Political prisoner and development worker Benito Quilloy came up with his first modest collection of poems when he was incarcerated for trumped-up charges in October 2017. Prior to that he thought poetry was an art form for the elite with its own rules and format. He avoided it like the plague.
But his friends and colleagues at ASCENT (Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network) encouraged him to study and write poetry knowing that he found the stories of his inmates fascinating and worthy of being written about.
“Being in jail led him to learn the experiences of his inmates many of whom suffer from long and unjust detention, sometimes five years, without a single hearing. Many of them are imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit and are unaware of their rights or have no means and support systems to assert their rights. This led Ben to share their stories through poetry,” Brenda Gonzalez, ASCENT’s Convenor, recalls. Although wary of what he then believed were the “rules and format” of poetry, Ben was convinced by his colleagues at ASCENT to try his hand at it.
His first attempts at writing poetry were shared not only with his colleagues at ASCENT but also with the poet and former political prisoner Rene Boy Abiva who likewise encouraged Ben to write some more. Whenever Ben stopped writing because he thought that he really is not a poet, Rene would tell him that he himself was more of a painter than poet when he first came out with his own poems. No one is born a poet, Rene reminded him.
Ben’s siblings also read his poetry for the first time and joined in the chorus prodding him to continue his writing. They told him he has the ability to convey deep feelings which the reader can understand and empathize with. And so buoyed up with newfound confidence in his ability Ben added new poems to his initial limited collection. One of his first poems “Kosa”, about his inmates, were followed by others tackling diverse themes such as landlessness, colonialism, books and learning, pain, sorrow, hope and service to the people. From 5, his poems reached 24 and this became his collection published in the book “Pandayan ng Paninindigan.”