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Luis Dato: Reintroducing the Bicolano poet

Luis Dato: Reintroducing the Bicolano poet

When the Americans colonized the Philippines, they introduced a new system of governance, education, traditions, and most importantly, a new language. Filipino artists – essayists and poets – were able to capture the English language into their craft. One of the few first poets who made use of the language was Luis G. Dato from Baao, Camarines Sur.

Image: Luis Dato in his 20’s.

Who is Luis Dato?

Dato came from a landed ilustrado family. He built a reputation as a champion orator during his high school and college years. He also wrote his first poems at 16. During the 50s and 60s, he taught college English while working as an editor-writer for some Bikol newspapers. He earned the distinction as the “Outstanding Catholic Poet” as recognized by the United Poets Laureate International in 1965.

He was a gifted artist – he could write as fast as his mind worked. According to his biography, published under the Ateneo de Naga University Press, it was not unusual for him to write a poem under fifteen minutes. He was also able to write half a dozen sonnets within thirty minutes.

His Works and Inspirations

But Luis Dato was first, a lover. His 200-sonnet compilation dedicated to his kayumanggi Muse, Sonnets to the Brown Goddess, attests to the creativity of a soul in love. In his youth and even well into his olden years, he fell for countless women and drew inspiration from them.

Stephen Talla, one of Dato’s grandchildren and the self-appointed family biographer, recalled a story of when his Lolo stopped three young ladies at the University of Nueva Caceres to give them poems he composed at that given moment.

“Their names [were] asked, [he] scribbled at the back of his photo and gave the photos with verses unique to each of them. He was a man of passion and gets easily inspired.”

-Stephen Talla

During the Marcos regime, Luis Dato tried to write his version of Filipino history spanning from pre-Hispanic to early Marcos era in epic form. Thus, The Land of Ma-i was born.

In the 1960s, he started to collect and compile his much earlier works and continued to write new material up until the 1970s. It was called the Instant Lyre. Talla described this as his Lolo’s “life’s work”

The collection includes various poems, sonnets, translations of Rizal’s works, translations of Mexican and Nicaraguan poets, and religious poems. Overall, there are over 300 poems included in The Instant Lyre.

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Reintroduction to the new generation

In his commitment towards the reintroduction of Dato’s works to the new generation, Talla has created a website dedicated to his Lolo’s poems, sonnets, essays, and other materials. Some of Dato’s unpublished works are up for purchase on Amazon.

Dato may be a poet from a small town but his works transcended into something much bigger. The legacy he left, as one of the first generation English writers and poets will be forever remembered by the people.

Image: Luis Dato’s marker at his hometown, Baao.

Check out more of Dato’s poems like Day on The Farm and The Spouse on his website.

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