Poet Tita Lacambra-Ayala, 88: “the art is always you”

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 January) – “Paalam Nay… 10:37,” music icon Joey Ayala wrote on his Facebook page at 10:58 p.m. Wednesday, to announce the death of his mother, poet Tita Agcaoili Lacambra-Ayala, Palanca awardee and literary icon.

Joey’s sister Cynthia Alexander, another music icon, also wrote: “10.37 ng gabi. My mother the poet Tita Lacambra-Ayala is gone. Paalam.”

Tita Lacambra-Ayala, also known as TALA (Tita Agcaoili Lacambra-Ayala). Poet. Visual artist. Literary icon. The Davao Writers Guild posted this photograph to accompany their statement on the demise of the literary icon. Photo taken by Crest Contrata of UP Mindanao during the launch of Davao Harvest 3 at Casa Leticia Hotel in Davao City on November 18, 2018

Tita underwent surgery for a fractured femur last month, was recovering but later suffered complications. She celebrated her 88th birthday on January 2 at the intensive care unit and was transferred to a private room on January 8.

According to an afternoon post that day of granddaughter Vida Maya Ko Rodriguez who has been sharing updates on her grandma’s health through her Facebook account, “we continue to pray for her, reading her poems, stories and prayers, reliving fond memories, singing songs, playing her favorite music, massaging her hands, legs and feet, and doing what we can to make this time as comfortable as possible and to let her know she is dearly loved.”

At 1:43 p.m. on Wednesday, January 9, Joey announced the postponement of the January 12 gig with sister Cynthia at the Conspiracy bar in Quezon City, supposedly a fundraiser for Tita, explaining his mom’s end seemed near. “Postpone po muna ang Cynthia-Joey gig Jan 12th sa Conspi. Parang malapit na masyado sa goodbye ng Nanay namin… thanks for understanding and for all your seat reservations!” he wrote.

Nine hours later, he announced his mother’s death.


A founding member of the Davao Writers Guild, Tita edited the Davao Harvest anthologies and was publisher-editor of the 37-year old Road Map Series, a literary folio that features the works of Mindanawon writers and artists. She won the Palanca Awards twice – third prize in the Short Story category for “Everything” in 1967 and second prize co-winner for Poetry in 1977 for “A Filigree of Seasons.”

She wrote several books: Sunflower Poems in 1960, Ordinary Poems in 1967, Pieces of String and Other Stories in 1984; Friends: The Adventures of a Professional Amateur back to back with Camels and Shapes of Darkness in a Time of Olives in 1998, Tita L. Ayala’s Rocking Chair Stories in 2005 and Tala Mundi: The Collected Poems of Tita Agcaoili Lacambra Ayala in 2011.

Early Thursday morning (January 10), Joey posted another announcement on his FB page where he thanked everyone for their prayers, condolences and help, and informed them they were still making arrangements for their mom’s wake.

“Inaayos pa namin ang paraan ng parangal na gagawin natin para kay Mom Tita Lacambra-Ayala – napakarami niyang na-inspire na creativity dito sa Davao at sa kung saan-saang sulok ng mundo so baka hindi rin gaanong conventional ang mangyayari” (We are still making arrangements on how to honor our mom Tita Lacambra Ayala – she inspired so much creativity here in Davao and in other parts of the world so it will likely be unconventional), he said.

“We will let you know where and when you can visit and say a formal Farewell in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, here’s to Artful Living, an Art-filled Life, and a Life of Artistic Creation. Padayon!” wrote Joey, the eldest of Tita’s six children.

“The art is always you”

Born in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, Tita grew up in Antamok, Benguet and finished Bachelor of Science in Education, major in English, minor in History, at the University of the Philippines in 1953.

She married writer and painter Jose Ayala and moved to Mindanao from Manila in 1973, initially in Tagum City, where her husband, the late writer and painter Jose Ayala worked. They eventually settled in Davao City.

In a video interview by the Happiness Project Mindanao on June 2 last year, Tita defined happiness as “having parties, meeting new people, having a lover” and “being able to finish a book.”

Asked for writing tips, she replied: “If you feel sad, you need to be your saddest. If you feel happy, you have to be your happiest. It has to be the most intense then you come up with something good. If you fall in love, it has to be the deepest love.”

Happiness is Art and the Art is You

I asked her what she thinks about the content being posted on social media these days, which are becoming shallower and “hugot hugot na lang,” but are considered art.She answered, “What is the problem? There is no problem. As long as you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter.” It’s amazing that some emerging artists these days would say that “if it is not deep enough, it is not art, or if it is not ‘underground’ it is not art.” And yet, here comes a master artist saying, “It doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy it.” Why is it that the ones who are celebrated and are more successful are the ones who are more humble?Right before the Q & A portion of her RoadMap Series event, while I was looking at the exhibit, she noticed me and asked, “Are you also an artist, because you have long hair?” I asked, “Can I proclaim myself as one?”“Of course,” She replied.Goosebumps ran through my body, receiving that blessing from a master and keeper of the light. Tita Lacambra Ayala could easily be considered the mother of Davaowenyo Literature. Her works are studied in different schools here in Davao. Also, a lot of successful artists here in Davao can be traced back to her. She was somehow their mentor and she was like a mother to them in certain ways. One of the greatest musicians from Davao, Joey Ayala, is her son. Speaking of children, one of the guests during the event asked how to push through with your art despite being a mother or despite the hectic schedules of the mundane life. Tita Ayala told her stories of how she would still find a way to write even when there is a whirlwind of artistic people in her house. And she said never to put art aside. Art should always be about yourself and we have to express no matter what. This inspires me a lot because my five-year-old son was climbing at my back like I’m a monkey bar while I was editing the video. Now, it becomes part of the art. Now, producing this video becomes more fun. It is also a transcendent experience listening to Tita Ayala’s words while my son speaks his gibberish in the background. Their thoughts and ideas somehow match. I guess the children and the elderly know something we have forgotten.#Happinessisachoice#Happinessisart#ArtisYou

Posted by Happiness Project Mindanao on Thursday, June 7, 2018

She recalled she started writing stories and poems in grade school because she was “very good at theme writing” and was always asked to go to the front and read what she wrote.

Her advice on handling criticisms is not to mind them. “Why should they know more my work than me? That should be the attitude. I know more about my work than you do. It came from me, my feelings and other things which you don’t know about. It’s yours. Always remember it’s yours. Always remember it’s yours.”

She ended the interview with a message to the viewers: “You should not put art aside. It should be part of your job. It should be part of your job. You should be talking about your job and about yourself in your art. Do not forget yourself. It should be you all the time. It’s always you. The art is always you.”


How Tita started Road Map Series (RMS) in 1981 was summed up by her youngest child, Laura Isabel Elizaga who wrote in June last year that RMS was her mom’s “brainchild and nest egg.”

“Whoever said ‘Art is therapeutic’ is correct. Being a writer, a teacher, a friend and a mother, Tita could not contain herself when she read Lia Lopez-Chua’s batch of poems 37 years ago. Discovering content worthy of publication is what ignited this passion to share the beauty of what she found. True enough, finding light in the palms of your hands whether from gems or burning embers, one’s instinct is to perpetuate it by sharing it so that it flows and gains a life of it’s own – generating movement by it’s own momentum. This is how Tita came up with RMS,” Laura Isabel wrote.

“By creating a venue to showcase the creative process of budding and established artists on equal footing, she helped nurture the artists’ spirit that requires acceptance by a receptive community in order to flourish. Road Map Series is Tita’s legacy to the art movement in Davao, in Mindanao, the Philippines and anywhere this neat little package can carry that sweet affirmation: I AM, therefore I exist,” she added.

In a statement, the Davao Writers Guild mourned the passing of “one the guild’s founders and most active members” whose contribution to the city’s writing and art community is enormous.

UP Mindanao Professor and DWG President John Bengan, said Tita “cleared her own path in writing and publishing local literature and influenced many of us.”

“She taught us how important it was to go beyond accepted conventions and overcome our limits. She used to tell us how she wrote, edited, and printed the first issue of Road Map on used wrapping paper. She welcomed younger writers and artists,” Bengan said.

Last year, the DWG honored Tita with a tribute at the closing of the exhibit, “Road Map Series: 37 Years and Still Walking,” which the the RMS mounted from May 25 to June 8 at the Art Portal, Gallery for Contemporary Art. Bengan said they took turns thanking her “for all she has done for local arts and literature.”

Her last appearance in a DWG activity was on November 18, 2018, at the launching of Davao Harvest 3 at Casa Leticia Hotel.

Tita is survived by her sons Jose (Joey) and Fernando (Pido), daughters Cynthia, Monica and Laura, in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her second son, David. passed away several years ago. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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