Even in this globalized epoch, where diversity qua diversity owns a corner of canonicity, the modern Filipino’s desire for an identity that embodies nationalistic purity endures. All the more so for Filipino artists, whose patriotic consciousness often takes precedence over (and necessarily struggles with) their desire for creative autonomy; artists like these make states of struggle into their identity.

The new generation of Filipino poets have cultivated a taste for modes of expression that sway between entrenching and reifying the text (a kind of neo-Formalism) and impressionism—especially brushstrokes that rise ‘above’ social content. In “Claustrophobia,” Czeriza Shenille Valencia uses paradox and ambiguity to divulge what I call her ‘singular certainty’: the pressure to simultaneously relate to the objective correlative as it sits and to point to the existential crisis beneath the object in the poem’s making. In Valencia’s case, the latter is the state of fear (at least to start).

If this smacks a bit of Derridean ‘traces,’ let’s imagine that a Filipino poet like Valencia processes the post-structuralist demand differently enough to be worthy of note.

The singular certainty in “Claustrophobia” comes at the expense of the objective correlative, by holding it at bay—fear is made both muse and the ‘victim’ in the poem. Attend to the poem’s organic unity: the metaphorical imagery of fear as a liquid—a state of matter easily manipulated and structurally dependent— thus raises the degrading paradox that an owned fear is no more daunting than ‘a paper cup’:

My greatest fear
is to fall inside
a paper cup.

More directly: there is an absolute assertion throughout the poem that a possessed fear and the object that causes fear are subject to derision and dissection; from this the singular certainty arises as a form of dominance over fear as an intrinsic and extrinsic force.

By the fourth line, dominance is not only being shaped but also seizing—demanding, even!— attention; here is a declaration (or a mutilated endearment, if one chooses to be comical) clearly and properly sliced to extinguish all notions that fear is the protagonist or antagonist. Quite the contrary: it pronounces, without apology, without hesitation, that fear is the one being held in chains before the crowd, mercilessly ‘prepared.’ What is to be feared, after all, in a ‘fate no worse than/a sneeze of a soul’

in an ice cube.

Fear is degraded by the domineering self (the singular certainty of Self), further amplifying the paradox (since fear appeared to be the first ‘singular certainty’ of note) by reducing the fallout of fear to ‘an ice cube.’  This exhibition reaches its climax in Valencia’s third and final declaration, where the patronizing volume of ‘mere’ settles—it would seem—the question of fear’s ‘power’: it is

to become
a mere extension of water.

Strange: Valencia has concluded an escapade of some success,  one that is further celebrated by her intention to isolate (and therefore parade) fatalistic terms (‘silenced,’ ‘Doomed’), but her foregrounding of a condescending, simple, and sweetly idealistic metaphor for the speaker herself (fear as readable through states of liquid in a drinking cup) likewise defeats the poem’s ostensible intent to project the genuine emotion of being in the state of fear. There is nothing ‘fearful’ in this performance to which we bear witness.

Perhaps, then, we have served as audience to the poet’s more defined ‘singular certainty’—struggle with the muse. In this case, it’s been a full frontal humiliation for one or both of them.