In my elementary days, I have participated in numerous writing competitions, mostly for essays and short stories, where the highest criteria for judging would be vocabulary and word count. I would be given a certain topic or prompt to write about, I would write down the most intelligent-sounding words I knew about the topic in the wordiest way, and I would finish it all in the set timeframe and make sure it hit the word count just right or, better yet, exceed it. I soon realized that this approach to writing was only helpful in bulking up an essay and making it look like I knew more than I actually did. I wasn’t using those big words to emphasize and strengthen my point, but to only sound like I did. It took me until the last two years of JHS to see that I didn’t look any smarter and in fact, muddled the message even further.
I can relate this bad habit of mine in essays to Jess Santiago’s poem about how words are used in poetry. Santiago likens the misuse and disregard of words to simple vegetables (“taling kangkong” and “talbos ng kamote”) taken from unsavory locations or through unlawful means. While the words, much like the suspicious vegetables, certainly fill the reader with content, it is not content that stimulates their senses in the right way and will leave a bad taste in their mouths. The line “Malaon nang pinamanhid ng dalita ang panlasa” brings attention to how readers have dealt with writing that lacks in soul (panlasa) with big yet ultimately empty words. The poem calls upon writers, be they aspiring or established, to not take even the simplest words for granted, and to use words with more thought and care. A message that resonates with many a young writer including me.
The poem reminded me of the mistakes I made and am still making in my journey as a writer. I still feel that using highfalutin words and complex sentence structures makes my writing better somehow, and I’m sure I committed such a sin in this paper too. It’s a slow process but I am trying my best to be more mindful of the words I chose to keep the soul of my message intact.