my mind.

Prior to reading my poems, I spoke briefly about my mother tongue, Ilokano, and the proper pronunciation of the vowels, like those of Japanese and Spanish.

Here is the English translation to one of my poems, “Memento of Leaving.”

“I knew I could do it

but there was this

fear that gnawed at me

as I was leaving.


I had those doubts

whether I could make it

but I believed in one thing:

I surely would succeed.


I went away

I went wherever life led me

I went through all the hardships

I took them all in patiently…


I prayed hard

I gave my thanks

I saved up

scrimped a lot.

Now, I smile in gladness

What I dreamed of came true

Verily I changed for the better

Now I am free.


In my going away

I found my good fate

but this missing my homeland

has gripped me so bad.


My birth-land, I will never forget:

I remember you each time

In my mind you are here

And on my grave forever.”

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at