Gabriel John Ceballos

Ateneo Heights Writers Workshop 26 Fellow

SEASONS IIa: Winter; or, Silence and Snows


SEASONS IIa: Winter; or, Silence and Snows

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Personal Essay

Personal Essay:


Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first forays into the medium were in short stories in Grade 1. I began to write poetry in Grade 6, and I specialized and developed scale and complexity in the form beginning in Grade 7. My main impetus for writing back then was school requirements, but my personality would inevitably seep into the work. Then, as now, I viewed writing as one of the most effective vehicles for my self-expression.

My writing has matured much since those early days. Now, I write along the themes of love, loss, heartbreak, longing, art, beauty, and faith in God. With the SEASONS collection, a quartet of poems originally published in my high school magazine of which SEASONS IIa (“a” standing for “alternative”) have been published on this website, I wish to communicate the temporal cycles through which eternal love is often wont to go due to its imperfect human expression.

This life, owing to said imperfections, can be downright disheartening and discouraging at times, but I am motivated to write so that I can capture and convey what beauty there is in the human experience through my works of art. I abide by the famous quote from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Indeed, what would life be if there were nothing to look forward to but the daily drudge? I write to remind myself and those with whom I share my work that not all in life is lost, and that humanity will, by the grace of God, transcend its limitations and rise above whatever difficulties life throws at it.

I get my inspiration to write such reminders of transcendence from what may seem the most random of places. I often joke with my friends that I am inspired every time the Muse slaps me in the face, but under all that banter is the very real idea that my inspiration almost always comes from times when a strong emotion strikes me. Whether it be from missing friends during this quarantine, or from speaking to loved ones past and present, or even from hearing a homily in church, I feel the extremely compelling need to set it down in some form of writing or other.

All of the above having been said, I also feel the need for my writing to branch out to embrace other styles. Most of my poetry is written in strict rhyme and meter, particularly the Shakespearean sonnet and ballad meter styles. In the future, I wish to explore more contemporary vehicles of expression: free verse, blank verse, and even poetic prose, to name a few. I have done so in the past, but I always fall back upon the norms I have established for myself.

I believe that operating within these different, if not looser, constraints will allow me to make my writing “more relatable” to my readers than if I remained “confined” to the “academic” and “less accessible” styles of writing that I currently use. I also believe that writing in these forms will allow me to use more vivid imagery and express more profound emotions than in love sonnets or ballad poems. I want my work to be dynamic and worthy of deep analysis, not simply static or one-dimensional.

Before the workshop, I expected to have it be my stepping-stone opportunity to learn how to utilize contemporary writing styles to drive deeper into readers’ hearts and to move their emotions and consciousnesses more profoundly than I may or may not already do. I also hoped that by further developing my writing skill, I may be able to better communicate the truths and beauties of the human experience to those who may find it depressing.

As it happened, my work was worthy of deep analysis even without revision; both the asynchronous critique and the synchronous workshop were proof of this. I was pleasantly surprised at how much insight our fellows and panelists drew from poems that I thought were naïvely written.

By far my biggest takeaway from the workshop was the idea of subversion of expectations. In going over my work in the asynchronous critique and during the workshop proper, the form of my poetry was a central point of discussion, particularly my use of strict rhyme and meter. A key insight my assigned panelist brought up with me was that I need to “break the pentameter” as American Imagist poet Ezra Pound and his contemporaries once did. In essence, the workshop provided me ways that I might make my writing less “Victorian” and “English” in its style and hence more “contemporary.” I am writing in the Filipino context, and my immediate readers will most likely be Filipino, so if I want to be able to reach them more effectively, my idiom must necessarily change. Thus, while the forms I used in the original poems are not to be discarded entirely, I must also consider what might be termed “revitalizing” these forms with modern diction. Reconciling the historical with the contemporary is a difficult task, but one that I know will ultimately be worth it.

Furthermore, I took away from the workshop the need to examine or question where I am situated within the context of poetic history. As one of our panelists asked, “Uso pa ba ang ganitong klaseng writing?” (“Is this kind of writing still ‘in fashion?’”) I need to “own that [I’m] coming from this kind of background,” namely a highly Shakespearean-influenced style, yet I must also be willing to push my own boundaries.

Then again, for whom am I “breaking the pentameter?” Moving forward as a writer, I must grapple with this question. Am I writing so that an imagined audience can accept my writing, or am I writing because I wish to express emotion, whether mine or another’s? One fellow suggested ways I might make my writing more relatable to a Filipino audience, an audience that might not necessarily be familiar with the seasons in temperate climates and the emotions associated therewith. Other fellows and panelists recommended that I try to find ways to make my love poems reflect the way love is expressed in the modern day, so as to make said poems more relatable to an audience that might not necessarily be familiar with the ideas of Shakespearean and courtly love. This is another point I must find a way to reconcile: how do I continue to use my writing and love poems as a way to express my emotions and sentiments about love while giving others the opportunity to understand these sentiments through language, action, and symbolism that may be more relatable to them? This is a challenge, but one I know will give me great fulfillment if I tackle it.

To say that the 26th Ateneo Heights Writers’ Workshop was fulfilling, enriching, enlightening, and rewarding for me would be to understate my experience dramatically. I will forever be grateful to my fellows, panelists, and the Heights community for allowing me to participate in such an irreplicable event and for giving me a powerful encouragement on my journey and continued growth as a writer. Now I am better equipped to show those who will read my work that there is more to life than just living: indeed, in the Roman poet Martial’s immortal words, “Vita non est vívere sed valére vita est,” which I translate (poetically, not literally) as “To live, you must not just survive; / When you are well, you are alive.”